Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Final: MSU football gets blown out in defeat to Washington, suffers first loss of season

September 16, 2023
University of Washington sophomore wide receiver Ja’Lynn Polk escapes MSU defense to score a touchdown during a game at Spartan Stadium on Sept. 16, 2023.
University of Washington sophomore wide receiver Ja’Lynn Polk escapes MSU defense to score a touchdown during a game at Spartan Stadium on Sept. 16, 2023.

The Michigan State football team was dominated on both sides of the ball as they fell to Washington on Saturday, 41-7. 

The matchup was the first head coaching opportunity for acting head coach Harlon Barnett in his career. Barnett serves in place of head coach Mel Tucker who was suspended last Sunday. 

Former MSU head coach Mark Dantonio was back on the sidelines for the game as well. Dantonio didn’t have a headset on to assist play-calling, but rather made his presence known to both the fans and the players to get Spartan Stadium fired up. 

The Spartans struggled to get going on their opening drive. After picking up a first down, redshirt junior quarterback Noah Kim was sacked on his blind side for a loss of nine yards to set up second and long. A screen pass dropped through the hands of redshirt sophomore running back Nathan Carter and an incompletion out of bounds on the next two plays brought up a punt on 4th down for MSU. 

Washington took over on their own 45 yard line to start their first drive. Senior quarterback Michael Penix Jr. found junior receiver Jalen McMillan wide open in the middle of the field for a 39 yard gain for the Huskies’ first play of the day. After a few strong runs from junior running back Dillon Johnson to set up first and goal, sophomore wide receiver Germie Bernard punched in the jet sweep from a yard out to put the Huskies up 7-0 early. 

Following a three-and-out by MSU, the Huskies began to mix their plays to continue to push the ball down the field. Sophomore running back Will Nixon rushed for a few solid gains, and also caught an 11 yard pass from Penix Jr. in the backfield to move the chains. 

A crucial false start penalty on Washington set up a third and ten, creating a chance for the Spartan defense to make their first stop to get off the field. Penix Jr. stood still in the pocket, which allowed pressure from redshirt junior defensive lineman Simeon Barrow Jr. to cause an overthrow to McMillan downfield. The incompletion forced the Huskies to punt for their first time in the game. 

Kim led MSU back out on offense for their third drive of the day, needing to start moving the ball downfield. A defensive pass interference penalty moved the field position to the Washington 40 yard line. A few plays later, Kim looked for graduate senior receiver Tre Mosley on a slant route, but didn’t see Washington junior cornerback Mishael Powell. Powell jumped the route and picked the ball off for Kim’s first interception of the season.

Penix Jr. took a deep shot on the next play following the turnover, looking for sophomore wide receiver Ja’Lynn Polk who jumped high in the air and came down with the acrobatic catch in the red zone. On second and goal, Penix Jr. found senior tight end Jack Westover on a play-action flat route for the easy 5 yard score to put Washington up 14-0. 

The Spartans finally crossed midfield on their fourth drive, thanks to a few explosive plays. Redshirt freshman wide receiver Jaron Glover made an excellent jumping catch on the sideline while keeping a foot in bounds for an 11 yard gain. Carter then found a hole that allowed him to finally find the outside and burst for nine yards. Similar trends continued for MSU however, as Kim ran into the defensive line and was sacked on third down, taking Michigan State out of field goal range, forcing another punt. 

Penix Jr.’s deep ball continued to be on point. From inside the end zone, Penix Jr. launched the ball to junior wide receiver Rome Odunze on a rope for a perfect pass, resulting in a 50 yard gain. 

The Spartan defense could not give themselves a break. Penix Jr. fired a bullet that was tipped by MSU and hit directly up in the air. No one on the defense charged for the ball, and Polk came down with it for the Huskies, where he broke multiple tackles to split the defense and find the end zone for the bizarre touchdown. Washington went up 21-0 with over half the second quarter still left to play. 

As soon as momentum was created on offense, MSU continued to find ways to diminish their rhythm. A nice 10 yard scramble from Kim gave the Spartans a fresh set of downs. Kim then connected with Mosley on an out route on the next play to move the chains. The penalty flag flew however, and an illegal formation and unnecessary roughness call backed the Spartans up inside their own 10 yard line. A failed third down conversion resulted in the fourth punt for Michigan State through less than a quarter and a half. 

Kim couldn’t seem to find the same rhythm he has had in his first two outings. He finished the game completing 12 passes on 31 attempts for 136 yards, and an interception. Another missing factor for MSU’s offense was Carter. With 124 yards in his two games to begin the year, he ended this game with just 17 carries for 48 yards. 

Just like the offense, MSU’s defense couldn’t generate sequences either. Following the punt, Penix Jr. completed four straight passes that tore up Michigan State’s defense. The fourth was a 13 yard touchdown pass to Westover where he directly beat his defender on the left side of the field, which put Washington up 28-0.

Kim finally started to catch fire in the two-minute drill at the end of the half. Kim found senior wide receiver Montorie Foster Jr. on back-to-back plays, one for 20 yards, and the other for 30. Two straight incompletions followed by a penalty set up a third and nine. Kim couldn’t locate Glover as the ball sailed over his head. Michigan State had two chances on fourth down thanks to a Washington penalty, but Kim couldn’t complete his passing attempt either time, turning the ball over on downs. 

Washington seemed to take the ball into halftime, but ran a fake kneel. Penix Jr. then tested his deep ball yet again to the Spartans’ surprise, connecting with McMillan for a 34 yard eclectic gain. Penix Jr. then completed two more passes in the red zone, and was able to find Westover once again for the touchdown directly after to put the Huskies up 35-0 heading into halftime.

Washington didn’t let up on the first drive of the third quarter. A few completions from Penix Jr. advanced the Huskies to mid field. Johnson then split the defense and found the edge for a loud 45 yard run to set up first and goal. The Spartans finally put together a third down stop as they forced a field goal to limit the damage, bringing the score to 38-0. 

Michigan State couldn’t develop stops on defense all day. Penix Jr. threw for a total of 473 yards and four touchdowns on the day, with 375 of those yards coming in the first half. 

The Spartans gave Penix Jr. another opportunity to thread them up. A false start gave Penix Jr. a free play, and he took a shot downfield for Odunze for a 39 yard connection. A few rushes short of the line to gain, Washington settled for another field goal to push the score to 41-0 with four minutes left in the third quarter. 

Defense finally made noise for MSU in the fourth quarter. Husky junior quarterback Dylan Morris rifled a ball into coverage that was tipped, and sophomore defensive back Jaden Mangham jumped on the ball, diving to the ground and coming down with the interception.

The offense began to work with the spark the defense created for Michigan State. Redshirt freshman quarterback Katin Houser took a shot downfield of his own to redshirt junior wide receiver Christian Fitzpatrick, connecting for the 61 yard gain to set the Spartans up in the red zone for the first time of the evening. Houser then punched the ball in on a quarterback sneak for his first career touchdown to put MSU on the board.

Neither team generated buzz to finish the fourth quarter, allowing the Huskies to cruise to a 41-7 victory. 

Michigan State will return to action next Saturday as they host Maryland. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 pm.

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