Know Thy Enemy is a Q&A where the perspective changes from the eyes of The State News to the eyes of the student newspaper of Michigan State's opponent. This week, The State News' football beat writer Jacob Smith spoke with sports editor Ethan Kilbreath of The Daily ahead of Saturday’s matchup.
Michigan State Football will face a familiar opponent in week three this Saturday as they are set to take on Washington. The two schools met last year in Seattle, also in the third game of the season, with Washington earning a 39-28 victory over the Spartans.
The Huskies will come visit Spartan Stadium this time around, ranked number eight in the nation according to the AP Top 25 poll. Kickoff is set for 5:00 p.m. streaming live on Peacock.
Q: Michigan State will face Washington this year in week three for the second season in a row, with both teams entering the game 2-0 once again. What is different this time around based on how the programs have performed in the past year or so?
A: “I would say last year when Michigan State was coming to Seattle for week three, it was really, can the Huskies knock off Michigan State? There’s a big Michigan State that was ranked number 11 coming off that 11-2 season I think. And it was really the Huskies’ first big test because they were unproven. They’d only beaten Kent State and Portland State up to that point, so it was like, this is it, this is the big showing for the Huskies. And now, I mean no disrespect to Michigan State but it feels like it’s almost flipped a little bit where it’s a test of can Michigan State really hang with the Huskies this year on their home field? Because I know Michigan State won their first two games but sort of not against the best teams. And so, it seems like it’s definitely still a test for the Huskies coming in. I mean a Big Ten road matchup is never going to be easy, but I would say the script is almost flipped a little bit in terms of it’s not as much of the Huskies—the Huskies are going into this expecting to win, I would say whereas last year it was more can we compete with Michigan State.”
Q: Washington enters the matchup ranked number eight in the nation. What needs to be executed in this game to meet the expectations of a top ten squad to beat MSU?
A: “That’s a great question. The passing attack, we all know, is great with Washington. I’d say we’re looking to see more from the running game, because the first two games of the season hasn’t been great statistically. In fact, the best runs we’ve had have come from our wide receivers on jet sweeps or end arounds or whatever. So the running game is still the big question mark. Our first string running back, the guy that was going to be first string running back, Cameron Davis, actually had a season ending injury a week before the season started. And then the guy that filled in for him, Dillon Johnson, was injured last week before the season started. So not really sure certain who’s the guy at running back and when you go into big ten country, you got to have a strong ground game regardless of how good your passing attack is. So that’s what they are looking for.”
Q: Michael Penix Jr. obviously is the face of the team at the quarterback position. 859 yards, eight touchdowns, and just one interception so far in two games. What does he add to this offense that has put up 49.5 points per game so far, and what have you liked from him in his first two starts?
A: “Well, it’s really been a continuation of what we saw from him last season. He can make all the throws really from to the sidelines, from the hashmark, to the sideline. He can air it out, strong arm. He’s more mobile I think than people give him credit for. But really, his strong suit that maybe is a little bit underrated is his just intangibles, and how collected he stays. You never see him flustered. He throws an interception, he makes a bad pass. He always stays calm and collected. He’s a great leader for the team. All the guys really look up to him, and I mean that Heisman trophy race has got to be only added motivation.”
Q: On defense, the Huskies have allowed 19 points in a win over Boise State and just 10 last week in a victory against Tulsa. Why has the defense been effective to start the season and who has stepped up to lead that dominance?
A: “Well, for one thing, they played Tulsa last week, so that helps. But I would say the passing defense has been better so far than last year. It’s a lot of new faces. Jabbar Muhammad and Davon Banks come to mind as two guys that have really stepped up in the secondary. It’s funny because the pass rush was really touted as the best part of U-Dub’s defense coming into it. But really the pass rush has been for a lack of a better word, kind of “mid” so far this season, but the passing defense has been good. So I think the passing defense has really stepped up. And then if the pass rush can kind of get up to where people thought it was going to be, that would go a long ways.
Q: With Washington joining the Big Ten in 2024, this game is likely a preview of how the conference will look going forward. Do you feel that travel implications will affect the Huskies play on the field?
A: “Yes and no. I think to a certain extent these guys, these power five college football players are almost professional athletes, like they’re just a step below in the sense that they can travel and be relatively unfazed. But in the same sense, I do think that the added travel will, it doesn’t help, but overall I think joining the Big Ten was the right to decision to make. I think we’re going to see on Saturday how well the Huskies play on the road. Like you said, it’s sort of a test of Big Ten matchups to come, but everyone at U-dub is excited for it. The travel has been talked about a lot for sure, but I think the benefits of the move outweigh the travel logistics that are to come.