The #8 Washington Huskies rolled in to East Lansing on a mission.
East Lansing -- A tumultuous week on MSU's Campus came to a head at Spartan Stadium on Saturday, as the #8 ranked Washington Huskies took on the 2-0 Spartans in a late-afternoon rematch of last years 38-29 triumph for the Huskies. The game served as a needed distraction from a week of negative headlines surrounding the Spartan program.
Suspended Spartan coach Mel Tucker is under fire for inappropriate relations (at best) with a woman who was brought in to assist the university and its athletic department with learning about sexual harassment and similar things.
That meant that MSU's week 3 matchup with the Huskies would be the first head coaching game for long-time Sparty coach Harlon Barnett. Barnett is a Sparty lifer, he was a 4-year player and All-American in the Green & White, and has spent 15 years as a defensive coach for MSU.
Also returning to the sidelines -- this time as an associate -- was former Spartan legendary head coach Mark D'antoni.
With so much going on in East Lansing, you would expect an unranked and unproven MSU team to fall flat against a stout Washington Huskies team led by Heisman-hopeful Michael Penix Jr.
Well, you'd be right.
From the first drive, Washington, ranked #8 in the country at kickoff, controlled the entire game. Defensively, Washington set the tone from the jump. Senior edge-rusher Zion Tupuola was the first to strike. On a 2nd down during MSU's opening drive, Tupula came storming off the right side of the line and ran right through Noah Kim for a eye-raising sack. This would begin a trend of Noah Kim ending plays on the ground.
The first drive of the game also highlighted what would become the second and 3rd trends of the game -- Noah Kim's problems with accuracy and the teams troubles with flags.
On a 3rd and 19, Kim blatantly missed a open receiver on the left sideline. The errant throw flew 5 yards out of bounds and MSU blanked on the drive. On the same play, MSU received an illegal shift penalty. The first of 11 penalties on the day, totaling 83 yards.
After a blistering start to the year, which saw Kim complete north of 60% of his passes through 2 Sparty wins, Noah Kim cooled off in a major way against Washington. He threw a miserable 38% completion percentage and missed on virtually every big moment throw in the game. And after averaging 285 yards through the air to begin the season, Kim threw for only 136 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. In the first two games of the year, Kim threw 5 touchdowns to no pics. Washington held Kim to zero touchdowns, and one interception.
While the offense flows through Kim, he was far from the only one to blame for its issues. Start running back Nathan Carter, who averaged over 110 yards and 2 touchdowns through two wins, was nowhere to be found Saturday. He only managed 48 yards on 17 carries, and no scores. The offense as a whole gained only 261 yards of offense and 15 first downs.
Michigan State football was not expected to compete in this game, but not even Spartan haters could have predicted such a lopsided victory. The defense shouldered the brunt of the bad performance.
A historically bad performance.
MSU gave up an all-time Spartan record 740+ yards of offense to Washington. Quarterback Michael Penix Jr threw for 473 yards and 4 touchdowns. Huskies playmakers were in prime form. Wide Receivers Rome Odunze (8 catches/180 yds), Ja'Lynn Polk (5 catches/118 yds/1 TD), and Jalen Mcmillan (4 catches/96 yds), all destroyed MSU defensive backs. And Tight End Jack Westover had a career game, catching 4 passes for 3 touchdowns.
That's a lot of offense for a team hoping to gain a berth in their first College Football Playoff.
Acting Head Coach Harlon Barnett understands that this type of performance forces you to return to the drawing board. "There's things we could change, probably how we scheme things up" The coach said post-game.
“We can’t have any penalties like those,” Barnett stated to reporters. “Substitution errors, missed tackles, things like that. We can’t shoot ourselves in the foot, we can’t beat ourselves. As the number one leader here, I have to be better.”
MSU ends a 4-game home stand this weekend against the MAryland Terrapins, who themselves have an electric left-handed quarterback in Taulia Tagovaila. He is the younger brother of Miami Dolphins star QB Tua Tagovailoa. Taulia is coming off a 340+ yard performance against the Virginia Cavaliers.
All images courtesy of Blake Wilson/Head Coach Magazine