Three takeaways from Washington's statement win over No. 11 Michigan State
Washington roared to a huge lead over No. 11 Michigan State inside Husky Stadium Saturday night. Things probably got a little too close for comfort in the second half for Husky fans, but Washington was never really tested.
The Huskies moved to 3-0 on the season, notching a 39-28 win that looks closer on the scoreboard than it actually was.
Here are three takeaways from the game.
The Seattle Times’ Mike Vorel made a painful but astute point in the lead-up to Saturday’s game: Washington hadn’t won “the big one” against a premier non-conference opponent in two decades. Since topping Purdue in the 2001 Rose Bowl, the Huskies have home losses to Miami, Texas, Michigan, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Ohio State, LSU, Nebraska, Baylor, Oklahoma State, Alabama, and Penn State. That’s… uh… not what you want to see.
Coach Kalen DeBoer had a golden opportunity Saturday evening. Washington opened the year with two encouraging victories — blowouts of lesser opponents. He hoped to have Husky Stadium rocking again like it was when UW was rolling. A poor showing against Michigan State, even if justifiable, would erase some of that goodwill the Huskies have built in the first two weeks.
So what did UW do?
It jumped all over Michigan State.
The Spartans secondary was poor a year ago, sure, but they made improvements during the offseason that led to optimism through the first two weeks. UW quarterback Michael Penix Jr. came out and shredded that optimism.
By the halftime break, Washington had 322 yards of offense and 29 points on the board. Penix had three touchdown passes and 278 yards through the air. He hit Jalen McMillan within minutes of the game starting for a 47-yard bomb down the right sideline. For the game, Washington had 11 explosive pass plays. ELEVEN. That brings the season total to 31. In three games. UW is on pace to double last year’s output in that category.
This team has the ability to hit anyone with a flurry of points.
Doing so Saturday night against Michigan State gave DeBoer his first signature win in his first try. And it doesn’t feel like that’ll be the last.
Just something to keep an eye on
Washington had 108 rushing yards in the game and averaged only 3.2 yards a carry. (Thirty of those came on one Cameron Davis run on the final drive.) Against the best defensive front UW has faced so far this season, there wasn’t the kind of push Washington enjoyed a week ago.
Michigan State stood Washington up near the goal line on several occasions. In situations where 2 yards or less would have converted a first down or scored a touchdown, Washington was unsuccessful more often than not — 1-for-10. That continued a trend; the Huskies were 2-for-8 on those same kinds of runs against Portland State and 2-for-9 on them against Kent State.
When things tighten up, UW is going to need to be able to convert in those short-yardage situations. Things really slowed down in the second half for the Washington offense. The lack of a reliable rushing push might have had something to do with that.
Complementary football raising the Huskies’ ceiling
The defense swarms. Against Michigan State on Saturday, they allowed 64 rushing yards (adjusted for sacks) at 2.4 yards a carry. UW got run over last season. That isn’t really happening through the first three weeks. UW’s edge rushers look like all-conference talents. Special teams leveled some crushing hits and delivered a win in the field position battle. The offense topped 500 yards.
With a top-15 win on its résumé now, it’s time to talk about Washington as a legitimate threat in the Pac-12 title race.
The Huskies were sort of an enigma heading into the season. No more. They’re a force.