Michigan State travels to Seattle this week to play Washington. Saturday night just needs to get here, I can’t take the agony of waiting anymore.
This is easily the most anticipated game for both the Spartans and Huskies so far this season, and there’s plenty to figure out about each side.
So let’s just cut to the chase and start naming what we want to see on Saturday, shall we?
3 THINGS WE WANT TO SEE
Payton Thorne finding his footing
And I mean that literally. After watching a few throws from last week’s game, some of his misses on easy targets were because his footwork wasn’t there — he was throwing off his back foot, sometimes even looking as if he was bracing for a hit that was never coming. Once he was stepping into throws, he was dropping some nice dimes that have gone forgotten in the midst of this fan base’s slight worry about his performance.
Now that’s not a catch-all solution — Thorne himself did mention there are minor timing wrinkles to iron out while speaking with media on Tuesday, too. Any way you slice it, Thorne has to be better than the 57.7 percent passer he is this season (and I think he will be).
Washington is still rebuilding its secondary that lost two players from last season’s team in the top-40 picks of the 2022 NFL Draft. Michigan State has the weapons to do damage, Thorne just needs to get it to them.
Stave off Washington edge Bralen Trice
One other item that could help the passing game is blocking Washington’s biggest game-wrecker, sophomore Bralen Trice. Just how good has he been this season? Well, let our friends at UW Dawg Pound help explain:
Player A: 34 pass rush snaps, 14 pressures, 2 sacks (41% pressure rate)— De UW Dawg Pound (@UWonSBN) September 11, 2022
Player B: 98 pass rush snaps, 11 pressures, 2 sacks (11% pressure rate)
Player A is Bralen Trice so far this year. Player B is Bralen Trice last year. Competition level a factor but he's made a huge leap.
When it comes to Washington’s strengths, he’s the runaway leader. Now it’s up to the Spartan offensive line to continue the solid start they’ve had to the season.
The “Jalen & Jarek Show” cooking
This is potentially a great spot for MSU to control the game with tempo and outright success on offense. The run game won’t just be able to help by keeping the defense off the field, but also rack up points against a defense that seems just “meh” at run defense so far.
Last year the Huskies were the worst Power Five defense against the run, and while the scheme has changed this year (no more safeties playing ~85 yards off the line of scrimmage), it’s still been a tad underwhelming. The Huskies are letting up 3.3 yards per carry, which is actually just “ehh” against the bad competition they’ve faced. They’re also coming fresh off a game where FCS Portland State’s running back bit off 4.8 yards per carry.
Jalen Berger and Jarek Broussard are averaging a combined 6.2 yards per carry. And while this is the stiffest test they’ll have yet, it’s still against a run defense that hasn’t completely found its footing.
2 KEY STATS
That’s the number of sacks Washington’s offensive line has allowed so far this season. Not bad, especially considering the Huskies were without back-to-back All-Pac-12 honoree Jaxson Kirkland at left tackle those first two games (he’s expected to play Saturday).
Allowing zero sacks could be a few factors. Is it that this unit was decent in 2021 and has simply improved from last season? Maybe! Is it because it’s built with former four-stars that are seeing their full potential come to fruition? Could be! Is it because they’ve only faced lowly Kent State and Portland State? WHO KNOWS!
What we do know is that this is as interesting of a test for Washington’s offensive line as it is for Michigan State’s pass rush that leads the nation in sacks per game (six) and total sacks (12). It’s a battle between two units that have thrived against lesser competition, and the one to take this battle could determine the winner of the whole game.
That’s how many passing plays of 20-plus yards Washington has this season, which is tied for eighth in the country. For reference, MSU has nine such plays, which ranks the Spartans at 30th nationally.
Washington really struggled last year in, well, everything. BUT, especially the passing game as no receivers had more than 500 yards receiving last season. HOWEVER, that has changed with Michael Penix Jr. at the helm and head coach Kalen DeBoer running the offense.
Washington has weapons in speedster Giles Jackson (runner-up for Paul Bunyan in 2020), 6-foot-3 possession target Rome Odunze and leading touchdown-grabber Jalen McMillan.
MSU will look to limit the big plays, and I have a feeling this will look very reminiscent to the Miami (FL.) game last season where the Hurricanes had roughly 600 successful eight-yard hitch routes. No one wants to read this, but it will likely look very “bend-don’t-break” on Saturday. By way of good tackling and red zone defense, let’s hope for the best.
1 Best Bet
Michigan State +3.5, over/under 56.5
We’re a smoking 2-0 to kick off the season, and this is a tough spot for 3-0, BUT DANG IT WE WILL GIVE IT A SHOT ANYWAY I GUESS?
I’m going with the over. I think both offenses have strengths they can flex over the opposing defense — like Washington’s passing game against Michigan State’s secondary, MSU’s run game vs. Washington’s run defense, Thorne maybe figuring it out too?
Anyway, over it is. You can tell I’m just exuding confidence here.
Pick: Over 56.5
What is your best bet for Saturday night’s game?
This poll is closed