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TOC Staff Picks: Michigan State vs. Washington

Can the Spartans break the trend of losing on the West Coast?

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

Now at 2-0, Michigan State will head to the West Coast for its toughest test of the season thus far. The Washington Huskies are also 2-0 and come in as 3.5-point favorites.

The Spartans have had their struggles on the West Coast, with recent losses coming to Arizona State and Oregon. However, MSU made a statement in Week Three last season against Miami and has an opportunity to do so again on Saturday.

Our writers give their thoughts on the Spartans’ first road test of the season.

Ryan O’Bleness

Michigan State 31, Washington 28

Those who have said that Washington won’t be a challenge throughout the offseason are mistaken. This is going to be a tough game that requires long-distance travel and the Michigan State players having to fight fatigue and jet lag, and having to adjust to a new time zone. MSU (and the Big Ten in general) has a horrid track record out west during the regular season. Washington is a much improved team with Kalen DeBoer at head coach and Michael Penix Jr. at quarterback. The Huskies have an explosive offense.

However, Washington’s defense is still a question mark. I expect the Spartans to be able to run the ball on this team. The key, of course, is whether or not Payton Thorne can find his footing in the passing game, hit his receivers and not turn the ball over. Jayden Reed’s status is also up in the air for this one, which makes things difficult to predict. This will be a close, hard-fought game throughout. True freshman kicker Jack Stone comes up big in the clutch and drills a game-winning field goal — the moment is not too big for him.

Kevin Knight

Michigan State 34, Washington 28

Records were meant to be broken. While I still hold that Michigan State fans have been sleeping on how tough the Huskies are, as pointed out in my preseason rankings, I do trust this coaching staff to understand the challenge of time zone hopscotch and try to game plan for that like the heat and humidity in Miami last year. The Spartans have to settle for a few field goals in this one early, but the ground game helps keep Michigan State’s offense on the field and in control of time of possession. I look forward to celebrating in Seattle Saturday night when MSU moves to 5-14 in western road games since 1950.

Paul Fanson

Michigan State 31, Washington 24

The Spartans are traveling to the West Coast as underdogs. In addition to fighting jet lag, they will also be carrying the burden of a long history of regular season losses on the West Coast. But the majority of the computer projections (including mine) like the Spartans to pull the upset.

I foresee that Michigan State might get off to a slow start and may even trail at halftime. But, in the second stanza, Payton Thorne will settle down and the Spartans will be sharp. They slowly, but surely will begin to out-execute the Huskies until the lead changes hands and Michigan State wins going away.

Zach Manning

Washington 31, Michigan State 27

I think this game will be close throughout, but Washington’s offense will give Michigan State trouble. The Huskies get rid of the ball very fast, and MSU is pretty content with giving up those little chunks of yardage. MSU will allow Washington to slowly maneuver down the field, and it will result in long drives that end with points.

I don’t doubt Michigan State will be able to score on offense, though. Washington’s defense isn’t that great, and MSU has put up a lot of points despite not playing to its potential yet. My concern is Michael Penix being able to escape the pressure of MSU and being able to throw quick hitters all the way down the field.

Brad LaPlante

Michigan State 23, Washington 20

There is no right answer this week. This is a game I would never place an actual bet on. Michigan State’s season is riding on Payton Thorne to get it right. If he gets it right, MSU wins this game. If he doesn’t, the Spartans are in trouble.

Brendan Moore

Michigan State 21, Washington 20

Despite both teams having good offenses, this game will be a defensive battle. Michigan State will rely on Jalen Berger and Jarek Broussard to get settled in the hostile environment. Payton Thorne will be forced to make plays on the move as the Washington pass rush will get home.

I like Washington to out-gain Michigan State, but MSU will force field goals in the red zone. That will be the difference in this game. The Spartans will score touchdowns and force field goals from the Huskies.


Michigan State 31, Washington 27

I think we’ll see Michigan State focus on the run early with a passing game less geared to deep throws, but instead short and/or quick passes to develop a little rhythm and confidence for Payton Thorne. Defensively, it will be really interesting if MSU chooses to play cover 3 or cover 4, or perhaps a more aggressive man-to-man. I don’t foresee Washington having a lot of success in the running game and would expect 40-plus passes from Michael Penix Jr. I predict MSU will grind out a less than pretty, but effective, win on the road.

Chase Glasser

Michigan State 38, Washington 24

Having watched Kent States quarterback hit deep gaps in Washington’s zone with alarming regularity, if Thorne figures it out, MSU wins something like 38-24. I am not impressed with UW and think MSU fans have 2019-2020 Penix nightmares. I don't see it.

Amani Godfrey

Washington 34, Michigan State 27

As I cited before the season, this will be one of the Spartans’ toughest tests of the season based on play style. Through two games, albeit against inferior competition, the Washington Huskies have posted one of the better passing attacks in the country. The Huskies are sixth in the country in passing yards, the top team in offensive success rate and third in expected points added (EPA) per drive.

This will no doubt be a chance for the Spartans to shed the suspect secondary label that has been earned after last season’s poor play from that unit. Michigan State will need much better play from quarterback Payton Thorne. Through two games against MAC schools, Thorne has been picked off three times and has missed open receivers consistently. If this trend continues early in the game against the Huskies, don’t be surprised to see backup quarterback, Noah Kim, come in to spark the offense a bit. If the Spartans cannot create explosive plays in the running game, they will need to hit their open receivers downfield against a rather suspect Husky secondary.

This game will come down to the better passing game, and as of now, Washington head coach Kalen DeBoer and quarterback Michael Penix Jr. look to have things cooking in Seattle.

Justin Walsh

Michigan State 36, Washington 31

The Spartans face their first true test of the season, traveling across the country to face Washington. The Huskies, while facing top competition for the first time themselves, have looked much improved this season, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. Payton Thorne should find a way out of his early-season funk and round into his previous season form, while the defense will do enough to earn Michigan State its first true road victory over a Pac-12 team in over 50 years.

Some of The Only Colors staff will participate weekly in full conference picks, using Tallysight. You can keep up to date with our staff’s selections here.