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Michigan State’s passing defense exposed in 39-28 loss to Washington

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Washington Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The No. 11/9 Michigan State Spartans traveled to Seattle to take on the Washington Huskies on Saturday night, and walked away with a 39-28 loss.

Washington received the ball to open the game, and it did not take long for the Huskies to open the scoring in the game. During the first drive, UW quarterback Michael Penix Jr. hit wide receiver Jalen McMillan for a 47-yard gain. Two plays later, Penix found wide receiver Ja’Lynn Polk for an eight-yard touchdown. Kicker Peyton Henry made the extra point, and the Huskies led 7-0 less than four minutes into the game.

Michigan State then went three-and-out on its first drive. There appeared to be some sort of miscommunication between quarterback Payton Thorne and running back Jarek Broussard on third down, which led to Thorne being tackled for a six-yard loss. Michigan State’s Bryce Baringer punted it away.

Washington took over and drove down the field once again — thanks in part to a questionable roughing the passer penalty called on Michigan State linebacker Ben VanSumeren — and would eventually get down to MSU’s 1-yard-line. However, the Spartans would make a goal-line stand and get the ball back on downs thanks to a fourth-down stop by defensive end Khris Bogle.

However, disaster stuck for Michigan State on the next play. With Michigan State at its own 2-yard-line, Broussard slipped in the end zone for a safety. Washington’s lead grew by two points, at 9-0, with just over one minute left to play in the first quarter.

Following the safety, Baringer would send the free kick out of bounds, giving Washington the ball at the 50-yard-line. The Huskies would make quick work on that possession, driving six plays and taking just 2:18 off of the clock. The drive was capped off by a one-yard touchdown run by running back Cameron Davis. Henry tacked on the point-after-touchdown and UW led MSU 16-0 with 13:49 left to play in the second quarter.

Michigan State would finally pick up a first down for the first time of the game on its next drive, as Thorne found wide receiver Keon Coleman for a 12-yard gain on third-down-and-5. However, Michigan State’s drive would stall out three plays later when Thorne was sacked by Washington defensive lineman Voi Tunuufi on third down. The Spartans were forced to punt one again.

Washington opened the next drive with a 37-yard gain, as Penix hit Polk through the air. Three plays later, Penix connected with running back Wayne Taulapapa on a 19-yard touchdown strike. The extra point attempt failed, and the Huskies led the Spartans 22-0 with 8:32 left in the second quarter.

Michigan State’s offense finally made something happen on its next drive. The Spartans marched 75 yards on 15 plays, taking 7:02 off the clock, to score the team’s first touchdown of the game. Thorne found Coleman for a seven-yard score, and then found him again for a two-point conversion. MSU cut UW’s lead to 14, as the Huskies had a 22-8 advantage with 1:30 left before halftime.

However, 1:30 was more than enough time for Penix and the Washington offense to drive down the field and score another touchdown before the break. Penix found Polk once again in the end zone (from 17 yards out) and UW grew its lead to 29-8 after Henry’s extra point. The Huskies went 65 yards on eight plays and took just 1:18 off of the clock.

Washington would take that 29-8 lead into the locker rooms at halftime. Michigan State received the ball to begin the second half.

The Spartans would take advantage to open the second half. On the second play of the drive, Thorne connected with with wide receiver Tre Mosley for a 20-yard gain. Later in the possession, Thorne hit Mosley for a 26-yard touchdown on fourth-down-and-6 (on an excellent adjustment from Mosley). Broussard dropped a pass on the two-point conversion play and Washington led 29-14 with 11:59 to play in the third quarter.

The Michigan State defense let up another score on the next drive, though, as Penix continued to carve up MSU’s secondary. He found Polk once again, this time for a 53-yard touchdown, as the Huskies scored in just four plays. Henry’s extra point was good, and Washington led 36-14 with 11:02 remaining in the fourth quarter.

MSU would pick up a pair of first downs on its next drive, but have nothing to show for it. The Washington defense sacked Thorne on one play, and two plays later, Thorne “rushed” for a 10-yard loss. Baringer would have to punt, but pinned Washington at its own 1-yard-line.

On Washington’s next possession, UW would pick up three first downs, but Michigan State eventually forced the Huskies to punt for the first time of the night. However, MSU was not able to convert in four downs and gave the ball back to UW deep into the Spartans’ territory at the 24-yard-line.

The Michigan State defense would hold, though. Washington once again got to Michigan State’s 1-yard-line, but the Spartans made a goal-line stand for the second time of the night. However, the Spartans would turn it over on the very next play, as Thorne was pressured in his own end zone and threw an interception.

Washington took over at the Michigan State 11-yard-line, but held the Huskies to a 26-yard field goal attempt, which Henry made. The Huskies led the Spartans 39-14 with 9:19 left to play.

Michigan State was not ready to go away yet, though. Elijah Collins capped off an eight-play, 70-yard drive by scoring a one-yard touchdown, cutting Washington’s lead to 39-20 after a failed two-point conversion try with 6:52 left in the fourth quarter.

The Michigan State defense would then force a punt and MSU took over at its own 25-yard-line. Just four plays later, Thorne would connect with Coleman again for six points on a 33-yard touchdown strike. Thorne also found Coleman for the two-point conversion. All of a sudden, it was just a two-score game, as Washington led 39-28 with 5:17 remaining in the game.

Washington would then go three-and-out and be forced to punt once again. Michigan State had a chance to make things interesting, and picked up two first downs on the drive. However, four-straight incompletions by Thorne would give the ball back to the Huskies on downs and UW would run out the clock.

The Spartans were down several starters, as safety Xavier Henderson, wide receiver Jayden Reed and defensive tackle Jacob Slade all missed the game. Make no mistake about it, though, Washington thoroughly dominated from start to finish.

UW dominated the line of scrimmage, holding the Spartans to 42 rushing yards on 29 attempts (1.4 yards per carry) and recording two sacks (Michigan State did not register a single sack). Meanwhile, the MSU passing defense is still a huge vulnerability for the team.

Penix shredded the Michigan State defense, completing 60 percent of his passes for 397 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions. Polk led the Huskies in receiving yards with 153 on six catches, and scored three touchdowns. Washington out-gained Michigan State in total yards by a tally of 503-365.

Thorne looked improved, completing 30 of 42 passes (71.4 percent) for 323 yards, three touchdowns and one pick. Coleman led Michigan State with nine catches for 116 yards and two touchdowns. Tight end Daniel Barker caught seven passes for 69 yards.

Michigan State will look to bounce back at home next week as it opens Big Ten Play against the Minnesota Golden Gophers on Saturday, Sept. 24 at 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time.