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Michigan State Football: Takeaways from loss at Washington

The Spartans fell to the Huskies by a final score of 39-28 on Saturday.

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

Well, it’s over. The Michigan State Spartans suffered the team’s first loss of the 2022 season at the hands of the Washington Huskies on Saturday, falling 39-28 after trailing by three possessions for much of the game. Mistakes piled up early. The Spartans ran just six plays on offense in the first quarter. It was a totally ugly loss for Mel Tucker and MSU.

Let’s dive right into this week’s takeaways.

Payton Thorne bounced back

Let’s start with the good, OK? Quarterback Payton Thorne certainly started his season off a bit rocky. In the first two games, he was missing some of the routine throws that made him and the Spartan passing game so exciting last season. He just looked off, and with this at Washington matchup on the clock, it was clear he needed to step it up.

And he did just that. Thorne finished the game with 30 completions for 323 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He connected on many of the throws he missed on to start the year, and outside of some miscommunication and his interception late in the game, he looked like the Thorne that helped lead the Spartans to a 11-2 finish in 2021. The Spartans need that to continue through the rest of the season. Hopefully wide receiver Jayden Reed is back on the field soon as he recovers from his injury, which will only help.

Thorne’s last touchdown pass especially — dropping the throw perfectly into Keon Coleman’s arms in stride — for the score gave me flashbacks to last season. I’ll be looking for him to keep developing the deep pass again as the Spartans open conference play next week.

Keon Coleman has such a bright future

Speaking of Keon Coleman, what a game from the sophomore.

Coleman exploded in the absence of Reed, recording nine receptions for 116 yards, two touchdowns, and two two-point conversions. His first scoring grab and the reception for the two-point conversion were some of the best catches I’ve seen from a Spartan in recent years. He snagged both as they were inching closer to incomplete passes.

If Reed is out for an extended period of time this season, the Spartans remain in good hands with Coleman as the top wide receiver for the time being, and will definitely be in good hands for the next few years as he continues to grow and develop.

The defense still

Now we’re starting to move into the not-so-good from Saturday’s game. This one is the glaring takeaway, but something, ANYTHING has to be done to this defense. I was naïve, and was convinced after the shutout win over Akron that maybe, just maybe, the defense was improving. But, after Saturday, it’s clear that it really wasn’t as fixed as we thought.

The Spartan defense gave up all but one available yard of offense to the Huskies in the first half, forcing a turnover on downs on Michigan State’s 1-yard-line for MSU’s only stop of the half. It was a monster of a stop, however (thanks to defensive end Khris Bogle), and I think the Spartans truly do deserve credit for that.

However, for most of the game, the defense simply looked lost. Coverages were blown, pressure wasn’t getting even close to Michael Penix for most of the game after the Spartans found lots of success in the first two weeks. It’s easy to say that maybe Saturday was a fluke in that regard, but given the talent gap between the Spartans’ first two opponents and the Huskies, I’d say it’s a lot more likely that MSU only found that success in the first two weeks because of the level of competition. That will be something to keep an eye on going forward, especially with Minnesota, which has a very talented offensive line, on the clock.

We all know how poorly Michigan State’s passing defense performed in 2021. It was more of the same versus Washington on Saturday night, as the Spartans gave up 397 passing yards and 503 total yards. The bottom line is that defense has a lot of work to do if the Spartans hope to try and repeat their team success from 2021.

Time to recalibrate expectations

We knew heading into Saturday that it would be tough. It was on the road, across the country (on the West Coast, where Michigan State has historically struggled), and against a significantly better opponent than the Spartans had faced the first two weeks. However, a performance like that was not expected. There’s still time for the Spartans to try and turn things around, but if Michigan State is not able to, there needs to be some massive recalibration of expectations from fans.

The schedule is tough. The Spartans have a gauntlet this October with Ohio State, Wisconsin, and a game at Michigan all back-to-back-back (minus a bye before the trip to Ann Arbor), but Michigan State also travels to Happy Valley against a talented Penn State team to end the season. I’m not saying MSU can’t or won’t win at least two of those games, but after the way the team came out against the Huskies, I think expectations need to be lowered a bit for this team.

Michigan State was a little spoiled by its success in 2021, and while the Spartans have been bit with the injury bug early, some of the main problems of last year’s team look to be back this season. In order for MSU to succeed and try and get back to double-digit wins, especially with this schedule, some serious work needs to be done over these next few weeks as the Spartans open up conference play.

It’s still early. There’s still some time to clean things up. But there needs to be some serious urgency if Michigan State wants to achieve its goals this season. Minnesota will be a good test for the Spartans at home next week. We’ll see what happens next.