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Previewing Week 3: The Washington Huskies

The Huskies are big favorites - Can MSU slow them down?

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

In the endless cycle of preseason takes, Michigan State was always mentioned as having one of, if not the toughest schedule in college football. Obviously playing in the Big Ten East alongside Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State will make any schedule seem daunting, but the second leg of MSU’s home-and-home series against Washington provides no rest for the weary.

After last year’s mistake-filled loss in Seattle, Michigan State fans have had Washington’s return trip to East Lansing marked on their calendars. With the coaching staff and much of their high powered offense returning, the Huskies came into 2023 ranked #10 in the AP poll.

Contrasted with the uncertainty in the MSU program, which has elevated Harlon Barnett to acting head coach after Mel Tucker’s suspension, Kalen DeBoer’s program appears to be a well oiled machine, rolling into East Lansing at #8 in the country after opening the season 2-0.

CONTEXT: Coach Mel Tucker Suspended Read More Here


Washington is led by Kalen DeBoer, in his second season in Seattle. DeBoer, who started his head coaching career at his alma mater, NAIA Sioux Falls, came to Washington from Fresno State, his first NCAA head coaching stop. Prior to his two years in charge at Fresno, DeBoer was an assistant at Southern Illinois, Eastern Michigan, Fresno State, and Indiana.

MSU fans have been very familiar with DeBoer’s work, as he spent the 2019 season on Tom Allen’s staff at Indiana as the offensive coordinator. DeBoer’s offense in Bloomington was electric, led by then-redshirt freshman Michael Penix Jr until injuries ended his season. That Indiana squad was second in the Big Ten in total offense, and third in offensive efficiency.

DeBoer then reunited with Offensive Line Coach and right hand man Ryan Grubb at Fresno State in 2020. After a rocky pandemic-impacted season in 2020, Fresno State bounced back in 2021. The Bulldogs finished 10-3, losing tight games on the road at Oregon and Hawaii. Outside of their three losses and a rockfight against Wyoming in Laramie, Fresno State scored. And scored. And scored. They consistently crossed the 30 point mark, highlighted by a 63 point explosion against overmatched Cal Poly.


For 2022, DeBoer and his now-offensive coordinator Grubb moved up the west coast to Seattle, where they scored nearly 40 points per game. It was a quick turnaround from the sluggish offense of 2021, which led to the staff’s dismissal. Grubb calls the plays for the Huskies, and Washington had to fight to keep Grubb from joining Nick Saban’s staff at Alabama in the offseason.

The Grubb-DeBoer system is high-flying and made for big plays. Receivers get vertical, running backs are pass-catching threats, and receivers are key to the running attack. In their first two games, Washington has scored five rushing touchdowns, three of which have been scored by receivers running the football. The jet sweep is a constant threat.

The Huskies are led on the field by Michael Penix Jr, the senior quarterback who started his career at Indiana, where Kalen DeBoer called the offense in 2019, but whose time in Bloomington was marred by injury problems, and he never started more than six games in a season. When he was healthy with the Hoosiers, he was tremendous

After DeBoer was named head coach at Washington, Penix transferred to join the Huskies for his final two years of eligibility. His first season at Washington was incredible. He started all 13 games, going 11-2, leading FBS in passing yards, and setting a school record for passing yards at 4,641 on the season. Shockingly, and from a Spartan perspective crushingly, Penix decided to come back to Washington for his final year in 2023. In 2023, Penix has picked up where he left off at the end of 2022. In the victories over Boise State and Tulsa, he’s averaging 429.5 yards per game and 8 total touchdowns.

Washington’s receiving corps is deep and talented. Led by Rome Odunze and Jalen McMillan, the Huskies have the speed, size, and reliability to make DeBoer’s system shine. Ja’Lynn Polk and MSU transfer Germie Bernard round out Washington’s core four, and all have already scored this season.

Will Nixon leads the Huskies at running back, but the Huskies are a pass-first team. Nixon has 78 yards on the season, only carrying 12 times total. Washington will run the ball enough to make the play-action believable, but they are not particularly interested in running between the tackles.

This is most likely the most powerful offense the Spartans will face this season, even including the powers in the Big Ten East. This passing attack is no joke, and even given the tumult of this week, the coaching staff will be well-aware and prepared for an aerial assault.


While Washington’s offense is high-flying and aggressive, Washington’s defense is a bit more conservative. The Huskies gave up 19 points to Boise State in their opener, replacing 5 starters from last season’s squad, then followed it up with Tulsa scoring 10. Washington uses co-coordinators on the defensive side of the ball, with William Inge and Chuck Morrell splitting those duties.

The strength of the defense appears to be the defensive line, led by Preseason All American Bralen Trice. Trice is a formidable edge rusher who was the defensive player of the week against Tulsa, with four tackles, including one for a loss. Trice should be the top concern for Noah Kim as he makes his first start against Power 5 competition.

Last year’s team gave up nearly 26 points per game, but so far this version of Washington looks to be a little bit more stingy, even against lesser competition.

How worried should we be?


Michigan State’s defense is absolutely improved based on the first two games, but Washington is legitimately excellent through the air. Michael Penix probably should have jumped to the NFL this season (because he’s that good, not just because he’s Spartan Kryptonite). MSU will have to do everything possible to limit Washington’s possessions, which will not be easy, given how Noah Kim thrives outside of a plodding ball control gameplan. Washington will score, and then they’ll score some more.

It’s going to take all the good juju from the 2013 reunion, hall of fame ceremony, and Mark Dantonio to keep this game in range.