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Michigan State Rolled by Washington: Post Game Grades for The Spartans

Washington showed they may be one of the nation’s best teams. The Spartans showed…not that.

Syndication: Lansing State Journal Nick King/Lansing State Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

The matchup against Washington was always going to be a measuring stick game for the Michigan State Spartans. For the second year in a row the Spartans faced the Huskies in the third week, hoping to prove they were a program on the rise. Last year they fought hard and came up short. It was the beginning of a swoon that would lead to a very disappointing season. This year, it was worse.

Michigan State was dominated on offense and defense. On Special Teams, the Spartans most notable contribution was the weird penalties.

Washington is much better this year than last year. They may be one of the better teams in the country (they are already ranked number 8). Or the Spartans could simply not be very good, regardless of the quality of the opponent.

Here are the relatively bleak grades for the game.

How the Grades Work: The “Game Specific Grade” is an attempt to step back and ignore who they are playing and look at the performance through the lens of just this game. The grade based “on a curve” is an attempt to take the performance and scale it based on the quality of the opponent.

Details of the Curve for this Game: Washington is ranked number 8 in the nation. Judging by their first three weeks, that ranking may be low. The Huskies’ offense looks multifaceted and dangerous. Maybe a more talented team will expose the Huskies limitations (as happened last year), but right now their offense looks unstoppable, and their defense looks good enough to contribute to wins. For Michigan State this year, this means this game was projected to be a loss by most. This means the grading on the curve should be higher than the objective game specific grade.

Offense: F (Game Specific Grade) / D- (On a curve based on competition)

Michigan State’s struggles started on the offensive line. From the start of the game it was clear the offensive line lacked the ability to drive defenders back and give Nathan Carter room to run. On the occasions they could give Carter any space to run, he was able to have a few 8 to 10 yard runs that continue to show he may be something special - with space to run.

With the run game not an option early, it put the game on the shoulders of Noah Kim. even with the offensive line often giving him time to throw, Kim was simply off target for too much of the game. His first interception was a very poor decision. From there Kim looked unable to settle down and consistently deliver the ball on target. There are still flashes of the zippy pin point passing that looked good in the first two weeks, but doing it only 2 out of every 5 throws is not a recipe for success.

This objective F should theoretically be higher on the curve because Washington is very good BUT, defense is NOT what they are known for AND the Huskies were without 3 key contributors in their secondary. This means MSU’s passing game struggled this badly against the teams backups. That’s very bad news.

Defense: F (Game Specific Grade) / D (On a curve based on competition)

What can you say against a defense that looked unable to stop anything. This defense only forced Washington to punt twice. On every other possession before garbage time, the Huskies scored - in the first half all of those scores were touchdowns.

Michigan State’s secondary got exposed. This has been a weakness throughout the Mel Tucker era (technically we are still in that, even with Tucker suspended). Not a good look for a (now suspended) head coach and new acting head coach that were both defensive back coaches. This game showed the signs of progress from the first two weeks may have been fools gold.

Admittedly, Washington has potentially the most fearsome (or at least one of the most fearsome) pass attacks in the country. Their offense is creative, has incredibly athletic wide receivers and features Michael Penix, Jr. having a simply stellar season. This accounts for my award of a D on the curve.

Still, the defense just could not stop Washington at all. Even when Washington took the foot off the gas in the second half and started running the ball, the Spartans looked overwhelmed. Even the lone bright spot of the interception in the 4th quarter felt like MSU got lucky (the Washington player absolutely should have caught that ball that bounced up into Mangum’s hands).

Overall, this was a failure in a way that felt spirit crushing. That’s a serious concern with everything else going on.

Special Teams: C- (Game Specific Grade) / C- (On a curve based on competition)

Ugly. Simply ugly. The tale of the special teams was penalties. Some of the highlights included: 12 men on the field; holding calls that negated solid returns; tackling a guy who clearly called a fair catch; and the weirdest decision I’ve seen a returner make ever that thankfully was ruled the kick went out of bounds.

The two bright spots on Special Teams was the punting and Tyrell Henry.

The punters (both punted during this game) kicks had decent length, and more impressively some well placed kicks, landing a few inside the huskies 10-yard line.

Tyrell Henry looks like a returner ready to break one for a touchdown. Even with his runs consistently being called back, he showed promise for the future. If you can ignore that strange fielding of a kick that was ruled out of bounds, then Henry played great on special teams.

But just for a moment let me rant: I have literally no idea what Tyrell Henry was trying to do on the kick off reception at the start of the 2nd half. The idea he was trying to force it out of bounds is negated by his clear attempt to drag his inbounds foot. Henry got lucky his out of bounds foot actually was down and he got the call reversed. This did not seem smart.

Ok, back to the grades, the potential showed by the punters and Henry give this unit the highest of the game at C-. The penalties cannot be overlooked. And the curve is staying the same, as Washington did not seem to do anything that actually caused the problems for MSU, they seemed all self inflicted.

Coaching: F (Game Specific Grade) / D+ (On a curve based on competition)

This game was always going to be a coaching challenge. Looking at this season back in August, this game was going to require the coaching staff get the most out of a squad that is clearly less talented and experienced then one of the top ten teams in the country. Even if most people projected MSU to lose this game, the measuring stick was looking for signs that the young recruits could hold their own - even inconsistently - and that the coaching staff had a plan to get the most out of their collective.

After the suspension of Coach Tucker the job got even harder. Now this game became a litmus test of holding together a program teetering on chaos. This game became a measuring stick of the Acting Head Coach Harlon Barnett, who publicly admits he has long craved to be the head coach of the Spartans.

Even considering the challenges in front of them, this game was a failure by the coaching staff. They may have had almost no path to success, but parts of this game were simply ugly.

On the offensive side, the coaches looked like they bit off more than they could chew. Saddled with an offensive line with limitations and a QB who could not settle, the coaches did not help. Installing an overload formation that the players failed to line up correctly on - and not calling a timeout to fix is bad coaching.

Forcing a shaky quarterback to go up tempo after even the slightest positive play only seemed to exacerbate Noah Kim’s inconsistency. Yet, MSU stuck with this policy until it led to a false start early in the second half. This was not a good strategy, and shows for third week in a row that these coaches do not seem to know how to best serve Noah Kim as he learns how to play at this level.

The defensive strategy was equally bad. MSU came out in a conservative “shell” approach that had the secondary drop off receivers and keep the ball in front of them. This makes sense when your battling a big play offense - you saw defenses do this against the Chiefs in recent years. Unfortunately, Michael Penix, jr. was prepared and simply picked apart the secondary with mid range throws.

To make this approach work, you need linebackers that can make mid range catches at least uncomfortable and pass rushers that can harry the QB. MSU had neither of that. Instead they were forced to have the defensive backs play a bit closer to the receivers and that’s when it went from “really bad” to “oh my god why” territory. Penix simply lit up MSU as his receivers out jumped and out muscled Michigan State defenders on repeated jump balls.

Maybe there wasn’t a workable strategy for MSU’s athletes to compete with Washington. It’s hard to prove that. What MSU did prove is the strategy they deployed did nothing to help, and just gave Michael Penix, Jr. a passing day for the ages.

Beyond all that, the penalties were simply atrocious. I don’t love blaming coaches for players losing control - particularly for unsportsmanlike conduct penalties - that said, the Spartans looked disorganized. They looked under trained, out of sync and unfocused. It’s the coaches job to make that better. They did not.

The coaches get an F. It comes with empathy for what had to be one of the tougher coaching jobs this side of a public tragedy. Still, it was not a good performance and not a good sign for the future of this staff.

Overall: F (Game Specific Grade) / D (On a curve based on competition)

This article has detailed the problems. Outmatched, outcoached and simply outclassed. MSU got rocked. Washington is admittedly very good. This week was hellacious.

The only thing MSU can do after this game is move on. They need to burn the tape and focus on themselves. The Spartans need to figure out who they want to be.

Next week’s matchup against Maryland is the 4th game of the season. This means players who still have a redshirt year left will be thinking long and hard if they want to stay playing this year, or save the year of eligibility. Decisions like that will be more at the forefront after a loss like this. The coaching staff needs to focus on keeping players focused on the goals that are still attainable this year, and the long term vision of building MSU into a team that can compete with the top ten teams, then be a top ten team consistently. No matter how far away that feels today.

How do you grade Michigan State for this game?