SEATTLE – Michael Penix Jr. and Washington tossed Michigan State football’s secondary into the deep water of Union Bay over and over Saturday night.
The Huskies’ defense shoved the Spartans’ offensive line into the deep time and again.
And No. 9 MSU now heads into Big Ten play licking some significant wounds, both physically and mentally.
The Spartans were overpowered and overmatched by the Huskies, who used a monster game from Penix, a former Indiana quarterback — and MSU nemesis — for a 39-28 victory at Husky Stadium.
“There’s only so much that you can do when you get in a situation where we’re not playing well in any phase,” MSU coach Mel Tucker said. “We weren’t able to get the rush. And then from a coverage standpoint, it wasn’t just one position or one guy — it was kind of across the board. They kind of poked around and found some things.
“We’re gonna look at the film, and we’ll find a way to mitigate any type of issues that we have. Whether it’s scheme or personnel or whatever, we’ll get those things fixed, and then we’ll move forward .”
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Penix finished 24-for-40 for 397 yards with four touchdowns, picking apart a Spartan secondary that allowed the most passing yards in the Football Bowl Subdivision a year ago and proved to be a major problem in the only losses of 2021 against Purdue and Ohio State.
MSU’s Payton Thorne finished 30-for-42 for 323 yards, three touchdowns and an interception, but was frequently chased out of the pocket or hit. He was sacked twice.
“We want to say that we got a resilient team, and I think that we have that this year. I think we showed that we’re gonna play until the end,” Thorne said. “Unfortunately, we ran out of time.”
MSU (2-1), which lost its 14th straight West Coast regular-season game, dating back to 1957, heads into conference play next week for a 3:30 pm game against Minnesota at Spartan Stadium. The Gophers (3-0) are coming off a 49-7 steamrolling of Colorado on Saturday.
The Spartans, meanwhile, looked lost from the opening kickoff in their first trip to Washington since 1970.
The Huskies (3-0) and new coach Kalen DeBoer immediately started attacking the MSU secondary despite its strides in starting the season by allowing under 200 yards a game through the air in wins over Western Michigan and Akron.
Penix needed just seven plays to dissect the Spartans on the opening drive, including a 47-yard bomb to Jalen McMillan over MSU nickelback Chester Kimbrough. That set up an 8-yard touchdown on a slant pass from Penix to Ja’Lynn Polk in front of safety Angelo Grose 3:38 into the game.
“We had a matchup issue that they took advantage of. It was obvious, it showed up early in the game,” Tucker said. “We knew that it was going to be a game of (explosive plays). If you look at their drives in the first two games, almost all of their scoring drives, included explosive gains, and we knew that we needed to eliminate explosive gains . And we weren’t able to do that. And it just was a deal where it’s too easy to score when you give up big chunks.”
And set the tone for what came next.
Penix directed the Huskies to MSU’s 1 before the Spartans’ run defense smothered them and took over. But running back Jarek Broussard slipped as he ran into right guard Matt Carrick on the next play for a safety that made it 9-0 Washington.
After an out-of-bounds free kick by Bryce Baringer gave the Huskies the ball at midfield, Penix again moved them quickly with a 10-yard toss and 27-yard throw to get back near the goal line. Running back Cameron Davis punched it in from the 1 three plays later to make it 16-0.
Penix threw a 19-yard touchdown to running back Wayne Taluapapa over the coverage of linebacker Cal Haladay with 8:32 left in the second quarter. Washington was up 22-0 and coasting.
“We’re just so confident when we get in those medium (distances on) third and fourth downs, because Mike sees the field and our guys are tough to match up against, especially in the passing game,” DeBoer said. “If it’s man, we’re gna count on one of those guys winning; if it’s zone, someone’s gonna sit down in that window and Mike’s gonna find them. … You got trust, and you got a guy you can win football games with and not just try and manage a game.”
Meanwhile up front, MSU’s offensive line was frequently blown off the ball, failing to establish a run game early. Thorne was sacked by two Huskies when right tackle Spencer Brown and center Nick Samac failed to hold their blocks to end the third drive, leaving the Spartans with just 11 yards on 12 plays through three possessions.
The Spartans finished with 42 rushing yards on 29 attempts. Jalen Berger, who ran for over 100 yards in each of the first two games, had just 27 yards on 13 attempts.
Thorne, meanwhile, found a rhythm on the fourth chance. He quickly marched MSU 75 yards after the Taluapapa touchdown with a mix of short passes that helped open up some running lanes, including a fourth-and-5 quarterback draw near midfield for an 11-yard gain to keep the drive alive. The junior evaded pressure deep in Washington territory, then found Keon Coleman for a 7-yard touchdown pass after the receiver looped around the end zone. The two connected for a two-point play to make it 22-8 with 1:30 left before half. Coleman finished with 116 yards on nine catches with two touchdowns.
Too much time for Penis, though. He swiftly plucked away underneath the MSU defense and took advantage of some back-end miscommunication to find Polk for a 17-yard score with four seconds before half. The Spartans trailed 29-8 at the break.
Thorne led an eight-play, 75-yard scoring drive to open the second half, finishing it with a 26-yard touchdown into double coverage to Tre Mosley on fourth-and-6. A failed 2-point play made it 29-14.
“We talked at halftime. I think we had four drives, and one of them was one play unfortunately that ended in a safety. And we felt like we shot ourselves in the foot on two of them. And then the other drive, we went down scored and possessed the ball for a while,” Thorne said. “We just wanted to come out there and execute, and I thought we did that at times in the second half.”
But Penix needed just four plays to get the Huskies back into the end zone, burning Grose deep again for a 53-yard touchdown and Polk’s third score of the day.
“That’s just football. I mean, big plays happen,” Haladay said. “We knew that was gonna happen, big plays, and we wanted to limit them as much as possible. But it didn’t happen the way we wanted to.”
In the Spartans’ 40-31 home run against the Hoosiers in 2019, Penix completed 20 straight passes at one point and finished 33-for-42 for 286 yards with three touchdowns. DeBoer was Indiana’s offensive coordinator that season. Then in 2020 (with DeBoer departed for Fresno State), Penix picked apart MSU by going 25-for-38 for 320 yards and two touchdowns in an Indiana victory.
MSU went to Washington without a number of key players. That included starting wide receiver Jayden Reed and defensive tackle Jacob Slade, along with safety Xavier Henderson for the second straight week.
“Injuries are part of the game,” Tucker said. “(Reed) wasn’t ready, and so it was next man up. We were able to make some plays in the passing game. Obviously it does matter who’s playing, he’s one of our best players, so we would like to have him but we didn’t have him. So it’s next man up.”
Linebacker Darius Snow is out for the season with a right leg injury. A number of other reserves also did not make the trip — safety Tate Hallock, cornerback Marqui Lowery, defensive tackle Dashaun Mallory and defensive ends Avery Dunn and Chase Carter.
During the game, the Spartans lost several players to injuries, including starting defensive end Jeff Pietrowski in the first quarter. He did not return and was on the sideline in street clothes wearing a walking boot. MSU also did not use either Berger or Broussard late, with Elijah Collins scoring a 1-yard touchdown run with 6:51 to play after Berger left for the sideline with an apparent injury. Neither Berger nor Broussard had their helmets on as the Spartans attempted to cut the 11-point deficit in the final minutes before turning it over on downs.
The Spartans also watched defensive tackle Simeon Barrow and linebacker Aaron Brule leave the game briefly with injuries but returned.
Contact Chris Solari: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @chrissolari.
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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan State football’s big hopes doused by Washington, 39-28