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Michigan State football: 3 keys and a prediction vs. Washington

How can MSU win?



Michigan State football

Michigan State football has its biggest game of the season on Saturday. Here are some keys and a prediction vs. Washington.

Bizarre. Agonizing. Disappointing. Those are just a few words that can be used to describe the last few days f0r the Michigan State football program.

On Saturday, there is a game. A big game. Eighth-ranked Washington will pay a visit to Spartan Stadium for the most anticipated non-conference home game in years. For the Spartans and their fans, Saturday can’t come soon enough. For a couple of hours, everyone can just focus on football. The atmosphere might be strange. The mood in Spartan Stadium is unpredictable. But for four quarters on Saturday afternoon, football can be the primary focus.

Here are some keys to watch for and a prediction of the outcome.

1. Michigan State

Take that in any direction you wish. Michigan State as a team is the most intriguing part of this matchup. The past few days have been extremely abnormal for the players and coaches. In all of the different directions these young men anticipated their season might go, nobody could have predicted this. Their ability to rally around each other and focus on their opponent is the number one key to this game on Saturday.

The Spartans are heavy underdogs. Being physically ready to go isn’t going to be enough. For the Spartans to win, they’ll have to execute their scouting report and game plan perfectly. That preparation falls on the coaching staff. Any ideas as to what to expect there? Me neither.

Harlon Barnett takes over as the interim head coach for the Spartans. He’ll have an assist from Michigan State football legend Mark Dantonio. Barnett has 15 years of coaching experience at Michigan State. He’ll be ready for this opportunity. But how will he react when it comes to the first fourth down decision? How quickly will he throw out an element of the game plan and make an adjustment? He’s being asked to look at the game from an entirely different point of view than he’s used to. That’s neither good nor bad.

If there is a silver lining to the situation, it’s that Michigan State now feels like they have absolutely nothing to lose in this game. Nobody was expecting much of them to begin with. Now, with this added distraction, people will applaud them for playing hard. It’s a bad situation.

The Spartans have to try and make the best of it. We’re about to find out what that looks like.

2. Washington’s offense and Michigan State’s defense

If Michael Penix Jr. wants to have a graduation party, Michigan State University would be willing to pick up the tab and buy him a class ring. This guy has torched Michigan State for 1,003 yards and nine touchdowns across three games. A year ago, the country was introduced to Washington’s high-powered offense in this game. Only one quarterback threw for more yards than Penix in 2022 and that was because he played 14 games to Penix’s 13.

Pick any statistic. It’s impressive. Washington is going to score. Their offense can’t be held down by anyone in college football. For Michigan State, it have to understand that. They can’t let one bad play become two. They can’t let an eight-yard gain become a 48-yard gain. Bend. Don’t break.

So far, Michigan State’s defense has been a strength. The most talented unit on this team is Michigan State’s defensive line. That unit will need to be repeatedly disruptive on Saturday. If there is a weakness with Penix, it’s his accuracy. For his career, he’s completing 63 percent of his passes with 24 interceptions across 36 games. If MSU can disrupt the pocket and make Penix move around, they might be able to do enough to bother him. Again, it’s not about shutting down the Huskies. It’s about making them execute and earn it. Through two games, opponents are just 4-of-28 on third down against MSU’s defense. To me, that’s the game.

If MSU can pressure Penix and make him feel the rush – particularly on third down — then he might miss on just enough throws to let the Spartans hang around. If he’s allowed to stand back there all day, he will pick this defense apart. The wide receiving group is too talented to hold down. Keep things in front of you. Tackle in space. Live to fight another down. Then maybe, just maybe, MSU can give themselves a chance in the fourth quarter.

3. Michigan State’s offensive line

If I’m Jay Johnson and Harlon Barnett, the last thing I want to do is get into a shootout with the Huskies like they did a year ago.

That’s what Washington wants. Michigan State football needs a game in the 20s. To get there, it’s going to require long drives from the offense. I want MSU to take advantage of the new clock rules and shorten this game. Michael Penix Jr. and his receivers can’t hurt MSU from the sidelines. That’s going to require an effective running game.

Through two games, Michigan State’s ground attack has been better with Ethan Boyd and Kristian Phillips in the game. It’s no coincidence that when these two are on the field, the running game has found some space. MSU likes to rotate bodies along the offensive line. I’m sure we’ll see both players at some point. In the first real test of the season though, I don’t think MSU has the luxury of waiting to get those two involved. This is also the biggest game that Noah Kim has ever played in. The last thing he needs is to have poor protection up front. Washington will likely look to test him early with some blitzes. It’s crucial that he’s able to hit a couple passes early to get his footing. Part of that is Kim’s responsibility as well. But he also needs time. He’s been prone to some overthrows so far this season. A leaky offensive line is only going to exacerbate that issue.

MSU has some playmakers on offense. They should be able to score against this defense. It all starts with the big boys up front.


Before the season, I predicted Michigan State football would win this game. The line was around Washington -12 in the offseason. It has ballooned up to 16 this week. Part of that is due to Washington. Part of that is due to what’s going on at Michigan State.

Quite honestly, I think this is a great spot for the Spartans. They’re at home. There are zero expectations. The team will rally around each other and their new head coach. At the same time, Washington is too good.

Kalen DeBoer and Michael Penix Jr. have had MSU’s number since their days at Indiana. The injury to Jacboy Windmon is a potential issue for Michigan State. Even if he goes, MSU’s best pass rusher won’t be at 100 percent. While I do think this Spartan defense has improved from a year ago, this is a bad matchup. Washington’s complex aerial attack should be able to solve Scottie Hazelton’s zone-heavy scheme.

Michigan State should be able to ride the energy of game day and the home crowd for a half. Eventually, I expect DeBoer to figure things out and calmly put Michigan State to sleep. The Spartans improve to 3-0 — against the spread.

Prediction: Washington 38, Michigan State 24