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.
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 (2-1), which lost its 14th straight West Coast regular-season game, dating back to 1958, heads into conference play next week for a 3:30 p.m. homecoming 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.
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.
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.
Too much time for Penix, though. He swiftly plucked away underneath on 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 guided 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.
But Penix needed just four plays to get the Huskies back into the end zone, burning Grose again deep for a 53-yard touchdown and Polk’s third score of the day.
In the Spartans’ 40-31 home escape 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. 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 in 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.
Read more on the Michigan State Spartans and sign up for our Spartans newsletter.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan State football's big hopes doused by Washington, 39-28