Three Takeaways After MSU’s Road Loss to Washington


MSU head coach Mel Tucker during the Spartans’ 30-27 win over Penn State on Nov. 27, 2021/Photo Credit: Sarah Smith/WDBM

Michael Markoch, General Assignment Reporter

SEATTLE, WA- The Michigan State Spartans took the road for the first time this season to face their toughest test, by far, of 2022 in the Washington Huskies. Unfortunately for the Spartans, it was not their finest performance as MSU struggled on defense and suffered a brutal 39-28 defeat. Here are a few of the takeaways after a disappointing night in the Pacific Northwest.

Takeaway #1: The season is not over…yet.

The silver lining for the Spartans after Saturday night’s game is that they still have everything in front of them to achieve almost all of their goals this season. MSU has a daunting three-week stretch starting in a couple of weeks. In that stretch, the Spartans will host No. 3 Ohio State and Wisconsin before going on the road to play No. 4 Michigan. If the Spartans can somehow win all of those games, the season is back on track. They also have to travel to Happy Valley to play Penn State at the end of the year, who is currently ranked No. 22 in the country and beat Auburn on the road Saturday.

Speaking of ranked teams, Washington will almost surely be ranked in the Top 25 after this performance and is poised to be a force in the Pac-12 conference. They may even be able to compete for the conference title and a potential playoff spot if they keep winning. But this wasn’t just a loss for the Spartans, it was a beatdown. The Huskies dominated from the opening kickoff and despite what the final score read, the game never felt close. That will matter in the eyes of the playoff committee.

Whatever the Spartans’ goals were for the season, whether it be a 10-win season, a Big Ten title, a New Year’s Six Bowl or even a national championship, (yes, a national championship), they still have an opportunity to do all of those things. At the end of the day, this is a loss to a good team, on the road, in week three, it absolutely could be worse.

In order for any of MSU’s goals to come to fruition, the Spartans must improve in key areas.


Takeaway #2: The secondary has no choice but to get better.

So far in 2022, the MSU defense is having the same issues it had in 2021. The secondary simply can’t cover anybody with any consistency. In the first half alone, the Spartans gave up 278 yards and three touchdowns through the air. For the game, they gave up 397 yards passing and surrendered four passing touchdowns. Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. had a passer rating of 176.4. That is simply unacceptable for a team that came into the year with such high expectations.

To be fair to the Spartans, they have had a few injuries on defense that haven’t helped, like losing safety Xavier Henderson in week one. Despite those injuries, the Spartans still have veteran players in the secondary that should prevent these clear lapses from happening. Even in the game against Western Michigan, when Henderson played at least a little bit, receivers were open far too many times in key situations. To see such little improvement in what was the team’s worst category a year ago is disheartening. 

It feels like wishful thinking to think the defense will be able to get it together in time to take on their upcoming Big Ten schedule. Although the Spartans can certainly put up points of their own, it’s a lot to ask Payton Thorne and company to keep up with the vaunted offenses in the Big Ten this year without at least a little bit of support from the defense.

After Saturday night, there is no more room for error in East Lansing because if the secondary can’t improve, they will see similar results like the one they saw on Saturday night and the season will slowly begin to dwindle away.

MSU quarterback Payton Thorne drops back in the pocket during the Spartans’ 31-21 Peach Bowl win over No. 12 Pittsburgh on Dec. 30, 2021/ Photo Credit: Sarah Smith/WDBM

Takeaway #3: The coaching staff needs to trust Payton Thorne.

If there’s one player you can’t place the blame on for this loss, it’s quarterback Payton Thorne. The junior completed 30-of-42 passes for 323 yards and three touchdowns and in the second half, Thorne was the only reason the Spartans were still in the game. 

Early on, the Spartans were committed to running the ball, especially between the tackles. The only problem with that is the strategy wasn’t working. Sometimes you have to mix it up and use the passing game to set up the running game, but by the time the Spartans figured that out, it was far too late. 

It’s a common theme that MSU’s offense will face most of the season. After Kenneth Walker III’s Heisman-caliber season a year ago, everyone knows what the Spartans’ strength on offense is, or more importantly, what the Spartans want their identity to be. Teams are going to load the box and make Payton Thorne and the Spartans’ passing attack beat their defense.

On Saturday, Thorne was up to the challenge. If the coaching staff would have opened up the offense a little more and let Thorne get into a shootout with Penix Jr., the result may have been different. MSU will need to lean on its experienced signal-caller in big games this season and beyond.

The Spartans may not realize that until after Thorne is long gone, he does only have a couple of years of eligibility left. However, in order to compete for championships sometime in the future, like Michigan State claims that it will, the Spartans have to trust their quarterback. 

Michigan State will try to regroup as it will return home to open Big Ten play next Saturday against the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. from Spartan Stadium.