The Huskies look to make a statement with a win over a potential top-10 team.
Photo: Paul Abell via Abell Images
Article by WestCoastCFB
Washington and Michigan State meet in a premier non-conference matchup between two historical power programs on September 17th in Seattle, Washington. The Spartans are coming off a dominant 11-2 season that ended with a Peach Bowl victory over Pittsburgh while the Huskies, on the other hand, had their worst season since 2008 while winning just 4 games. Who has the edge in 2022 at each position group? We present you with an early preview.
Quarterback: Dylan Morris returns at Quarterback for the Washington offense after a disastrous season that resulted in 14 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions. The hope is a new scheme will have him playing at a higher level and he can emulate the numbers Jake Haener put up for Kalen DeBoer at Fresno State last season. Competing for the starting job are also Michael Penix Jr. who transferred from Indiana where he threw 29 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions and Sam Huard who struggled in the Apple Cup last season against the Cougs in a game where he threw 4 picks.
Payton Thorne set a Michigan State record last season with 27 touchdown passes, the most in a single season in program history. The star QB was a major reason the Spartans won 11 games and with him back the sky is the limit. Brad Crawford of 247 Sports recently ranked the Top 25 quarterbacks in the country for 2022 and Thorne placed 25th. QB play will have a major impact on this game and the large advantage MSU has here could be noteworthy.
Edge: Michigan State
Running Back: The biggest issue for the Washington offense is they don't have a big time running back they can lean on for 20-30 carries per game. The Huskies will take a committee approach once again in 2022 with Aaron Dumas, Cameron Davis, Wayne Taulapapa and Richard Newton all expected to get carries. Dumas transferred into the Husky program from New Mexico where he rushed for 658 yards as a Freshman. His best performance came against DeBoer and Fresno State when he totaled 143 yards which surely caught the attention of the eventual Husky Coach. Also from the transfer portal is Wayne Taulapapa who excelled in short yardage situations at Virginia and should be a dependable option to get 4-5 yards when needed but may not have the top end speed to break any big carries.
Mel Tucker had the best running back in the country last season with Kenneth Walker winning the Doak Walker Award. The speedster's 1,636 yards on the ground helped open up the pass game and his departure will be a major hole to fill. Attempting to fill those shoes are two transfers, Jalen Berger from Wisconsin and Jarek Broussard out of CU Boulder. Berger totaled 419 yards in two seasons in Madison while Broussard was a force in the Pac-12 racking up 1,702 yards.
Edge: Michigan State
Wide Receiver: Washington has struggled to find quality receiver play since John Ross and Dante Pettis left for the NFL. UW has recruited the position well while loading up on 4 star players but many just simply haven't panned out. In 2022, the Huskies will hope Rome Odunze and Jalen McMillan can have breakout years after combining for 898 yards last season. Another X factor for the Huskies could be Giles Jackson who may be one of the fastest players in the Pac-12 and had a breakout Spring with the new staff. The Huskies have potential at the position but until there is proven production the question marks will remain.
Michigan State brings back their top receiver from 2021 and he will be a handful for the Huskies. Jayden Reed finished last season with 1,026 receiving yards and his breakaway potential was proven by his average of 17.4 yards per catch . While the Huskies focus on stopping Reed, lined up across from him is another weapon in Tre Mosley who wasn't too shabby as the Spartan's 3rd option last season while totaling 530 receiving yards.
Edge: Michigan State
Tight End: The Huskies had one of the top Tight Ends in the country in Cade Otton but he is now in the NFL after being selected in the 4th round. His replacements will be Devin Culp and Jack Westover who look to continue UW's legacy of strong TE play. Culp actually has a ton of potential and could be a someone that isn't on many people's radar who ends up All-Pac-12. He had two big time games last season, 83 yards against Colorado and 81 yards against Cal.
Mel Tucker continued to mine the Transfer Portal for talent when he landed Daniel Barker from Illinois to give them another weapon at Tight End. This still isn't a dominant unit as Barker and returning contributor, Maliq Carr, combined for 355 yards in 2021.
Offensive Line: Led by projected first round pick Jaxson Kirkland, the Huskies could have one of the better Offensive Lines in the Pac-12. UW returned 4 starters from last season's unit that struggled due to scheme but the talent is there to be a dominant group with the right coaching.
Offensive Line is arguably the biggest question mark for MSU next season. Departing are three starters in AJ Arcuri, center Matt Allen and guard Kevin Jarvis as well as Blake Bueter, who started the final five games at right guard and Luke Campbell, who had 26 career starts. Mel Tucker did manage to get a Portal addition as Brian Greene comes to East Lansing after starting for Washington State in 2021.
Defensive Line: UW's Defensive Line is largely unproven and struggled against the run last Fall. UW did receive good news with the return of Zion Tupuola-Fetui who some have mocked in the 1st Round of the 2023 NFL Draft. ZTF made a name for himself in 2020 with 7 sacks and an appearance on the AP All-America 3rd Team. Tuli Letuligasenoa will anchor the inside and at 313 pounds, he could be a force in his 4th year as a starter.
It could be tough sledding for the Husky run game in this matchup. Returning at Defensive Tackle are two starters in Jacob Slade (6-4 315 pounds) and Simeon Barrow (6-2 285 pounds). Slade should be one of the top DT"s in the nation in his 3rd year as a starter after being selected to the AP 2nd Team All-Big Ten. On the Edge will be Khris Bogle, a Florida transfer, and Jeff Pietrowski. The two combined for 10.5 Tackles for Loss last season and will need to show improvement if they are to put pressure on the UW QB.
Linebackers: Kalen DeBoer did a nice job bolstering this unit with two quality transfers as Cam Bright came in from Pitt and Kris Moll transferred from UAB. Both were highly productive players for their previous teams with Bright posting 53 tackles and 5.5 for loss in 2021 while Moll finished First Team All-Conference USA in 2020 and 2019. Carson Bruener should also contribute in a big way after a special Freshman campaign that resulted in 70 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss.
Michigan State had their own stellar Freshman linebacker last season as Cal Haladay burst on the scene with 96 tackles and 5 for loss while also returning two interceptions for touchdowns. Next to Haladay will be a rotation of Jacoby Windmon, 119 tackles and 11.5 for loss in 2021 at UNLV, Aaron Brule, 53 tackles and 8 for loss at Mississippi State in 2021 and Darius Snow, 87 tackles and 5.5 for loss at MSU last season.
Edge: Michigan State
Secondary: UW has become known for their secondary play and has earned the moniker of West Coast DBU as a result. The Huskies must replace a first round pick in Trent McDuffie as well as a 2nd round pick in Kyler Gordon but the pipeline is far from bare with Mishael Powell and Jordan Perryman ready to take over. Powell is a former walk-on that played well in a reserve role last season and even started three games including the Apple Cup. Jordan Perryman has nice size at 6-0 198 and was a 1st Team All-Big Sky Selection at UC Davis before transferring to become a Husky. At Safety are two experienced starters in Alex Cook and Asa Turner as well as quality backups in Cameron Williams and Julius Irvin.
The secondary was likely the worst unit for Michigan State last fall while allowing a whopping 325 yards per game which was last in the Big Ten. UW's path to winning this game is to air it out often which fits what DeBoer wants to do offensively. Four starters from that awful secondary are returning and that really may be bad news unless those players improve dramatically.
Special Teams: Peyton Henry is back for another season and will give UW a solid kicker with plenty of experience after connecting on 52 of his 66 career attempts. Michigan transfer Giles Jackson gives UW a return threat and has 2 career Kick Return touchdowns.
MSU punter, Bryce Baringer ,was recently ranked the best NFL Draft prospect for 2023 among all punters and kickers. In the return game, the Spartans have the electric Jayden Reed who scored two punt return touchdowns in 2021.
Edge: Michigan State
Coaching: Mel Tucker is deservedly one of the highest paid coaches in the country after signing a 10 year $95 million extension on November 24th to keep him in East Lansing. He has excelled both on and off the field as evidenced by his recruiting class finishing 25th in the country for 2022.
Across the sideline will be Kalen DeBoer, one of the best offensive minds in the country. His scheme is so fun to watch and if he can get solid QB play this Husky offense should score 30 points per game. DeBoer has won everywhere he's gone with a 67-3 record at Sioux Falls and then a 9-3 season with the Fresno State Bulldogs last year. Tucker gets a slight edge here for proven ability to win at the P5 level but the gap is very very small.
Edge: Michigan State
QB: Michigan State
RB: Michigan State
WR: Michigan State
LB: Michigan State
Special Teams: Michigan State
Coaching: Michigan State
Home Field: Washington
Conclusion: Michigan State enters the contest with the proven playmakers at QB, Running Back and Receiver which should give them a nice edge. However, a questionable offensive line and secondary for MSU could allow the Huskies to hang around and the longer UW stays in it the louder this crowd is going to get in Seattle. Mel Tucker should find a way to win this game but it seems like this could be similar to when LSU faced the Huskies in 2009 during Sark's first season and UW nearly pulled the upset against the #9 team in the country.