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Three takeaways from Washington’s win over No. 11 Michigan State

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Three takeaways from Washington’s win over No. 11 Michigan State

RB Wayne Taulapapa reaches out for the touchdown against Michigan State on September 17 at Husky Stadium. The Huskies beat the Spartans, 39-28. 

A sea of purple flooded onto the field.

In front of a national audience on ABC, Washington secured its largest nonconference win in years, a dominant 39-28 victory over No. 11 Michigan State, capped off by a raucous crowd celebrating on the astroturf.

Here are three takeaways from Washington’s win at home:

A Speedy Start

Seven plays, 77 yards, and a touchdown. 

Washington couldn’t have asked for a better opening drive. Junior quarterback Michael Penix Jr. efficiently drove the ball downfield, most notably with a 47-yard pass to sophomore wide receiver Jalen McMillan, which set up the Huskies (3-0) to score just two plays later. 

The opening score marked the third straight game the Huskies have scored a touchdown on their first drive. In each of these games, Washington’s coaching staff has kept pressing. 

With an early 7-0 advantage, head coach Kalen DeBoer opted for two fourth-down conversion attempts on Washington’s second drive. The first was successful, but the second attempt, on fourth-and-goal at Michigan State’s 1-yard line, resulted in a 1-yard loss. 

The aggressiveness may have appeared reckless, but DeBoer continued to turn up the pressure, and one play later, the Huskies had stuffed the Spartans’ (2-1) running back Jarek Broussard for a safety, providing a 9-0 cushion and seizing back all of the momentum.

The aggressive play-calling allowed for Washington’s offense to remain robust for the remainder of the first quarter, posting 167 yards to Michigan State’s 11.

Wide Receiver Magic

Wide receivers coach JaMarcus Shephard is perhaps the closest thing to a magician on Washington’s coaching staff.

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One of the tricks up his sleeve was a three-touchdown performance by redshirt freshman Ja’Lynn Polk, adding to the list of dominant performances by a variety of Husky wideouts this season.  

The Texas native filled up the stat line, notching six receptions for 153 yards. The end zone became a second home for Polk on Saturday as he became the first Husky wide receiver to record three touchdowns since Dante Pettis in 2017 against Oregon State. 

The Michigan State secondary appeared deceived by the Washington receiving corps all evening, surrendering 397 yards and four touchdown receptions. 

Toughness in the Trenches

Keep Penix Jr. upright.

This was the crux of Washington’s game plan as it faced a Michigan State defense which has recorded 12 sacks over its first two games. The Huskies were left to do this without All-Pac-12 senior offensive tackle Jaxson Kirkland, who was still missing from action. 

The front five were up to the challenge. They didn’t allow a single sack for the entirety of the game, turning the Spartans' defensive line into a non-factor, and providing ample time for Penix Jr. to pick apart the Spartans’ secondary.

The defensive line was just as dominant on the other side of the ball, effectively stalling Michigan State’s rushing attack. 

Running back Jalen Berger entered the game averaging 6.9 yards per carry after running all over the first two opponents, but Berger appeared to run into a brick wall against the Huskies, recording a mere 27 yards on 13 attempts, just 2.1 yards per carry. 

Michigan State’s quarterback, Payton Thorne, was disrupted by the pressure throughout most of the night, with senior linebacker Cam Bright and sophomore defensive lineman Voi Tunuufi making their way into the backfield to each record a sack. 

Washington remains at home next week as it aims to preserve its perfect start against Stanford on Saturday, Sept. 24. The first Pac-12 game is slated to kick off at 7:30 p.m. at Husky Stadium.

Reach reporter Ty Gilstrap at Twitter: @ty_gilstrap 

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