Well, this sucked. After waiting around all day for the Michigan State football game to start, the Spartan faithful were treated to a game that seemed out of hand from the start.
Michigan State fell 39-28 to the Washington Huskies, a disappointing result considering the hype around the Spartans headed into the game.
With the Spartans now 2-1 heading into the first conference game of the year, here are three rapid reactions I had from watching the game.
1. Scottie Hazelton is not the answer at defensive coordinator
The loss looks close on paper, but it was anything but that. For three quarters, Michael Penix Jr. passed on and scored at will against the Michigan State secondary. The majority of the Spartans’ stops occurred on goal line stands or against conservative Washington play calling meant to run the clock out.
The few goal line stops did not change the tone of the game, but this does not fall on Hazelton. What falls on the coordinator, however, is the playcalling. The Spartans repeatedly came out in a coverage that leaves their secondary isolated in matchups. While this may work for schools with elite talent such as Georgia, Alabama, or even the school down the road, this does not work for the Spartans.
The “elite” pass rush that led the nation in sacks through two weeks was not there. Jacoby Windmon was neutralized and Jacob Slade was out with an injury, and the Spartan defensive line was not there tonight. Aaron Brule and Jeff Pietrowski each went down with injuries, further hampering the line. By the end of the game, freshman Zion Young was receiving a lot of playing time at defensive end, so I am concerned about the Spartans on the injury front. Tank Brown and Jalen Hunt returned from injury Saturday night, but the Spartans appear to have lost a few as well.
Chester Kimbrough was the weakest point of the defense, and he was exposed from the start of the game. The 47-yard bomb to open the game occurred with Kimbrough in coverage, and that set the tone for the half.
Justin White replaced Kimbrough at halftime, and White fought for the ball whenever Penix targeted his receiver. White did have a major slip, falling on a route, but that was one of the few inaccurate throws of the night.
When Kimbrough was not getting picked on, it was Ameer Speed and Angelo Grose. Each of the two gave up major plays or touchdowns and blew a few assignments. When the ball was in the air, Speed seemed to always have his back turned and did not attempt to make a play on the ball or his man, seemingly out of fear of pass interference. Grose has struggled to cover crossing routes as early as his 2020 season playing nickelback, and this has not gotten better as a safety. Grose was also the nearest defender in coverage on the wide-open 53-yard Washington touchdown to open the second half.
The linebackers could not cover much either, with Cal Haladay giving up a touchdown in the second quarter. The middle of the field was open nearly all night for Washington football. I will give them somewhat of a pass here, as Darius Snow’s injury did set them back. However, the Spartans have had two weeks to address this. If the play-calling answer is to let the middle be open and leave our linebackers isolated to contribute to running back and receiver highlight tapes, this will be a long season. Ohio State is in East Lansing in three weeks, by the way.
At halftime, the Spartans trailed by 21 points. Their only stop was a goal-line stand that immediately resulted in a safety, where the defense was picked apart on a 50-yard touchdown drive.
Penix threw for 396 yards and four touchdowns, without a turnover or a sack taking away from his stat line. The Huskies’ run game looks well contained, with the team ending just over 100 yards. This occurred because all there was no need to rely on the run when Penix averaged a first down per passing attempt. On the first few drives and the last drive of the game, Washington got what they needed from the rush game, gaining 7-8 yard plays as well as a 30-yard run on second-and-13 to ice the game. The defense got the stops when it barely mattered. The second the game could be at hand, the defense folded.
Speaking of folding, for the last year or so, we have heard of the Spartans’ “bend, don’t break” philosophy. Whether this is Mel Tucker or Scottie Hazelton-inspired, it needs to go. The staff needs to change. The Spartan defense has been broken since Hazelton took over, we have just imagined it as bent.