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Michigan State vs. Washington Prediction: Improved Huskies Take on the Spartans in Prime Time

Michigan State set to see a familiar face in Washington QB Michael Penix Jr.

No date on the Week 3 college football docket more accurately reflects the game's present-day landscape than Michigan State visiting Washington.

Related: College Football Predictions for Every Game in Week 3

The Spartans come to Montlake with a head coach, Mel Tucker, who spent all of one year in the Pac-12 at Colorado. Tucker's team faces a Huskies squad quarterbacked by a Big Ten import, Michael Penix Jr.

Oh — and though 2,200 miles separate their campuses, and Saturday marks just the fourth all-time meeting between the programs, the first since squaring off a quarter-century ago in the long-since defunct Aloha Bowl — rumors fly that they may soon be conference counterparts.

Tucked away in all those storylines is an honest-to-goodness football matchup — an intriguing one, at that! 

No. 11 Michigan State at Washington

Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 17 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Live Stream: fuboTV (Start your free trial)
Spread: Washington -4
Tickets: As low as $42 on*

When Michigan State Has the Ball

There isn't much secret to how Michigan State plans to beat an opponent: Its defense works to choke out the opposition on one side of the ball, then when possession changes, physically batter competition at the line while a rotation of running backs eats up chunks of yardage.

The Spartans did so last year with Kenneth Walker III, the Doak Walker Award recipient, doing the lion's share of the rushing. Walker's gone and the Michigan State offensive line underwent some noteworthy personnel changes, but the ground attack has continued to churn along through two mismatched contests thus far in 2022.

Michigan State rolled up almost 460 combined rushing yards in blowouts of Western Michigan and Akron, with Jalen Berger and Jarek Broussard splitting carries. Broussard was originally a Mel Tucker recruit to Colorado and a breakout star for the Buffaloes in 2020.

Washington's run defense throughout the Chris Petersen era was outstanding, routinely ranking near the top among all FBS programs for yards surrendered. The 2022 Huskies lack the defensive makeup of those teams from the latter 2010s but need to be just effective enough to put the game on Spartans quarterback Payton Throne's arm.

When Washington Has the Ball

Freddy Krueger couldn't fashion a nightmare as unsettling as the Washington offense under John Donovan during the abbreviated Jimmy Lake era.

Although the Huskies struggled to mount consistent offense commensurate with both former coordinator Jonathan Smith's departure for the head-coaching job at Oregon State and Jake Browning's lingering shoulder issues at the end of Petersen's tenure, the Huskies offense of Donovan's time coordinating regressed to rank among the very worst in Power 5 conferences.

The hire of Kalen DeBoer last offseason promised a quick turnaround, given his efforts both as an assistant at Fresno State and Indiana; and his successful stint as Fresno State's head coach. So far, the promise has been kept with the Huskies putting up 94 points in routs of Kent State and FCS Portland State.

Certainly, the caliber of competition jumps for Washington this week. A defensive-minded coach by trade, Tucker's style fits the Michigan State approach perfectly. The Spartans look to counter Penix and the resurgent Huskies with a consistent pass rush, led by Jacob Windmon. The senior linebacker has a staggering 5.5 sacks already on the year.

Giving Penix time to operate will be critical for a Washington offensive line that's heavy on experience thanks to the late-offseason reinstatement of tackle Jaxson Kirkland after concerns about eligibility.

Final Analysis

Despite the ranking disparity, don't call a potential Washington win an upset. The Huskies are slight Las Vegas favorites, with respect both to the improved offense and the inhospitable atmosphere at Husky Stadium. When Washington is good, few venues in college football are as electric.

Michigan State's toughness will test Washington. Like a heavyweight fight, the Huskies must endure the initial punches without their knees buckling to settle in and force Sparty into an uncomfortable pace. The higher the score, the more to Washington's benefit it will be.

Prediction: Washington 34, Michigan State 28

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— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @KyleKensing and subscribe to his newsletter, The Press Break