I think, schedule-wise, this season has set the Huskies up for success so far. Boise State was probably the second-toughest non-conference opponent and playing them in Week 1 was the way to go. It’s a nice little test, and the Huskies passed with flying colors. The Broncos lost a hard-fought game at the last second on a 55-yard field goal to a pretty-good UCF team, otherwise they’re 1-1 and looking formidable in the Mountain West.
Tulsa, who the Huskies beat 43-10 on Saturday, was easily the worst of the three non-conference opponents, and we picked a good game to have to overcome a lot of mistakes. Winning by 33 points – in spite of those mistakes – is about as good as you could expect (tough on the bettors who picked the Dawgs to cover, though).
Michael Penix still had a pretty good game, and I don’t think he did anything to seriously damage his standing in the Heisman Trophy race, but he did throw an ugly pick that probably should’ve been directed elsewhere. Nevertheless, he had 409 yards and 3 TDs on 28/38 passing, which has him sitting fourth in college football in total yards (but two of the players ahead of him have already played in three games). He’s also tied for fourth with 8 TD passes, but again everyone tied or above him have played in three games. He’s still over 70% completions, and his average yards per attempt is at 11.0.
His performance also could’ve been even better, if it weren’t for some uncharacteristic drops from our top two receivers. Jalen McMillan lost a fumble and I think also had a drop, and Rome Odunze had a couple bounce off his hands. They, nevertheless, each topped 100 yards receiving (8 for 120 for McMillan; 7 for 107 for Odunze) and each had a receiving TD (Odunze also ran one in from 14 yards out).
The defense wasn’t all-world or anything, but Kamren Fabiculanan had his second pick in as many games, and we did run into a couple sacks even though we were missing a number of starters (including ZTF, which I very much hope isn’t serious). Again, if you have to sit some guys with nicks and scrapes, this is the game to do it.
The pass defense was rock solid; we held the Tulsa QBs to 85 and 65 yards passing. But, the run defense definitely needs work (40 for 168, for a 4.2 yard average).
Also, the run offense needs a lot of work. We were, again, limited by injuries, but our top two backs only ran for a combined 12 for 48. I get it, this offense runs through the passing game (Odunze and Ja’Lynn Polk had two runs for 41 yards and 2 TDs, to inflate our team average), but against that defense, we should’ve had no problem rolling all over them on the ground.
Thankfully, though, we’re 2-0, the passing game looks great, and it feels like we’re picking up right where we left off. This team improved as the 2022 season went along, so to already be at that level is a blessing. There are things this team can work on and improve, and when they do, it’s going to be quite a formidable opponent for any team crossing our path.
Up next, we have our first big non-conference road opponent (not counting Texas in the bowl game) in the Kalen DeBoer era. Last year, we beat Michigan State at home by 11 points, needing to hold on at the end. That Spartans team – at the time – was ranked 11th in the nation; they would go on to finish 5-7. They’re currently 2-0, unranked, and appear to have a new quarterback and running back combo. They’ve won a couple of cupcake games, and now their head coach has been suspended without pay for sexual harassment.
I don’t know what this means for the Huskies, to be honest. Will they be fired up, playing for a backup coach? Will they be deflated because they all kind of think their head coach is a scumbag? Is their head coach even any good? He has an 18-14 record in three seasons (with a win in the Peach Bowl after the 2021 season under his belt, but was that with the previous guy’s players?). How are the fans feeling right now? Well, they’re fans, so there’s probably a significant portion of them who are siding blindly with the coach.
Either way, it’s always tough playing even a mid-tier Power 5 school on the road. Those stadia are humongous and will surely fill to capacity at the opportunity to see not only a Top 10 school (the Huskies stayed at 8th overall this week), but a future league-mate effective next year.
Not knowing anything about the quality of the Michigan State players, I would say this is a game the Huskies should win. We’re, at the moment, favored by 16 points, and it’ll be interesting to see where that line goes as we get to gametime. Last year, we lost two games, both on the road (we were 3-2 in true road games), and both losses were marred by mistakes.
Penix threw 3 picks combined in those losses, and hit on only 65% of his passes. Moreover, those games were ruined by very poor defense (giving up a combined 85 points and 896 yards, while forcing only a combined 3 punts).
On the whole, the Huskies improved as time went on, both in general and with respect to their road performances. We eked one out against Cal, managed to take down a very good Oregon team by 3, and blew out the Cougs at the end. It’s imperative that we take care of business this week.
Win this game – even if it’s ugly – and we’re in very good shape. We’re home for Cal after that (the dreaded 7:30pm start; try not to remember the last time we played them in Husky Stadium during the Pac-12 After Dark slot), on the road for what should be a winnable game against the Wildcats (try not to remember the last time we went to the state of Arizona), then a BYE to prepare us for our showdown with Oregon in mid-October.
These are the games I worry about, though. It can be easy to overlook a team like Michigan State. Our conference slate starts next week, they seem to be a team in disarray, and we’re a high-falutin Top 10 team with a seemingly-indestructable passing attack. If our injured guys aren’t able to return, or if we lose others to injury, and we get off to a slow start and let that crowd assert itself, maybe some weird shit happens and we’re in a second half dogfight that we can’t quite overcome.
I should also point out that I’ll be with my friends, Deckgating and watching the game on their outside television, which … has seen some mixed results in the past during big games. I can’t say for sure if I’m the Bad Luck Guy or not, but we just need some more bites at the apple to prove my addition to the party is safe.
You know what I will say, though? Sort of off-topic, and I hope we never have to see this play out in a game that still matters, but I like what I’ve seen from Dylan Morris in garbage time! I know, it’s garbage time, we’ve amassed a huge lead, and both teams just want to get out of there without any more injuries, but he’s looked good. He’s looked so much better than he did as a starter, and it gives me hope that – next year – when Penix is playing in the NFL, Morris will be able to re-ascend to the starter’s job and keep this train rolling down the tracks! Not that I’m looking beyond the 2023 season, but it’s nice is all I’m saying. Good for him! Good for him for staying and good for us in case we need him.