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CHRISTIAN CAPLE

UW Huskies Takeaways: What stands out from 41-7 win at Michigan State

Sep 16, 2023, 7:12 PM

UW Huskies...

UW Huskies wide receiver Germie Bernard quiets the crowd at Michigan State on Sept. 16, 2023. (Adam Ruff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

(Adam Ruff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

EAST LANSING, Mich. — The No. 8 UW Huskies dominated Michigan State, 41-7, before a crowd of 70,528 at Spartan Stadium. Here’s what to know about Washington’s final nonconference game of the season.

Penix leads No. 8 UW Huskies in 41-7 rout of Michigan State

A first-half explosion

No matter the heights to which Washington ascends this season, Michael Penix Jr. might never play a first half better than what he put forth on Saturday.

In the first two quarters alone, Penix completed 20 of his 25 pass attempts for 375 yards and four touchdowns. UW receivers Rome Odunze and Ja’Lynn Polk each eclipsed the 100-yard mark in the first half, and Jalen McMillan’s 96 yards nearly gave the Huskies a third triple-digit receiver before halftime — something that has never happened throughout an entire game in school history.

All told, Penix completed 27 of his 35 pass attempts for 473 yards, averaging 13.5 yards per attempt while throwing to receivers who were either wide open, or so much stronger than the defensive backs attempting to cover them that it didn’t matter.

Penix completed passes of 50, 39, 38, 30 (twice), 24 and 23 in the first half alone. The last, a 7-yard toss to tight end Jack Westover — who had three touchdowns — gave the Huskies a 35-0 lead going into halftime.

“There was a lot of confidence coming in,” UW coach Kalen DeBoer said. “Not because we were disrespecting Michigan State. It was more about just a great week of preparation, and that we were going on the road. We know this is an amazing environment, and our guys were fired up to do that and make a statement.”

They finished with 713 yards of total offense, second-most in a game in UW history, and the Huskies compiled 409 of that in the first half. The only game in which the Huskies ever had more yards was in 1996 against San Jose State (734).

The defense dominated, too

Senior edge rusher Zion Tupuola-Fetui sat out last week’s win over Tulsa, but he was back on Saturday and logged his first two sacks of the season. His first came on Michigan State’s first possession. Junior defensive back Mishael Powell also snagged his first career interception in the first quarter, setting up UW’s second touchdown three plays later.

“The pass rush (and) pressure was there consistently, at a higher level, than what we had the first two games,” UW coach Kalen DeBoer said. “That takes a whole group effort, but ZTF is certainly a big part of that.”

So UW’s first-half dominance was not limited to its renowned offense: the Huskies’ defense also held the Spartans to just 3.7 yards per play and 25 yards rushing on 11 carries in the first half. Michigan State’s only touchdown came late in the fourth quarter with backups playing on both sides.

The Spartans averaged only 4.2 yards per play for the game, averaged 2.0 yards per rush and starting quarterback Noah Kim completed only 12 of 31 passes for 136 yards.

And UW was shorthanded

The Huskies played without two starters and two key reserves.

Matteo Mele, UW’s sixth-year senior starting center, didn’t make the trip after appearing to injure his arm during the Huskies’ win over Tulsa last week.

UW also didn’t have starting safety Asa Turner, or fifth-year junior Kamren Fabiculanan, perhaps their most versatile defensive reserve. Fabiculanan played extensively in each of UW’s first two games — he snagged an interception in each — and figured to be a particularly key reserve in light of Turner’s injury.

Another defensive back, cornerback Davon Banks, also missed the game due to an injury sustained last week. And the Huskies might lost another offensive lineman, during the game, too, as fifth-year junior guard Julius Buelow left the game with what appeared to be a right leg or ankle injury. He was seen walking up the tunnel during the game but returned and spent some time on an exercise bike.

Buelow made his first start of the season to accommodate Mele’s absence. Parker Brailsford, the starting right guard, moved over to start in Mele’s place at center; Nate Kalepo, the starting left guard, moved over to right guard; and Buelow made his first start of the season at left guard.

McMillan also went down with an injury after catching a pass late in the first half. He received attention from trainers on the sideline before walking away under his own power, and while he didn’t return to play in the second half — at least partially, perhaps, because he didn’t need to — McMillan remained in uniform and appeared in good spirits.

DeBoer expects him to be fine.

“He’ll be back good for next week,” the coach said.

A few too many penalties

OK, so they couldn’t have been that costly. But this might have been an even bigger blowout, if not for Washington’s ugly penalty numbers.

The Huskies’ 11 penalties cost them 110 yards, and all but one of them occurred in the first half. A holding penalty against McMillan wiped out a 27-yard touchdown pass by Penix to tailback Will Nixon. That drive ultimately resulted in one of UW’s two first-half punts, and also suffered from a false start two plays after the hold.

A false start and a delay of game contributed to UW’s second punt of the half.

This column from UW Huskies football insider Christian Caple is exclusive to Seattle Sports. Subscribe to OnMontlake.com for full access to Caple’s in-depth Husky coverage.

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UW Huskies Takeaways: What stands out from 41-7 win at Michigan State