By Tim Booth
SEATTLE (AP) — For two weeks against lesser competition, everything went according to plan. Impressive moments on both sides of the ball against teams who should be warming up for the challenges ahead.
That description could be applied to both No. 11 Michigan State and Washington ahead of their non-conference showdown on Saturday.
Michigan State (2-0) beat a few Mid-American Conference teams and did nothing to refute the idea that the Spartans are worthy of being on the verge of cracking the top 10. Washington (2-0 ) beat Kent State and Portland State and seems to be enjoying the early stages of Kalen DeBoer’s tenure as head coach.
But while both teams have watched the game, neither has proven much yet. Which makes Saturday’s game rather intriguing.
“It would be huge, no doubt. With where we are in the process of coming back and building, I like where we are after two games,” DeBoer said. “But it’s a different animal. We’re talking about a top team. So that would mean a lot to us, there’s no doubt about it.
DeBoer appears to have brought some fun back to the Huskies, and a victory over the Spartans would immediately raise their national profile and expectations before the start of their Pac-12 schedule next week.
But Washington is in a drought when it comes to home wins against non-West Coast teams. Washington has not beaten a ranked Power Five opponent in a non-conference game at home since beating Michigan to open the 2001 season. That 21-year drought included home losses like Notre Dame, Ohio State, LSU and Nebraska.
Michigan State coach Mel Tucker knows the importance of getting a win early in your tenure. While the 2020 season was a tough one for the Spartans, their convincing road win over a ranked Miami team last year seemed to be the catalyst for Michigan State’s terrific season, which ended with a victory at the Peach Bowl.
But Tucker wants the focus to be on this team and not on comparisons to a year ago.
“We’re building this year’s team history right now,” Tucker said. “Last year’s team is gone. It’s a different team. It’s a new team, it’s a new season. We focus on what we need to do every day to prepare ourselves to play good football. This is where we need to focus. »
Someone who knows a lot about the Spartans is Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. Penix faced Michigan State twice during his time at Indiana and had some of his best games. He threw for 286 yards and three touchdowns and ran for one in a 40-31 loss to the Spartans in 2019. A year later, Penix threw for 320 yards and two touchdowns in a 24-0 win over the Spartans .
DeBoer is also familiar with the Spartans. He faced Michigan State while an assistant at Michigan East and was Indiana’s offensive coordinator for that 2019 loss to the Spartans.
Michigan State hopes Penix gets to know the face of rusher Jacoby Windmon. Windmon was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week in each of the first two weeks of the season. He leads the country in sacks with 5½ and forced fumbles with four. Windmon had 1½ sacks and three forced fumbles last week against Akron and four sacks in Game 1 against Western Michigan. Windmon, a transfer from UNLV, is the first defensive player from Michigan State to win Big Ten Player of the Week in consecutive weeks.
Washington’s offensive coaches have known Windmon from their time at Fresno State. Two seasons ago, Windmon had 2½ sacks against Fresno State while playing for UNLV.
“He’s a mature player, a mature young man and he understands the opportunities,” Tucker said.
The West isn’t familiar ground for Michigan State, and it hasn’t had much success here either. Since 1957, the Spartans have gone 0-13 in regular season games played in California, Washington, Oregon, Arizona and Hawaii. Their last win over West was on October 5, 1957, a 19-0 win over Cal.
The Huskies and Spartans have only faced each other three times before, the last coming in the 1997 Aloha Bowl, a 51-23 win at Washington.
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