Big games from Thorne, Coleman overshadowed by struggling defense
Redshirt junior quarterback Payton Thorne finally found his groove in Michigan State’s 39-28 loss to Washington. Despite the loss, he was more consistent, put his body on the line, wasn’t afraid to make big plays and even found a reliable target in second-year wide receiver Keon Coleman.
Thorne threw for 323 yards and three touchdowns, two of which were caught by Coleman, who led MSU receivers with 116 yards. He’s improved a lot without fifth-year wide receiver Jayden Reed, who didn’t make it to Seattle due to injury.
In addition to Coleman, Thorne likes what he’s seen of redshirt junior wide receiver Tre Mosley and fifth-year tight end Daniel Barker.
“Between those three guys, I thought we had a few today,” Thorne said. “It was good to see. I love these guys and they came to play today. They played hard and they played hard.
Mosley had five catches for 64 yards, but none more spectacular than a 26-yard fourth touchdown he won in the air while battling through double coverage.
The Spartans had to rely on Thorne and the passing game as the team couldn’t start the running game. After a monster game against Akron, the running duo of redshirt sophomore Jalen Berger and fifth-year Jarek Broussard couldn’t do anything against the Huskies, which is a real concern for MSU given that Washington’s rushing defense presented a particular threat before the game.
Going into Saturday’s game, the Huskies were giving up 114 rushing yards per game but managed to hold MSU to just 42. The result could have been much worse for the Spartans if Thorne hadn’t improved much from his first two exits.
Any offensive progress, however, has been overshadowed by the 2021 defensive return.
After spending the entire offseason focusing on improving the nation’s worst pass defense, the Spartans gave up 397 yards and four touchdowns to quarterback Michael Penix Jr.
The inability to stop Washington’s attack prohibited the slowly mounting MSU attack from even taking the ground.
“We weren’t able to get the ball enough in the attack in the first half,” head coach Mel Tucker said. “There was a streak in there where I think we ran four games on offense. When you’re not playing complimentary football, you simply can’t beat a good team.
Redshirt sophomore linebacker Cal Haladay echoed the need for more offensive practices and how the defense failed to give them more opportunities.
“We just have to get the offense back on the field,” Haladay said. “We need to do better in that area, the attack just needs to have the ball.”
Following multiple defensive injuries to players like junior linebacker Darius Snow, fifth-year safety Xavier Henderson, and now redshirt senior defensive tackle Jacob Slade, the team adapted the “next man” mentality.
However, there wasn’t a single man on defense who showed up to make plays Saturday night against the Huskies. The defensive line couldn’t force their way to Penix Jr., creating the perfect environment for Washington’s passing game to thrive against MSU’s abysmal secondary.
Senior linebacker-turned-defensive end Jacoby Windmon dominated the first two weeks of play by shutting down the passing game, but he was quiet against the Huskies. He finished with just three total tackles.
But if MSU is looking for some kind of silver lining from Saturday’s disaster, it starts with Thorne and Coleman. Coleman was again Thorne’s go-to man and received a team-record 29 targets in three games. The duo’s two touchdowns on Saturday night were highlights as the two got into a rhythm once Michigan State dug themselves a 22-0 hole and many had already cut the game.
The first came on a fourth down in the dying moments of the first half with Thorne rolling to his left and Coleman making a diving catch. The second was on a 33-yard lob in the fourth quarter on the heels of it – a throw Thorne frequently missed in the first two games.
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The Spartans will have to go back to the drawing board this week if they hope to bounce back from this loss and start playing the Big Ten against a very good Minnesota team next Saturday.
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