SEATTLE — Kalen DeBoer knew no matter how well the transition had gone, this was the week that would validate — one way or another — what Washington had showed so far.
Behind a spectacular performance by Michael Penix Jr., the Huskies emphatically stated their case as a contender in the Pac-12 and maybe worth some national recognition.
Penix threw for 397 yards and four touchdown, and Washington (3-0) toppled No. 11 Michigan State 39-28 on Saturday night.
“We just beat a really good football team in my mind,” Huskies coach DeBoer said. “To get this win now is just going to continue to put the belief in our guys.”
Penix was terrific for three quarters in a primetime national showcase that showed DeBoer’s rebuild is progressing faster than expected. Washington led 29-8 at halftime and 36-14 after three quarters.
Having a star quarterback certainly helps.
“Every game that we’ve seen (Penix) he comes out with the same energy, comes out with the same leadership, mentality. It’s just it’s easy to follow someone like that,” Washington running back Wayne Tualapapa said.
Penix completed 24 of 40 passes and just missed posting the eighth 400-yard passing game in Washington history. He was at his best in the first half, connecting on 18 of 24 attempts for 278 yards and leading Washington to touchdowns on four of its five possessions.
He wasn’t sacked by a Michigan State pass rush that led the country in sacks after two weeks.
“I felt real comfortable out there knowing that I got five guys up there that’s gonna protect me each and every play,” Penix said.
It was the second-best day in Penix’s career in terms of yards passing and TDs, trailing only his 491 yards and five TDs in 2020 against Ohio State while playing for Indiana.
“You got a guy who you can win football games with, not just like try to manage a game, and he’s got so much belief by his teammates in him,” DeBoer said.
Ja’Lynn Polk had six catches for a career-high 153 yards and three TDs. Polk’s 53-yard touchdown catch early in the third quarter was a resounding answer after Michigan State scored on the opening drive of the second half to pull within 29-14.
Payton Thorne threw for 323 yards and three TDs, and led a pair of quick fourth-quarter scoring drives for Michigan State that caused some nerves for the Huskies. Thorne threw a 33-yard TD to Keon Coleman with 5:17 left and the 2-point conversion pulled Michigan State within 11. But the rally was too late for the Spartans (2-1), who were stymied in the run game and saw their pass defense get exposed.
It was Washington’s first win over a ranked Power Five nonconference opponent at home since beating Michigan to open the 2001 season. And the night ended with a sea of purple fans celebrating on the turf of Husky Stadium.
Penix and the Huskies were hot from the outset. Penix threw touchdowns of 8 yards to Polk on Washington’s opening possession and a 19-yard strike to Tualapapa on facing third-and-6 in the second quarter. Penix capped his stellar first half by leading Washington on a 65-yard TD drive in the closing seconds of the half and scrambling from pressure to hit Polk on a 17-yard TD with four seconds left in the half.
Polk had a career-high 100 yards receiving by the half and the Huskies rolled up 322 yards to just 90 for the Spartans in the first 30 minutes.
The Huskies run defense deserves a ton of recognition: Michigan State finished with 42 yards rushing. The better judge of how Washington did was holding the combo of Jerek Broussard and Jalen Berger to 30 yards on 17 carries. Michigan State averaged 228.5 yards rushing over the first two games.
The Huskies open Pac-12 play next Saturday hosting Stanford.
Washington State 38, Colorado State 7
PULLMAN — Cameron Ward threw for 292 yards and four touchdowns Saturday as Washington State pounded Colorado State 38-7.
Washington State (3-0) scored on its first four possessions to put this game away early.
“We started fast,” Washington State coach Jake Dickert said. “That’s exactly what we needed to do in this football game.”
Dickert said his team has bought into the concept of not looking ahead each week.
“It’s important to take these one game at a time,” he said “They’ve bought into the mentality of not looking into the big picture.”
Ward completed 26 of 36 passes and was intercepted once. Donovan Ollie and De’Zhaun Stribling each caught two touchdown passes.
Freshman quarterback Clay Millen completed 24 of 34 passes for 211 yards for Colorado State (0-3), which has lost eight consecutive games dating to last season.
Washington State sacked Millen seven times and limited Colorado State to 37 rushing yards on 30 carries.
“He stays in there, takes hits and keeps going,” Dickert said of Millen.
Washington State linebacker Daiyan Henley finished with 13 tackles, three sacks and three tackles for loss.
“He’s out there making plays. He plays hard,” Dickert said.
The Cougars marched 46 yards in four plays on their first possession, with Ward throwing a 17-yard touchdown pass to Ollie for a 7-0 lead.
The Cougars took over at midfield again on their second series and Ward fired a 13-yard touchdown pass to Stribling for a 14-0 lead just five minutes into the game.
Cayden Camper missed a 44-yard field-goal attempt for Colorado State and WSU marched 73 yards, with Ward hitting Stribling for a 19-yard touchdown and a 21-0 lead with more than 3 minutes left in the first quarter.
Ward found Ollie for a 2-yard touchdown pass to cap an 82-yard drive that gave WSU to a 28-0 lead at halftime.
Washington State went into the locker room with a 255-82 advantage in yards gained, along with four sacks and eight tackles for loss. Colorado State rushed 18 times in the first half, for just 4 net yards.
The Rams did not score until the fourth quarter, on a 14-yard pass from Millen to Justus Ross-Simmons.
Dickert became the first Washington State head coach to start his first full season with three consecutive victories since Mike Price in 1989. Dickert was named interim coach midway through last season when Nick Rolovich was fired for refusing the COVID-19 vaccine.
The Cougars were coming off an impressive 17-14 nonconference win at Wisconsin that knocked the Badgers out of the Top 25. This victory could lift the Cougars into the Top 25 for the first time since 2019.
The Cougars open Pac-12 play by hosting No. 25 Oregon next Saturday. “This is going to be a big-time football game,” Dickert said. “I want those seats full.”