It has been another significant week thus far for the Michigan State Football team. Following a crushing 41-7 defeat against No. 8 Washington Saturday night, the university announced its intent to fire Head Coach Mel Tucker with cause to terminate his contract Monday afternoon.
Acting head coach Harlon Barnett has had a difficult situation to inherit so early into the season. Besides the leadership distractions, MSU’s loss to Washington was a historic one. The Spartans allowed a total of 713 yards to the Huskies, the most ever given up in program history.
There was no doubt that the product that was put on the field Saturday night was disappointing. The details weren’t executed in the ways Barnett had hoped for from the preparation that was put in during last week’s practices.
“So, we thought offensively, our receiver is supposed to run the route at 14 yards, and he runs it at 12,” Barnett said. “He did it all week at 14, do it at 14 and get in the game and not, you know what I mean. A defensive back plays a ball one way in practice, a deep ball, but in the game, he played it totally different, and we knew that was coming. We knew that was something that was going to happen. You get a guy on the punt team, you know, don’t take the proper steps and you did it all week in practice. So, we’re focused on the details, the discipline of everything right now.”
The result against the Huskies obviously wasn’t the one Barnett was looking for, though he knows the score is what it is and it is now time to see how he can learn from it.
Barnett mentioned that defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Scottie Hazelton pulled up scores from NFL games over the last several years from teams that won or appeared in the Super Bowl giving up the same number of points in a game, being 41. The emphasis was that these teams may have given up lots of points one week, but they come back the next game and clean up their mistakes and continue that for the rest of the season.
“I think that helped the guys as well, seeing that, like wow okay,” Barnett said. “We’re always talking about being a professional. All these guys want to play in the NFL, you got to be a professional about okay, understand we got our butts kicked, how do we learn from it, get better from it, and improve from it?”
The road doesn’t get any easier for the Spartans ahead. Their upcoming game against Maryland this Saturday marks the start of the Big Ten conference season.
Maryland’s offensive arsenal will be another test for Michigan State, as Terrapin redshirt senior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa is one of the more threatening players at the position in the conference. Tagovailoa’s play style is more contrasting to what Barnett and his players faced against Washington, as Husky senior quarterback Michael Penix Jr. threw for 475 yards and four touchdowns.
“Taulia man, this dude is all over the place,” Barnett said.” “He’s running all over the place, you know. So he’s different in that matter, he’ll pull out of the pocket and throw the ball from anywhere, whereas I think Penix was more, he’s more of a pocket guy.”
Preparation took a hit when Barnett took over last Monday due to the responsibility of filling into a new role. Barnett mentioned he met with just about every single one of his players, which was something he thought was essential to do. With the limited time that Barnett had to gameplan during game week, he found himself not as prepared as he could be when watching film on Washington.
Now, with more time to prepare, Barnett has been able to comfortably focus on planning for Maryland. Barnett added that he was able to start analyzing Maryland film on Sunday, beyond normally what he is able to watch. Barnett feels much more prepared than the previous week as he could dissect all three position groups when he studied the Terrapins so far.
MSU’s week four matchups against Maryland are another test for the team on the field in addition to the coaching changes in the past week. Barnett has kept the use of slogans from Tucker's stint while also figuring out ways to create his own identity as a head coach. However, the most important result is becoming a better football team.
“Some of those things that we’ve had implemented are good things, they’re good things for the guys, and so again, talking about some normalcy for the guys,” Barnett said. “So, like you said, it’s a tough balance, but you work it out and figure out when to say, how to say to the guys, and help them perform at the highest level they can perform. But again, some of those things were really good things I thought work good for the team and help us become a better team.”