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MSU Football struggles in first game since head coaching change in crushing defeat to Washington

September 17, 2023
Mark Dantonio during a game against University of Washington at Spartan Stadium on Sept. 16, 2023.
Mark Dantonio during a game against University of Washington at Spartan Stadium on Sept. 16, 2023.

The Michigan State Football team suffered its first loss in demolishing fashion by No. 8 ranked Washington 41-7 Saturday night.

The matchup was acting head coach Harlon Barnett’s first career head coaching appearance as he stepped in for the role following the suspension of head coach Mel Tucker last Sunday. 

Barnett had a challenging situation to step into, taking over a team in just week three of the season. Both the offense and defense struggled to generate any momentum whilst on the field for MSU.

“There were a lot of different things that came about,” Barnett said. “But it’s all going to settle down this week, I know that and we’ll get back. I got some things in my mind that I want to do as far as me coaching and trying to normalize us again, whereas this past week, we were off kilter a little bit, but we still got good enough coaches to get it done. But I’m going to get myself back like I need to be doing.” 

Washington finished the game with a total of 713 yards of offense, which breaks the record for most yards allowed in program history by Michigan State. Husky quarterback Michael Penix Jr. completed 27 passes on 35 attempts for 473 yards and four touchdown passes, where 375 of those yards came before halftime. 

Not only was it a challenge for coach Barnett to take over the team, it was an adjustment for the players to adapt as well. 

With the staff adjustments, players had to decide whether to fear the circumstance or use it as motivation to bounce back during the game. While the game result didn’t necessarily help, Redshirt senior offensive lineman J.D. Duplain understood the choice he and his teammates had to make going into the matchup. 

“I think the guys were bought in,” Duplain said. “I think everyone was mission focused, you know, we just made too many mistakes and we’re going to go back and watch the film. We’re going to learn from it because the best teams, they learn from games like this. We’re going to get better.”

Following Tucker’s suspension, former Michigan State Football head coach Mark Dantonio returned to the program for an associate head coach role, where he stands on the sidelines and provides his insight to the players.

Bringing Dantonio back was a decision to help motivate both the team and the fans. According to redshirt senior wide receiver Tre Mosley, having Dantonio on the sidelines was a sense of refreshment for the team.

“It’s always good to have a great mind like that around just to help out and give his thoughts on things we can improve and work on,” Mosley said. “It’s great to have Coach D back in the mix.”

Though the motivation for the team definitely helped Michigan State prepare for Washington this week, there was still a game to be played. Mosley mentioned that the Huskies didn’t care about the coaching changes in the program and they were ready to come out firing regardless. 

The blowout loss provides lots of takeaways to build off of for the Spartans. Heading into Big Ten conference play, Barnett and his squad will have all sorts of other challenges to face in the following weeks.

“There are ups and downs,” Barnett said. “There’s valleys you hit, as well as mountain tops. So this is about the moment. And the good thing about it is you can always come back from valley moments if you truly believe and trust, and then start to work on the things that need to be worked on. And so, valley moment right now, but we’ll get back up to the mountain.”

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