An “unstable” MSU team loses dramatically to Washington in the first game without Tucker

Tom VanharenESPN staff writerSeptember 16, 2023 at 10:32 PM ET3 minutes to read

In its first game since coach Mel Tucker was suspended, Michigan State suffered a devastating 41-7 loss at home to Washington on Saturday.

Interim head coach Harlon Barnett took over on Sunday after Tucker was suspended amid an ongoing investigation into allegations that he sexually harassed sexual assault awareness spokeswoman Brenda Tracy.

Barnett said the suspension was surprising and the week was different than anyone in the program had to deal with, but he believes the team did everything right moving forward to focus on the game against the Huskies.

“A lot of different things have happened, but everything will settle down this week,” Barnett told reporters after the game. “I have some things on my mind that I want to do while I’m training and try to get things back to normal again. Whereas last week we were a little out of sorts.”

The Spartans’ defense gave up 713 yards of offense to Washington, a record for any team in the state of Michigan. Barnett said he didn’t realize that was a record. But he said he will remember that and everything that happened in the game without making excuses for what may or may not have been distractions for his team this week.

He said that he realizes the difficulty of the week, but he believes that his team prepared as best as it could to face a strong competitor. He explained that he did not want to focus too much on the past or what happened with Tucker, but rather on how to motivate the team to move forward and restore a sense of normalcy to its players.

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“We’re a week away from what happened,” Barnett said. “So, these guys, this is out of their system; we played the game, we played a really great team. And so, I think they’re ready to go and understand that all of our goals are still ahead of us, so that’s a good thing.”

Senior offensive lineman J.D. Doblin said the Spartans’ players “bought into” Barnett — who was with the Michigan State program for a total of 15 seasons throughout his career — and there was no hesitation that they would trust him the rest of the way.

“Our team has approved of Coach Barnett, and we have complete confidence in him,” Doblin said. “We had a good unit before the end of this weekend, and the players were bought in. I think everyone was focused on the mission. We made a lot of mistakes. We will go back and watch the film, and we will learn from it, because the best teams learn from games like this.”

Senior receiver Trey Mosley echoed Doblin, saying the players bought in and did what they could to limit distractions without their head coach. Mosley also echoed Barnett’s sentiments that they do not want to focus on the past and are ready to move forward as a team and with Barnett at the helm.

“The first day when it came out, it was a shock to everyone, but then we did a great job of moving forward because we had a competitor to prepare for,” Mosley said. “We couldn’t live in the past or start crying, because Washington didn’t care what was going on with us in our program. So, we had to go out there and get ready for this game.”

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Despite the loss, both Doblin and Moseley said the team is eager to get back to work and try to work out the issues as the team is now 2-1 on the season with Maryland next on the schedule.

With or without Tucker, Michigan State is moving forward and despite assuming that role, Barnett is ready to take over head coaching duties now that he has more time to prepare the team for its next opponent.

“There are ups and downs, there are valleys that you hit as well as mountain peaks,” Barnett said. “This is the valley moment. The good thing about it is that you can always come back from the valley moment if you really believe and trust and then start working on the things you need to work on.”

“So, the valley moment now, but we will return to the mountain.”

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