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Post-Game Quotes: Rutgers

Nov. 26, 2017

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Michigan State Head Coach Mark Dantonio

Opening statement…
"It was an outstanding job by our football team getting ready. I thought, as I've said to my guys, every game gets bigger. This was an opportunity to win nine games and flip the script from last season. Rutgers played well. I thought the first half, especially defensively, they kept us kicking field goals. That was a big play by Connor Heyward for the first touchdown. I know possession time went heavy in our favor, and you have to be happy about that as a coach on this side of the stick. I thought we played extremely well, did what we had to do defensively, and stayed balanced on offense. The game separated in the second half with some big catches by Cody White and Felton Davis. We're extremely thrilled with our football team and what they were able to accomplish. This didn't start tonight. This started last year when we went back and started grinding and figuring out a plan to flip the script."

On the staff enjoying a successful coaching job…
"No one left this program. We had a tough year at 3-9 followed by some incidents in the spring. Our entire group; players, staff, coaches, administration; we had to unite to start that, and I'm very proud we did that."

What made you believe you could flip the script?
"I've never thought that we couldn't win a football game. Ever. I know it's tough for a coach like Chris Ash to look at it like this, but the positives are you are not that far away sometimes. You think you are because the score may indicate that sometimes, but you're really not. We had a tough time running the football, the turnovers made a difference, the defense made a difference and we threw the ball more effectively in the second half. Sometimes you're not a far off as you think you are. Speaking of Rutgers, they are a better football team than they were last year and I have a lot of respect for him and the job that he does."

On their record at the end of the season…
"They can say 9-3. Part of me wants to say, 'It could have been 10-2.' But I don't know what 10-2 gets you that 9-3 doesn't right now. I'm very happy for your football team, the players, their families, everybody."

On the depth of the team and newcomers' impact…
"We have a small group of seniors who took control of our team in a positive way. We had a large group of newcomers impact our team positively, and we did a great job acclimating them and they reenergized the program. There's a lot of energy in that group and they took on leadership roles. That bodes well for the future. The future looks bright at Michigan State right now."

On the staff continuity…
"Some guys have left to become head coaches or coaches in the NFL, but other than that, they have stayed. That's the biggest reason for our success and have now won 99 games in 11 years. That's significant because over that span, we've only had five changes."

On the time of possession…
"I've had some games the other way, but 31 plays for 112 yards, that's difficult to overcome. They have a young quarterback playing and they want to concentrate on that. They were in this game at 13-7 after that touchdown pass and it's a competitive football game. The message to our football team was, 'Let's go, we're hurting ourselves with penalties and we need to gear up for the second half.' It was a lot closer than you think. To me, I would have never said it was 47 minutes of possession. We had some long drives, and turnovers can lengthen your possession. It felt very competitive until late in the fourth quarter."

On bowl preparation…
"We're going to give them some time off. We'll do something on Thursday to keep them in shape, but we'll give them the weekend off. We're looking at practice on the 7th and 8th. Our bye was the second week of the season, so we've been grinding for 10 straight weeks. We'll give those coaches a day off too."

On a season of redemption…
"It probably stands out more than any other season I've gone through, and I've been through some good seasons. When you get off the mat, and are able to turn things around toward a common goal, there are a lot of meaningful moments in that."

Did it feel like a restart?
"It did. A year ago Monday, I drove to Cincinnati for 3-to-4 hours by myself, and that's exactly what I said. I said, 'I'm the new head coach here. What do we have to do to get this right?' We pressed the restart button and if people didn't believe what we were doing, then we had to make a change. It was time to believe."

Is this group special?
"It will be. We went through a lot, whether it's winning or losing and the credibility of your entire program is in flux. To be able to bounce back and do it the right way, doing well in school, and having no issues off the field, it's exciting for everyone."

On the breakdown of the offensive play selection…
"We wanted to stay balanced, we always do. We needed to move the chains with the run. As it became a three possession score, it became about taking some clock off."

On the appreciation from his players and staff…
"It's a two-way street. I feel that way about then. That's why no one has left and I've been here for 11 years. I feel the same way. It comes back to you ten-fold when you treat people like that. We try to treat people well, disciplined and tough. Sometimes it's tough love. There's no easy journey. I love our players, they've infused some different energies into this program, and we're going to add even more great players with this recruiting class. I'm humbled to be a part of this program."

On his thoughts of how to turn around the program…
"I thought about what to do. We used bowl practice time to critique everything we do. We didn't go to a bowl, so we're going work. We're going to go into the weight room, we're going to map out schedules. When we got back the Saturday after the Penn State game, there was a plan put in place on what needs to happen. Certain things needed to happen schematically or personnel-wise, but to sit there and say one thing, it was more that. There was a lot going through my mind. It's not easy as a head coach of a losing football team, you're the guy that has to pick it all up and say, 'OK, we're all right, let's go."

On closing the regular season on a high note…
"Our culture overall has been a good one. We had some 12, 13-win seasons here. What happened here last year was a negative on everyone. We had to self-reflect. Not just myself, but the whole program. They did a great job at it, and I'm very thankful to be a part of that."

Rutgers Head Coach Chris Ash

Opening statement…
First, just want to take the opportunity to thank our seniors. Obviously an emotional locker room when you end the season, whether it's on a good note or a bad note and it makes it worse finishing on a bad note but we have a great group of individuals that were in that senior class and they have done a lot to help move the needle forward with this program.

Did a lot of good things. They really demonstrated a lot of the winning habits and behaviors and really showed some of the younger players that will be coming back how to do business. So can't thank them enough. Just disappointed that we didn't finish the season the right way. Not just tonight but the last three games, for these seniors.

Obviously we have a lot of work to do. In my opinion, we made a lot of strides here this year, but obviously not enough. That's part of the rebuild. Each year, you've got to keep improving in certain areas and keep moving forward. Obviously here in the last three games, you know, we ran out of gas and just didn't have the depth that we needed to to overcome some injuries, and just the amount of reps that certain individuals had because of the depth.

But you know, that's where it's at, but I'm really, really happy about some of the things we did, and we'll have a tremendous off-season.

Very excited to get started with our off-season program. We've got a lot of freshmen that played and we've got a lot of coming back on both sides of the ball and on special teams, and really looking forward to getting the chance to work with them and develop them and continue to build the program and move it forward.

So with that, I'll go ahead and open for questions.

Q. What did you see in the first quarter that made you go to Lewis, and if you're going to go to him that early, why didn't you just start him?
We were hoping Gio could do something. We weren't doing what we needed to do on offense and that was the plan all along.

Gio was our starting quarterback and you know, we wanted to give him an opportunity to see if we could get some positive things going offensively, and it wasn't happening. So we made the decision early in the week that that is something that we would probably do. But Senior Night, and we want to be able to put out the guys that gave us the best chance, that we felt gave us the best chance to win.

Based on Gio's performance in practice, he did that. It wasn't going necessarily the way we wanted offensively. We really started bad as a football team, and you know, we were able to overcome it and be in the game at halftime, and obviously second half wasn't good. That's really what it was about, when we're looking at Gio and Johnathan.

Q. How do you think Johnathan played?
COACH ASH: I don't know until I watch the film. Obviously there were some throws that were off the mark. And he's a true freshman; it was the most snaps he's gotten in a game this year. There were some things that he did probably well and there's probably a lot of things he's got to improve on. That's part of a true freshman going in there and getting his opportunity to play.

But it's like anything else, it's easy to critique the quarterback. But it's more about critiquing the pieces of the puzzle around him, looking at how the O-Line played: Were they able to put pressure on them, were they able to get open on the outside, were we running the right routes. There's a lot that goes into it. So we'll evaluate it like we always do and you know, make the necessary adjustments and develop the players in the off-season.

Senior linebacker Chris Frey

On if the game felt closer than the score…
"For us, for the defense, it felt like we were up by a lot. We were only out there, I think they told us (31) plays total in the game. It just felt like every quarter kept getting shorter and shorter. But, it doesn't matter early in the game what the score is. It's a matter of what it is at the end of the game. At the end of the game it's 40-7 and that's a good one for us."

On this season's meaning to him…
"From the beginning, back at media day when I was first doing that interview, I had a gut feeling about this team and the guys that we have on this team because we were all in this together. We had been through the deepest of waters and we were on our way up. There was only one way for us to go. I knew that the guys on this team had the ability and the fire in their hearts to get to this point. To be able to say that we flipped it and went 9-3 is just an unbelievable accomplishment for this team and this program."

On the bond built with teammate Gerald Holmes
"He's been here five years. I've been here four of those five years with him. Over those years he's been a great leader on this team, a great leader on our offense. We've become really close, brothers honestly. It's not just me and him. Madre and LJ are the other two in our running back room and you spend so much time with the other guys on the team that you just become so close to them. That bond grows every single day."

Sophomore linebacker Joe Bachie

On how their significant time on the ball affected their defense…
"We were fresh the whole game. But, it can sway either way. People can get lazy on the sidelines, not stay focused or we can stay in the game. That's something I want to give credit to the defense. We stayed in the game the whole time and we finished what we started this game."

On whether he has any doubt that Coach Dantonio is Big Ten Coach of the Year… "He's a great coach. How we handled this whole off season and everything that went on. You see us flip our record, 9-3, he's done a great job. I hope he does get it."

Sophomore quarterback Brian Lewerke

On whether the way he finished made up for the plays that weren't capitalized on…
"It did. It was good. It kind of calmed me down a little bit in the second half to be able to get those plays. A lot more comforting of a lead as the second half went on."

On 11 players making catches; what that says about the group…
"It says a lot. It says how many playmakers we've got. We've got guys that can make plays everywhere whether it's a receiver, tight end, or running back. My lone touchdown pass was to a running back today. So, it just shows how versatile everybody is."

On what he saw that gave him confidence during spring ball…
"Just everyone making plays. No matter who it was. You could throw any guy, any receiver, in there and they'd catch the ball. They were separating from the DBs very well. Spring ball and fall camp I knew that we were going to have guys that could make plays."

On how it feels to be at this point following the regular season…
"It feels really good. I feel like our record could still be better than what it is. We've done a great job of just continuing to play no matter what happens. Even after what happened a couple of weeks ago. We still fought through and persevered."

Senior running back Gerald Holmes

On what the brotherhood he's built on this team means to him…
"It meant a lot. To start off with Chris, he's my locker partner for the most part. We're joking all the time. Him being here four years, me being here five years, we have a lot of experience together. Also, just being a part of the changing room having him by my side that meant a lot. The biggest thing was to bring our team together to create that brotherhood. We felt that the main thing was to flip our record this year. That played a big part in that."

On this year's comeback being appreciated…
"It'll definitely be appreciated. To experience what we went through last year that was something that people don't want to go through, especially as a team. But, we did. And the main focus was just to come back and get a win. We started this whole thing where we're trying to be 1-0 each week. We took it week by week."



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