EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio held his weekly press conference Tuesday inside the Izzo Family Media Center at the Spartan Stadium North End Zone Complex to preview the Spartans' 2017 season-opener against Bowling Green at Spartan Stadium.
Michigan State hosts Bowling Green on Saturday, Sept. 2 in Spartan Stadium, as MSU kicks off the 2017 season. The game will be broadcast on ESPNU with kickoff scheduled for 12:01 p.m.
The Spartans are 81-36-3 (.688) all-time in season openers, including a 16-2 record (.889) in its last 18 games. Michigan State won their last eight season openers. MSU is 99-21 (.825) all-time in home openers, including an 18-game winning streak that began in 1999 with a win over Oregon. The 18-game home-opening winning streak is tied for the fifth-longest active streak in the nation. Mark Dantonio is 10-0 in home openers at MSU.
Saturday marks the third-ever meeting between the Spartans and Falcons, with Michigan State holding a 2-0 series advantage. MSU won the inaugural meeting in 1981, 10-7, and the most recent meeting in 2007, 28-17, which was during head coach Mark Dantonio's first season as head coach in East Lansing in 2007.
The following is a complete transcript from Tuesday's press conference:
COACH DANTONIO: First off, I want to offer condolences to the Jud Heathcote family. I really got to know Jud just a little bit throughout my time here. When I came here as an assistant in `95, he was still the head basketball coach, and I got to know him a little bit. And over the course of the time in some of the champion games I was able to attend and tournaments and that type of thing. I know that he had a tremendous impact on both Mark Hollis and Tom Izzo, and they talked about him often. And it was sort of a shock today and I woke up today and I came in the office and heard of his passing. So just wanted to offer support.
Additionally, we've got two players from Houston area, (wide receivers coach Terrence Samuel) Coach Samuel is also from Houston area, we've got many former Spartans from that area of the country, we want to offer our thoughts and prayers to the people in Houston with the devastation that's going on there. And on an occasion prior to this Darrell Stewart's family was flooded out at one other time, I know they're experiencing some things and Tyler Higby's family as well. Our thoughts and prayers are with them.
Opening day. A lot of excitement. A lot of optimism. Young football team. You can say that about a lot of teams right now across this country. Opening day always brings that out. I think it's exciting for all of us. We're very, very ready to go, I guess you'd say. It's been a long time coming. We've sat and waited for about nine months for this opportunity. So we'll be ready.
Bowling Green coming in here, Mike Jinks is the head football coach there, comes from Texas Tech, so they're going to have an up-tempo type offense, throw the ball down the field. Scott Miller, No. 21 is a go-to guy, with about 900 yards of receiving yards, I think 74 catches, 900-plus yards. Josh Cleveland is a tailback. They've got some other outstanding wide receivers, as well. Their defense, they're going to play a lot of different things from the front perspective. It will be multiple in the back end, as well. They've got an outstanding punter in Joseph Davidson, who is a Ray Guy Award Watch List candidate, averages over 45 yards per punt, so he is outstanding.
With that I'll take questions. That's usually the best way to go here, and get ready to go.
Q. You mentioned having a young team. When you look at Bowling Green's record, it is not indicative of the way they played the last third of the season, they were a completely different team. For example gave up 45 points, but the last three games of conference play only gave up 18. Do you show film from the last third of the season? Do you how do you address that? An older team I get it, but younger team?
COACH DANTONIO: When you look at them as an entire team throughout the season, I think they got better as the season progressed, lost some close games in the middle of the season and then won some games at the end of the season, some close games along the way and then also had a couple of teams that they handled pretty easily.
So I think you've got a difference of, certainly say different snapshot of their team as you've gone through the season. They'll be ready. Second year as a staff there. So I think in the second year you always have an opportunity to realign yourself, re-critique yourself and change some different things.
But I think that he has a belief in his players, and I think his players have a belief in what they're doing there, and you can see that they play hard and they'll come here, just like any other team from the Mid-American Conference, ready to show out. And so we'll look forward to that opportunity. We have the same opportunity, as well. We're looking forward to it.
Q. A couple of depth chart questions. Demetrius Cooper listed, how much of that was the off field stuff that he had, how much was performance of Dillon Alexander to take that other starting spot?
COACH DANTONIO: You know, it's all performance based. We've gone slowly with Coop as we've gone through this, but it's been performance based. He'll play, we anticipate him playing. And really when you look at the depth chart right now, it's a starting point for us. We've got some guys that obviously have played a lot of football for us, that are solidified, and there are other guys that are sort of in flux a little bit. Not that they're playing poorly or anything like that, it's just we have some good football players that have elevated their play. They're younger players, so the curve is more significant. They're able to improve more significantly in the last couple of years, over the last year, and I think that shows.
Q. And kind of as follow, with the cornerback, you have Josh Butler, I know that (co-defensive coordinator Mike Tressel) Coach Tressel talks about his growth. How much of that was and how much of that was maybe Josiah Scott being nicked up from being held out of that scrimmage?
HEAD COACH DANTONIO: Josh Butler has had an outstanding summer camp. He was a highly recruited guy out of Dallas, Texas, and he's playing very, very well. He's been one of the guys you point to in camp and he's been solid, pass break ups, interceptions, those kind of things. He's tackling well.
Josiah Scott had an outstanding spring. He did get nicked up, we held him back a little bit. He's back full go now, in the last week or so he's been become. Both of those guys are going to play. Who starts really will define itself probably this week yet, because we still have practice this week probably, today is a big day. But they're both good players. We expect them both to play.
Q. No AJ Arcuri on the depth chart, is there a long-term injury with him, or do you expect him back?
COACH DANTONIO: We do expect him back. So, I don't really want to speak out of turn. He has an injury problem, obviously. He's a good football player. We'll see how it sort of handles itself throughout the season as we go.
Q. It's been quite a while since you stood up there and said Brian Lewerke was your guy, what have you seen from him in the last six months since then that has built your faith in him or not?
COACH DANTONIO: You know, when you have an opportunity to play as a redshirt-freshman, and you start a couple of games and played pretty well, and you have some moments in the game. That's a positive.
The way he's handled that, he's shown a lot of growth as a person. He's responded and shown a lot in his leadership abilities. Also on the field. He knows our offensive. He's got a great arm. He's got quick release. He can get out of problems, he's elusive, and he's calm under pressure. And I think all those things have sort of allowed me to move forward with my statements on him as a quarterback. I think he has an outstanding future. I think though with that being said, I think we have some guys that can play at that position. They're Big Ten quarterbacks, they're big guys, they've got a good handle on the offensive right now. Talking about Messiah deWeaver, and obviously Damion Terry has played in games, and I thought his Penn State game may have been his best game this last time out. He's got some ability, as well. Rocky Lombardi has showed some things, but probably right now a redshirt. He's probably as far as ahead of any redshirt than we've had, freshman being redshirted. Depends on how the season goes.
Like I said, our depth chart, it's a starting point for us. But I feel very secure and very confident in Lewerke right now.
Q. I know that you touched on camp a little bit. With everything that's happened in the offseason, to be in a game week now, I don't know what the right word is, if it's a relief to just have a focus on a game. How excited are you and for the kids in that regard?
COACH DANTONIO: We got back to business throughout the summer. Our football team right now I think is energized. I think we're excited about this opportunity, sort of like my opening statement. There's really not much else to say, other than our guys are ready to play a football game. We've been in five weeks of camp. School starts tomorrow, so that will be a little bit of a bump in the road. We came in July 31st and we've been going at it. I think they've paid their dues and terms of what we've tried to instill in them.
We're ready to go. Excited about the opportunity. See where we're at. We need a starting point. This will give us a starting point, one way are the other. But like I said, we've got players that can play anywhere in the country. I feel very, very strong on that.
Q. Obviously you lose Michael Geiger, a guy who kicked for four years. A pretty important position, I see you've got two guys listed, is that something that's going to still play out through this week or do you want to have that figured out by Saturday?
COACH DANTONIO: Matt Coghlin, has won the kicking position, he'll kick for us, and he's done a great job really all summer long, did very well in the spring, as well. He's a guy that we offer -- he's a guy we did not sign coming in last year, but promised him a scholarship midyear and delivered on that. We brought in Cole Hahn to provide added opportunities, added competition, but Coghlin responded.
Brett Scanlon, he will be our kickoff guy, and he's been very positive, as well. So feel good about both those guys, and doing what they'll do, and ready to go. Both of them have had an opportunity to show out throughout the entire -- we've documented and tracked every single little item. I think they're both ready to go, and they should do an outstanding job.
Q. You talked about it being a starting point, but I think I counted 14 true freshmen on the depth chart and six on the two deep. What have some of those guys shown to get the trust in you guys to get them into the two deep or on that roster?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, really it's how they handled their business, really. They've come in here. They've come in earlier a little bit. We've had an opportunity to meet with them in the summer, which last year was the first year we had an opportunity to do that. So they're a little bit farther ahead. We've had three guys come in at midyear, Hunter Rison, Josiah Scott and Jack Camper, they're a little bit farther ahead. So I think they're ready to play. In this day and age our guys are accelerating the process, our coaches are. So we've got some guys.
I always look back on this week, you always look back at some of the teams you've had in the past or freshmen classes you've had in the past, and how would that guy stack up with our guys in those particular teams. And we've got -- we have a very, very good freshmen class. You'll see the result of some of those guys playing and you'll recognize that as time goes, whether it's this year, throughout this year or early+ next year, if we decide to hold a couple of guys out.
We'll probably travel a lot of freshmen. And it's not really by necessity, it's by -- they really sort of won the positions a little bit. Also have some guys that are redshirt-freshmen that didn't play last year, that will have an opportunity to play, and it will be exciting to watch them, as well.
Q. Brandon Randle, listed at linebacker, went back and forth in the camp, is that a permanent thing, or will he still work at defensive end and what has he shown during camp?
COACH DANTONIO: He'll work either/or, really, either/or as we go. Just depending on the depth chart and how he plays, but he's a very active football player. He's got a big upside. He can make plays for us. So, again, we're going to watch him and everybody has the opportunity to watch him, but he's a special guy. At this point in time they're all sort of in flux, they're all in the mix.
Q. The flip side of that freshmen is you've got two full-time starters on the depth chart that are seniors. Do you glance down and does that give you pause?
COACH DANTONIO: You know, I glanced down at it and say the future looks very, very bright. There's been this situation before, in 2010 our entire second unit of our defense in 2010 were true freshmen or redshirt-freshmen. And you see the result of that a number of years later. That's a positive thing in some ways, it's a negative thing, depends how you look at it. As long as your freshmen are playing well, it's a very positive thing. I think that's been the case in camp.
Now, like I told them today, games are different. Games are a little bit -- there's more pressure. People watching you. There's a little bit of a crowd out there. It's different, but they'll get used to that, it's still football and they've got to still make plays on the field. I think we have enough guys playing that have experience. We have a pretty large junior class when you look at our football team. When you look at it, Khari Willis, Grayson Miller, they've played a lot of football. You've got guys like that. I can't go through all of them, but have quite a few guys in our junior class that are playing significantly. Andrew Dowell, those type of guys.
Q. Bowling Green, from years, it's an up tempo, no huddle offense. They went through a transition year last year. Do you know what to expect from them. Are they an unknown commodity that you might normally see in an opener?
COACH DANTONIO: They have an outstanding quarterback in Morgan, threw for over 2,000 yards. I think he had 16 touchdown passes, maybe. He's a big guy, he throws it well, operates well in the system, and I think they have a system that's very well tied together, and like everything predicated on getting the line of scrimmage, and running the play quickly, and getting you into a defense and looking at what you're doing and working straight from there.
They're tied together well. They've got guys that can make plays. So with the score against Ohio State, they obviously lost, early in the season, but initially it was close, but they've got guys that can play. And they'll come in here with the opportunity to win, just like we have an opportunity to win.
Again, I don't really care who we play in the first game. It's good to have a first game. The timing is right. Our football team is right for it. The mentality of our football team is right, and that's what I'm concerned about. Mostly what I'm concerned about is our football team.
Q. You've got three guys listed in starters at running back. Can you give them enough carries to get them into a rhythm and give them all a chance to show what they can do?
COACH DANTONIO: I don't know if we can do that, we try. I think all those guys warrant being named the guy that can carry the load. We'll see who does it. We'll see who gets the most touches. A lot of times it depends on how players are playing and what is going on on the field. But I think they're all three very, very good players, and I think it would be unfair to say one guy is a starter and these two guys are back ups. I consider them starters.
Q. Friday night openers have been kind of the norm for most of you at Michigan State. Is it weird to be deviating back to Saturday for the first since 2010?
COACH DANTONIO: I have never really looked at that. I just say `hey, here's when we play the game, let's get ready to play the game and let's go.' I don't look at it we're playing at night or whatever. But it is the case, as you said, but really hasn't had any affect, I don't think, on us.
Q. Looking at the expectations outside the program, they're much lower than they were maybe last year, and maybe the few previous years. Have you guys tried to keep the guys away from that or is it -- do you feel like you guys are flying below the radar a little bit this year?
COACH DANTONIO: I asked our football team the other day, are we the hunted or are we going to be the hunter? Who are we? This football team has yet to create, I guess, an impression because we're young. So our reputation, who are we, what is our reputation at this point in time?
We had a tough year last year. We had very high expectations coming in last year and we didn't deliver. But this is a new year, my expectations, as always, and I believe this last year, we could have won our last game, we could have beaten Ohio State, two point play at the end of the game or two minute drive. And we were up against Penn State, and those are two top 10 teams. We're not as far away as some believe. We're a lot closer. You have to make plays on the field and they've got to be W's. That's just the reality.
I feel good about our football team. I feel very good about the leadership on our football team and where we're going and the mindset of our guys, and that's all I can control. At some point you have to make plays on the field. You can control the direction you're going with the mindset and the energy, and our energy is right. And that's all I can concern myself with.
Q. In the past you've talked about sticking with the hot hand at running back. Last year you went away from that. I asked Gerald Holmes about that, and he said sometimes you can't get a hot hand until you get some consistent reps. Do you agree with that? And last year there was a little bit of a change, can you talk about maybe your philosophy on that?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, my philosophy is that if the guy's got yards and he's hot, we're going to run him. You've got your opportunities, you better make the best of them. I don't care if you get three or 12. You better have a good three, and you better get in rhythm quick, because I'm not waiting around.
They're all starters, like I told them today, if you've got a yard to go, I don't care if you have any blocking, you better get that yard, that's your job.
We're getting ready to go. We're getting ready to play. All of our guys have an opportunity and I know they all believe in themselves, and I believe in all of them. But at some point in time you've run the hot guy. We did against Iowa in the last drive. That's what we did against Ohio State. And that's what we did against some of the other teams that we played in the past.
I don't think there's any question, though, that that position needs to get touches. That position needs to get touches, because that is a position of strength for us. So we've got to find ways to get the ball to our tailbacks.
Q. Do you ever remember a time where your wide receiver depth was so freshmen heavy, once you get past the starters, where you had so many young guys that had the opportunity to get in their playing time?
COACH DANTONIO: I'm sure there was a time, but I try to focus on the present of the but I'm sure we were young at one point, probably in 2012, we were pretty young, as I remember back to that year, I think, 2012. I think Aaron Burbridge and Macgarrett (Kings) were freshmen and didn't play very much, and a bunch of those other guys were younger. (Tony Lippett, sophomore; Keith Mumphery, sophomore; Bennie Fowler, junior).
Q. A little bit along those lines with the punt returns, what has Darrell (Stewart) done to win that over Brandon (Sowards), and Laress (Nelson), and I guess what are the expectations of what you guys want from that this year?
COACH DANTONIO: You know, again, we track everything, and I think he's done a good job catching the ball, good job in making decisions back there. He's a guy that's going to walk in there and have game experience when he catches the ball, so there's a little bit of that, as well.
We lost Brandon Sowards for the season, so I guess everybody needs to know that, with an ACL, a couple weeks ago, so he will be out. He will be missed.
But I think Darrell has the opportunity to be a big time football player here and make plays for us. He's a big physical guy that can run and catch, and he does a good job catching the football in the back end.