EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Michigan State assistant coaches Harlon Barnett and Dave Warner spoke to the media Wednesday afternoon, to preview the Spartans' 2017 season-opener Saturday 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 Wednesday’s press conference:
Associate Head Coach/Co-Defensive Coordinator/Secondary Coach Harlon Barnett
Q. The depth chart said that Josh (Butler) was starting at corner yesterday, and Coach Dantonio said that that’s still kind of in-flux between him and Josiah (Scott), can you break down that battle heading into the weekend?
It’s a great battle. Josiah had an outstanding spring and then got a little nicked up here in fall camp. Josh had an outstanding fall camp and did a great job for us. That’s a good problem to have. We’re happy obviously that Justin Lane is with us as well as Tyson Smith. I expect all those guys to play especially in a fast-paced offense (by Bowling Green).
Q. While (Josiah) Scott was out, TJ Harrell got more reps with the 2's, how did that look and how’s he coming along?
TJ did good, he did a good job for us. TJ is a bigger guy that can run and so he did a good job for us. We have five solid corners right now that we feel good about putting into a game.
Q. With playing a team that does the Texas Tech, Mike Leach-style offense, obviously modified a little bit, with such a young secondary, how concerning is that?
With the way the offseason was as far as being able to meet with the guys, I feel very comfortable with how we are and where we are with our players. We have the freshmen come in early for a week in June and they came back in the first part of July, so they’re up on it. They know what’s going on, they understand. I feel good with it, I really do.
Q. There’s a lot of talk in camp about rotating guys in a lot of different positions, is that helpful when you’re going up against a team in the opener that’s going to be fast paced and run play after play?
Absolutely it’s helpful. Rotating meaning that if you’re a safety, you’re a safety, if you’re a corner, you’re a corner. They’ve all worked together and understand one another and there is a lot of cohesiveness there amongst all of the guys. We have had multiple groups in there working with one another so they feel good. They understand and we will see the results on Saturday.
Q. You talk a little bit about the corners…can you talk about the safety position and what Matt (Morrissey) has done to maybe kind of surpass Grayson (Miller) and also talk a little bit about Tre Person.
Matt is a very, very smart football player. He’s a young man that understands the defense as well as anyone, especially in the back end. He’s going to put himself in position to be able to make plays and he’s also going to put other guys in position to make plays as well. As far as Tre is concerned, Tre is a smart, young football player as well. He understands and he is giving it more and more. We do a lot of things. He’s getting it down, so he communicates, he loves to play the game and he goes after it and hits people.
Q. When did he make the switch from corner or is he still repping at corner at all?
Pretty much safety right now, he made the switch maybe after the first week or so. Actually it’s funny you say that because he did a little corner for us yesterday as well, so he still knows that. Again, he’s a smart football player so he understands both positions and it’s going to serve him well in the future.
Q. You, Mike and Mark were very open last year that you just didn’t get enough pressure, didn’t get enough sacks; with this defensive line that you have, are you confident you are going to be able to get that fixed or is it still a concern?
I think we’re going to surprise some people. We’re going to surprise some people. I’m going to just keep it at that. I feel good about not only the personnel but some of the things that we’ve changed schematically throughout the course of the offseason, so I’m looking forward to it.
Q. Does some of that come from that maybe you felt like you guys got predictable at all last year on both sides of the ball?
Well, like I told our D staff in the offseason, actually even before last season, people study the champs. They study the champs. We were the champs; we’ve had a pretty good run here in the Big Ten and so they’ve studied. Everybody’s calling, how do you attack Michigan State? Do this, that and the other thing and there were certain things that I thought we did become a little predictable on over the years. So now, we have to change with the times and roll with the times and we will. We’ve got some things that I think we’re going to get good results out of as the season progresses.
Q. It’s been more about that than personnel? Or has it been kind of a mix of you don’t have the right guys?
Well it’s always going to be a mixture of it. You know, we have good players around here and we still have good players around here, so I think it’s a mixture of that and also them understanding young players and all that kind of stuff as well as understanding the scheme. I think it’s going to be good. We’ve got good players and we’ve got a good scheme and hopefully you’ll see some great results out there this year.
Q. Is it difficult to tweak without changing your identity and the basics that you guys try to go through?
We’re not tweaking so much that we don’t know who we are. We’re still going to fly around and be tough, fast, physical and aggressive. It’s not so dramatic that the guys are thinking ‘woah what is this new stuff?’. No, it’s not like that; but it is to the point where it’s going to change up a few things where offenses are going to have to second-guess what they’re going to do against Michigan State.
Q. Not that it’s unprecedented for a guy to go from a walk-on to a scholarship player, but you’ve got two former walk-ons starting at defensive end; that seems a little unusual for a major college program. What have they done to get to that point and is that a negative thing regarding your depth?
They’ve played fast, physical and aggressive and relentless. They’ve put themselves in those positions to be the guys who start. Don’t forget, we’ve still got some pretty good back-ups as well and everybody will play, but those guys earned it. They earned it. At one time, JJ Watt was a walk-on, he was a walk-on that earned it and did a good job. We’ve had many around here as well that have done a great job for us so we expect those two guys to play well for us.
Q. When you look at Dom Long, do you think he can crack the field right away?
We’re going to get him more seasoned first but he’s right there. He’s athletic, he can run, he’s tough, he’s physical, he’s aggressive, so it’s a matter of learning the system and getting it down. He’s coming. He’s an intelligent young man also and he really cares about his performance and trying to get better each and every day. He’ll play for us at some point in time. I don’t know if it’ll be this year or later this year or next year, whenever it may be, but he will be a player for us.
Q. Do you expect very many true freshmen to play on defense?
They've proven themselves to be able to get out there on the field and play for us too, and not necessarily just defense, but special teams and all those type of things. It's a good class, a really good class.
Q. Are the team’s expectations different going in to this year than from years past?
Well, we always have high expectations of ourselves within this building. We always believe that we can win every game that we play in and we are always going to have that mentality; that has never changed from day one. We’ve got that same mentality. We’re going to take it one day at a time and first up is Bowling Green. Our mentality has not changed as far as our expectations of going out and playing each and every game believing that we can win. It’s one game at a time. Bowling Green is what’s up first and that’s what we’ve been focusing on. I don’t know if that happened last year or not. Something I did say that may help you guys out as well when you’re asking questions, and you can test our guys after Saturday. After Saturday, we don’t think past September 2. That’s it. Somebody says something about last year, I only go back to September 2; I forgot everything that happened before September 2.
Q. Did Khari Willis make sort of a surge, I heard he did really well in the second scrimmage, and was with 2's in the beginning and camp and now is he with the 1's?
He’s always been a guy that’s right there. When you say 1’s and 2’s, you know he’s always right there. He didn’t get a chance to go through a lot of the spring, so that’s why he probably started the way he did this fall camp. Khari is a player who’s really taking off and we’re expecting big things from him.
Q. Have you watched Riley (Bullough) on Hard Knocks and have you heard him channeling your 'play-violent' mantra?
I heard him a little bit, I haven’t watched it all – we’re going through our camp ourselves, but you know that’s exciting. Riley brings energy, passion, and enthusiasm. You miss that a little bit. I know they love it down there. He’s an outstanding football player and I wish him nothing but the best down there in Tampa. I’m really happy for him.
Q. What does Josiah Scott do well for people that haven’t seen him play yet?
He’s fast, he plays with great technique, he has good ball skills and he can tackle. He’s very unassuming. You wouldn’t think that just looking at him, but he has that other guy in him; he definitely comes out on game day. He comes to compete, he’s a competitor.
Co-Offensive Coordinator/Running Backs Coach Dave Warner
Q. General impression of it being game week and finally getting back on the field after so long it seems like.
I think obviously from players all the way through coaches, everybody is excited to finally be here. It seems like camp went surprisingly fairly fast. This last week always has the tendency to drag on, but I think you can still see the excitement of our players and they are finally they're to the point now where they sort of see what we’ve been working for and I think we’re ready to go. I see a great attention to detail through the first half of this week.
Q. Can you tell me what stands out to you most about Bowling Green when you watch their film?
You know I think you look at the last three games of their season last year, which they won and finished on a very positive note; I think they probably were a little bit more basic in what they did and they did it better, they flew around those last three games and were very effective, defensively. They’re only returning a few starters but they are returning a lot of guys with experience. I think they’re going to try to pick up where they left off.
Q. Harlon (Barnett) talked about how the defense tweaked some things a little bit; not getting away from your identity but changing the way things work a little bit. Is that kind of the same approach offensively or will it appear different to people this year?
I don’t think so, you know we’ve always tried to tweak things every year. You can’t stay status quo. Everybody is trying new things and trying to figure you out from a defensive point of views. We’ve tweaked some things and when we get to those things we’ll kind of wait and see but we’re always looking to expand.
Q. How much of that is kind of adjusting to your personnel?
That’s part of it. You always try to get the ball in your playmakers' hands and finding new ways to do that is part of what we do as a staff.
Q. How much is Brian’s (Lewerke) athleticism help that in his ability to do different things?
Good, he’s probably the most athletic quarterback we’ve had here in our time. The last four to five years we’ve had some quarterback runs in our offense, it’s just a matter of picking and choosing how often you want to use those. I think Brian, however, has the ability and the want-to a little bit more to pull the ball down and run when he’s sitting in the pocket and run and create things that way so it’ll be interesting to see how he uses that. We’re excited to see that.
Q. Regarding your playbook, were there things you wanted to do last year that you weren’t able to with Brian being fairly young that you are now expanding this fall that you maybe feel more comfortable doing?
Well, Brian is still young; he’s started a couple of games. Unfortunately, he’s going to go through some first time starter mistakes as well and we expect that. Obviously we want to minimize those but he missed a great deal in getting injured in not being able to go through those pains and struggles the last five games or whatever it was last year. At the same time he’s able to handle a lot, so we’re anxious to see how he handles everything. Don’t expect him to come out and be a polished product just yet.
Q. With so much newness on your side of the ball in particular, do you have to sort of dial some things back for some of the young guys?
Yeah, we’ve tried to. We tried to starting last spring. Maybe not to simplify, but to maybe be a little slower in our install and so there’s no doubt we’re going to be younger and that’s going to be a key to how we do this Saturday and throughout the season is how well those young guys pick things up. We’ve tried to tailor things around those guys.
Q. How’s the tight end picture looking? Not only is the starter in a new role but the 2, 3 and 4 are all new as well.
I think we have some depth there. We have some athleticism there as well, probably a little bit more speed than we’ve had there. Like the other positions, we’re going to be young but we feel like we have at least three guys going into this game that can play for us and possibly four. We feel good about it, it’s just going to be another position where we’re young.
Q. I feel like we’ve talked about this for a couple of years now; the running backs and who’s getting carries and getting into a rhythm and that sort of stuff. Coach Dantonio yesterday was pretty clear that if you get two reps, three carries, whatever it is, you’ve got to produce. Is that the same mentality with the guys or do they have a little different approach this year like they’ve got to get it done?
I think they know that we’re always going to go with the hot hand and I think that there are only so many footballs to go around. What I don’t want them doing is pressing and trying to create things and make big plays all of the time. I think they need to stay within themselves and if they don’t break out a run in the first series, they just need to play their game. Their time will come again. It’s not like they have to make a big play every time they touch the football but bottom line, we’re going to play guys that are producing.
Q. Do you talk to them about that too because I think people look at it and think your running backs are your experienced guys who have produced? Do you try to keep them from putting too much on themselves?
Yeah we do and it’s sort of been that way for years; I don’t think it’s anything different. Those guys are always competing and it’s still pretty much the same this year as it’s been the last couple of years. The talent level is there with all three of them so it’s just depending on the situation.
Q. Is Collin Lucas giving you what you need at fullback or is Joe Palange still pushing him? We haven’t seen a lot of competitions at fullback necessarily over the years but is that a competition still?
Yeah, I think so. Palange came in here with some experience from his previous stops, but he got a late start on things, he was not on here in the start off with us so he’s been sort of catching up a little bit. To answer your question, Collin Lucas, we’re happy with where he’s at. He knew what he had to do coming into this season to be the guy and he’s done a pretty good job of it so I think he’s in position right now to sort of take over and be that guy. Joe is still nipping at his heals, so I think they’re both in position to play for us.
Q. Do you guys, from the perspective of maybe having some outside expectations for you this year compared to previous years, how have you guys used that as motivation?
I guess Coach Dantonio mentioned the other day, you’re either the hunted or you’re the hunter. We’ve been the hunted for years and I think that obviously this year we’re no longer that, we’re the hunter. I think that with the newness of our players, guys getting out there for the first time, the excitement of that, is going to work to our benefit.