Sep 3, 2013
EAST LANSING, Mich. - Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio held his weekly press conference Tuesday inside the Huntington Club at Spartan Stadium. Dantonio talked about his observations from the first game against Western Michigan and where he's looking for improvement in the second game vs. South Florida.
The Spartans (1-0) host the Bulls (0-1) of USF on Saturday, Sept. 7 at noon in Spartan Stadium; the game will be televised on ESPNU. It marks the first-ever meeting between the two schools.
The following is a complete transcript from Tuesday's press conference:
COACH DANTONIO: Obviously, looking forward to the game on Saturday versus South Florida. We come in 1 0. That is the most important thing. That's where our goals sit after last Friday. Obviously, there are certain things we need to get better at as we move forward. Then there are some things that we're doing very, very well as well. So we'll have to deal with both aspects of that, continuity on the one thing, and then, obviously, getting better on the other.
South Florida comes off a tough loss to McNeese (State) and turnovers, things of that nature, in the first game. They return two starters on offense, which makes it a little bit difficult. Essentially they do return seven starters if I look at this, if you count Aaron Lynch as a potential starter who played at Notre Dame as a true freshman.
So they've got talent; they can run; they're athletic. Coach Taggart is in his first year, so this is a transitional game for him as he moves forward and we expect them to be better. So I'll take questions.
Q. What are you going to do at the quarterback position Saturday?
COACH DANTONIO: Oh, yeah. We've got to get to that. You know, right now I think the main focus is what we do internally right now with our quarterback situation. We're going to look at things as the week progresses and make some decisions near the end of the week.
Q. So is Andrew Maxwell the starter right now? COACH DANTONIO: I'm not going to talk about who is starting right now.
Q. After watching the film, can you tell me maybe something that you thought they did better that you saw from field level, and something that stood out that you thought they did good.
COACH DANTONIO: Team in general. I think when you look and you're on the field level, you obviously think things are happening very fast down there. You're sort of living in the present. I think when you watch the game afterwards and you watch it on film, you have a chance to study and see how things let up. There is a little bit more of a story line involved as you move forward.
So I think, first of all, let's talk about our defense. Our defense played outstanding. You felt energy on the field throughout the game. You felt like they were going to go out and get a stop. And disappointed in our twos at the end of the game allowing a drive, but I think our defense played outstanding and came away with two scores, four turnovers, numerous sacks, limited amount of rushing, tackled very well, played hard.
Special teams got to clean up a couple things, but we had some big returns. Couple big returns by our punt returner, although, again, the punting situation because they were rugby punting and some things were on the carpet or on the grass, there was a little bit of inconsistency catching the football. From the standpoint of our special teams, I thought we played okay. Can play better, had a couple issues with snaps.
On our offense, we need more explosive plays, and I think that's what you saw on the sideline and that's what you saw on the film after the fact. Did you catch the ball more consistently? We need to be more multi dimensional. Some of that is structure. Some of that is execution. But we can play better. I know that we can play better. We've played better in the past and we look forward to our next opportunities.
Q. One more on quarterbacks and I won't ask who the starter is. But the depth chart has Maxwell and Cook. So as you go between the week is it just those two guys or all the guys?
COACH DANTONIO: That's a quarterback question. Everybody's out there and has a helmet on in practice, and everybody gets evaluated every day. That's all I can tell you.
Q. When you see what Christian Hackenberg does as a true freshman at Penn State Saturday, and Jameis Winston, the red shirt freshman at Florida State, is it becoming easier for guys to play that position because of their athletic talents than it used to be?
COACH DANTONIO: I don't know if it's becoming easier. I think in Hackenberg's case, I believe enrolled in January. Which is a big difference when can you go through spring and get your feet on the ground during the spring and then come back after summer study and go through summer camp, big difference.
So our freshman quarterback (Damion Terry) did not have that opportunity to do that, so, you know, he's learning on the fly a little bit more. But I think that, again, some of the things are structure, as we've talked about, and we need to address those things. Obviously, I think those are independent things. Who comes, how they play, all these type of things. I don't know if I'm answering the question very well, but that would be par for the course.
Q. Does it help when that one guy gets all the snaps?
COACH DANTONIO: I think the more snaps you get, the more experience you get, the better you should become, especially in a game day environment as you move forward. The best thing we did for Tyler O'Connor thus far is provide him with a spring-game environment where there are about 40 plus thousand or whatever it was, people here. That was the best that we could do at that point in time.
Q. Can you talk about the decision to have Macgarrett Kings in the starting lineup?
COACH DANTONIO: I think Macgarrett's caught the ball very well throughout the fall camp. I have a lot of confidence in him catching the football, and I believe that's why he's there. I think our receiver coaches do as well.
When you have an opportunity and I mentioned this to our players the other day, and I think it's good for everybody to recognize this. That when you have an opportunity and when you become the head coach or a starting position player, whatever it is, there is opposition that comes with that opportunity. So you have to expect that opposition and you have to play through it, and you have to play confidently and you have to be courageous in some respects. Because you're going to get knocked down, you're going to get back up and you have to play well.
But at some point in time, you have to play well. Again, as I've talked to our players about it, we all have different levels of talent, and we need to use those talents and you need to cash in on those talents, basically. You need to use what you have, and that has to become available to people, that concept needs to be understood by our players.
Q. In reference to the wide receivers, you talked about it last year and you talked about it already this year that in practice, they hold on to the ball and in games they don't. Have you had an experience in all your years of coaching where there are some players who never get over that hump of being able to do it on the field on game day?
COACH DANTONIO: I think our players have all made plays on game day. Bennie Fowler's made plays on game day, Keith Mumphery has, Aaron Burbridge has. I've seen Tony Lippett make plays. The important part that we need is consistency in performance, which you hear that term thrown around by a lot of people. But that is really the key to success is being able to be consistent long term. The more you play, the better you should be in that area.
But we can't settle for less. We can't settle for it. We have to make sure that everybody's getting an opportunity to move forward.
So, as I said earlier, you get an opportunity, it comes with opposition. That guy back there standing back for a kickoff, as I explained to our players, there are 11 people coming down on him. There is opposition. That quarterback's got an entire defense he's got to throw against, defensive rush to avoid. That offensive lineman's got a three technique over him, and that running back has 11 guys trying to tackle him, and on it goes from every position.
You have to expect that and rise to the occasion. That's their job. That is our job to get them to rise to the occasion. I'm not pointing fingers at any particular person. I'm just saying that we need to do better in certain areas.
In other areas, we're doing very, very well. And I think we could have a very good football team, and a championship type football team, I really do believe that. But we need to find ourselves in certain areas as do a lot of teams.
There are football teams out there that won 49 46 on Saturday, and they didn't expect to give up 46 points. So it goes both ways. I don't think there are a lot of people probably after Game 1 that are completely satisfied with how they played in all spectrums: Offense, defense, and special teams.
Fortunate thing for us is we've found our defense played extremely well. Our special teams played well enough to win, and our offense needs to play better. But I could say the same thing about certain defenses that you saw out there, giving up 49, 46 points in winning, or 35 points or given up 30 first downs or whatever it is.
I sat there and watched Saturday's games. There were a lot of different things that you didn't expect, but that's college football. It's extremely competitive. There is a lot of parity. There is very good coaching going on out there at all levels.
When you see certain teams rise up, 1-AA teams rise up and be what you would think would be opponents that they'd have no chance to beat, you could understand that. So there are a lot of questions being asked around the country.
Q. Is the reason not to reveal the starting quarterback today is because you don't know? It's an open competition? Or you just don't want this to be a media Tuesday circus every week?
COACH DANTONIO: We don't want it to be a media circus every week, first of all. But I understand that is the nature of society. But I think the most important thing is we're going to practice this week, and I'm not going to put the cart before the horse. We're going to practice. We're going to find out some things in practice and we're going to make decisions as we move forward.
Those decisions are tough decisions, because you have a position of leadership, but that's why we give people opportunities. But there is going to be opposition with that opportunity. We need to play well at that position. We need to play well at a lot of positions in order for us to be successful.
So I just don't think, to be honest with you, I don't think that...I know this is a little bit of a media event because everybody wants to talk about that aspect, because they always want to talk about the head coach. They only want to talk about the quarterback because they're positions of leadership. So that goes with the role. But at the same time, my job is to protect our players, and I think that's very important. I've been trying to do the very best I can to protect our players, and sometimes that has to be done in house. Probably more often than not, has to be done in house.
Q. Western Michigan played a lot of man coverage. Coach Warner was talking about that. Are you anticipating more of the same with South Florida? Can you talk about their defense offensively?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, South Florida is a man coverage team predominantly. They'll play a little bit of cover two. Coach Bresnahan is the defensive coordinator from the NFL, long time coordinator. He was with the Bengals when I was at the University of Cincinnati. They'll play a lot of cover one, get on you, and try to lock you down. I think their linebackers are active. Defensive line is athletic and has size.
I was surprised to see that they gave up the number of points (53). But there were big plays involved and there were some turnovers involved in those things and some special teams things.
Offensively, they're a little bit more pro style offense, but they'll do a lot of shifting and motioning to disguise things or window dress their formations. They want to go up top. They're a trick play team as well. But they'll run power and do some different things. They want to establish dominance. They want to establish their physicality.
They have two starters back, and, again they're in a transitional period, I'm sure, because it was their first game with the new staff, and we can look for them to be much improved. Though I will say this, I was very impressed with McNeese (State). They're a good football team.
Q. No DeAnthony Arnett on the depth chart this week. Is that a performance thing?
COACH DANTONIO: I would say that may be a sleight. I'm not sure why he's not. That may be a typo, yeah.
Burbridge is on there twice? Well, I didn't look at it when I walked over, to be honest with you. There may be a typo there or a mistake there. DeAnthony Arnett still figures into who we are. But I'm going to tell you, as I told our football team, with opportunities comes opposition. Certain players need to increase their performance, both in practice and the way they do things and their productivity, and we'll leave it at that.
Q. One of the things you talked about I heard about Macgarrett Kings from players in August, is he doesn't always run the right play, but he makes plays.
COACH DANTONIO: He makes plays.
Q. Is that sort of what you've seen from him moving forward?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, his inconsistency is route running maybe or formations because he's still learning. He's a young player. But the one thing he does, and he does very, very well, he goes up and gets the ball and he's caught the ball consistently. But I go back to what I saw in the summer. I saw no indication of the drops that we had on Friday night.
But there was weather involved. I'll give him that a little bit, but we seem to be able to play more consistently. And make the tough catch. You need to make the tough catch. That is part of all of this.
But I do believe our guys will rise to the occasion. Guys by nature are competitive people, and football teaches you when you get knocked down, you get back up. And you guys certainly help the cause.
Q. Jairus Jones has been through a lot in his career, really has seemed to make the most of it in the opener. Just talk about how far he's come in the last few years.
COACH DANTONIO: Well, he's a guy that's had a knee problem. He's had all different kinds of things that have gone on with him from an injury standpoint. He's an extremely highly recruited safety out of high school. Had opportunities to go to a number of Southeast Conference schools, Big 12 schools, I think maybe even LSU, whatever.
But highly recruited. We were very excited to get him. Through injuries, red shirting, et cetera, he hasn't played as much football. He's been a good player on special teams for us. We moved him down to linebacker in the spring, and I think I said at that time at the end of the spring, he was the one guy if you had to point to one guy who was a surprise. Now we have some good players, but this guy really had a great spring and put himself in a position to play, it was Jairus Jones, and I think you saw that Friday night.
He makes plays. He'll make plays on special teams. He'll make plays on defense, and he's a smart football player and he's tough. He's very active.
So excited to have him. I really feel like I said before, that we have quite a few linebackers that can play and mix it up so we don't have to play Taiwan. We can play Jairus. We don't have to play Denicos, we can play Ed Davis. So we've got some guys that can roll in there.
Q. How does Riley Bullough fit into the game plan against South Florida?
COACH DANTONIO: With opportunity comes opposition. I'm going to always look out there and say who is the running back that is running the best, and that is the guy we're going to ride. So you know he wants to be a tailback, be a tailback, run like a tailback. So everybody gets challenged. There is no difference. Everybody is challenged, especially when you're a young player. I know Riley, he'll be extremely competitive today.
Q. What did you see from the offensive line and what would you like to see from them this week?
COACH DANTONIO: From our offensive line, I saw Jack Conklin, I think I'm rehashing a lot of the things I said on Sunday. But I thought Jack Conklin played solid for a red shirt freshman. Blake Treadwell was good. He had seven and a half pancakes, but he was solid in there.
(Dan) France went down with an ankle, but came back and played. So he was playing limited in there. I think Travis (Jackson) had a game where he's got to get more movement. And Donavon Clark is a guy that, you know, at left tackle that probably didn't play as good as we thought he would play. But he's a second year player. He plays a red shirt freshman some last year, so this was really probably his second start other than the Michigan game last year. So it was hot out there. I think he cramped up a little bit. Fou's coming back from an injury, he didn't practice for a while, and I think it showed. Connor Kruse went in there, and I thought he played solid.
Q. What do you want to get out of the offensive line, moving forward?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, if you look at us as an offense, we got the three and four yard runs. We ran for 180 yards. We know we did some things. But we need to have the explosive plays there. We need to get the second level guy to break the tackle and run through the smoke, as I would say. Or we need to, you know, get those second level guys blocked, whether it's with tight ends, fullbacks, or wide receivers, however we structure it. Then structurally wise we didn't handle a linebacker on the power in certain formations. We didn't have it. We did not have that one lined up correctly in terms of how to get that blocked. I think that was something that we could probably have done structurally better.
So when we get the ball in space, the four yard gain has to become 8, 10, boom, 20. Which I think we have a couple guys that can do that. But we're sort of finding ourself at running back. When you handle the ball 390 times to Le'Veon Bell, you're going to have that issue. But that situation was sort of...everything is sort of a domino theory to me, if you really want to look at it. If Edwin Baker stays his senior year, and Le'Veon doesn't get as many carries, they split the carries, and probably Le'Veon's here this year. But you can't live in the past. Their opportunities came because they did so well and you're happy with them doing so well, but that's what happens.
Q. How concerned are you about their development because they're so young?
COACH DANTONIO: Concerned about the development at tight end. I said that early in the season. Only way to get that is to have game experience. We need a guy that can catch the ball at tight end. We need to have a threat at tight end. We need to do certain things to remedy that problem as we move forward, which we will do. But I agree with you.
Q. Coach, two questions. Just a flashback on the last game. Number one, who was in the (press) box and who was on the field as far as how that went, and were you satisfied with it? Number two, you've got a bit of a reputation as a gambler sometimes, but on that early 4th and 1, did you think about going for it on the game opening drive?
COACH DANTONIO: I did think about going for it, but I didn't want to put our defense in a bad situation if we did not get it. I thought it was too early in the game. I knew that Sadler would punt it down inside the 10, which he did, and we'd get the ball right back if we're playing the way we're supposed to play which is what happened. So we're right back at it. We had the ball six times from the minus 40, yeah, six times. So we need to come away with points in those situations. It's just the way it is.
So as far as the box, I was satisfied with the information that was coming from the box, and we have...we sort of play off each other in the box. Usually you have an offensive line guy on the field, an offensive line guy in the box or something of that nature, a skill guy, a skill guy on the box, skill guy on the field, that type of thing. So we try to play off each other offensively and defensively in those situations. I didn't see any problems of that nature.
Q. Coach, you're talking about the need for explosiveness. I think when most people hear that word, they think of speed. Talk about how instincts and knowledge play into explosiveness?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, there is a deliverer throwing the football and there is a receiver. So both of those aspects have to work in cohesion, I think, and work together. You can create explosive plays in that fashion. Obviously, you can do it with runs. Obviously, there were a couple of reverses that I felt could have busted out. And we need to run the ball more effectively, stick our foot in the ground and get north and make somebody miss. I felt like those were two opportunities that we had.
So, I mean, we're trying to interject opportunity, and we'll see who is going to grasp that. But we need to have explosive plays. I don't think there is anybody in here that refutes that. That is part of football. If you've got to drive the entire length of the field and make it an 18 play drive, that is difficult to do at times. At some point in time, you're going to take a negative yardage play or a zero gain or an incomplete pass or something's going to happen. So it's difficult to do.
So usually what we've seen over the course of the six years here is that 97 percent of our touchdown drives involve an explosive play.
Q. By yardage, how would you define it?
COACH DANTONIO: To me, an explosive play is 15 yard runs and 20 yard passes. That is a truly explosive play. But I think we have sort of studied ourselves and found that if we have eight plays with 12 yard runs or 15 yard passes, if we have eight like that, we win the football game 90 percent of the time.
Q. A lot of people beating on your offenses, not to throw you a rope, but do you think the circumstances and the rain, and the delay had something to do with offensive cohesion or don't you accept that?
COACH DANTONIO: I think you have to play the game as it comes to you. There are certain things you can't change. You just have to adapt and move forward. It was an extremely long football game. Basically you're sitting there as a coach, sort of in that anxiety mode for five hours. I'm sure your players felt that coming out of the locker room. It was wet, et cetera, and everything else, so you try to remedy that.
You've got to get back in there and you've got to get back in the moment. So I can't use that and we won't use that as an excuse. But it was a different type of game. I've never experienced a game like that other than one other time in my career back in the '80s, I think, as an assistant. So it was different in that respect.
Q. How did you assess the dynamic of Coach Bollman and Coach Warner working together for the first game week, preparation going into the game, obviously, on Friday night. Did you see those new ideas? What was your assessment there the first week?
COACH DANTONIO: I think the cohesion was very, very good. One guy's got to make the calls. You can't have two guys talking at the same time. One guy has to make the calls, the other guy has to be the consultant during the time when they're not on the field during times when you're making adjustments. I think that was good as far as what happened out there.
We're all involved in this. I'm not laying this on the players. There need to be structural things that need to take place. There need to be opportunities provided to take place, and we need to look at who we are, what we are, and what we want to become offensively. There is no question that that's part of it.
It starts right here with me. I need to do a better job, and I need told our players that on Saturday or on Sunday when we met. It starts with me, and it runs downhill. So we'll get it fixed.
The first thing you have to do is accept responsibility. That's in house and out of the house too. We'll be fine. We won the football game, and if we had to play it again, we'd win it again.
Q. This is a quarterback question, but it's really a clarification. Big Ten Network said you had asked the quarterbacks who was the best after the second scrimmage and they said Terry. Was that in the scrimmage or to that point?
COACH DANTONIO: No, that was just in the scrimmage. That was the scrimmage coming out of that scrimmage. At that point in time, as I've said on many occasions, we've tried to push the envelope to see if he could be a one, and to see if he could be a two. At that point in time, he did not, and he could not. So because of that, we had to make other decisions.
But coming out of that scrimmage, which, you know, is one scrimmage, one time, and there needs to be consistency. You have to understand how young people, I think, are. He's a true freshman. He just got here. So you don't want to ruin a person either. But those are quarterback questions which I shouldn't be answering.
Q. How critical is the tight end position to this offense, and how limiting is it when you don't have experience or certain production there?
COACH DANTONIO: Tight ends, I think you get two rules for a tight end. They have to be able to block the C area, and control the C area, the A, B, C, D gap, they have to control the C area to run certain things tight end oriented. Which we've been a tight end oriented team in the past. I don't think there is any magic there in terms of letting the cat out of the bag.
But the other thing is they've got to be a mismatched player down the field and catch the football. They've got to make things happen in the passing game, which neglected to happen. I think we were satisfied with our blocking from our tight ends on Friday night, unsatisfied with how they perform in the passing game. But as a general thought process, I think we weren't happy with our passing game.
Q. You ran a little bit of read option. Were you happy with how the team executed on those plays when they ran that?
COACH DANTONIO: A little, yeah, somewhat. We ran one where we probably didn't have the right personnel in the game. We did do some things a little bit. Some different things that we need to continue to push the envelope in some different things, but you can't push it all at once.
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