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' game two matchup against Western Michigan.
Following its 35-10 season-opening win over Bowling Green, Michigan State plays host to Western Michigan on Saturday, Sept. 9 at 3:30 p.m. in Spartan Stadium. The Broncos battled at No. 4 USC last weekend but ultimately fell, 49-31, after tying the game at 28 in the fourth quarter.
Saturday’s game marks the 15th meeting between Michigan State and Western Michigan. The Spartans lead the overall series, 12-2, including a 10-game winning streak that dates back to 1921. In the last matchup in 2015, MSU played in Kalamazoo for the first time in series history and defeated the Broncos, 37-24, en route to reaching the College Football Playoff.
MSU is 11-2 against WMU in East Lansing, including an 8-0 record in Spartan Stadium. The series dates back to 1908, as Michigan State topped Western Michigan, 35-0, in the first-ever meeting between the two schools. After playing five times between 1908 and 1921, with MSU holding a 3-2 advantage in the series, the two teams didn’t meet again until 1980.
MSU head coach Mark Dantonio is 4-0 in his MSU career against WMU, and his teams have outscored the Broncos, 150-65 (average score: 38-16).
The following is a complete transcript from Tuesday's press conference:
COACH DANTONIO: Obviously after Saturday, much like I said that afternoon, it's great to play a football game. When we looked at things after the game, saw how we played, how things all sort of manufactured itself throughout the football game, I thought we played with great confidence. We handled some adversity, which is always good to see in a football game. If things go well for you the entire time, maybe you don't handle the adversity but you build on what you have.
So there were some adverse situations there, which was a positive, to come out of those. I thought we played very enthusiastically. Played with great effort. I thought we showed leadership on the football team. I thought guys gravitated to certain people and that was a positive.
When you really get down into the meat of everything, also, I guess you talk about the crowd; I thought the great crowd on opening day, coming off a tough season last year, I thought our students were into it. Great showing by them, as well. So that was a positive.
When you really look at the game itself, and you start to break it down, handled sudden change situations on the defensive side of the ball. Two-minute situation at the end of the half, well, probably was as good as we could do. You know, took it all the way down the field, 1:23 I think or something like that. We had explosive plays offensively, lack of those plays on defense, which is a positive. Only three big plays on defense and those were the result of a couple missed tackles.
Turnovers sort of evened out after we got off the field on fourth down but turnovers are a concern, obviously, especially the one on first and goal. Special teams played very, very well. Hartbarger has a big day. I thought we kicked off well and covered well, which we are going to need to do this week, as well.
When you look at our offense and defense, I thought, very productive on the defensive side of the ball. You know, when you go -- I think we were 15-out-of-17 on third or fourth down, which is a positive, and then on the other side of the ball, I think we're eight-out-of 15 on third down.
Quarterback created, good to see, and you know, we had I think 20 or 21 players playing for the first time in Spartan Stadium, actually playing a football game for the first time. That was a positive, as well, so they got that experience.
Western Michigan comes on Saturday. Big 3:30 game. I know it will be a great crowd there. Excited about that opportunity. They played very well against USC obviously. I'm sure everybody saw that football game, and you know, MAC champions and playing in the Cotton Bowl last year.
So they played at a high level and they expect to win and it will be another challenge for us. So we're looking forward to that opportunity.
But I'll take some questions. We'll go from there.
Q. Obviously you want to redshirt a Rocky Lombardi, but I'm curious with a big lead, you had to send Brian back in in the fourth quarter with Damion. Concerns about Messiah, obviously. Do you at least have to get Rocky reps with the twos in practice, even though your intention is to red-shirt him just so he's ready in worst-case scenario?
COACH DANTONIO: You know, Rocky gets a little bit of the reps, not too many. But you know, (Messiah) was sort of battling a slight injury there, so we didn't put him in the game. You know, Damion is much, you know, he's better than that performance that happened out there. I think that's what he has to concentrate on. He's played well for us in the past and for whatever reason, I just felt like we didn't want to end the game in that fashion, and we're going to make sure that you go in and you make plays. So that was the mindset there. So we finished up and went back in after.
Rocky, though, is -- let's just put it this way: He's far ahead of most freshmen, so that's been a good thing to see.
Q. You have some experience with Darius Phillips, 70 yards and 100-yarder last time you played them. When you have a dynamic return man like that, does it change the approach to everything you do in the kicking game?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, you certainly understand that he's a factor in any football game and so whether it's on punt or it's on kickoff, we have to work extremely hard to counteract what he's doing. So that will be a challenge, and our guys will know what's going on.
He was a virtual unknown to us on that particular day back in 2015. But you know, we know who he is now. So we'll get ourselves ready.
Q. Much like you guys do with, you know, three or four running backs that can carry the football at any given point, Western does the same thing. What kind of challenges does that present for you and how do you counter act that?
COACH DANTONIO: I think they do a good job running the football. I think their guys run with power. You have three of them back there. All of them have experience. All of them have been productive. That's very similar to the guys that we have in that respect.
Their guys I think are a little bit change-of-speed guys. They have a guy a little bit like Edwin Baker was maybe and a guy in between and a big guy. So they have got the three different versions. We've got a little bit of everything, a little bit of the same.
But I think they are three good running backs and they know how to run the football, and you can see that against USC on Saturday afternoon.
Q. After looking back at the film and you get a chance to get a better glimpse of the offensive line, what things did you see that looked positive and what things do you need to work on there?
COACH DANTONIO: I thought when you try and run the football, there's so many different components to it. It's what defense are they lined up in; how the tight ends block, how is the f-block, how do the wide receivers block, all these different things as you enter into it.
I thought they played very well. I thought they pass protected very well. I didn't think we got a lot of pressure on our quarterback. He got out of problems when there was, and we were able to run the ball effectively. Although, we didn't have those big, gut-it plays where you bounce for 30. You add one or two of those, and you're talking about 250 yards of running offense.
I look at sort of things in, terms of our running game, is what is the true component of our running game. Take out the quarterback scrambles. Even take out the wide receiver sweep and look at what was true to what we tried to do with our tailbacks. You know, it's about 150 yards of that, probably. When you throw everything else into it, it's about (215) or whatever it is.
But I'm very confident; that's the strength of our football team. Those guys can run the football. They are tough guys. They will break tackles. They will run through tackles. They understand our offense. I do think from an offensive line perspective, we played some young players.
We played true freshmen, which I've said before, very difficult to do. You see it happen I think more and more right now, but I thought Jordan Reid played very well, and Kevin Jarvis was solid, for guys walking out there for the first time.
Q. I know it's been about a year, not quite a year, September 17, since you guys won back-to-back games. What would it mean? I know football being very much a one-game-at-a-time and one-week-at-a-time focus and mentality, what would it mean to string two of those games together, two wins together?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, you know, really quite simply it means we're 2-0. We've put 10 and 12 together before. So the first thing we have to do before we can go 3-0 is go 2-0.
So we are taking things very slowly. We'll get ready to play this football game. I think that Western is a very good football team. I think their quarterback is doing a great job. Play-calling is excellent. They run the inside, outside zone and they wham the guy across, do some different things there.
Their defense I think is very active. They have I think eight of their Top-10 tacklers back. They expect to win. Special teams are solid, very, very good.
So we'll just worry about the next one. But I would say it's uncommon for us to have been a year where we haven't put two games together, but, hey, you live and learn. You experience everything in your life once, I promise you that, usually.
Q. The receivers, you played a lot of guys there, several true freshmen, but guys that have been around a little bit, Felton Davis played well and Darrell Stewart I thought really stood out. Can you talk about those guys and how they played?
COACH DANTONIO: I thought Darrell Stewart really, really performed exceptionally well. He had some big plays in the game. Played hard, played tough. Big play in the two-minute situation. Big play in the first drive. He's on kick returns, punt returns, as well. Felton with some big catches. Got to come down with the one on the deep end that had it, defensive guy made a nice play.
But both those guys I think are good football players. I think every freshman caught a ball. Cam Chambers has a big catch. That's his first time playing, as well, so big catch for him, and I think he had about 18 or 20 plays, so that was a positive. You know, Cody White gets involved in situations, and I think our wide receiver situation is solid. We'll see how it performs throughout the season. They are young. But capable.
Q. There's so much natural energy and emotion to an opening game. You could feel it Saturday in the stands, on the sidelines. Is that tougher to do for a game two? I don't suggest you fabricate anything but do you worry about emotion?
COACH DANTONIO: I think much like the question that was asked about going 2-0, I mean, we have to move forward. Our football team realizes that. That's the first step. Our first step has to be to win the first game, and then our first phase, second phase of our whole season is this out-of-conference part of our season.
3:30, I'm sure the place is going to be packed. A lot of excitement. Good football team coming in here. Should be a great game. I would expect our guys to be very, very excited about playing. A lot of these guys have played against each other in high school. We've got a brother of Trishton's, you know, Obbie, is on Western's team. You have David Beedle's teammate; he'll probably directly across from him, (Nick) Matich.
There's a lot of guys that we know from just recruiting and things of that nature, a lot of different guys have played against our guys and that we know. So it should be exciting for both teams and I think that's what makes college football so great I think.
Q. Kind of looking at Joe Bachie, he's kind of a guy that came in last year, played the last six games of the year. In the fans' minds, he's kind of an unknown. Was his play on Saturday what you expected?
COACH DANTONIO: I think it's what we expected. We knew he would be a dynamic player. I think he had 27 production points and 10-plus tackles, and I'm not sure how many assists.
So I think he is what he is. The guy can really run. He's effective, very effective leader. Knows what's going on out there. He's a guy that's going to -- takes that Chris Spielman approach, or Chris Frey approach, however you want to term it. Is he's going to prepare for every football game and know what to do and he's going to play hard.
He's an exceptional athlete, as I said. He's an all-around athlete, punt returner, kick returner, tailback, shortstop, point guard, all those things. So he's very, very athletic in a lot of respects and tough and strong.
Got to continue to get better because he's young, but he's just a sophomore, so that's a positive, and so many of our players are young, they are going to take step-by-step process through this, so they are going to be excited.
And the question I got asked, are they excited to play. Some of these guys are playing in their second game. They are going to be excited.
Q. Did you get a chance to talk to Matt Sokol between the drop that hit him in the chest and the touchdown he scored, and are you relieved or happy that he got that opportunity so quickly after a moment like that?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I was excited for him, relieved. You don't drop those like that too often, especially him. I think, was it in the same series? The next series.
So I really didn't -- when a guy makes a mistake, I don't go over there and go, you have to catch that one. He knows he has to catch it. I just anticipate him doing his best the next time out.
I think we had a lot of guys -- I just look at the freshmen, because it's really the first time you saw red-shirt freshmen playing. I thought Chambers made a big catch. I thought Antjuan Simmons made some nice hits out there. Josiah Scott is going to play and have a big part in this. You know, I just can't think of all these guys -- I thought Jacub Panasiuk played very well, the defensive end, and it's tough to play up there with the big people as a defensive lineman.
I thought Jordan Reid played well. There are a lot of guys I thought played well. Really, how do they handle it every week; the game plan changes. You're playing different people and you're playing different systems or concepts. How do you handle change; can you stay healthy. That really define it is for you.
Q. We saw Demetrius Cooper leave in the second quarter and didn't return. Can you update his status?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I really don't talk about injuries, or lack of, thereof. He'll be ready I think but we'll see.
Q. At the quarterback position, can you talk about what you wanted to see in Brian -- see him improve on and on the other side of the ball, what you like or what you're going to take away from their guy?
COACH DANTONIO: I thought Brian Lewerke played well. I thought he was in control of the offense. I thought he left some balls short, or under threw them a little bit, which he's got a great arm. I thought the first one out of the gate he could have hit big. Threw a couple high. Threw a couple right on the money. I thought he got out of problems. So that was very positive, which we knew he could do that.
I thought the biggest thing that he did, I thought, very well, was he led, and he didn't get overwhelmed by the situation or when things didn't go quite right, he didn't get -- he didn't let that bother him and I think he's got -- he's only going to continue to get better and feel more comfortable in what he's doing out there.
It's just like Hartbarger, I always sort of joke with Jake, it's like going to the fair now. Early on, he's got to come out and concentrate and now it's like going to the fair. See if I can hit these baskets here and go and shoot over here or toss a ball over here. He's bombing those things. We've got to make sure we cover because we've got a punt returner that's going to bring it back.
But I think that he'll get more and more comfortable. On the defensive side of the ball, like I said, we stopped the run. We played well. On third down, we did pressure the quarterback; although we didn't come up with the sacks. We hit the quarterback numerous times. He was getting the ball out quick. They did a nice job with that.
I thought we defended their play action or RPOs very well, but -- and tackled very effectively. I think in the whole day, we had maybe eight missed tackles and I think a couple of them were on the one single play, like two tackles, two missed tackles on one play. Those are positive things and again, going back to what I said, the only thing, the intangibles were all there. Playing hard, toughness, excited to play, enthusiasm, effort, leadership, all those things were there, which I think is the first thing that you have got to look at every single day that we play. So I thought that was there.
Q. Last year against Wisconsin, LJ had the fumble and seemed he struggled to get going -- how do you bounce back?
COACH DANTONIO: I think LJ is a proven commodity, first of all, like the rest of our running backs. They are guys that have carried the ball a lot. They have gained the yards and played against good competition and made plays and been consistent.
So, you know, it happens. Yeah, am I disappointed? I get frustrated just like he does. He's more frustrated than I am. And now we just move on. So obviously you can't do that on a consistent basis, but I don't really worry about him -- I don't worry about that being a problem with him, and I think he's a very good running back, and I think he's got talent and he'll be confident, and he'll be excited to play.
Q. You mentioned after the game, and to your credit, you had not seen the film; that you were happy with your defensive backs. Yesterday Coach Jinks mentioned that seven times they got past your defensive backs and only connected once, over threw or just didn't throw. After you saw the film, are you still as encouraged by your defensive back play as you were after the game?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I am, because a lot of times we ran back into phase, back into position to make the play on the ball. We played the ball, you know, looking through the man and played the ball and knocked it out. I mean, people are going to get a step on you. That's going to happen. But can you run back into phase or run back into control, so that you're in control of the wide receiver, and I think that we did that.
A couple times, we had the guy pinned on the sideline so that margin of error comes like this and they catch the ball out-of-bounds. Well, that's an incomplete pass and that's because the defensive backs walled them up. But hey, everybody's got players.
As I said last week, every football game, every competition that you play athletically, there is competition and people come ready to play. We need to expect that, and you know, again, I congratulate BG. They played hard. They were right there but things sort of separated.
Q. After watching the film, can you give us your evaluation of Western's new quarterback?
COACH DANTONIO: I thought he did a great job running the offense. I think he did exactly what they asked him to do. Probably will throw the ball more effectively as he gets older. But you know, he throws the deep ball well and you know, first time starting. So probably a little jittery out there but he can run the ball and he runs the offense and he's a threat to run the football.
I think he's -- you can tell he's got good leadership and he's tough. I think those are the first two ingredients you look for in a quarterback: Is he tough, what kind of leadership does he have, can he create and make a play. I think he can create and make a play.
Q. Darrell Stewart made a bunch of explosive plays. You got him out of Houston. I don't know how you found him. Did he show that to you at all or did that catch you by surprise?
COACH DANTONIO: No, we've always thought Darrell had great ability. Recruited him out of Houston. I think he's from Nimitz High School. But he's an outstanding wide-out down there, defensive back. Played quarterback, as well.
So he's a guy that really has redshirted. Last year played a little bit. This year, really has -- you know, made it to -- he's a full-time starter and that type of thing, so I thought he played very well but those are the things that we've expected from him along the way. Confident. Big.
Q. You kind of touched on the defensive line and some of the things that you saw in terms of pressure. What did you see in terms of the middle guys versus the edge guys. Seemed like three guys in the middle in particular seemed like they got a pretty good push?
COACH DANTONIO: They played well in there. I thought Naquan Jones took a big step forward. I thought the other guys were solid but Naquan played like we thought Naquan would play. He's 327 pounds. He's very active with his hands. He played with great effort.
Thought we got the same thing from their other guys. You just all of a sudden saw Naquan popping out of there, playing a little bit more consistent. But I thought we played well inside, and we held the point and built a wall.
And that's what we're going to have to do this week because they are a big zone team and the things that they do are, you know, are difficult to defend, and their backs, as we've said, were very, very good.
Q. Tim Lester signed off with USC; that once the game got out of hand -- just wondering your thoughts on a coach in his first FBS game what that speaks about his character, being willing to make such a magical moment happen?
COACH DANTONIO: I think Coach Lester, you can tell by the way he interviews and the way he handles himself that he's a first-class person and he deeply cares about his program and his players. I think he's going to have an outstanding career there.
Q. Looking back at the 2015 game, how has this team changed, small subset with one game tape with Tim, but how has it changed in that time?
COACH DANTONIO: Their team, well, different quarterback, different concepts, different coordinators and head coaches, so I do think that they have changed to some degree. Special teams coordinator is still there. Tim Daoust is defensive coordinator. Tim was a GA for us at Cincinnati when I was there. He worked at Syracuse. Ran a lot of the same things that we had run. But I think he's changed. He's been at Central and he's been at Western now twice. I think he plays an aggressive defense and his guys are very active and they have experience. So they have been able to adapt, if there has been any adaptation, they have adapted a little bit.
I think offensively, Kevin Johns is their coordinator, a guy who has been in Indiana for a long time, for I think six years. So you get that type of dynamic, the Indiana type of dynamic, and also been at Northwestern.
So you tend to go back and watch Northwestern film or you watch Indiana film or USC film and see a lot of the things, concepts that were used by those people. But I think he's done an outstanding job. Good football team.
I think they are a good football team. There's a reason they won the games that they did last year. It's because of coaching, and because players, because they were together on what they were doing.
Q. Did it help your team with Western giving USC such a run? Did it help maybe get your guys prepared and know that this team -- not the team from last year, but is that a benefit for you that they gave them a run and were in that game?
COACH DANTONIO: I think it was impressive. Had an opportunity to beat the No. 4 team in the country. I thought it was also impressive that they hung right there and had a chance to win in the Cotton Bowl and obviously what they were able to accomplish last year.
Go a little farther back, to 2015 and our football game with them, just like every football game, you know, was not just a walk in there, and, hey, let's go. It was extremely competitive.
Their players, again, are from this area of the country predominately and they know a lot of our players and they are going to compete, and you can tell how hard they play on film. So it's impressive.
So should be a great football game on Saturday and we're looking forward to it.