EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Michigan State assistant coaches Mark Staten and Ron Burton spoke to the media Wednesday afternoon, to recap the Spartans' 2017 season-opener last week against Bowling Green and preview MSU's game two match-up against Western Michigan this Saturday.
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 Wednesday’s press conference:
Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Line Mark Staten
Q. Looking back on last week, where would you like to see improvement in the run-blocking game?
Well we did a really good job in the run blocking game – minimum negative plays. We just have to stay consistent on our blocks and blocking through, staying on our blocks; I think that’s the biggest thing.
Q. How will you get more big runs?
We just have to stay at it. We did have some big chunk yards and that was good to see. It’s a different game – it’s not the same game when we get in two tight ends and maybe two fullbacks; it’s just not played the same way anymore. We’ve adapted our system to that.
Q. Were you kind of expecting some of the mental mistakes and what can they build off of?
It was really surprising how few – offensive line wise – mental errors we call them, where you don’t do the right thing. For playing the young guys that we did, we have minimum, very minimal and Bowling Green came out with two different fronts that we had not seen them play the entire last year. For those guys to be able to handle it and know their assignments and block accordingly was very good.
Q. What do you see that Western is doing differently from the last time that you played them?
There’s a consistency to them, there’s a confidence to them. The way they play and fly around – eight of their top 10 tacklers are back. They generally do a pretty good job getting guys on the ground. Like any big play there’s generally a missed tackle involved and you didn’t see many of them, but you did see a few of them against USC and that eventually led to them falling. That was impressive; it was good to see a MAC (Mid-American Conference) team go out there and represent.
Q. What did you think of Luke Campbell’s performance in the game?
Luke played very well, very physical. It’s nice to have him there with Jordan (Reid) behind him. There are two kind of really different elements there right now; one athletic, one kind of a 15-round guy who’s going to sit there and go after it. He’s maybe a little limited in some of his things as you have a guard playing tackle, which is essentially what we’re doing there right now. It was fun to watch him work and fun to see him get excited about things. We all know game one to game two that’s where you need your biggest improvement so we’re excited about that.
Q. Did you plan to feature (David) Beedle in power?
We think he does a good job with that. He’s a guy that’s able to double and really get his hands on. There were a couple of times where he really took his guy off the ball. Consistency – yesterday and the day before I’ve been really on him about being consistent. Maybe how he approaches his morning; maybe there’s a change in there for him, just trying to figure that all out so that what I see every day on the practice field he can give us consistently on the game day.
Q. How did he do when pulling his targets?
He did a nice job – he graded out decently; not as good as I’d like him to but it certainly wasn’t losing. He passed off a few things and a couple of times was out of position. I don’t know if it’s just because there was more heat there on Saturday than we’ve had in the past. That’s not a big men’s game, we like it kind of 67 and slightly cloudy.
Q. You mentioned Jordan Reid, what did you see out of him and the play of the other true freshmen?
Oh it was fun. It was fun to watch them play, it was fun to watch them go after it. Jordan is really confident in knowing what to do, how to do it; Kevin (Jarvis) is getting there. Kevin is a big, strong mauling guard, where you see Jordan out there with his feet and what he’s able to do. Then with Matt (Allen), Matt will get out there and he gave you an Allen-like performance. There’s nothing ever really too glamorous about it but you know he’s going to get out there and give you his all. It was fun to get Brian back out there in the guard position for a while and see those two out there battling like Brian (Allen) and Jack (Allen) used to do.
Q. What did you see from the tight ends with the blocking game?
A lot of guys hadn’t had a lot of reps so there’s a lot of improvement to be made, but overall you see (Matt) Sokol really has stepped up his game in all aspects. I mean watching him go down there on some of those special teams, man that was fun. It gets everybody excited because we consider them a part of our O-line. Overall, he really elevated and played terrific football. If he can do that for the next 11 games, you’re going to be really excited about where we’re at at the end of the season.
Q. How about the pass protection, it seems like (Brian) Lewerke was able to take off and run some?
It was good; they played a lot more man like I talked about but schematically a couple of different fronts that we had not seen. Likewise, a lot more man coverage than we had seen which you can’t go and play man when you’ve got (Brian) Lewerke playing back there unless you’ve got someone spying on him, because you’re just going to leave holes. We’ve really worked on trying to move guys as far as the front four, to get them out of the way so that if Lewerke does see a lane, like we’ve seen for two or three years, he can get up and go.
Q. How will other teams be preparing for Lewerke after seeing his performance? Is there a warning or do your guys have to be a little bit more careful or observant?
I don’t know that it’s more careful, I just think if you choose to spy a guy that’s one less guy in coverage, that’s one less guy rushing the passer. You can spy, but then are you going to now not drop a guy down and cover Felton (Davis) or Darrell (Stewart) or some of our young guys who really showed some things?
Or are you not going to give a pass rush, which we can then move our feet as you saw to give him ample time to do things and to create. If you do that, that’s just schematically you’re giving up one of the two other parts. I’m sure they’ll (Western Michigan) come in with a great game plan as you guys all saw if you watched their game Saturday – they’re a well-coached team and there’s a lot of returning starters, so they have a lot of confidence.
Q. Does Western’s success last year and almost beating USC last week help the focus a little bit this week for an early season game?
I think the group that we have here; this team this year, because we’re so young they know that each week is going to be its own battles, going to be its own monumental challenge and so because of that, 1-0 will be our message. 'They all count one,' as Coach Perles always said. This week we’re heightened focus on them. With this group, this group doesn’t know what looking ahead means. This is number two for them. You think about it, we had four offensive lineman who had never stepped on the field; six all together if you are able to count a couple of walk-ons who were able to get a little extra point snaps. That’s in itself, you better be ready. Your eyes better be focused; you better be seeing clear.
Q. With Lewerke at quarterback and able to run, how do the tight ends adjust from being in blocking mode to receiving mode?
It’s just different things that we do throughout the week and should things happen, where they should be and how they should be is always discussed. We’ve got scramble rules if he’s scrambling and we’ll do things during team oriented stuff to make sure that we’re where we need to be.
Q. Is that just a feel for the game that they have to learn or if there are rules for the tight ends?
There are rules to it. There’s this thing we call scramble rules, so when he does get out and if he’s not going down field, how he takes off and how our receivers relate is all in there, which is difficult because you saw there’s a lot of young guys out there and it’s not just running around and 'oh man he’s open' – there’s certain rules to each receiver on the field and where they’re at on the field and where they have to go so it’s a learning thing.
Q. How is Tyler Higby’s coming along?
He’s coming along…he continues to progress and he continues to do better. I was really excited for him after the game. We needed to get that touchdown and he pass protected very, very well. He and Cole (Chewins) next to each other have a feel for each other and it’s fun to watch them practice. On the right side they’re still getting used to each other a little bit, on the left side they’re pretty confident.
Q. When you have a quarterback who moves like Lewerke, is blocking in general any different?
I don’t think blocking is any different, I think you have to be alert to a ‘go call’ or alert to why he is starting to run that way when they quarterback is supposed to be behind you. You have to transition, so we’ve started doing some transitional work – you’re engaged and now you’re changing direction, things like that according to what the defender is doing.
Q. So it’s not as simple as just holding a block longer?
They’ll throw a flag if you just hold the guy (laughing) I wish it was that easy. It’s not just holding because now the angles are different and he’s trying to create different things. We’re trying to create openings for him and in doing so, he can go if he sees nothing is open.
Q. How did the line grade out?
Brian Allen, even though we had the flub with the hot, high snap, he graded out very, very well. He graded out winning. A couple of high averages, a couple of averages in the starters and then a couple of averages in the backups. Not what I would like or what they would like; the one thing that has happened in past years, it’s not that they’re doing terrible, it’s just that this one doesn’t do well on this play, the next one doesn’t do well on the next play. O-line wise they all need to be consistent and all go together.
Defensive Tackles Coach Ron Burton
Q. How many total guys played on the defensive line for you?
Fourteen, if I’m not mistaken. Six of them were defensive tackles.
Q. How extraordinary is that? Have you had 14 play in a game?
Early in the year, you want to be able to find and evaluate some kids so somewhere down the line we’ve done this before. We usually average around 12.
Q. Coach (Dantonio) said that Naquan (Jones) really popped. What did you see from him on the tape and what kind of things do you want to see more of?
Number one – the energy, the passion and the effort needed. He definitely made some plays, just looking for consistency for him. That comes with being a freshman and a redshirt freshman, but it definitely was an eye-popper for us with his energy on the field and his effort.
Q. For Jacub (Panasiuk), is he going to stay outside right now or do you see him moving inside?
At this point, Jacub is the defensive end in the boundary.
Q. I knew he had been repping some there.
Yes, he has. He will probably play them all eventually, but he’s a kid that, as a youngster, probably needs to stay at one position.
Q. With (Kenny) Willekes and (Dillon) Alexander as your starters, how did they grade out to you and do they remain there on the depth chart?
Both of those guys were strong in their grades, from what I understand. From the film, they did a good job and what we asked them to do. That’s key, baseline, for everything - that they were correct in their assignments. More importantly, they had the ability to make some plays. It was very positive for them.
Q. What did you think of the pass rush overall? You had the one sack from Chris (Frey). Some guys were getting close. Did you like what you saw?
Oh yes. We have flashes of what we’re looking for, number one. We always want to get better at the pass rush, that’s for sure. That’s paramount, but we’ve seen things that we actually can work with and we just want to move forward and continue to put pressure on the quarterback.
Q. Fourteen is extreme, but to be on the defensive line, you have to be interchangeable and you've got to nearly play 10 guys every game don't you?
No doubt, and it starts in the middle. Those guys are getting hit 1, 2, 3 times per play. That doubles the number of times they’re getting contact. It’s good to be in this position and see what these kids can do. We’re working on next (week) and hopefully we’ll be able to do the same.
Q. The way they ran tempo, did that dictate how early you had to move some guys around? It looked like there were a couple series where you moved both tackles in and out to get four guys in there quickly.
Yes, that’s a part of it. You want to keep them fresh and ready. Their game plan dictates that, that’s for sure. Being able to do that, staying on task and staying on detail is key. We had that ability and the kids stayed engaged which was key to us, being able to do that.
Q. Western (Michigan) ran for 250 yards against a pretty good team, USC. What things did you see from them and how did they look different this year than maybe two years ago?
I don’t think they look any different. I think their ability to run the ball is key for everybody. They had a chance to do that and that’s their strength. They’ve got a three-headed monster back there with the experience of their running backs and they’re playing to their strengths, including in the offensive line. I think that’s what they’re doing. I knew they threw the ball a little bit more because of the wide receiver they had, but they still ran the ball.
Q. (Brandon) Randle turned the corner and it looked like he slipped a couple times. He’s out there for the first time. Is that a comfort thing for him or a shoe situation? It looks like he can bring a lot of speed there.
You talk about his feet. Yes, there’s a possibility of him being able to slip, but the leverage pad level is always key to that. He just continues to understand that what he does well will dictate that. We liked his lean, and sometimes you all have to fall but you just have to get back up and go. He does show a burst, he shows ability to turn corner, and the use of his long arms is good for him so he can play to his strengths which are his feet.
Q. (Demetrius) Cooper looks like his hand work is more active than it has been in the past. Would you agree with that?
That’s been a strength of his since he’s been here, the use of his hands. He’s an example we use all across the defensive line, his ability to use his hands and be ready to defeat blocks. He’s a good example of that and has been his whole career here.
Q. Those guys in the middle look like seem like they got a pretty good push. When you got here, you talked about getting a push up the middle. Is that still in place today, with all the changes in offense, push up the middle and everything else falls around it?
Yeah, stop the run. Be aggressive. Be destructive. Be disruptive, and start down the middle with your defense. That’s a prerequisite.
Q. Do guys like Kyonta Stallworth and Devyn Salmon, guys that are further down on the depth chart, prove that they can contribute throughout this season?
No doubt. Those guys came in and had the chance to play. We want to see more out of them, that’s for sure. They showed that they can be productive in what we’re asking them to do. We’ll continue to do that.
Q. You guys were intrigued with Gerald Owens’ speed having come over as a running back. Did you see him demonstrate some of that?
Oh yes, in the chances that he had to be on the field, no doubt about it. We want to continue to see that. It’s just based on what you get versus the offense. His balance, his ability to run and change directions; he plays like a running back, too. We just need to get him to consistently use his hands and he’ll be that much better.
Q. What about Mike (Panasiuk) and Raequan (Williams)?
As expected, did you see growth from year one to year two in the first game?
There’s some maturation there. There’s some improvement there. You can see the understanding of the game and the nuances of the game. They’ve picked a lot of things up, being able to understand run-pass situations, no doubt about it. Two-fold they’ve improved upon the experience they had. The second half of the season last year was key.
Q. Raequan seemed to force a lot of interior pressure. Is that something you’re expecting from him?
No doubt. He’s a basketball player. He’s got great feet. We want to play to his strengths, also, but being active and the use of his hands is key in being able to get good pressure.