Sept. 10, 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 second game against South Florida and previewed the upcoming matchup against Youngstown State.
The Spartans (2-0) host the Penguins (2-0) on Saturday, Sept. 14 at 2 p.m. in Spartan Stadium; the game will be televised on BTN.
The following is a complete transcript from Tuesday's press conference:
COACH DANTONIO: Real quickly, just to sort of start the whole thing, we're a 2 0 football team right now. When you look at us defensively, I see a football team that's playing extremely well on defense, really in every capacity. Pressuring the quarterback, turnovers for touchdowns, which are very unusual I think at that level right now for two games in. You also see a football team playing well down the field, things of that nature. So doing the job on defense.
You look at us offensively, obviously everybody understands or acknowledges that aspect. We got to find our rhythm. I don't think there's any question about that.
Special teams right now, we need to be superior in that area, are doing some things very well especially in the punting game, but we need to continue to work towards perfection in that capacity.
When you look at us right now as a total football team, I guess we need to continue, as I said, to find our rhythm offensively. I don't know what to tell you, sometimes things go as they go. When we were at Ohio State, when I was there, it was 22 straight games we won. We never necessarily had a rhythm sometimes.
We'll lean on our strengths, focus ourselves on our weaknesses, correct those things as we move forward.
Youngstown State, I have a great affinity for the city of Youngstown, obviously being there for five years back in the late '80s. Excellent coaching staff. Mark Mangino is on that staff. I think Joe Tresey is defensive coordinator on the staff, as well. Head coach has been there in place, doing a tremendous job. I think they're excellent. Shane Montgomery, former head coach as well.
They play with great effort, great toughness. They have a quarterback that's a three year starter. A couple wide receivers that surround them that are back, retooling their offensive line. Defensively six starters back. But active on defense, they play hard.
Out of the gate last year, they beat Pitt. 7 4 football team after last year. They started out 4 0. This year they've started out very successful.
I'll take questions.
Q. You mentioned teams make their biggest improvement from game one to two. Can you give us your assessment of where you stand.
COACH DANTONIO: Well, when you look at our special teams, we missed a chip shot field goal. Obviously we didn't play to perfection there. I thought we played very well in the coverage areas of our football team.
You look at our defense, it picked up where it left off against Western.
The question is our offense. We worked a number of different quarterbacks. We played three quarterbacks. We're looking for production, looking for somebody to take and seize the moment there.
I thought our wide receivers played better, although it may not show up statistically because the balls weren't there for them.
We ran the ball more effectively. I thought our offensive line played better. I thought the competition level was higher. When you look at South Florida, if you were out there on the field pregame, they've got some players.
From that standpoint, everything was positive. But we obviously have to get more production offensively in terms of points. I think that's our focus in explosive games, as I said earlier.
Q. Being the defensive coach who won the national title with Ohio State, where does this defense rank?
COACH DANTONIO: I think you have to look at things at the end of the year, not at the beginning. But on the onset, you would certainly say it's right up there with the top ones, which would be the 2002 and probably the 2011 football teams here, I would say, just because the turnovers and the scores and things of that nature, not just statistically. Last year we had great statistics. But I think the thing that we see here defensively is we've got a system in place. Our players understand the system. We have a staff in place that understands how to correct a system if it breaks down. We can fix it. It can be fixed game time.
You still have to make tackles, play the ball, things of that nature, but you don't get out structured. I think that's key when you look at our defense. We have guys playing at a rapid pace, running to the football. It's so much easier to play this game when you have confidence. Our confidence is at a very high level. I think you see that in the performance.
Q. Jack Allen is back on the depth chart. Do you expect him to be available this week? Where does he fit into the offensive line right now?
COACH DANTONIO: Jack should be available this week. We'll see. He practiced last week late in the week. We'll see how he does this week. But I felt like it was important to have him back on the depth chart because there's a possibility he may play. We'll probably have to wait till today and tomorrow just to see how he practices, those type of things.
It really depends on the week. He's got enough game experience, he did practice last week. We need just to see where he's at in terms of stamina and then how his issue is healing itself.
Q. Talking about finding the rhythm on offense, yet you're trying to find a quarterback. That's almost a Catch 22 situation. Talk about the importance of having one quarterback.
COACH DANTONIO: It's tough to get three quarterbacks ready, first of all. It's almost impossible to get four. Tough to get three. You can get two. Usually when you're repping throughout a game week, you're number one quarterback gets most of the reps. He gets probably 65 percent of the reps, I would say.
That's what you're trying to figure out. You want to get to the one. I think that's important we get to the one. At the same time I felt compelled to look at the number of points we're putting up on the board, the explosive plays that are happening, make decisions based on that in that football game on Saturday because I think it is my job to provide opportunities for people.
With that said, we went in that direction. We will probably go in that direction early this week. I think I know that things are bracketed right now on the depth chart. But we'll try and go in that vein this week with working two and see where we go.
But I still maintain that our players, they have the athletic ability to make plays. We got to find a rhythm. I also believe when we do, it will turn when we do, there will be a momentum surge, not just for the offense but for our entire football team. That will re-energize this football team to its capacity. That's what we got to look to do.
Q. Connor said Saturday he knew last Monday he was starting. Do your guys know what's happening? Are you letting it play out this week?
COACH DANTONIO: First of all, I think that speaks volumes about our chemistry on our football team, because not only did he know, other people knew, too, but they kept it in house. They did that to protect everybody involved in the situation.
You sort of know when you're getting the reps. Connor Cook will go in as the guy getting the number one reps today. We'll check the two reps, I should say it that way, to see if the guy who is running number two is capable of doing this, which means Damion Terry will get those two reps. Beyond that we have to make some quick, tough decisions based on today's practices.
All four sort of in the mix, but sort of we're trying to figure it out.
I do think, based on Damion's performance in the summer in the one practice, his performance as of late, he deserves an opportunity to show what he can do in practice. It's pretty self explanatory. We'll evaluate practice.
Q. You mentioned your defense, having confidence, to know how to fix things at halftime. Do you have that same confidence and understanding on the other side of the ball? Is there a chance beyond the quarterback that you don't have the personnel to run the offense you want to run right now?
COACH DANTONIO: That's a lot of questions there, so I'll try to figure it out.
Do I have the confidence we can get things structurally fixed? Yes, I do. When I ask the tough questions, ask, What are we doing that we weren't doing when Kirk Cousins was here when we led the conference in passing? The answer is, These are the things we're doing. Trying to add some different things to add some different things to our personnel a little bit.
Within the main framework of what we have been are the things that we are trying to do. It's not like we're conjuring up something brand new and failing at those things. We have a system in place to do that.
We have players that have functioned in that system. We have some that are new to the system. That's normal in college football of the.
The biggest thing what we've got to do, we've all got to meet at that point where those 50/50 catches are made, those 50/50 catches, if dropped or caught, it's a tough catch, they're either right on the money, so it's towards the throw or they make the catch. We've got to create explosive plays, whether it's running the football or passing the football. I think we did that running the football on Saturday. We can still do it more. We had some plays break out.
On the flipside of that, we have to find the explosive pass game. That's something that we've had. So it's just a matter of, as I said, finding our rhythm, I believe.
The second question, I believe we have the personnel. I do believe we have the personnel. I believe we're two games into our season. We have two bye weeks. We have 12 weeks left in our season. That's why it's important to find, if it is a young player, to give him that opportunity because he can mature greatly in the course of two, three, four weeks. Counting this week, one, two, three, four weeks of practice before we play our first Big Ten game. I think it's important to recognize that fact.
I think it's also important to recognize the fact you take a redshirt off a freshman, he's not ready to play, that's not necessarily a good thing. We have to make sure that's covered as well.
But we have to explore that opportunity. That's just where we're at. Based on that, you know, it's difficult to assess sometimes because you're trying to give everybody opportunities. As I said, it's difficult to work the number of reps. Otherwise you end up staying out there way after you need to stay out there and that hurts other elements of the football team. You're trying to jockey it all around to make sure there's repetitions for those involved and you can analyze them.
Q. If I'm hearing you correctly, at the start of the week, it's Cook and Terry, one and two, subject to change, based on practice. If that's true, how do you weigh looking for the guy but not having them look over their shoulder so much with so many other people in the mix?
COACH DANTONIO: How do I weigh that? There's a lot of pressure in this game. Pressure out on that field is immense with the pressure and scrutiny of the media. I'm not saying to you guys or anything, you're fine (laughter). But with pressure of the media, the general public, there is pressure. There's pressure at that position. That's just the nature of it. I have their best interests at heart, I truly do. There's no pressure here from me. It's just the fact that I've got to create opportunities for other people. Andrew Maxwell is mature enough as an individual, mature enough as a player, he has a lot of experience that he could almost be like an NFL backup quarterback in the sense that he doesn't need to take the reps, he can take mental reps, he can take a few reps. Tyler O'Connor and Damion Terry, they need reps. They need the pure physical reps to be able to figure this out. Then we have to make decisions.
To be fair and honest with everybody involved, we have to see what the other guy can do. I don't think there's anything wrong with that today on Tuesday, September 10th.
Q. Is there a chance you would play three quarterbacks again this Saturday?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, there's always a chance. I mean, a guy could get hurt. But what we have to look for is results. I think people want to see results. It's easy to second guess. Very easy to say, Put that guy in, then flip on it quick and say, Get him out. I've tried to give them reps in a quarter each almost to establish themselves. That's my mindset going in. My mindset at halftime was the other guy deserved an opportunity. That's what we went with.
Sometimes it's just a gut decision out there. Above all else, our coaching staff, myself, we want to find the one guy. We want the one guy to emerge. I don't care who it is. They're all great young people. They're all people that have had success in high school. They're all people that have talent. But one of those guys have to emerge.
It's going to take a strong individual to do any of this, whether it's to play or to sit back and understand the situation. It's going to take a strong individual to do all these things. I think we have those people in our program.
They're very selfless people. But they're competitors.
Q. Coach, watching you manage this, how you've explained it to the media, I know everyone appreciates that. Is this stuff you lie in bed at night thinking about? How do you manage that in the precious moments you have away from your job?
COACH DANTONIO: It's taken on a whole new context because there's a lot of decision making to go through. I guess I've looked at it the way I look at most big decisions. Maybe this isn't right, but I've always tried to make good decisions the best I could.
When you have a tough decision, I've tried to slow the game down. By saying that, I've tried to allow the process to take place to establish who is and who isn't. So that's what I've tried to do.
I'm not saying that it's going to come out exactly right. But I've tried to slow it down to the extent that it allows the cream to rise to the top in this particular situation. Not that any of them are out of it, but to allow the situation to take place, somebody to seize the moment and establish themselves.
That's what I'm waiting for. I'm waiting for somebody to seize the moment and establish themselves. If that's a young player, fine. If it's a senior, great. If it's a redshirt sophomore, that's fine, too.
I think all of them have that ability. You got to play loose. The same thing with the wide receivers. You got to play hard. It's imperative that we play extremely hard. It's imperative we play with confidence. It's imperative you play loose, too. We give them opportunities.
Obviously within all of that there's got to be the structure conceptually to lead. I'm not taking ourselves off the hook on this either as coaches. We're involved in this, too. We have to make decisions. We're also involved in what's being called, how it's being called, how it's being run. We're constantly evaluating that, too.
Again, you have to slow the game down there because the questions that were asked over here are good questions. You have to analyze that aspect too.
The game of football seems relatively simple. As I was walking up the steps yesterday, I guess I can smile, good to smile sometimes, I look out among the (intramural) field, I see the guys throwing the ball. There's a line of five guys and there's one guy playing quarterback. I sort of looked over there, you know, guys are catching the ball over there. I was like, Hmm, wonder what they're thinking. I sort of walked upstairs.
You got to play loose. But I know a lot of people have an opinion. We're in the process, we're there. Believe me, as you said, most of the time of the day this is preoccupying our thoughts. You can't let it overwhelm you because it's not going to get fixed if you let it overwhelm you.
I think you have to be subjective and objective at the same time because you've got to get a feel, but you have to be very objective and say, Here are the results. Practice Sunday with our skill people. We got two seven on sevens going on at once. Here are the results. Throw well, catch well. That's the results. That's what happens.
We'll be fine. Like I said, it will turn. We'll find our rhythm. When it does, it will be very, very exciting.
Q. Going to sound like an armchair coach.
COACH DANTONIO: That's all right. I got one sitting at home (smiling).
Q. Obviously you consider that the rhythm on offense is disrupted by having multiple guys at quarterback as opposed to picking one guy and just riding it out hell or high water.
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I understand that. If we're going to be successful, sometimes you have to look at change, too. You have to look at that. We need to score more points than we did last year. Consequently, we don't have Le'Veon Bell in the system right now, so we need to adapt in some ways. So we're adapting a little bit. We're changing a little bit.
But within that you have structure and you have to look at it. We can ride it out. I don't know that that's answering the questions. We have to get the questions answered. If you ride it out, the next question from you would probably be, Have you ever thought about changing? But that's human nature. You're always going to pick that opposite side, that controversial side, ask the other end of the question. We've got to find out. You think you'd find out in the spring. You think you'd find out in the summer. But obviously we did not.
Q. To clarify, Damion is healthy?
COACH DANTONIO: Damion is healthy.
Q. The receivers enter into this obviously. Talk about how they were different from game one to two.
COACH DANTONIO: Took the redshirt off R.J. Shelton because we feel he can make plays. He demonstrated that. Great running ability after the catch. He's got great speed. 10.6 hundred meter guy. He's young. Macgarrett Kings is catching the ball very well from what I see in practice. He's got a lot of confidence right now. Burbridge is a guy that is much the same. He had one drop, but he's got big play potential. Bennie Fowler has responded positively. He did last year as well. I expect him to persevere and have big plays this season. Tony Lippett is a guy that maybe gets lost in the shuffle a little bit, but that's been addressed. I expect him to have big play potential.
These guys all can play. DeAnthony Arnett needs to work towards things, show that he can make plays on a consistent basis. A.J. Sims, a guy that is hampered a little bit by a little bit of an ankle injury, so he's been returning punts. He has to hold onto one punt. Another issue on special teams. Otherwise perfect special teams with two huge plays that didn't go well. Keith Mumphery is solid, solid and working hard.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about the running game, how you assess it at this point.
COACH DANTONIO: Jeremy Langford has had a great summer camp, doing a lot of things for us. He's been on every special team. He's been at tailback. I think he got gassed a little bit on Saturday. We're going to take him off a couple of the special teams so he'll be more impactful hopefully on offense.
We wanted to see Hill, Bullough. Felt like Bullough in his second game as a tailback, we needed to get him up and running, more opportunities. Sometimes in doing that, you take away other opportunities.
Thought Nick Hill ran the ball effectively, showed some toughness and great running ability. I thought Bullough did, as well.
You have three guys in there. We'll always ride the hot guy. Until they establish themselves in terms of who the hot guy is, it's let's give them opportunities and see what they've got.
We need to find out a little bit about ourselves. We are missing a guy who took 390 carries last year (Bell). I don't know if that was by design that that happened. I just think it's maybe it's the way it worked. It wasn't by design that we said, Okay, we're just going to alternate guys. We have a lot of personnel going in and out.
Q. I know you talked Sunday about the decision issue with O'Connor near the goal line. Do you think he's been fairly evaluated on the field? What has Cook done better than O'Connor that we haven't seen?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, obviously I think we've been honest with him and fair with him or we wouldn't be making these decisions.
These decisions are based not over just a game situation but in practice, too. You can't make the very basic of mistakes. When you're second and 2 on the 3-yard line with the idea we're going to score a touchdown, if we have to go to fourth and 1 we probably will, then have four more shots to get in there. You can't take a 5 yard loss by not running the play designed to be run. Then step back, throw into coverage. I felt like, got to get points. Opportunity to get points went by us. That's very crucial.
Connor Cook has shown the ability to run a little bit. He hit a big play to Burbridge on third and 20. Runs for the first down. He's run a couple other times for first downs. I'm not saying it's perfect. But I think he's the guy right now, I don't want the driver's seat, but he's the guy that put himself in this position that he's in right now to be the number one on Tuesday.
Q. You talked about mistakes players have made. I'd like to ask you about play calling. After watching the film, how pleased have you been with Dave Warner's play calling.
COACH DANTONIO: He (Riley) was the wrong guy in on a jet sweep. On the wildcat, the ball bounced. Got tracked down there. I think when you look at play calling and everything, it's always going to be extremely subjective whether it works or doesn't work. You can make it objective and say, That was a good call, that was a bad call. There's so many moving pieces out there, it's hard to evaluate was that a good call or good execution. Usually it's a combination of both. Double reverse for 31 yards. Good trick play, good time to do it. I think we had the right play called down on second and 2. Bad execution on the three. Went for it on fourth down. Right play called. Got to find more passing. Got to have more passing lanes than what we've done, things we've always done. I guess we're all going to be evaluated if it works or if it doesn't work to some degree.
Obviously we need to get better. But I'm not going to sit here and criticize it, just like I'm not sitting here and criticizing our quarterbacks. It just has to get better. I'm going to protect my people. I've said that before. Usually when you do that, you end up taking all the hits. But that's what I've tried to do.
Q. If Tyler or Connor or Damion is the guy moving forward, how different does this offense need to look? If it's one of the other guys, how different does this offense have to look going forward?
COACH DANTONIO: Depends what they do as they move forward. I think we add little things as we move forward because they're younger players. They do have the ability to run the football. As I said before, we may have to alter who we are a little bit because of our personnel. But that remains to be seen as we move forward.
The basic foundation of who we are needs to stay the same because that's what our players know and it's what they're going to do best.
Q. You talk about confidence. How do you get the receivers to play with confidence when the performance hasn't given them that natural confidence?
COACH DANTONIO: I think you got to find your rhythm. Like I said, you got to find your rhythm. That creates momentum. When you create momentum, your confidence is always at an all time high.
Whether that begins with the quarterback, the play calling, the catch, whatever it is, you just got to find your rhythm. We're not the only people going through problems. There's a whole lot of people going through problems out there in college football.
But I do believe it's how we address the problems and react to the problems. Not just address the problems, but react to the problems that will define you.
We talked a lot about being in the storms since we've been here, riding through the storms, being in positions of conflict. That's normal. That's normal for this job. Just look around.
But what isn't normal is this particular conflict. So we got to address it. It's a little bit unusual because it's a position of leadership on your football team. Quarterback is a position of leadership by nature. So you want to have that one guy. But there are other teams out there that are doing it with two. If you're doing it with two, both are successful, that's tremendous, outstanding.
So we'll see where we're at as we go forward. Perfect world we want to pick one.
Q. Obviously a lot of moving parts. Delton Williams was a guy that early on really impressed you. There was some question as to whether he would be a tailback or a linebacker or play this year. Where is Delton at right now on the depth chart and position wise?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, Delton is the fourth running back on the depth chart right now. Again, when you look at the team reps that he gets, pure team reps, he's not getting enough reps. You can rep three tailbacks, you're not repping four. Limited reps there. That means the possibility of him playing linebacker on the scout team is there. Did last week. See what he had. Jon Reschke was down with an ankle. Is he playing tailback this week on the scout team? The guys have to continue to get better. The only way players get better is by playing. You can say that about the quarterbacks, I'm sure. The more reps you take, whether it's against good people especially as a young player against good people, doesn't do you any good, you're not getting any better when you're getting three reps in a 30 minute period, getting three or four reps.
He is a very good football player. He's not surpassed those other three because of knowledge right now. Whether he plays linebacker or whether he plays tailback is really up in the air. He's just a good football player. He could probably play either, but he's going to have to major in one.
Q. When you look at the tight end situation right now, you have five guys listed there, moved Jamal Lyles over. How do you think he played? Only one catch for seven yards, haven't been targeted. Is that a result of the quarterback situation or things they're not doing yet in the passing game?
COACH DANTONIO: We moved Jamal over there to try to create some competition there. I think he's a quick body guy. He's going to learn. He played a lot of positions in high school. Has the ability to play there.
When we lost Dion Sims, we lost a different type of guy there. We're trying to rectify that situation there. That's a combination of both probably. Need to get better.
Q. When something hasn't worked, like the quarterback situation right now, everybody wants to see the shiny, unopened package, which be would be Damion Terry. Do you feel like you have to now see him in a game situation?
COACH DANTONIO: No, no. If he's not ready to play in a game, we can't take the redshirt off him and ruin his year. That wouldn't be fair to him. People need to understand that.
If we take the redshirt off of him, it means he had a great week of practice and he's ready to play, we'll go in that direction. We can't play him one game and not play him again. That's not fair to him, not when you're a true freshman. That's why this situation needs to be managed delicately. We have to make sure he's ready to play and then allow him to develop.
Q. Would you be willing to do that if he shows enough promise?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I'm willing to do that because of what I saw out in practice and what I see. His ability to run, his ability to throw, he's poised in the pocket. That's a positive thing. We have to see where he's at. The only way to find that out is to practice him.
We were going to do that last week, but, as I said, the situation last week didn't allow for that. So we pushed it back a week. If we had other guys that played a little bit better, we probably wouldn't be talking about that. But we are.
Q. You haven't talked much specifically about the offensive line. Can you give us information about who is playing well.
COACH DANTONIO: I think Blake Treadwell is playing well. Travis Jackson is playing solid, played well. Donavon Clark is a redshirt sophomore, plays physical. Has to be more consistent a little bit. Our right tackle, Jack Conklin is a redshirt freshman. He's learning every day. Big learning curve. He's a big, athletic guy. Then the right guard Dan France has been solid.
But we have other guys. Fou came back in there and played quite a lot. That's a positive. He'll continue to get back in the framework. He missed all of summer camp because of an injury. He should be solid. He's a starter, started a lot of games for us.
Q. Did you see the video of Izzo clearing the stadium?
COACH DANTONIO: I heard about that. I heard it on ESPN, but I didn't see the actual video. I did talk to Tom afterwards. People here have been very supportive administratively, I think in general publicly. I appreciate that. But, as I said, guys will go in one direction. As soon as we start to splinter, doesn't help anybody. Try to keep that focus and problem solve. That's what this job is, is problem solving.
If we were sit here with the reverse happening, giving up 40 points, we would be sitting here saying, Who is going to play safety? Who is going to tackle? Why can't you play the ball in the deep part of the field? Why can't we get a pass rush? It's problem solving. All has to come together to get to where we need to go. Confident that will happen. We have to find our identity and rhythm.
Q. One receiver we haven't heard from in a while is Monty Madaris. Timetable on his return?
COACH DANTONIO: He's been limited all camp with an injury. We're trying to work through that injury. He's not been able to get many days of camp. He's pretty much been out. Practiced maybe four times. It's discouraging because he could be a good player.
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