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Mark Dantonio Weekly Press Conference Coverage
 
 
 
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Sept. 20, 2011

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EAST LANSING, Mich. - Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio held his weekly press conference Tuesday at the Spartan Club in Spartan Stadium. Dantonio recapped the Notre Dame game and previewed this Saturday's matchup against Central Michigan.

"Our goals are all in front of us," said Dantonio. "That's the thing that I think our players need to understand. We start conference play next week, but first and foremost we need to play through this game and get ready for Central Michigan."

The Spartans (2-1) and Chippewas (1-2) will kick off at 12:01 p.m. ET in Spartan Stadium on Saturday. The game is being televised on ESPNU.

In this week's national polls, the Spartans were ranked 23rd in the USA Today Coaches Poll, but fell out of the Associated Press Poll following their 31-13 defeat at Notre Dame.

"We'll keep pushing it and our players will respond," said Dantonio. "I'm very confident that our players will respond, because we are going to coach them as such. That's just the way we do things here."

Dantonio also announced that Bobby Wilson, a two-year letterwinner on the defensive line (1989-90), will serve as this week's honorary captain. Wilson was selected in the first round of the NFL Draft in 1991 by Washington and played on the Redskins team that defeated Buffalo in Super Bowl XXVI.

The following is a complete transcript from Tuesday's press conference:

COACH DANTONIO: Notre Dame game, I thought obviously the kickoff return was the big play against us. That put them up 14 3 at that point. We did battle back. We sort of played from behind the entire game. I think the fourth quarter in retrospect, you look at it, we controlled the ball 10 minutes in the fourth quarter but it was all two minute situations and didn't come up with points there.

 

 

So, difficult situation. You credit Notre Dame; congratulate Notre Dame. A week ago they were in the same situation really for two losses, but they battled back, fought back, came through adversity and that's where we are at right now.

So our challenge is, be accountable, correct the mistakes, handle the tough times. I think that's what you have to do as a leader, whether you're a team leader, whether you're a captain, football coach, head coach, position coach. We handle the tough times, that's really what I think characterizes you and makes a dent and an impression on our young people.

Our goals are all in front of us. That's the thing that I think our players need to understand. You know, we start conference play next week and first and foremost we need to play through this game and get ready for Central Michigan. Very proud of the effort of our players because we played to the final whistle and we continued to try and win and cut it; cut it to eight points or seven points and we were on-side kicking it, etc.

Have to execute better, and obviously an away game, but you have to play better on the road, which we are going to have more opportunities later on.

But with that said, Bobby Wilson will be our honorary captain this week. First round pick for the Redskins, played in the Super Bowl, great defensive lineman here and we'll be excited to hear from him. I'll take some questions.

Q. Obviously a lot of changes on the depth chart on the offensive line, wonder if you can give any indication of Jared McGaha, who was missing and tell us about the other changes, with Travis Jackson being an "or" (on the depth chart).

COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think I need to just come out and say what's going on, so everybody has got a good, clear assessment of our offensive line picture. Jared was injured last week, where he...going after a loose ball. So he's got an MCL. He'll probably be out...he should be able to play for the Michigan game. He'll probably miss it next week (Ohio State). Get healthy enough to practice during the bye week and for the Michigan game. I would not anticipate him playing next week.

Blake Treadwell has an MCL sprain, so he is out this week as well. Remains to be seen how soon he will be back. Whether that's one week, two weeks; so we are going to miss those two guys and obviously Skyler (Burkland).

So we have got a young offensive line. And you can look at it one of two ways, you can look at it and say we are going to get stronger through adverse times, which is the way that we'll look at it at this point. But Travis Jackson is back and Travis is a very good player; Fou Fonoti played well, as well, in the football game against Notre Dame, and so he's got game experience and he's a very, very good athlete.

So we'll shore up the offensive line, and that's regardless really of what happens or who is playing, we have got guys on scholarship and we have got guys who have been coached and we need to pound the ball. Like we have said, Pound Green Pound, we need to run this football.

Q. You know that you absolutely don't want to play true freshmen on the offensive line, but if some of these guys injuries are longer than one or two weeks, is there anyone that you would consider?

COACH DANTONIO: Jack Allen is a guy that will travel for us. Jack's been a guy that I think has a very, very bright few future. The only other freshman offensive lineman we brought was Donavon Clark, and I think he's a ways away from knowledge standpoint, because he plays tackle; he's played guard some.

You never say never. But I don't think that right now is the time to make that decision. Probably you would have to make that decision later...

Mike Dennis is a guy that's had one year of coaching. Henry Conway is a guy that has gotten better and better every week. Remember he had not played football for a year and a half, he's 6-7, 315 pounds and tough. So he's a guy that's got to get active in there. And we're moving Micajah Reynolds back over to the offensive line this week. Micajah is a guy who has played over there, in his third year football as well and a guy that benches over 400 pounds, 315 pounds, (runs a) five one and a half. So he's a good athlete. So he'll be another guy that we'll look for.

And then you have got Nate Klatt and John Deyo in there, as well. So, we have got pieces, the guys that have been coached, and we have gotten solid players yet and still put five guys on the scout team which is also important. So we have got numbers, and fortunately we have numbers on our offensive line.

But when you compound this with Zach Hueter being (medically) DQ'd and David Barrent being (medically) DQ'd, this summer, we are down a spot on the offensive line...But we still maintain; we still maintain that we expect to succeed.

Q. McGaha - was he hurt in practice or was he hurt during the Florida Atlantic game?

COACH DANTONIO: He was hurt in practice.

Q. Practice during the week?

COACH DANTONIO: Yes.

Q. How do you keep from 'woe is me' setting in? Three guys go down (on the offensive line), and you say pound, pound, pound; do you still expect to pound or do you change your philosophy at all?

COACH DANTONIO: No, we don't change our philosophy. We have too good of running backs. We have to put the ball in our running backs' hands because they are too good of players. That's where that comes from. If we had average running backs, we can change our - we would change our thinking I think, but our running backs are too good of players. We have to put the ball in those guys' hands, some kind of way, and I think that's important, because they can make plays for us.

And we have got good tight ends, we have a very good fullback and I think Todd Anderson has been a very - I don't want to say surprise, because I knew he was a football player, but he's been a very positive addition to our offense, because he's a 265-pound fullback that can hammer it in there and he makes a dent in defenses with his blocking. So that's been a positive for us.

So we have to use our tight ends, our fullbacks and our offensive line and our wide receivers and our running backs to create these runs, running situations and quite frankly, because of the fourth quarter being as it was last week, it had to have turned to a pure passing game just because of the time restraints we had on us in terms of the ball is incomplete; it's off the clock, we get a first down. We had to pass the ball in the fourth quarter.

But I think that all of us would have liked to see us run the ball a little bit more in the game. But the game dictates how you play sometimes. The score of the game dictates how you play. So it is what it is.

Q. Dion Sims is listed as a starter; is that a nod to how well he's played?

COACH DANTONIO: I think all three of our tight ends are very good players. I'm sure Garrett Celek will play more than he played last week, mainly again because of the type of game it became. All three of those guys, I consider all three of them a starter, just like I consider our tailbacks starters. They play a significant amount of plays and you would consider them all starters.

Q. Is it safe to say, is it accurate that you expect your running backs to run a little harder? Is that a challenge that you put out to them?

COACH DANTONIO: I think it's a challenge to our entire football team. I think they have got to get - they have got to have a mind set. Come Saturday, they had better have a mind-set. Their coach will. I don't want to let the cat out of the bag, but their coach will.

Q. Special teams, there was a fumble on the punt the first week, you've had a kick return for touchdowns, and missed field goals. How big of a concern is it as a whole?

COACH DANTONIO: It's a concern. It's a concern because we have been good in the past on special teams. It was the first kickoff return I've (allowed) in eight years of being a head football coach. Harlon Barnett does a great job, but again, when you're playing young players - and Taiwan Jones is a young player and he's done a great job on kickoff, but he went down and he did not get blocked and he got ambushed. He got ambushed. He got dinged into Jeremy Langford, who is another redshirt freshman.

And then our other redshirt freshman, Tony Lippett, was coming down as safety, but he built up to push himself into the offense too deep. So he couldn't get back over the top, and Muma missed the tackle. (Tony) should have been able to track him and make the tackle at the 40 yard line. So, you deal with it, you correct it so that mistakes can be avoided, and it will be in the future. Obviously it hurt us in that game.

As far as the dropped punt, yeah, that's uncharacteristic of Keshawn Martin. I believe that was in the Youngstown State game. Certainly the hold in the Youngstown State game was uncharacteristic, but we had a new holder. But I take responsibility for the fake kick, this last time; we had too much penetration. You have to adapt sometimes. We didn't adapt to that particular alignment. We should not have tried it at that yard line, that particular one.

But you know, you win games on special teams. This time, it caught up to us. We are still a 2-1 football team. We have a lot of football to play. And you know, we have got good chemistry in our football team and our guys are working extremely hard, and I was very, very proud of our effort and the way we handled ourselves.

And I thought we played...you know when things start to overwhelm you and there starts to be a wave sometimes, you know, you can either fight that wave, ride that wave out or cash it all in. I thought we fought through things and I thought we handled ourselves with what I would say is good sportsmanship, the way we handled ourselves, before, during and after the game.

That's a compliment to the chemistry and character of our football team. That might be the only compliment we get this week but it's a compliment.

Q. Can you talk about going up against Dan Enos?

COACH DANTONIO: Coach Enos is one of the first coaches I hired when I was at the University of Cincinnati. He came recommended. I knew Dan a little bit but he came recommended by Pat Shurmur, and so he was a guy that we brought in. He was with us for two years there. Came back to Michigan State, one guy did not come from the University of Cincinnati staff, and I immediately hired Dan. Loved his family, love him, and think he's smart and he'll do a great job and he's doing a great job at Central.

But, it's a tough week for all of us. So it's tough when you're on opposing teams playing against somebody who is a friend of yours, but that's what makes it difficult. But have a lot of respect for him, his football knowledge and the way he has handled his program.

But you've got to get after business this week, so we will be motivated. I think the additional motivation comes from not only this past game, but from what went down here in 2009 in terms of beating us and how it went down at the end of the game with the on side kick, with the field goal, jump off-sides field goal, all the different things.

So we have a significant number of players who were here when that happened, and coaches who were here when that happened - so just a little bit extra. But might not make a difference, but we use what we got to use.

Q. Defensively were you encouraged by the fact that they really only allowed 21 points when you take away the field goal after the interception and the kick return?

COACH DANTONIO: Well, only 21 points sometimes doesn't make you feel great. But I was encouraged by how our defense played and covered and some of the things that we did. But we can't give them a drive on the first series. We can't give them a drive on the first series of the second half, and we cannot give them a drive when the score goes from 14-10, because all of the sudden, it goes to 21-10 and we are, again, down by 10-plus points again.

So in the critical part of the game when we had to have a stop in those areas, we have to do a little bit better. But I was complimentary of our defense I think in the terms of the way we played overall.

But it's such a game of inches out there, and you know, in retrospect sometimes you look and say, this is a very complicated game. You fundamentally have to have these different things you have to be able to do, at least the schematics. And over here you have a very simple part of the game, which is block and tackle, catching the ball, and do other things that you have to do.

The bottom line is, it's third-and-4, it calls for interference, we can get off the field and get the ball back at the 50; that's I believe the second half. There's another third and eight or nine, and they end up getting it by about an inch. We have got to win the inches.

So that's just a lesson learned. Again, we have a redshirt freshman playing in Kurtis Drummond who picked off a pass, almost went for a touchdown but got nicked and tripped, and also the guy coming down on the one on third down. We blew coverage on third and long, the ensuing second half kickoff, (they) went to Floyd. But it could be prevented if you're just lined correctly. Those things are going to happen, they are growing pains. But I still maintain that our guys played hard. The game plan was excellent, defensively, I felt. Got to execute the game plan a little bit better.

But like I said, they have got players too, and they're motivated. Compliment Notre Dame in terms of what they were able to do.

Q. You have friends all over the profession and you've played Tressel for years, but if you had your druthers, would you rather not play friends, especially former staffers?

COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, absolutely. I would rather not play them because somebody is going to win and somebody is going to lose. Either they are going to feel bad or I'm going to feel bad. I'd rather feel bad. That's just the nature of it. But I've been on the short end of the stick many times, but that's a tough scenario I think at times.

Q. Going back to the offensive line, like you said you've been pretty snake bitten there; what has the response been the last couple of days to all of this adversity and how are people handling this right now?

COACH DANTONIO: Well, we have been down these roads before with difficult situations, whether it's the offensive line or in a different position. We have got numbers in the offensive line.

That's one thing that we have been able to do here in four years. We have got numbers, guys on scholarship. We are not sitting here going into fall camp with nine guys on scholarship, like some people are, or 10. We lose three offensive linemen in three or four days' time. But you deal with it. You deal with adversity and you deal with the problems that you have. I guess I talk about it all the time, whether it's your life or whether it's your profession or whether it's a football team. You deal with the problems that you have, you try and fix them and you get it right and you keep marching and you move on.

But you stay the course. That's why when you sit here and say, are we going to change our offense, are we going to have to do this or that, I know we can throw the football. Most people know we can throw the football. But we have to run the football to be successful. If you look at our 13 3 mark over the last 16 games, the three games that we were unable to run the football, on a consistent basis, were the three games we lost. It's just the way it is.

And I would say that's probably the case with most (teams). What we said, we had to be able to do in an away game, one of the big points of emphasis was we had to defend. I think I said that last week. Have to defend. Didn't mean just on defense. And then we had to protect the passer. He was hit too often. Means that we have to play very well on kickoff, on our kickoff return, gave one up. That's two big reasons why we lost.

So, you know, we'll get it right. We'll keep pushing it and our players will respond. I'm very confident that our players will respond, because you know, we are going to coach them as such. That's just the way we do things here. Sometimes these type of things, you know, people have been saying a lot of good things about Michigan State for six, seven months. Now you can dig in and figure out who you are. That's a positive. Sometimes we all need that.

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