Mark Dantonio Weekly Press Conference Coverage
Oct. 5, 2011
EAST LANSING, Mich. - Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio held his weekly press conference Wednesday in the auditorium at the Clara Bell Smith Student-Athlete Academic Center. Dantonio recapped the victory over Ohio State and talked about the team's plans for the bye week.
The Spartans (4-1, 1-0 Big Ten) will return to action Saturday, Oct. 15 to face Michigan in Spartan Stadium. Kickoff is set for noon and the game will be televised on ESPN.
The following is a complete transcript from Tuesday's press conference:
COACH DANTONIO: Just to recap Ohio State, I thought it was a great win, great win for the program. When you looked at it, we asked our players to come very energetic and enthused, and I thought they did that. I thought there were three components of the game that sort of bared out for us. First of all, obviously we played very, very well on defense. I think we came up with six and a half tackles for a loss and five sacks from our linebackers alone; nine sacks (total).
But a lot of things you guys already know about defensively I think statistically, but we played with an air of confidence, I felt, and we played with tremendous effort. I thought the game plan was very good obviously, but it takes players to execute that game plan, so when it comes right down to it at the end of the day, our players made plays. Huge play with Darqueze Dennard pulling the ball from Devin Smith on the 2 yard line and coming up with the interception, probably one of the plays of the game certainly defensively. We played very, very well.
Offensively I thought we controlled the tempo of the football game. If you look at it, we probably needed to score a couple more points and I'm sure we left points off the board a little bit. Credit Ohio State with that, but I thought we moved the ball. I thought Cousins' passes were very crisp, sharp. Cunningham had another big day. I thought we ran the ball effectively enough to sustain drives, and we were able to get the ball and move the football I think numerous times throughout the day and sort of control the tempo of the game I felt offensively. If you look at our offense relative to their offense, tempo went in our direction in that area. Obviously the play from Cousins to B.J. was the huge play there.
But special teams wise, huge play by Mike Sadler early in the game to prevent us from having a missed opportunity, bad punt situation. Probably the play of the game special teams wise. And then Conroy with his 50 yard field goal was really the difference in the game at the end.
Played very, very well. Great program (win), we have guys that are very excited, and we move on to the next challenge. We have a bye week this week so our players had Sunday, Monday and Tuesday off, will practice today and tomorrow. We'll give them off Friday and Saturday, come back and practice on Sunday. So that's sort of our mindset getting ready for the Michigan game. They're off to a great start with the pro combat jerseys on this week to sort of get used to those a little bit, take the adrenaline out of it, I guess, hopefully for ourselves a little bit, but just get used to wearing them.
All in all, coordinators are in, coaches are out early in the week recruiting, so it's a day to catch up a little bit and just sort of critique where we're at as a program. We're 4 and 1 right now as a program. All our goals are in front of us, and looking forward to this week and getting on with this week.
I'll take some questions.
Q. Are you approaching this bye week the same as you always have, any different in any way, or is that always what you do, Wednesday, Thursday and go back on Sunday?
COACH DANTONIO: No, we've approached every bye week a little bit differently I think relative to where we're at as a program, really. Last year we were probably a little bit too late to recruit, wanted to focus more on beating Penn State because it was the last game of the season and it meant a championship for us, and we were 10 and 1 going into that game. So this week is a little bit more in the middle. We've gone through nine weeks...we sort of look at the schedule, look at the calendar and see what's going to be really the best for the program, whether it's recruiting, whether it's time off, whether it's practice. Guys need to heal up a little bit, things of that nature, get away from football a little bit. So we're just going to always sort of take it as it comes and look at who we are and make decisions from there. We don't have a set schedule.
Q. When you give the guys time off, do you want them to really take time off and just lay around their apartments or dorm rooms and decompress, or do you expect them to come in and play catch?
COACH DANTONIO: No, they're off. The only thing we've asked them to do is lift, get a lift in this week. I think they had a lift Tuesday and Thursday or Friday, depending on what schedule they have. Some of them lifted Wednesday. They're all by individual appointment. That's the only thing we've asked them to do.
I do want them to deflate a little bit. I want football to be fun. I think sometimes you continue on and on and on. You've got to be able to step back and recognize how really privileged you are to be involved in it. I think that's a little bit for the coaches, too. You need to go recruit, get on the road, do something different.
We're not playing Michigan this week. We don't need to be all jacked up this week. We need to be enthusiastic and have our adrenaline running next week, and I think if you start too soon, sometimes you can die out. So we're sort of saving ourselves a little bit. We want to come out of this week very healthy. But we do ask them to take the time.
Hopefully they can go home and watch a high school football game this weekend. That's why we're not practicing Saturday morning. I want them to be able to go home. Hopefully they take advantage of that.
Q. You've been around some terrific defenses. This one has caught some people by surprise. Numbers aside, how good is this defense right now and how good can it be?
COACH DANTONIO: I think we have to answer those questions at the end of the year, not in the middle, because we haven't played everyone yet. I think your body of work is collected over a period of 12 games, not five.
Now, with that being said, statistically we're very, very good right now. I think the continuity from within our coaching staff and the continuity in terms of our players just developing in a system has allowed that to take place, and what's probably most impressive to me is we played a lot of players in a number of games, a number of the early games, but our twos come in and they play very well, as well. They're being able to play at a high level, as well. So that's been a positive for us, and I think that's why statistically we are where we're at.
But it remains to be seen how well we play as the rest of the season goes. But I can tell you that our mindset is good. The more you play throughout the season, the more confidence you're going to get if you're doing well, and I think that will carry over. We're playing well, but we need to continue to factor in the overall schedule; not one game in the Big Ten conference, not after five games, it's over the course of the season.
Q. Does the bye week come at a time for you to tweak with your quarterback or is that needed? Are you concerned about Kirk's play right now?
COACH DANTONIO: I'm not concerned about Kirk at all in the effect of how he's playing the football game...If you were on that field on Saturday and saw some of the throws from the sideline, he was...I mean, he had great velocity on the ball, he was putting it right on the money. So I'm not concerned at all in that area.
What I would be concerned about is just people's mindset as you move forward, pressures that people are under playing in front of 105,000 people, national TV, all these things that a quarterback comes under. We have to be able to deflate as people. And he does so much in the community. There are very high expectations that he places on himself, and I think people have very high expectations of him, whether you're a head coach, assistant coach, coordinator, fan, whatever, and that can wear on a person sometimes, and I want him to have fun.
Hopefully that's the only thing that I see that needs to be corrected. He does a great job managing our football team. You're taking the ball from center every single play. That's every single play the quarterback has to make a decision; do I run this play; do I run that play; do I stay with the play called; do I change the protection; what blitz, what coverage am I looking at; where do I throw the ball relative to this coverage as opposed to that coverage; do I have to throw hot, where my hot receiver is; if they bring pressure we can't pick it up because the numbers are such that a back may free release or these different type of things. What are my steps in terms of handing off the football; do I hand my hands up under the center; how am I taking a shotgun snap.
There are so many things that a quarterback has to handle and has to deal with on a play in and play out situation throughout an entire football game, and let's face it, sometimes there's going to be mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes. But the mistakes that a quarterback makes, when there is a mistake, I think they get magnified because he is so paramount to the success of every single program, he is so essential in every single play.
So those mistakes get magnified, much like the mistakes a head football coach may make gets magnified. All in all, he's doing an outstanding job, won 11 football games last year. He also was a factor the year before in 2009 in terms of just a very steady factor, in terms of a very difficult season in 2009, and then this year we're 4 and 1, and our football is in front of us. I feel good about how he's playing. I think that naturally the quarterback I think sometimes gets a lot of praise. Sometimes maybe that's not all warranted; receiver makes a great catch, whatever. But I also think the reverse is true; sometimes the quarterback gets an awful lot of criticism. That's what I think. That was the long version.
Q. Can you speak on the importance of recruiting this week and how the bye benefits you?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, recruiting I think has become so accelerated right now that you're really out looking...you're really out saying here are the seniors we have left on the board, here are the guys committed to us, let's make sure we go see them and watch them play, visit with their coach. Also here are the guys that we're still recruiting. Not very many, we don't have many scholarships left. And then here are the juniors. We need to see the juniors.
Our time has been spent last Friday, Monday and Tuesday really doing those things, and then we'll spend time Friday, as well. Actually we could have 10 coaches actually out, including myself. I probably will go out on Friday, as well.
So we're just trying to make sure that we continue to recruit and do something every day recruiting as well as trying to get ready to play a football game or critique the past football game or talk about academics, all the different aspects. There's a lot of different wheels turning in this program as we go into a bye week or even during a season. But we have to keep them all turning.
Q. You mentioned the pro combat uniforms. Did you say they have worn them already or they will this week?
COACH DANTONIO: They will this week, in particular the shoes to make sure that we're used to the shoes and the helmets to make sure that they fit correctly, and also we're throwing at a bronze helmet, so just to get them used to throwing to the different colored helmet.
Q. There's a lot of attention obviously with the offensive line. Last week maybe the rushing stats weren't eye popping, but you ran well early in the game. Where would you say this offensive line is now after this game?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I have a lot of notes up here, some highlighted, but one of the things I failed to mention is we gave up no sacks on Saturday, and that's a tremendous statistic when you're playing at Ohio State and you're playing Ohio State's front seven. We gave our quarterback time to throw the football, and we were able to run the ball to a degree, and we got some tough runs in there. But it's tough sledding in there, as well.
If you look at statistically how Ohio State has performed over the past six, seven years defensively, I would say as I said after the game, probably one of the top two if not the top defense in the league from the standpoint of continuity, and I think that remains pretty much the same. I mean, I think they have a good defense. Very difficult to run the football on.
But I thought we poured it up in there, ran hard, got some tough runs. Made enough yardage to continue a drive and make it 3rd and 6, 2nd and 5, those type of things, some 1st downs on some runs. But we'll continue to try and work it. But I think our offensive line is coming. I saw a better performance by Dan France, Micajah Reynolds played some, probably not as much as we would have thought going into the game, but France was holding his own. And on the other side I thought Fou (Fonoti) played well, as well, and I thought the center (Travis Jackson) played well, other than a bad snap early in the game. I thought he played very well.
Our guards are consistent, very consistent. They've played at this level before, and expectations are higher for them.
Q. Edwin Baker at the beginning of the season, prior to the season, was pretty vocal about his expectations. Through five games his long is only 23 yards. Do you feel like he's maybe one run and one game from really breaking out and getting rolling?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, Edwin Baker has the ability to go the distance when he gets a crease, and we've got to find him more creases there. I'm disappointed, he's disappointed probably a little bit because the expectations that he has are very high.
But with that being said, you go with the flow. The number one thing that we have to do is win football games, and so as long as we're winning football games, everything else to me becomes secondary. I want everybody to get their yards, their catches, but as long as we're winning, those are the main things.
I think that's the way Edwin is, too. Does he want to have 30 carries in the game? I'm sure he does. But as it is right now you have to play the situations throughout a football game relative to what the down and distance is. You want to be balanced. You want to throw the ball on 1st down and pass it, so you can't just run it all the time, nor can you pass it all the time. Those things have to be taken into context, and you're also trying to get the ball to Le'Veon Bell a little bit, and Larry Caper is a very good back, as well, and he's shown in the past that he can run the football very effectively, as well...He's going to get his yards in, and we're going to all be excited about it.
Q. The last couple years B.J. had Blair White and then Mark Dell last year. Seems like there's a little bit of an element missing in terms of another downfield threat. Is Bennie Fowler the guy that could do that if he comes back, and what are the chances of Bennie being back for this game?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, you know, first of all, to answer the question about Bennie, it's really a week to week thing. We're hoping he's healthy to go against Michigan. Three weeks ago we thought he was going to go really in the Notre Dame game. We thought he was going to go. But every week if he has the foot pain, then we're not going to use him. And then that transitions into a break.
So we have to just see how it is. But all indications are he will play again this season, it's just a matter of when. He may play against Michigan, he may not, we'll see. I really have no way of saying that until he's out on the practice field and he's pain free. When he has pain, we back him off, but he has practiced.
In regard to our other wide receivers, Keith Nichol and Keshawn Martin I feel are very valuable players down the field. Sometimes the ball goes to people, sometimes it doesn't, and it's not like we're sitting there saying let's throw the ball to B.J. Cunningham, it just happens. It happens in the course of the coverage or a situation in the game, the broken play. Sometimes it just happens. But the other receivers are very good, as well.
I think Tony Lippett has an outstanding future, too, but we haven't played him as much this past game. But certainly right now B.J. Cunningham has been the guy that has gotten the most catches. But those other guys are very, very capable. I think they're very good players. I think they'll have opportunities to play beyond this level.
Q. I know they all count one and I know how big Michigan is, but Michigan, Wisconsin, Nebraska, is this the ideal time to have a bye week for a period that could define the Spartans' season?
COACH DANTONIO: I think it's an ideal time coming off a win. You never want to come off a loss and have a bye week because that's a big plus. It's ideal to give our guys who are nicked up an extra week of rest, and then we've been at this nine weeks, as I said the other day. We've been at this nine weeks with fall camp and everything. It's maybe time to just be able to step back and look, and then I think we can propel ourselves forward.
But I really have never thought of a bye week. Sometimes you don't want to interrupt what you've got going on, but you just take them as they come, you make them what you want to make them. If we would have lost then we would say we were regrouping, it's a good time to have a bye week. I think as long as you take a positive approach on what you have regardless of who you're playing or what you're dealing with, positive things can happen. You can go into situations saying, wow, we've got three tough ones coming up, it can become negative. But I'm looking forward to all three.
Q. I'm sure the players do, but do you ever wake up Sunday after a game and see something like Denicos Allen on SportsCenter, Top 10 (plays of the day), and think to yourself, hey, there we are?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, you know what, in all honesty, this is a good story. Friday night we wanted to...usually I let them watch movies. We have a movie and I don't make it mandatory. I make them come in the last 15, 20 minutes.
But we took a movie that maybe our players had watched 10, 12 years ago. They had four different movies they could pick from, so they picked "The Waterboy," okay, and so I said, `well, the only thing I'm going to ask is we all be in there together, that we're all together doing something together before the game.' We're just together, just experiencing things together and just being happy about being together, not go our own ways for an hour, hour and a half.
So we all watched "The Waterboy" together, including the coaches. Have you ever seen "The Waterboy"? So that picture just depicted exactly what he did. It was a great movie for our guys. They had fun with it. Even at halftime I just said, `hey, visualize and attack, just like in the movie.' And there goes Denicos flying over the running back and hitting the quarterback. That one will probably go down as a little memento for all of our guys. It was a good feeling. It was a good feeling going into the game. It was a good feeling Friday night. We were focused, we knew what we were supposed to do, played with a lot of enthusiasm, and it was fun. And I think going into the game we were going to make it fun, and I think that's what we have to do.
Some of this can wear you down. The pressures of this game, regardless of what position you play, I think can wear you down as well as being a coach. My wife always tells me, `hey, you need to have fun with this sometimes.' You can tell I'm on the sideline and really having fun a lot. But I think she's right, and this needs to be...this is a game, and we need to continue to try and find ways to make it fun for our players, so that was one of the ways we did it.
So that picture that you're talking about, is that the one you're talking about when he's flying over the guys? That will probably go up, we'll have a little caption underneath it, "The Waterboy," and it'll be hanging somewhere around here.
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