Mark Dantonio Weekly Press Conference Coverage
 
 
 
Coach Dantonio and the Spartans are looking to start 3-0 in the Big Ten for the first time since 2003.
 
Coach Dantonio and the Spartans are looking to start 3-0 in the Big Ten for the first time since 2003.
 
 

Oct. 7, 2008

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COACH DANTONIO: Just to recap the Iowa game, as I said I guess on Sunday, felt like it was a program win. Played very well on both sides of the ball in certain aspects in terms of protecting our quarterback, just continuing to be resilient, persevere through things. We came away with turnovers, et cetera. You know all the things that basically happened out there. It took an outstanding play by Adam Decker at the end. Takes us to 5-1.

So with that I think what we have to do as a football team right now is take a certain amount of maturity and discipline into this next game against Northwestern. Again, it's a road game, and it's very difficult to win on the road. Be an exciting game for a lot of our alumni, as we have a lot of alumni in the Chicago area.

Northwestern is off to a 5-0 record. I think Coach Fitzgerald, Pat is doing an outstanding job there, bringing back a lot of the tradition and success that he had when he was there, when he went to the Rose Bowl, all his successes. He's very energetic, very organized, and has great passion for the game. You can see that in the way his football team plays.

They were off a week, so they've had a week extra to prepare for us. So with that will come some new wrinkles offensively and defensively. Mike Hankwitz is the defensive coordinator. I was a graduate assistant at Purdue when Coach Hankwitz was there. He's extremely detail oriented. He was also the coordinator at Wisconsin. I believe he was the coordinator at Minnesota for a short time a well, so he has Big Ten ties.

Offensively, quarterback C.J. Bacher makes things work. He's very difficult to sack and spreads the ball around to various receivers. Northwestern has an outstanding running back situation, in (Tyrell) Sutton and (Omar) Conteh, who played very well against us last year here. So I think they lose three starters from the offensive line, but return everybody else pretty much, including (Eric) Peterman, (Rasheed) Ward, et cetera, at wide receiver. So they'll function on all cylinders there. It's going to be an outstanding challenge, big challenge for us in a lot of respects, including facing a no huddle offense.

Defensively, I think that (Corey) Wootton is the top guy on the defensive line, but (John) Gill is back, so they have two starters back on the defensive line. Both those guys are very good players. They return three players in the secondary. (Malcolm) Arrington is their leading tackle at linebacker. I think they're getting better on defense. They're much improved on defense this year. I think that shows in terms of how they played against some of these other football teams.

Q. Talk about Rocco Cironi for a moment. He seems to be getting better every week.

COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I think Rocco (Cironi) is becoming better and better. I think he's a very serious minded young man. He knows exactly what to do. He's very intelligent, and comes from a great program in Warren Harding back in Ohio. We have very high expectations for him. But I think he's been very solid at that position.

You know, thus far we've given up two sacks and we've been able to run the ball pretty much, other than probably two games, and in those two games we were okay, just not as maybe a high performance as we expected.

Q. Now getting into the second half of the season, can you talk about the challenges up ahead, starting with an undefeated Northwestern team, going into a lot of tough Big Ten opponents up ahead?

COACH DANTONIO: I think you have to look down the road at those other people and know that we have to play them. But really from the standpoint of looking forward, we'll always approach it with just one game at a time because so many things can change from week to week, whether it's injuries or the performance of your last game, those type of things.

So we'll focus on Northwestern. I think they're an outstanding challenge for us at 5-0. They haven't been beaten yet, so they've not tasted defeat yet. Usually when that happens, a person's confidence is very, very high. Their players will play hard, and they'll expect to win. They'll play with emotion. They'll coach with emotion. And conceptually, they'll be well tied together, as every football team we played. They're very well coached.

Q. Does anything happen to a team's psyche when they're ranked for the first time? Are you worried about your guys trying to do some things they haven't done before, trying to do too much?

COACH DANTONIO: No, I'm not really worried about that. I think we'll go over and play. We're going to focus. Our players understand defensively what happened here last year in this stadium. I think we've all seen that. So we're very well aware of what they can do offensively. Then on the offensive side of the ball, we're only as good as our last game, our last performance. So I'm sure that we'll be motivated to play well in this respect.

Special teams have to play a large part in this game as well. For the first time this last week, other than our field-goal unit, I don't think we were winning in that area. So in terms of did we win a game, did we supply a big play, an explosive play? We did not in this game. That was one of the few times we did not. I'm not saying we lost in that area. We just needed to be better.

Q. A loss never makes you feel good, but from a defensive guy to watch a team put 48 points up on his team (last year), how sick to your stomach did that make you?

COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think what we did after that was we had to I guess sort of form the wagons a little bit defensively and go back to basics and things like that. There were some things that happened in that game that were structural problems. There were some things that happened that were physical problems. There were some things that happened that were mental problems. So we addressed those issues and regained confidence. That's what you have to do.

But I guess when you look at that game, that was one of the poorer defensive games that we've played that I've been a part of. So you use that as motivation.

Q. You mentioned the toughness of C.J. Bacher and the difficulty in sacking him. How do you prepare for a player like that?

COACH DANTONIO: Well, we have Keith Nichol out there to simulate him. He'll be a great guy to use like that because he can move around, he's got a strong arm and he can find the different receivers. So that's an advantage for us.

But that's a tough question to answer because until you get to game time, until you get to the tempo of the game, you really don't know. But what you have to do on good players is you have to contain them. You may not stop them completely, but you have to contain them, whether that's with coverages or whether that's with pass rush or pressures or different things. So you have to keep him off base, I think.

Q. As a former secondary coach, knowing the situation you're in with your secondary right now, knowing Northwestern's offense can look completely different almost on every given play, from a technical point of view, what is the biggest thing you have to prepare for that are different than some other opponents you have faced this year?

COACH DANTONIO: Well, we played a lot of players in the secondary (against Iowa). We have quite a few players that are available in that area, that have game experience. We're a little bit nicked up there, but I feel that guys will make the bell.

But in terms of what I think the key is back there this week, it's discipline and maturity. You need to be disciplined in what you're having to do with your eye control and things that you watch, but you also have to be mature enough to handle the ups and downs in the game. When you're going against a no huddle offense, the ups and downs can be quite severe sometimes. You have to be able to line back up and play that next play. So that's something that we have to be able to do. We have to regain our senses and our confidence within 12, 15 seconds at times and get ready to play again. That will be a key to the game because one mistake can't lead to another mistake. That's the biggest thing we'll have to be able to do.

Q. Will the Indiana game provide any benefit just in terms of the no huddle aspect? Do you want to do something a little bit different with your linebackers? (Adam) Decker was out there for a lot of plays in that game out of necessity.

COACH DANTONIO: Right, out of necessity. I think that without going into a game plan or something of that nature, the answer to that question is, yeah, we did learn some things about Indiana that we need to correct in terms of how we play a game with that fast-pace no huddle. It's a great experience to learn from that game. It gives our players an idea of what's coming Saturday. It gives us an idea of what to prepare for in terms of the intensity of that fast pace no huddle, which we're going to see. We'll see fast and slow pace no huddle. We'll be better prepared for it having done it once. We'll be a little bit better in weeks to come, that type of thing. That's something that's very hard to simulate. You try, but you just don't have enough people to do it.

Q. You had a big play against Iowa that stopped what could have been the winning drive. Indiana could have gone either way. Even Notre Dame was closer than the final score. Are you starting to see a maturity in this team, whereas last year they said if we would have made a play here or there, you would have had 10 wins? Is it too early to say that?

COACH DANTONIO: I think it's too early to say that. As I said earlier, I think there's something special about this football team. We're finding a way in the red zone to get off the field. We're finding a way to win, when the defense allows a score, the offense is able to answer, such as Indiana. Whenever something bad would happen, boom, our offense was able to answer immediately. That's a sign of maturity and confidence.

I think when those things fall your way, let's face it, you're going to have some things fall your way sometimes, there's a law of averages there. Maybe things have fallen our way a little bit. But the bottom line is we're a 5 1 football team. We started off against Cal, and things didn't fall our way. So hopefully, we learned some things and have matured, as you've said.

Q. When you struggled against spread teams this year, it's been your guys not making the tackle at the point of attack. Is there extra emphasis you do or do you let the film speak to that?

COACH DANTONIO: No, we work tackling in space every single day at all positions, all the perimeter positions. We just need to continue to get better. We need to rally to the football. They do things to put pressure on you, with the run and pass. They make you responsible for part of the run, then flip the bubble out there, whatever. So when you're playing a spread team, you're forced into playing some things. Everybody has their responsibility; you got to play it.

But there's all different ways to look at it. But we work on tackling every day I guess is the best answer I can give you. We got to continue to get better, and we will.

Q. Do you see the Northwestern team being similar in the toughness aspect of the game? Do you see this as a team emerging, being a tough team, as well as your team?

COACH DANTONIO: I think they're an extremely tough team. They always have been, and I think they pride themselves on that. I also think that they play very confidently. They play with mental toughness, as well.

Yeah, I do. I've seen that. I saw that last year. Just because you miss a tackle does not mean you're not tough. They come back, they line up, and they play again. I saw how they responded offensively. I've looked at them and watched them throughout the year, as well. They're a well coached team. Pat (Fitzgerald) does a great job.

Q. Some kickers are a rare breed, but Brett Swenson kind of strikes me as a guy you don't notice till you throw him out on the field. Can you go into what kind of person he is, his preparation, what he's done going into this year?

COACH DANTONIO: Brett Swenson is a very intelligent young man. He's confident. He's played other positions a little bit, not on the college field, but in a high school setting. So he's played soccer and done some different things athletically, much like Aaron Bates. He's a good athlete.

I think what he's done is he's really made a commitment to go back to basics when he's had a problem. That's allowed him to get better and come into this season with a lot of confidence. He's done an outstanding job.

Q. With Morten Andersen on the sidelines as an honorary coach, did that help (Brett) Swenson's confidence against Iowa?

COACH DANTONIO: I think he was confident, but I think it was nice to have him there as sort of someone who can look to and say, Hey, I'm okay, I can do this, too, that type of thing. But it was good having him there. Morten (Andersen) is so confident, really cerebral in terms of his approach to football. That's good for Brett to see.

Q. How good is Tyrell Sutton compared to some of the other running backs in the league?

COACH DANTONIO: I think he had outstanding years prior to this year. This year, he's doing very well. Sutton catches the ball very well out of the backfield. I don't think his numbers may be as high as they have been in the past, probably because he's sharing some time with the other tailback, who is very good as well. Conteh had an outstanding game against us last year. Both of them can go the distance any time they touch the ball. They're excellent players. I remember Sutton coming out of high school. He was an outstanding player in high school and immediately became an outstanding player at Northwestern. I believe he played as a freshman. So he's got an excellent background. He's a feature type player.

Q. The all count one mentality, when you came into this program, is that something you harped on because you didn't think they all counted one here? When you bark that and say that incessantly, do you think that rubs off on your team? Is that part of the motive?

COACH DANTONIO: I hope so. But what I've tried to do as a head coach here was always to look back at the past and try to draw things from the past, whether it was from Duffy (Daugherty) or from Coach (George) Perles, Coach (John L.) Smith, I don't care who it was, but say something that somehow connects people. Coach Perles used to say, "they all count one." So we had that put up on the sign.

So basically all I was trying to do was just bring it full cycle because I think that's a great statement. Regardless of who you're playing out there on that football field, at the end of the season, when it comes time to count, looking at bowl games, it doesn't matter who you beat. They don't care. They look at wins and losses. That's it. If you lose to a team you're not supposed to lose to, that's not good. If you beat a team you're not supposed to win against, that's good. But, you know what, the next week you better play good again because it's just one win or one loss. It can go either way.

You can look at it a positive or a negative. The main thing we have to do every week is focus every week and get ready to play every week. We had Jehuu Caulcrick talk to our team before the Iowa game. The one thing I could get out of that, okay, was play with no regrets. You're guaranteed 12 opportunities, we have six more opportunities.

The one thing we want to make sure when we look at the end of this season, we have no regrets in terms of how we prepared and how we focused on every single game. I've always maintained, if our players play as hard as they can, I can handle whatever comes down the street, win, lose, whatever. But we've got to play hard. We've got to come focused. I think as a program right now we have done that. We need to continue to do that.

Q. Do you say that to them as much as you do us?

COACH DANTONIO: I don't know what I say sometimes (laughter). But, yeah, I talk about that. But I think sometimes I talk about that more in terms of these out of conference games we've played. The Big Ten games, I guess they all count one, too, but the stakes are a little higher; bigger chips. But I really took that from the past.

Q. Can you talk about the decision to replace Javon Ringer on kickoff returns?

COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, we just felt that with all the carries he was getting, if we could take a little bit of that load off of him, we wanted to do that. We wanted to give other people opportunities, too. Glenn Winston has been doing a nice job back there. He's a very explosive player. We made the decision last week, so let's go ahead and work him and see how he looks. He almost broke one (against Iowa).

We'll see what he has to do this week. It may stay the same. It may not. It was just a decision to try to get more people involved. I think Javon (Ringer) can definitely go back there again. I think you build strength in football team when you give more people roles. We want to take the edge off of some of our freshmen and get them involved in the game and let them start to play confidently.

That was a decision we made. We've been trying to get more tailbacks involved a little bit. We said, hey, let's put him back there. We made sure he could catch it. He was confident about it, loose about it, so we went with it.

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