Mark Dantonio Weekly Press Conference Coverage
Michigan State plays at Minnesota on Saturday in second-straight road B1G contest
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio held his weekly press conference Tuesday inside the Izzo Family Media Center at the Spartan Stadium North End Zone Complex to review the Spartans’ win over Michigan and preview this week’s game at Minnesota on Saturday, Oct. 14 in MSU’s second-straight Big Ten road game.
Michigan State heads back on the road for a second straight week as the Spartans take on Minnesota Saturday, Oct. 14 in Minneapolis at 8 p.m. The game will be broadcast on BTN and BTN2Go. With its 14-10 win at No. 7 Michigan last Saturday night, the Spartans improved to 4-1 overall (2-0 Big Ten) and moved into the national rankings for the first time this season, coming in at No. 21 in The Associated Press Poll and No. 22 in the Amway Coaches Poll. It marked MSU’s eighth win over Michigan in the last 10 meetings. The Gophers fell at Purdue, 31-17, and are 3-2 on the season (0-2 Big Ten).
Saturday’s game marks the 47th meeting between Michigan State and Minnesota and the first since 2013. The Spartans lead the all-time series, 29-17, including a 12-11 record in games played in Minneapolis. MSU defeated the Gophers in the 2013 regular-season finale in East Lansing, 14-3, to cap a perfect 8-0 conference season. Overall, Michigan State has won 23 of the last 29 meetings, including four straight. MSU head coach Mark Dantonio is 4-1 against Minnesota, with a 1-1 record at TCF Bank Stadium.
In its last trip to Minneapolis, Michigan State topped Minnesota, 26-10, in the 2012 regular-season finale to clinch a bowl bid for the sixth consecutive season. Le’Veon Bell rushed 35 times for 266 yards and one touchdown while the Spartan defense held the Gophers to just 4 yards rushing.
MSU is 27-14 (.659) in Big Ten road games under Dantonio, including a 21-8 record (.724) since 2010. Dantonio has won at least one road game at every Big Ten stadium.
The following is a complete transcript from Tuesday’s press conference:
Mark Dantonio: First of all, just recapping Saturday I guess, I was very proud of our football team. I thought we played with great grit. We keep talking about that in and out, around our program. I thought we did that. We just did what we had to do. We played extremely hard. I was very proud of them for that. Handled the adversity situations we got put into, and just kept coming.
The message to our football team right now is, ‘What are you going to do now?’ How are you going to respond? Whether it was after a loss or after a win, how are we going to handle anything that comes our way now?
We’re going to be judged by our next thing. The next thing on our agenda is Minnesota. We go north and think to them.
I think Minnesota is a football team right now that’s growing. Obviously has a new culture there. There’s new things going on. I think Coach Fleck is doing an outstanding job up there. They play extremely hard. They’ve been in every football game and had opportunities to win.
They’re a 3-2 football team right now with opportunities to be, really, 5-0. It will be another challenge for us as we got up there.
Pat Shurmur will be our honorary captain, so I’m excited to see Coach Shurmur, he’s with the Vikings. We’ll look forward to that as well. I’ll take some questions.
Q. As the season has gone on for Minnesota, they’ve lost some guys, how have they evolved and changed? What have you seen on tape from them?
Mark Dantonio: I don’t really see them changing. They’re going to do what they do. They have a belief system in place. They’re going to do what they do. So I think they’re playing some young players. They want to run the football. They obviously have big, explosive plays as well. Tyler Johnson, number 6, I think is a go-to receiver for them. They’ve got two good running backs.
I just see them as: ‘This is what we do, we need to get better at what we do at times and we’re doing things very well with what we do at times.’ I think they’ll plug people in. They’ve had some injuries, I understand that. But when you do have injuries and you’re playing young players, you have to do what they already have a foundation with.
They’ll have some wrinkles. Everybody has wrinkles according to which game they’re playing and who they’re playing against. The basis of who you are remains the same, much like us.
Q. You coached against P.J. (Fleck) twice when he was at Western. Stuff you can glean from that? How much do you go back over those tapes to look at stuff?
Mark Dantonio: We go over everything. We’ll look back to the past. We look back into the past of every coach that’s there. That’s just what we do when preparing anybody. We try to be as thorough as possible. We look at what hurt us, what helped us and all those types of things.
Q. Obviously turnovers are a big thing you harp on a lot. Going back, looking through it, were the turnovers something you guys were doing or more a product of the weather, a little bit of both?
Mark Dantonio: I think it’s always a little bit of both. Certainly some of the picks we pressured the guy, at least got him a little edgy in the pocket because a couple of them were overthrown. Weather probably had something to do with some of them. Then we stripped the ball off the two fumbles, we created those. Bachie makes a nice play, David (Dowell) makes two nice plays. I just look at it as positives.
Q. David Dowell, a guy who is just now had two starts, how quickly he’s come on, can you talk about the difference he’s making back there.
Mark Dantonio: Yeah, the entire Dowell family I think is very centered. He’s worked extremely hard to get where he’s at. He’s about business. He prepares very well. He practices, it’s like games. He practices like it is a game. That’s what I’ve noticed. His practice habits have increased tremendously I think over the course of time.
But when he comes out there to practice, he’s going to try to hit you, take you down, do what you got to do. He’s not going to go through the motions. I think that’s transferred onto the field.
Q. With Joe (Bachie) only being five starts into his career, seems like he took a big step on Saturday. Where do you see him at this point in his career?
Mark Dantonio: I think Joe Bachie is on his way to being an outstanding Mike linebacker for us. I said from day one, even talking about him last year, he’s an outstanding athlete. He can run and do the things that needs to be done at this level at that position.
But I also think he prepares very, very hard. He plays hard, all those type of things. He’s got a very high ceiling. It’s exciting, just like a lot of players on our team, David Dowell, who we just talked about, is a sophomore. A lot of players on our team are young, so you should see an increase in performance over time. Every game experience is a new experience for them in some regards. They’re seeing things for a first time, playing against an offense for the first time.
I think he’ll be an outstanding player for us. Already is. Big Ten Player of the Week.
Q. Going off that, there was a joke Saturday night during the game among fans that Joe Bachie was their new favorite Bullough brother. Having coached Riley and Max, do you see any similarities in how he plays?
Mark Dantonio: Yeah, I think the Bulloughs are the same type of thing: they prepare, they do their work off the field, big film guys. They understand the defense, and the intricacies of it. They’re smart guys, smart in the classroom, all those things. They play extremely hard. I think there are some characteristics and similarities there.
Q. Your program over time has been pretty good in these next games after big wins. You’re a little bit younger than you’ve ever been. Any sort of reinforcements as you go through this week preparing to make sure that carries over?
Mark Dantonio: We’ve actually tracked how we play after our big games. We track that, ever since 2007. I’ve always believed what you do after when you’re at an emotional high, what are you going to do next, should be defined for our players. We talked about that yesterday.
I think after the Michigan game, we’re 8-2. That’s whether we’ve won it or lost it, we’re 8-2. I think that’s a good measuring stick, but you need to be prepared for that because it is about what are you going to do next. If you don’t play your best, you play unemotional, then you’re not handling success right.
Part of our problem I think last year was handling the success we had the previous years. We just didn’t handle success as well. We had injuries, a lot of different things, but one thing you could point to was that we expected it to happen, and when it didn’t happen, we didn’t handle it very well. I’m talking about from a confidence standpoint.
So I think right now, there’s a lot of messages. There’s a lot of things we can point to that say, ‘Hey, don’t let your guard down, keep pushing, keep climbing, keep scratching and keep displaying grit.’ That’s all I can ever ask for. Play hard, usually things take care of themselves. If you don’t, then play hard, I’m okay with it.
Q. Can you talk about the play that you saw out of (Kevin) Jarvis on Saturday, I know that he’s a true freshman, but getting that kind of experience with David Beedle out, especially against a highly ranked defense?
Mark Dantonio: Yeah, I thought Kevin Jarvis, first of all for a freshman going into that environment, playing against that defense, some of those guys, because they’re very good, was impressive. He held his own physically. He made some mistakes, mistakes from a mental assignment standpoint, to some degree, or technique standpoint, but he can hold his own physically. He is athletic enough and powerful enough to hold his own at this level. That’s a huge thing for a true freshman.
The experiences that he has had in the last two games really, I mean, they’re against two good defenses, number one, and then the second thing is to play in two nationally televised games with a lot on it, and to play at this level, is a huge experience for him, and can only benefit him. He’ll just continue to get better.
Q. I know depth charts aren’t always representative of what is going on. I think Darrell Stewart is back up on top on punts and kickoffs. Is that something you plan on going back to, or something that will play out during the week?
Mark Dantonio: It will probably play out a little bit during the week, I would say. It’s a starting point.
Q. Getting back to ‘what are you going to do now,’ I know you don’t want to jump too far ahead, but what do you think your team is capable of at this point moving forward?
Mark Dantonio: I think we’re probably capable of winning one game at a time, or losing one at a time. We’ve got a young team, so you really don’t know. That’s the way we have to handle it. We really, truly have to sit there and say, Okay, hey, let’s go to Minnesota and get ready to play.
But I’ve said all along, ever since the summer, I like our football team. I like our enthusiasm. I like our youth. When you’re going through things for the first time, there’s a certain amount of excitement and adrenaline that’s there for every practice, every moment. Then when you succeed on a big stage or in a major game, that just builds enthusiasm and energy.
I think that’s how we’re put together right now. But I’ve been impressed in terms of how we’ve handled the problems, how we found solutions, and how hard we’ve played.
Q. Saw a video of you guys in the locker room at Michigan. Is that the most fun time you’ve had in quite a long time?
Mark Dantonio: Well what’s ‘a long time’ (laughter)? Ten years? No, I had a good time, yeah.
Q. We always talk about breaking down film. Do you have to hear from your players or wife or daughters? Do they grade you out on the dance performance at all?
Mark Dantonio: Yeah, they’d probably grade me out. Yeah, I get to hear from them. They’re all pretty kind (smiling).
Q. You mentioned after the game that obviously you take personal joy in the win, but even more for you it is about its effect on Spartan Nation. (MSU men’s soccer head coach) Damon Rensing, number one soccer team in the country a couple weeks ago, mentioned you and how it helps him recruiting. Are you able to stand back and appreciate how a win in the football program affects every sport?
Mark Dantonio: Yeah, I can understand that. I do understand that. At the same time I just, I don’t know, I coach, I still coach because I like interacting with young people. I like to see them grow. I still like seeing people be successful. Really, truly, if a guy gets all As in the semester, I like seeing that as much as I like seeing a win.
Certain wins are a little bit bigger, okay? Really involve everybody in your entire program, your administration, your fans, your players, everybody. So some of those take on a life of their own.
I’ve always just been, after a big win, even after the Rose Bowl win, I’ve always just been, ‘Wow, that was something.’ That’s just how I’ve been. I’ve enjoyed myself. I think I danced at that one, too, okay? So it hasn’t been that long (laughter).
I think I said at one point in time: I’m here to handle problems, hired to handle problems. I’m also hired to make people happy to some degree. So there was a little bit of that on Saturday.
Q. With the push that you guys have gotten on the defensive line, how much has that helped the edge guys? Secondly, noticed that Devyn Salmon is not on the roster any more. Any update on that?
Mark Dantonio: First of all, Devyn left the team probably three or four weeks ago, something like that.
As far as our defensive line, when I go and watch or self scout ourselves, I watch ourselves play against these five teams that we’ve played against, I see what I would call clinic quality tape, which is just like you draw it up, just like you want it. That is a positive because we are young up there.
I see people playing square, being in a good football position, being in a dominant position, basically winning their respective challenges up front. The linebackers playing square, secondary supporting. So I see guys running to the football and see the way it’s drawn up on the board. That’s a tribute to our coaches, like I said before, how hard we’re playing, what we’re trying to do. Our players are trying to do what they’re coached to do.
Does it always happen? No, it doesn’t, because the other people have players, too. I wish I could run a play and say, ‘Let’s run that play against where 28 runs for 50 yards.’ Just doesn’t happen like that. Everybody has players on both sides of the ball. Everybody is working hard to defend or attack offensively.
Q. Kenny Willekes just recorded the first two sacks of his career. Is that something you saw as an inevitable or something maybe you hadn’t seen from him in the first few weeks of the season?
Mark Dantonio: I think it was inevitable. Hopefully all of our guys are going to get some sacks as with we go forward. Kenny, as I said a couple days ago, he’s a guy that’s got athletic ability. He was a fullback/linebacker, but an athletic one. Came here as a linebacker. Transitioned to defensive end, got bigger. He’s put on about 30 pounds since he’s come here. So he’s about 250. He’s strong, he’s physical, he’s got explosive power. He will work you. I mean, he will try to outwork you. That’s some of the things we talked about. You’ve got to work, especially against offensive linemen. He’ll keep coming. So he’ll make a dent. He’ll keep playing. I think that’s why he’s been able to do what he’s done.
Q. You brought Tyler Hunt on the road with you, a walk-on kicker. What have you seen from him in practice that you like?
Mark Dantonio: He’s affectionately known as ‘new guy’ on the team. I tell you, that guy, first of all, he’s a very good athlete. He’s got a strong leg. I’ve seen him kick 52- and 58-yard field goals. He played a little bit of every position I think at his high school. Gobles, I believe.
So he’s just a guy that walked on just out of the blue, walked on in our walk-on tryouts. We say ‘he looks like something. I think he could be a guy.’
Now, can he be a guy this year? We’ll see. I’d like to continue to kick (Brett) Scanlon. He’s a senior, got experience. He covers. He’s tough. He can tackle, which is an added dimension, I think.
Matt (Coughlin) has only had an opportunity to kick a couple field goals, but he’s been very, very good in practice, and he’s been good in games, I think.
It remains to be seen, but I think he (Hunt) has a future here, I really do. He’s a very good athlete. He can hold, punt, kick, big.
Q. With Justin Layne, how has he progressed just in the last couple weeks?
Mark Dantonio: Yeah, I think he’s progressing. I think we have four guys that can play in there. It’s just that it was a slower-paced game. We just decided to stay with those two guys.
I think Josiah Scott is playing very well, made some plays on the ball. Great timing with his back to the ball. Plays in the deep part of the field.
I also think that Justin Layne is a talent. He’s big, he can run. Guy ran 46-something in a 400. I mean, he can run. He’s a recruited wide receiver, so he has great ball skills. He’s tackling very effectively. I think he’s got a big upside. He reminds me a lot of Trae Waynes in some ways, when Trae was a redshirt freshman. Justin is a sophomore because he played last year, he’s in his second year. He’ll keep coming. I think he’ll improve with every game.
I also think Josh Butler and Tyson Smith have played well, as well, along with Josiah. I think all four of those guys had a lot of reps when you look at overall the course of the season thus far, and they’ve all played well.
Q. Looking at the running back situation, from Madre (London), what have you seen from him maybe behind the other two guys at times? Any updates on Gerald (Holmes) and LJ (Scott)?
Mark Dantonio: All three of them have great attitudes, first of all, Gerald Holmes, Madre, LJ, and Connor Heyward played a little bit, so he’s a fourth. LJ didn’t play obviously, Madre and Gerald did, Gerald went out with an ankle (injury), came back later, sort of gutted it out. All of them have played for us a little bit.
I think they’re unselfish. Madre has two huge plays in the game, Gerald has a big one, as well. All three, I’ve always counted them as starters. That’s why I bold them all (on the depth chart.) I don’t care who plays. I just care whoever is playing gets a hot hand. We’ve yet to do that really, get the hot hand. All of a sudden a guy starts running for over a hundred yards. But that’s coming.
Again, when you look at plays, everything has to be right sometimes on a running play or passing play. On a passing play, it’s the quarterback and the receiver, two people. Everything has to get lined up as far as pass protection, running the different routes and everything, but at the end of the day to execute, two people have to be on the same page. Not so much with the running game. It’s just more complicated, more intricacies. The more people they put up there, the more difficult it becomes, the more different ways they come at you, the more difficult it becomes.
I would like to run that same play that 28 (London) ran and just see the same result, but it just doesn’t happen like that. But they’re good guys, practicing well, and very, very good attitudes.