Oct. 15, 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 Homecoming win over Indiana and previewed this week's game against Purdue.
The Spartans (5-1, 2-0 Big Ten) play host to the Boilermakers (1-5, 0-2) on Saturday, Oct. 19 at noon in Spartan Stadium; the game will be televised on BTN.
The following is a complete transcript from Tuesday's press conference:
COACH DANTONIO: I think I have to start the deal here with saying is that the biggest pumpkin you've ever seen down in the lobby? (smiling)
I thought Saturday's game we had great fan support, very much appreciate our students coming out. I thought it was a great crowd and very lively.
Purdue is up for our next challenge. Coach (Darrell) Hazell and I have some similar backgrounds. One thing I can tell you is that as you move through a season, there is going to be adversity. When you have a young football team as they do, you're going to have a big learning curve, so they're going to be able to move forward as they move through their season. When is that time that they move forward and have a big game?
They've got (Danny) Etling as their starting quarterback, and I guess this will be his probably second big start. So there's going to be improvement in that area as well. It will be a great challenge for us as we move forward.
Opportunity to go 6 1. Opportunity to get bowl eligible. That's where our focus has to be, and certainly on Purdue. Then the other thing we have to recognize is we've handled adversity here and been resilient at times. We need to be able to handle success too, and that comes with discipline and maturity. I'll take questions and go from there.
Q. Lawrence Thomas is on the depth chart at defensive end. Can you talk first of all about where he's at physically, and about the position back to defensive end for him?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, L.T. is back on the depth chart. He practiced last week probably full for the first time. We need to get him some active reps, some live reps. I thought he could possibly have played on Saturday, but the way the game just went with the whole nature of it, we decided not to play him. He's at defensive end right now just because it's probably a little easier for him to play himself back into the defensive tackle. He's athletic. He's 290 pounds. He's quick bodied, so he'll be a big positive member for us as we move forward.
I do think that he missed all of summer camp. He's missed a lot of time in that first probably four weeks, so he's back into pads part time the week before in our off week and then full time last week. So, hopefully, he'll get some reps this week and we'll see where he's going.
I know he wants to play, and he's excited about that opportunity. As our football team, his teammates and also his coaches. But it's time now, and I think he needs to play.
Q. You face this every week where we ask you about different players. I'm just curious, as you watch film, what player are you not getting asked about that you think is having a very good season?
COACH DANTONIO: Don't get asked much about Jack Allen. I think he's playing very, very well. In fact, all the offensive linemen. You get asked about them as a group. You don't get asked about them individually. But Blake Treadwell is playing very well as well. I could go into those guys. But if you look across the defensive end of things, you would say that Denicos Allen had a great game last week, but all those guys pretty much get talked about. So that's a tough one. I really haven't thought about that. Good question.
Q. Back to L.T. real quick. Would you sneak him in on offense or is he strictly a defensive player now?
COACH DANTONIO: We'll have to see about that. Not out of the question.
Q. When Bennie Fowler runs in open field, isn't he a candidate to be a returning guy or I think he was at one time, wasn't he?
COACH DANTONIO: He was at one time in 2010, I believe. But we've opted to go in a different direction there a little bit. We've got a lot of guys that could be return guys. But at this point in time we went in a different direction. I think R.J. Shelton needs to get his hands on the ball. So we need to give him those types of experiences. So we try to push our younger players a little bit in that area. Nick Hill was very, very good here in 2010 t 2011, so we've had some different guys back there.
Q. Bennie came up kind of limping against Indiana. Is he okay and expected to play Saturday?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, we're going to see how Bennie is, but you know we don't talk too much about injuries. So we'll see.
Q. What is the biggest thing about Connor Cook to have success in the starting role? How have you seen him grow and progress?
COACH DANTONIO: I think it's natural when you have an opportunity to play as the starting quarterback, you're going to start to mature and have some experience for you to be positive and you're going to grow. I think that's what you've seen him do. I think he's growing with his presence on the field. He's got a better presence, a pocket presence. I think he's always been pretty cool under pressure back there. Doesn't really get bothered by things when there is a mistake.
But I think he's growing. He's making good decisions down the field. I just see him taking big steps every single game to get better and better. He's done a nice job for us, I think.
Q. You said after the last game that you thought Connor could be a 100 yard rusher. Isn't there some peril with a running quarterback? Wouldn't you have to have somebody else ready if you're going to play that style of quarterback?
COACH DANTONIO: I think Connor can create and become a 100 yard rusher much like some other quarterbacks, whether it's running for 30 or 40 yards or scrambling three times for 20 or something of that nature as it naturally occurs. I don't think we're going to run him 18 times a game. We're not going to do something like that. But at the same time I do think there is a physicality with him, with his size and his speed that when he does understand what he's got, he'll use it more effectively. When he has a little bit more, I would just say pocket experience, in a major college game, because he had it in high school. He could do those things in high school. You saw those things on the tape over and over and over. Those are the things that I think come with game experience. You just feel a little bit more at ease, and you're seeing the field maybe more clearly or whatever the case is. But I think those things happen naturally as a person progresses in his development.
Q. You guys haven't been heavy favorites since the first couple of weeks of the season. What do you want to see from this group this week?
COACH DANTONIO: I want to see our football team come ready to play. We need to understand what's in front of us, not what lies behind us, but what's in front of us. Learn from our mistakes and grow. We want to constantly be stretched as a football team. We're getting better. We want to play our best football in November. We don't want to start to coast in October and hit November and start to play not as well. We want to be playing our best football in November.
We've got two weeks left in October to continue to try to make strides. I think we've done that. The Notre Dame game, got better at Iowa, I think we played better Indiana. As a football team now here comes the next challenge and we'll see how we respond.
Q. Do you do something different to keep these guys from looking past this week to next week and only focusing on that?
COACH DANTONIO: Hopefully we've learned our lessons as we've gone through six years here, that the next game is the most important game. The season last year showed us how many inches we've come up short on.
We can't afford to take anybody and put this one past us and move to the next football team, the next one on the schedule. That can't happen for our football team. I hope we understand that and have a sense of maturity about us. Next one up has to be what we're focusing on. It will be a challenge. There is nothing easy in playing college football. Regardless of what the score would indicate at times. It's not easy.
There's going to be a different plan. People that don't have success come back with a different plan. Players are more motivated, people regroup. It happens on both sides, whether it's us or our opponent. So we expect a great challenge from Purdue.
Q. Can you talk about Tony Lippett and his emergence over the past couple weeks here?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, Tony's been solid here. Very solid, very good the last couple weeks. He's just sort of...I don't know. He's just sort of reaffirmed where he's at, I think. He's regrouped. I think that's what people do. I try to encourage all of our football players after the Notre Dame game. I believe we had a bye week of that sort of regroup. Get things off their chest. Coaches, players, everything to sort of rededicate themselves to where their focus is at. I don't care what it is, just rededicate yourself to your focus, whatever that focus is, and he's played very, very well. Played with a chip on his shoulder, that's a positive. I hope it stays there.
Q. You talked about Jeremy Langford's assertiveness last week. He looked very confident. Also with Delton Williams in the game, are you close to getting from all your backs what you got from Le'Veon last year?
COACH DANTONIO: I think that Jeremy Langford needs to line up every snap and have the mindset that he can go the distance. We talked about that a little bit last week, and that's what he did. I think he did that. He has that ability. He gets the crease, he can take it. With the work we got from Delton, we got over 200 yards rushing, so that's positive, I think. If you can stay balanced, good things are going to happen for us, so that's been a positive.
Where we're at in terms of Le'Veon, I think Le'Veon averaged maybe 180 something (137.6 ypg.). So we are getting that and we're able to run the ball. A lot of that runs to our offensive line and the way we're doing things and the ability to take the pressure off with certain other thing that's we're doing relative to passing or some of these other things that we're doing where the tailback does not get the ball.
Q. You mentioned the similarities with Darrell Hazell and obviously Jim Bollman is one of them. Can you talk about what that process was like to get him from Purdue when he was there? And what the unique situation is having served on that staff for a little bit of time.
COACH DANTONIO: I don't think he was there very long, first of all. Secondly, Coach Bollman and I are very close, as he probably is with Coach Hazell, because they were on the same staff for 10 years. But Coach Bollman has been at Michigan State for four, so he understands Michigan State. He knows the traditions here. So I think there was a feeling of comfort when he decided to come back here. He knew what he was going to be working for. He knew a lot of coaches on our staff. Mark Staten was his graduate assistant at Ohio State when he was there. It was just a process of being comfortable. The fact that it was Michigan State I think made it...it wasn't easy for him to do, but I think it was something that he felt like at this point in time in his life was the direction that he wanted to go. I was thrilled with his decision.
Q. Did the punt return, it looked like Macgarrett Kings Jr. was smothered, and I don't know how much of that had to do whether you were rushing or setting up return. Then the second thing, one of the statistical anomalies is the yards per completion for Michigan State has been really low. Is that a byproduct of the scheme or is that for lack of explosive plays?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, to answer the first question, we had a sun issue on the punt return. He had a sun issue. However, he's got to get his feet set and can't catch a punt on the run. You can catch them on the run, but you better not catch too many on the run because you're going to fumble some. He had his hands out of place. He's got great hands, he's got great skills, and he's had success running the ball back. I think he needed a fair catch, first of all. Not that it would have made any difference if it gets lost in the sun.
But we were in punt safe so there was no return set up. He should have fair caught the ball or let it bounce if he lost it. That's experience. However, when you look at the five fumbles that we've lost as a football team, we lost three on punt returns, and that just should not be happening. In every situation it put our defense in an adverse situation. Especially against Indiana. We ran eight plays and we had to get right back on the field at the 40 and now play again at that fast speed. It was tough to do and we didn't succeed at it. Got to succeed at it, but we didn't.
We've just got to work more, be more effective teachers in that area, and then put it on the player. We made a change back there. If we have to make another change, that's what we'll do. So pressure is on.
In regard to the yards per catch, I think it is a situation where we didn't have explosive plays early in the season, and that's what we kept talking about, and talking about. And really, the last two games we've had them. Even the game against Western (Michigan) we only had a couple. But I think that's where that statistic falls into place is that if you evaluate what is the catch, yards for completion over the last two games, I think you'd probably have a different number, completely different. So probably a little bit of the times we're going through, transition.
Q. You have a chance to go 5 0 at home. Was that a big deal that you guys talked about is reestablishing your home turf or did you consider last year more of an aberration anyway?
COACH DANTONIO: I considered last year sort of an incident. I don't think we lost the games. I think we ran out of time more often than not. We didn't lose our way. We didn't lose our home field advantage. Every time we came back to play, we were ready to play.
The opponents that we played, they have players too. The two preceding years we were 14 0 at home. We've always played very well at home. That's been a tradition here. We had a tough schedule and lose to an Ohio State team by one. Lose to Nebraska by four, and I think Northwestern by three, and Iowa in double overtime. So we lost four very close games. The Notre Dame game I, how would you say, an aberration? I think that means bad (smiling).
We have great fan support here, always a big crowd. Our players are here in front of their families. There are a lot of reasons to play. They're comfortable here, and there are a lot of reasons to play very, very well here. I don't think we've discouraged people. In the past six years we've been pretty successful here, so we'll try to continue that success.
Q. When Riley was moved to fullback, what allowed Delton to take that job? Do you expect him to get a bigger role with these games?
COACH DANTONIO: So much playing running back is about catching the football and about pass protection. We just felt like Delton was a little bit ahead of Gerald (Holmes) in that capacity. Gerald Holmes can be a very good football player. You see him on the scout field. He's got quick hands, he's got burst, he's got vision, he's going to be excellent.
At this point in time though, I felt we needed a guy that we felt we are able to offset what we do with Langford and Hill. We're hoping to get that with Riley. He faded a little bit. He's a very good football player. But we had to make him a running back. Those were our hopes. But when we started transitioning and allowed the two to compete a little bit, Delton became the guy, so we went in that direction. I think he's played well. The two games, if you look at the fourth quarter against Iowa, I believe, maybe he ends up with (32) yards, and he has almost 100 yards this week. I think he's been productive. We've gotten what we want out of him. He's tough, and he runs behind his pads.
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