Oct. 18, 2011
EAST LANSING, Mich. - Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio held his weekly press conference Tuesday inside the Spartan Club at Spartan Stadium to preview the upcoming matchup against No. 4/4 Wisconsin.
The No. 15/13 Spartans (5-1, 2-0 Big Ten) and Badgers (6-0, 2-0) will kick off at 8 p.m. in Spartan Stadium on Saturday. The game is being televised on ESPN.
"I think it's a classic match up when you look at them offensively and us defensively right now," said Dantonio, as the Spartans rank No. 2 in the nation in total defense and the Badgers rank No. 1 in the FBS in scoring offense with 50.2 points a game.
"Spartan Stadium, our crowd, and a night game will provide excitement," Dantonio said. "I think Wisconsin will naturally provide excitement because it's a big game for us and for everyone involved."
In this week's national polls, the Spartans moved up to 13th in the USA TODAY Coaches Poll and 15th in The Associated Press Poll following their 28-14 victory over Michigan. Michigan State has earned a Top 25 national ranking in the USA TODAY Poll for 21 consecutive weeks.
In the initial Bowl Championship Series standings released Sunday night, the Spartans are ranked 16th, and the Badgers are sixth.
The following is a complete transcript of Tuesday's press conference:
COACH DANTONIO: In regards to the football game, very excited about our fourth straight win over the University of Michigan, and when you think about that, you start talking about our seniors, and they're really creating quite a legacy for themselves in terms of that aspect. Kirk Cousins, he's the first quarterback ever here who's won three straight times as the starting quarterback versus U of M. Also, with the things that they've done already in their careers here with last year's Big Ten Championship...My congratulations to them.
Obviously it was a very emotional game, but nothing will diminish the fact of how we played on Saturday in this big win for Michigan State.
Cousins, to follow up on him, with 21 wins now as the starter, ties the all time (Michigan State) record. I thought he played outstanding, especially on 3rd down, getting us in and out of the right plays at the line of scrimmage, just providing leadership leading up to the football game and throughout the game. Two TDs, no turnovers, wind conditions as they were; outstanding performance by Kirk.
I felt like we won up front on both sides of the ball, especially in the second half as the game wore on. Our offensive line helped contribute to 213 yards rushing and zero sacks, which is a huge statistic. And if you look at the Ohio State game and you look at this game that we just played, we've not given up a sack in two games. I'm not sure how many for the season right now, but played very, very well, and then the rushing yardage.
Defensively, seven sacks and gave up 82 yards. I know that's combining the sacks in there, but about 100 yards rushing without the sacks. So I felt like up front we controlled the line of scrimmage, which is what you have to do if you're going to win a football game.
Edwin Baker, great football game, 167 yards rushing. I felt like he was in a zone out there, ran through tackles, one touchdown. Big plays by Keshawn Martin, two TDs, and then I also thought Brian Linthicum comes up with a huge catch on the screen pass that gets us down there for the third time. Outstanding effort by our entire offense.
Defensively, obviously when you play Michigan you've got to shut down, or at least control - I would not say "shut down" is the word, I would say control, Denard Robinson. His ability to make a bad play and make it a good one was very evident early in the game on their first touchdown. But I do think we controlled him. Johnny Adams, huge play defensively, sudden change. I've already talked about controlling the game up front, applying pressure to the quarterback. Big interception obviously by Isaiah Lewis at the end of the game, and then as I said earlier, the sudden change situations with the wind being as it was, I thought it was huge that we were able to get out of there without scores.
All three phases of the football game, including special teams, played well and executed. Unsung heroes in the game with guys like Kevin Muma, big kick into the end zone. He had three kicks into the end zone with the biggest one into the wind after I guess our third score. And then Sadler with his punts, all of our holders and returners and those people all did a great job.
Beyond that I want to thank Nike publicly for the uniforms and what they were able to do in terms of just providing a little bit even more excitement to this football game, and I want to thank our crowd in terms of how they reacted at Spartan Stadium. I thought it was a very live atmosphere, and next game gets even bigger as you move into a night game at Spartan Stadium, with Game Day here against the University of Wisconsin.
Speaking of Wisconsin, fourth-ranked team. I think it's a classic match up when you look at them offensively and us defensively right now, they lead in almost every category, offensively the quarterback is doing a great job, two great running backs, strong offensive line, punt returner averages about 20 yards per punt return.
And then defensively, good football team. (Chris) Borland obviously is a guy, their linebacker, is a guy that is a very good player. Wisconsin, co champs Big Ten Conference last year. So it sets up a match up I think that is good for college football.
Q. How does it make you feel as a head coach when there are comments conveyed and written that you are coaching a quote "dirty" football team?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, you have to take into context, first of all; I think how we played here for the last 50-plus games, and that's how I would respond to that.
Q. Is it a matter of trying to get inside an opponent's head to try to make them think that you guys are going to be intimidating?
COACH DANTONIO: No, we're just playing the game as hard as we can play it. It's the physical game, it's the game of reaction. We're not talking about seconds to react, we're talking about tenths of seconds to react. This game is a game of collision, and anybody who does not understand that hasn't been out there. They haven't been down there on the sideline watching it up front. It's a tough, physical game. That's the way the game is supposed to be played. That's the way it's always played by the successful teams. I would say both teams played that out there this past week. They played extremely hard with a lot of emotion, and the key to this football game is composure, as well.
And as I said in here to our players when I talked to our players, the key to playing winning football is being energetic and enthusiastic over here and being all ready to go throughout the game, not just the beginning of the game, not a pre game talk but as the game progresses. And then over here, executing and being under control.
So that's what you have to do. That's what everybody does. They have to do that. A lack of composure is frustrating obviously, but we're not coaching that...I don't think that's been evident in this program.
Q. Obviously the number of penalties last week was a concern. Is there a way to cut down on those without curtailing the aggressiveness too much?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I guess you've got to try and cut down the penalties because penalties are going to hurt you. But we're the ones getting penalized, so we have to play with the results there. We somehow found our way out of those, but they're going to hurt us and ultimately cost us a football game if we don't clean those up.
Some of those are penalties like a horse collar, or a supposed horse collar, that are tough to deal with. Others are holding calls or whatever. Some are roughing the passer calls when guys are in the air. With a guy like Denard Robinson you have to go get him, because if you don't, he's out the gate. As you saw on the touchdown, we thought we had him in the sack and next thing you know he's in the end zone. He's very difficult. If you go up on him and jump, he's very likely to pull the ball down and tuck it and go. Difficult situation.
Q. I know you said last week it's hard to compare teams until the end of the season, but you've been around some very good defenses, thinking back to Ohio State and the National Championship team. Just wondering if you can compare this defense that you have to some of the better defenses that you've coached.
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think we can compare that at the end of the season, as I continue to say, and every week has its challenges. This week's challenge will be can we stop a two back running team with a big, powerful offensive line? They have two great tailbacks and a play action pass guy, and not just a play action pass guy but a quarterback that can throw it and run it, as well. So can we stop that football team? So that's the next challenge. We continue to answer our questions as we move forward.
But again, our players play extremely hard. They'll play with confidence. We have a system, and we understand the system as players and as coaches because we've got continuity in that system, and thus far we've been very successful.
Q. There's been discussion in the NFL with Mike Vick, Denard Robinson, guys who don't play the traditional quarterback position complaining about not getting enough flags. Does there have to be some look at the game when a guy is not a traditional pro style football and you've got to play him like a running back?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, we had to play Denard like a running back, no question about that. Because he is so good at what he does, you have to take away that part of the football game. That's very evident. If you look at him last year and this year, and really the majority of his time as a player at Michigan.
I don't know about the flags. I'm not talking about that. I just know that you'd better have a plan going in to be able to control those quarterback runs, and as with every football team that we've played, teams are tied together very well schematically. Coaches know what they're doing. They put him in tough positions to defend, and with formations and different blocking schemes, and it just intensifies and makes it even more difficult to stop him, and Michigan does that. They do a great job with him.
Q. You answered Drew's question, but just as a follow up, are you offended, insulted, defiant about how your program plays?
COACH DANTONIO: No, not at all. Very proud how our program plays.
Q. You're not insulted by that insinuation?
COACH DANTONIO: I've already answered the question.
Q. This isn't the first year you've developed a method for dealing with an emotional win or a tough loss. Do you have an approach or a certain way you go about these things? You're coming off an emotional win and going right back into another game that's going to require at least as much emotion?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, yeah, we've got to get our players back, try as much as we can to eliminate distractions, which is difficult obviously at times. And then get our guys to be loose again. I don't think you can play tight, I think you've got to have fun. I think you've got to be excited, emotional, like I said before, but you've got to keep the ability to execute, and you've got to have an attention to detail. You've got to have eye control, and you can't blow things mentally on the football field, and you've got to obviously make plays.
But we do it a little bit differently every week, and I think that if we continue to do something the same way, it becomes monotonous, and that's where problems occur. I think when you're monotonous at what you're doing, there's no freshness to it. We'll try and stay fresh and think of something else this week and sort of go from there.
Q. Are they doing anything different with Wilson being there, or is it still the same offense, they've just added him as a player?
COACH DANTONIO: I think they've incorporated him into the offense, but I think he gives them a little bit of different dimension because he's a different player. He doesn't run with the ball that much, but he can. But I just think he's a very smooth operator, and he's got great composure under the center and delivers the ball very nicely with a lot of rhythm and great confidence.
I think their quarterbacks in the past have done a great job, as well, as evidenced by I believe their quarterback from last year who's playing in the NFL this year. They've done a nice job.
Q. You mentioned that you were happy with the way your team corralled Denard Robinson. What made you so successful against him?
COACH DANTONIO: I think it's a combination of things schematically and then execution of the schematics. I thought we tackled in space, we have guys who can run, and he's going to get out in space, we've got guys who can run and track him down a little bit, at least corral him a little bit. With that being said, he still got out some. You saw that. He's just a difficult guy to defend. I think they have a great supporting cast around him, as well. But we played well.
Q. There's been a lot of attention obviously on the defense and how well they played, but do you think in the last couple games the offense quietly is getting close as they can to hitting on an all cylinders?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I think the offensive line has greatly improved in the last two games. Ohio State, very difficult front seven. This past week, two weeks to continue to improve and to gain more experience. That was our hope, that our players, our young players who had not played, (Fou) Fonoti, Dan France, Travis Jackson, those three guys in this case right now are starters. If they would continue to mature by midseason they would be playing like starters, and that's what you're seeing. I thought Dan France played with much more confidence in this game than he even had in the Ohio State game. I think the same thing with Fou and Travis Jackson coming off his ankle has helped. He made a great play on the goal line run. If you watch that run he gets off and is able to get to the linebacker.
So those guys are playing well, and then it's been steady play from our offensive guards and leadership from our offensive guards, Foreman and McDonald. I think that's what's transitioned our offense a little bit to being more productive. And I think the biggest stat is no sacks. If they're going to bring pressure, you can't get to them, good things are going to happen for the offense. And consequently if they're in four man pressure and you can hold them off, obviously you've got a chance, and Cousins is very good as I indicated earlier.
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I am starting to see that as a coach. We've got guys that I would describe as impact players. Denicos Allen has had two great games in a row, Chris Norman is really beginning to play well, really beginning to play like a seasoned player. He's playing loose. He had 10 tackles this past week, and then Max Bullough has been steady. "Steady" really is not the word. He's been good. He's a sophomore and he gets people lined up. He's a smash mouth type of linebacker, and I think he's playing very well, as well.
All three linebackers are playing well, and our secondary is playing pretty well. We get pressure from up front and we play a lot of guys.
Q. Mike Sadler has done very well his first year as a starter. Is that where trying to get those fair catches is going to become critical?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, he does a great job direction punting. He's got that ability. I think he's very skillful at what he does, so he has the ability to put it into the sideline or put it where he wants it, and that's going to be key where we're punting the football. It's not just punting, it's if it's going to drift to midfield and we're not thinking it's going to drift to midfield, bad things can happen. So he's gonna have to be on. They provide pressure, so it's going to be important we protect and cover.
Q. You talk about emotion this week, coming off the Michigan win, you've got this game day and night game. How do you manage that? Do you try to curtail that at all or try to let it go?
COACH DANTONIO: I think that's some of the things we talked about earlier. I think you have to play this game emotionally. That's part of the thing here. You have to. You can't go out there like it's practice because it's not practice. You have to play the game emotionally, so you have to get ready to go. I think Spartan Stadium, night game, Game Day being here, I'm not sure how that carries over, but Spartan Stadium and our crowd and a night game will provide excitement. I think Wisconsin will naturally provide excitement because it's a big game for us and for everyone involved.
But I also think that you can't be excited right now. You have to build toward that, and you have to time it. So hopefully our players will be able to do that and we can do some things to help in that way. But I want them to be loose and have fun with the excitement.
Q. It seems like this has turned into a pretty good rivalry lately going back to the close win in 2008. Does that just come from being two of the top teams in the conference or is there a little more there with this game?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think it's because in some ways we're somewhat similar in the fact that we want to run the football, the fact that we've had some good tailbacks playing for us. I think that historically may be the fact. But we've stayed the course, both football teams, since I've come back, and even before I was here, when Nick Saban was here and Coach Alvarez was coaching, they were two back football teams, so they sort of ran parallel to each other and they ran defense and they believe in toughness. They get their guys to play hard. We've had pretty good games with them since we've come back.
So probably maybe that's what makes this up, but I think the other things that go into this will be we're both playing winning football right now. We both have goals. We both have similar experiences last year in terms of the end result, in terms of our record. So maybe those things are comparable, as well.
Q. Do you have a different kind of a challenge against the Wisconsin offensive front with the Michigan State defensive front? Does that present a different kind of challenge?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, that's a different challenge, as I indicated earlier. More two back runs or one back zones, using a tailback, big offensive line, physical, play action passes, down the field play action passes to keep you loose, different sets, different formations. It's all completely different from what we just experienced. That's, I guess, the beauty of college football or the challenge of college football, that you have to adapt every week. There's a different offense or different defense coming at you every week. It's not a copycat league. There are 120 teams or so, so you don't see 32 teams and 16 of them or 17 of them do the same things. You have different variations of football being played different places by different programs. So I think that makes it even more challenging.
Q. Not asking about specific injuries, but how is the health of the team coming through that game?
COACH DANTONIO: Health of the team is very good coming through that game. Very good.
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