Oct. 19, 2010
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 Northwestern.
The No. 8/8 Spartans (7-0, 3-0 Big Ten) travel to Northwestern (5-1, 1-1) to take on the Wildcats Saturday, Oct. 23 at 12 p.m. ET. The game will be televised on ESPN.
The following is the complete transcript from Tuesday's press conference:
COACH DANTONIO: Very, very quickly, just looking back at Illinois, I thought our guys showed a great amount of maturity in bouncing back the second half, playing through some adverse situations.
Now we go to week eight. Exciting opportunities present themselves as we move forward. (It will) be a great challenge this week against Northwestern. Extremely well coached football team. I think they have great concepts. They are very well conditioned when you look at them. They play to win. Their players are extremely competitive. I think Pat Fitzgerald has done an outstanding job there.
They're a 5-1 football team. They're a football team that returns quite a few players, (they played in the) Outback Bowl against Auburn from the SEC, 5-1 football team that lost a very close game to Purdue a couple weeks ago, had a week off to prepare.
When you look at them, I think there certainly is a challenge there. When you look at them defensively, Mike Hankwitz is their defensive coordinator. Mike was at Purdue University when I was a graduate assistant there on the defensive side of the ball. He's been a coordinator at a variety of places: Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, Wisconsin. Outstanding coach. Very meticulous. He's going to have us very well scouted in terms of what we do.
They return seven starters on their defensive side of the ball. Brian Peters, their free safety, is their leading tackler. Corbin Bryant, defensive tackle, and Vince Browne, defensive end, are probably their headline guys.
When you look at them offensively, you have (Dan) Persa as an outstanding quarterback, accounting for nearly 2,000 yards already this year. He's fifth (nationally) in total offense and fourth in passing efficiency. Drake Dunsmore, Jeremy Ebert are their top two receivers. Again, they have about six starters back, three starters on the offensive line back as well.
Very well coached on special teams. Sort of cutting edge I think on special teams in a lot of ways. But an outstanding football team and it will be a challenge for us.
When you look at our last three games versus Northwestern, they've all been very, very close. As we move through this one, we'll expect the same thing. Outstanding opportunity presents itself for us in Chicago this weekend. 12 p.m. kickoff. We'll look to be ready.
I'll just take some questions.
Q. Coach, how important has it been to have Dan Conroy performing the way he has all season?
COACH DANTONIO: Certainly I think when you look at your kicker, when I look at the seven years I've been a head football coach, when I look at my past as an assistant coach, if you have a great kicker who is doing very well, chances are you're winning football games. I think that's very crucial, especially in this day and age when the games are so close and come down to times at the end.
Dan has been perfect thus far. He's extremely competitive, a hard worker. Very, very happy for him. He's been a big, big factor in our record thus far, certainly this past weekend, kicking four field goals.
Q. At this point in the season, you're still looking game by game because anything can happen. With more talk of Big Ten titles, I'm sure it has to come up in some way that the goal is getting closer. How do you manage talking about that but still keeping everyone on track to focus on the upcoming game?
COACH DANTONIO: We've done a pretty good job thus far focusing on one game at a time. We're sort of starting to get into a little bit of unchartered territory here. I think it's important that our players understand the difference. I think they do.
When you look at our past seasons here, you could have said, `They could have been 10-2 had they won the close games. It could have swung the other way.'
Nobody is going to take any football team we play for granted, especially this weekend going to Chicago. We've had very, very close games with them.
Again, I think our leaders on our football team have to do that. Every week I can stand up and say whatever I want to our football team prior to a football game, but you have to get yourself ready. Usually that comes from the ground level, which is players on the field. We've done a nice job with that.
But this will be a challenge. It's another challenge. When you look at them, it's another different scheme that we have to prepare for. You play Wisconsin. They do this offensively. You play Michigan. They do this. You come back and you play an Illinois team. Little more option, power football game in a different way.
Now you're going to Northwestern. Speed up offense, no huddle. They're different than Michigan. There's a lot of different things you have to prepare for. It will be a challenge.
Q. Talk about how you've seen Tyler Hoover come along in his performance on Saturday.
COACH DANTONIO: Very impressed. Tyler is a hard worker. He's a pleaser, a giver as a person. He's got great size, almost 6'7", 265 or so. But was very active this last week. He's getting much better at pass rushing, getting his hands up, big frame to throw over, and he runs pretty well. He will only continue to get better. He's really in two and a half years of playing football at this point. One and a half actually playing, because he redshirted his first year.
Very exciting. Exciting he has two more years after this one.
Q. We talked to you before the BCS standings came out. Can you talk about where Michigan State is and your responsibilities as a top-seven team?
COACH DANTONIO: I heard about it from Monday. I refrained from looking at that Sunday night because I want to stay focused.
I think it's a good moment. It's a moment that you can be happy with. But I believe that football teams are measured over the course of 12 games. Right now we're a 7-0 football team. If we falter, we're a 7-5 football team. You have to keep things in perspective, not get too elated, too dejected as you move through the process here.
You have to restack the deck every time you play a football game, especially in this conference. In this conference, you're going to play a pretty good football team every single week. I don't think there's any football team you can throw your hat out there and say, `We're going to win.' The games are too close, too many good players, too many guys that can make big plays on you, vice versa on defense.
My response has been, remember where we came from. There's still work to do. We'll assess. We can be happy at the end of the season one way or the other. Right now we have work to do.
Q. You obviously played one big road game. This will be your first trip outside the state. Talk about the routine for this week, getting your guys prepared to play the next two on the road.
COACH DANTONIO: We've been fortunate when we did play down at Michigan there were a lot of Spartan fans there, enough to be heard. So I think the same will be true in Chicago this weekend because we have such a strong alumni base there. That's the way it's usually been.
So we'll get ready to go. Three and a half hour trip. We'll bus it over on Friday, get ready to play. But it's not the normal preparation that you have here. If you're going to be Big Ten champions, if you have a shot to do that, you have to win on the road....we'll continue to get ready to go and see what happens.
Q. Coach, I want to know if you plan to be on the field for this game. Also, when you start talking about the realm of history with the teams in the mid-'60s, I know you don't want to look ahead, but thinking about that, that's pretty neat stuff.
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, as far as myself being on the field, that remains to be seen basically until I move through the process of this week and see. I'm feeling much better, walking much better. Again, I still have to, I feel, be able to go through a two and a half hour practice on the field and be able to not just stand around but be able to operate and function in that two and a half hour realm. That's about what a game is, three, three and a half hours.
But it may be something where you sort of ease into it down there some and up top some, something like that. But we'll make the call probably at game time on that.
As far as comparing ourselves to those teams in the '60s, I've always thought since coming here that there's a lot of history here. There's a lot of tradition here. I've always pointed to that tradition to our players and tried to make that type of analogy, equating what true success is.
To be able to have a record that at this point in time that steps back to era, I think it's a statement for this football team. But it's not an end statement; it's not the end game. We have to be careful with that.
I want our players to know about the past. I want them to know who those players were. That's why we've have some honorary captains. Jimmy Raye was outstanding. He represented that football team. That was a different time, a different age. So many of those players were first round picks. So we won't compare ourselves to that era at this point in time. Someday we hope to be there.
Q. Illinois had a pretty strong defensive front. Where is the offensive line at now? Does that help their confidence in a strange way?
COACH DANTONIO: I think it points toward a little bit of redemption for them. They understand what they have to do. They understand what mistakes they made. Some of it may have been physical. Again, I always point to mistakes, say were they mental, physical or structural. Somewhere in between there, all three of those things happened. We had some missed assignments. We had some points there where we were physically beaten. Then we had some points where they ran the right pressure that disrupted our running play. That was structure. Somewhere in between there lies the truth.
But I think what our offensive line will look for is redemption. Coming off that field on Saturday when we went to 7-0, John Stipek is walking off of the field telling me, `Coach, this is not going to happen again.' He was not elated about the win. He was talking about the performance, his performance, the performance of our offensive line. He knew at that point in time what had happened, was clearly bothered by it. I think the rest of our players were, as well.
Look for respect, redemption. That's fleeting a lot of times. I think respect is very fleeting in this day and age. We have to continue to try and gain that.
Q. Mark, when you look at your team and how they came out against what I think is the best defense you played all year in Illinois, how do you continually keep them motivated, this is a whole different defense, to keep them on their toes, not equating everyone the same?
COACH DANTONIO: Our coaches do a great job. Systematically, a lot of the fundamentals remain the same, how to back pedal, how to tackle. But conceptually and systemically, every defense is different. This is a defense that is more of an under defense, which is a four man front, but they put an outside linebacker to the tight end on the edge, two linebackers stacked off. A little bit systematically different. There's different preparation there.
Again, I think our football team, especially our offense, they recognize when we play well and when we need to get better. I think you reach back and try to reaffirm yourself a little bit.
Hopefully that's what our guys will do. I don't think anybody is sitting in that locker room right now, when we get over there to practice today, saying, `We've done all this, we're all that.' We're not built that way. Our players have not been built that way. The games are too close.
I think our players understand we've gotten to where we've gotten through hard work. That's where I go back and say, `Remember what's got us to where we're at.' Let's not get ahead and think we're all that. We're not there yet. We're winning football games, but it's a collective effort.
Q. You talked about leadership. Two guys, captains last year, (Kirk) Cousins and (Greg) Jones, seem to be different. How different are they? Is it being more comfortable in their second year, being older players?
COACH DANTONIO: I think whenever you're put in positions of leadership, especially for the first time, whether you're a first year captain or head coach or coordinator, you're put in a position of leadership. You sort of feel your way through that a little bit the first year. The second year you're able to feel much more at ease with that situation and you're able to sort of critique yourself a little bit and say, `If I've got to do this over again, I'm going to do this this way.'
I think that's what those guys have done a little bit. They're more at ease with their leadership stature, I guess you'd say, on our football team. I think it's been cultivated a little bit. The things we've done in meeting with our players once a week collectively, the things we've done with our players electing 12 people, then us adding an additional five younger players, meeting with them once a week really throughout the whole second semester, pretty much through the summer, this season, has sort of cultivated our leadership maybe a little bit, not just with those two guys but with other players as well. I think it's a positive.
Q. Have you had that before anywhere you've been?
COACH DANTONIO: No, I've never had that before. I don't know where I really heard about it or got it. I just thought that we needed - I felt like we needed to meet more together. It just couldn't be about, `Hey, what color socks are we wearing today?' It had to be a little bit more of substance. We had to have it take place, and we have it take place when we meet in our main staff room where our coaches sit. I talk to them about, when you sit in this room, you sit in a room where decisions are being made. The people that make decisions on this program at the highest level sit in those chairs you're sitting in, offensive line coach, defensive coordinator, offensive coordinator, they're sitting in that room as well now, and they're in that same situation. I want to empower them and help make them decisions at the highest level that they can as a player.
I think there's a sense of responsibility with that. That's what we'll try to do. Just collectively get better, critique what we do, collectively get better.
Q. You talk about waiting till the end of a season to see where teams stand. A lot of you coaches are also asked every week to assess where things stand with a ballot. How do you handle that? Is it awkward? Would you just as soon not have to do that every week?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I mean, what do you really know? Really, who am I watching? I love Bobby Stoops, but am I watching Oklahoma every weekend? How do I know how good they are? They have a coaches' poll. I can assess Big Ten teams. It's hard to assess all these other football teams unless I watch them on TV, dipping a Dorito, eating something.
How do you know? You don't really know. How does a sportswriter really know? Until you actively play those football teams, you really don't know who they are. So you do your best I think to recognize this team's beaten this team. I saw Boise State beat Virginia Tech. That was a great football game. They're a very good football team.
All these things are, I think, estimates as to the strength of the football teams. I think toward the end of the season, you probably get the most real look because all the focus is on those particular teams, so you maybe notice them a little bit more.
But I don't have time to read the USA Today every day and read about every football team out there or go into all these websites and look to see who's doing what, that type of thing. I can only assess things and look at the NCAA stats and say, So and so has a good defense, that's why they're winning. But you really don't know.
Q. Would you rather not have a say?
COACH DANTONIO: No, I think you want to have a say. With that being said, I think you want to have a say. You take the coaches out of it, then you're only listening to sportswriters - no offense - and then the computers. It's not a fail safe way to do it. Probably the best way is probably to have a playoff system of some sort because then that plays out at the end.
But that's tough, too, with the Bowl game scenarios, the amount of commerce that Bowl games bring to a particular city, and then also just the time spent and how long the season would become. You would play 15 games if you did it like I-AA football in the past.
Q. With (Tyler) Hoover, (William) Gholston, (Darqueze) Dennard, how much have you been impressed with the youth on this team?
COACH DANTONIO: We've had great recruiting classes in the top 25. When you get in the top 25, I don't know how they really rate them. But you've got a shot to have good players on your football team. We're developing depth. Those young players are starting to play. We're shaping up again this year to have another great recruiting class it looks like on paper.
But very important to build your football team with depth because somebody's going to get hurt, somebody's going to have an issue, something is going to happen where a guy is not playing, and somebody has to step in and play up, play to that level, that championship type level, Big Ten level that we need to win. That's what's happening.
These guys like (Tyler) Hoover, William Gholston, Darqueze (Dennard), Max Bullough is playing some a little bit, red-shirt freshmen out there playing. Every chance they get on the field they get better because there is a difference in practice as opposed to the game. The game, things are happening a lot faster. There's a lot more on the line in terms of the consequences, in terms of how they play.
I think it's been a fundamental reason why we've been successful, is because we are developing depth. We have good young players and they're coming.
Q. There's no update on (Chris L.) Rucker until later in the week, is that correct?
COACH DANTONIO: That would be correct.
Q. You said last week that you've been in the booth most of your career, no big deal, but not as a head coach. I'm wondering if there's a part of you that gets frustrated up there because you don't have control of the team, or do you have more control because you see the game differently and you don't have to deal with all the falderal on the sidelines?
COACH DANTONIO: I would say from a coaching perspective - coaching - I probably have more control because I see the field completely. When you step back away from anything, you make better decisions. I think when you are able to slow the game down, that's what I've always said to players, if you can slow the game down a little bit, you're going to be a better player.
That's what you can do from the press box. You can sort of step back and say, `10 yard gain, about that big.' But when you're on the sideline, things are happening much faster. There's emotion there. So you want to be involved in that, as well. You want to be able to address players when there's an issue.
But we've got a great staff. We've been together for quite a while. That hasn't been a problem. Really in the last two weeks, I've been able to sit up there, we want to do this, we want to do that. If I had something I want to get to a coordinator, assistant coach, player, I pick up a headset, whatever.
The program systematically, when you've been together that long, as the game starts, things start to happen, it starts to run itself. I've tried to keep normalcy to be in the locker room till the very end before the game, but at halftime I'll come up earlier. I'll miss plays as opposed to missing the interaction with the players as far as what I normally do.
As far as being on the sideline, I miss being on the sideline some. There's a part of me, I'm okay in the booth because I've been there so long. It's not a problem. Has not been a problem one way or the other.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, coach.
COACH DANTONIO: Thanks, guys. Appreciate it.
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