Oct. 22, 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 win over Purdue and previewed this week's game at Illinois.
The Spartans (6-1, 3-0 Big Ten) travel to Illinois (3-3, 0-2) on Saturday, Oct. 26 to face the Fighting Illini at 3:30 p.m. ET in Memorial Stadium; the game will be televised on ABC (ESPN2 reverse mirror).
The following is a complete transcript from Tuesday's press conference:
COACH DANTONIO: Real quick, looking forward to the opportunity to go over and play at Illinois this weekend. Obviously as we go down the stretch, as we said the other day, go down the stretch every game, there's a little something more at stake. I think that's good for the focus for our football team. We need to continue to handle adversity as we move through this, through this season, and handle success, as well. And I think right now the aspect of handling success is as important as anything.
Illinois, 3-3 right now. I think they're an improving football team. Coach Beckman is a guy that I've known for a little bit. He's a former coach at Ohio State after I had left there, a long time defensive coordinator it seemed like at Oklahoma State, and obviously had great success at the University of Toledo. Defensive coach by trade, which I can identify with that a little bit.
Coach Cubit, being from Western Michigan, obviously has got their offense going, and special teams they cause a lot of problems. Young on defense, but obviously look for improvement in that area. We will look to go over there. It'll be a great challenge for us, and I'll just take some questions.
Q. What exactly does their offense do, and how similar is it to what you saw with Western Michigan?
COACH DANTONIO: I think they give you a lot of different aspects of personnel groupings. They're going to be a no huddle team but a little slower tempo obviously than Indiana. But they're going to do different things from five wide receivers in the backfield to your traditional sets and some sets where they're going to put five offensive linemen on one side of the field. So they're going to create problems that you're going to have to work on, and then there are obviously a lot of things that are common offensively, as well, basic plays, powers and things of that nature, too. But I think it's very well tied together. There are similarities with what he did at Western, I think, as well as I think new things that they've been able to do.
I think Scheelhaase is an established quarterback, a guy that can get out of problems and run with the ball. Obviously he's run a lot of option in the past, so there is some type of quarterback runs there, as well. They have the other guy that they put in, Bailey, as well, that provides them a little bit more of a wildcat type situation, and then also I think their wide receivers are talented.
Q. Do you get the sense that teams, opposing offenses in particular, get up more for your defense because of the attention it's received, being ranked No. 1 and all that? Illinois players have talked about that this week, Purdue talked about it a little bit last week.
COACH DANTONIO: I think everybody gets ready for a challenge, and when you come up here and you sit there and talk at an interview, you're going to try and identify what are your challenges and where is your focus at and everything. There's no question we're playing very well as a defensive unit. We lead the Big Ten in a lot of different capacities, a lot of different areas, nationally ranked in a lot of different areas.
But our focus is on our football team right now. Offensively we've got to throw the ball a little bit more effectively, I think, but possession times and different things that we're doing offensively, turnovers and those type of things, sacks, we're doing very well at. So we need to continue to protect our quarterback, allow him to develop, and then run the ball effectively.
And then special teams we've got to be superior. You're going to have to work on a lot of different things with special teams there because they're going to give you a variety of sets, different things that they do, whether it's the muddle huddle at the extra point conversions or their alignments on kickoffs or they've got a good punt return game. They've got good players back there and do some good things there and create some situations on punt, as well.
So you're going to have to spend time in those areas and make sure that you're not out flanked basically.
Q. You've talked about not wanting to ever get back in a position with a backup quarterback with no experience. I know you mentioned to Damion Terry before he got on campus, whoever won No. 1 didn't really matter, you were going to make sure you played No. 2. That has not happened. Has it been a change in philosophy with you or a change in circumstance?
COACH DANTONIO: I think it's been circumstance. You never really can fully anticipate who's going to be your guy because things are going to play out. So it's just been the way things have happened. I think we have a quarterback who has a lot of experience in Andrew Maxwell, so there certainly is experience there. I don't think we have to play him to give him experience. Tyler O'Connor would be a different fit in that capacity, but then you're playing with two young quarterbacks. Didn't really want to play with two young quarterbacks. So I think that's the way we tried to handle it. And really, games are close. It's tight.
Q. Does that concern you about next season?
COACH DANTONIO: I'm putting all our efforts right now into this season, and that's all a concern as we go, but the biggest concern was having a senior be our starting quarterback with nobody else playing. As long as we have experience coming back at the quarterback position, I think that that's a positive.
Q. I know that as a coach you try to stress the positive. We ask questions about the other things. I'm wondering if the 6-1 record, leading the division, masks some of the offensive struggles or how much of a concern that is to you legitimately as you move forward?
COACH DANTONIO: Any time you have any problems I think on your football team, you're going to want to try and address those problems. I don't care what it is. They (Purdue) ran the football a little more effective in the game the other day. We're going to address those issues. You're constantly trying to put together your best football team on every given Saturday, and that's our focus. Does it mask the problems that we're having a little bit offensively? I don't know. 6-1 is 6-1. At the end of the day in 2011, they only ask one question: How many games you won, where did that take you to. Really how good was our defense relative to our good was our offense that year? You guys may remember. I don't remember as much.
But I know what we have to do to win, and so we have to play things close to the vest. That's what we do. If we have to win 13 10, that's what we do. If we have to win 43 40, that's what we'll do. I think you have to play off each other in how the game is proceeding, too, in the game that's going on. We have to take the air out of the ball and run the football, then that's what we have to do to beat Purdue. It is as it is. Sometimes you're going to get hot.
I think that we were off a little bit in our passing game obviously, and because of that I think the score was a little bit closer. We could have had a couple big plays in the passing game, there's no question of that. If we do that maybe we pass a little bit more and we have some other things happen for us.
But I still think we have a good football team if that's what you're asking, and I think we can play with anybody on our schedule and beat anybody on our schedule. I don't think we go into this game or any other game saying, in my mind, that we're an underdog. But we'll see how it all plays out.
Q. There was a play, they had had some success running the ball, and they ran a toss sweep and Max had just went out, and Denicos Allen took on the ball carrier, delivered a real big hit to hold it to like third-and-2 and then the quarterback sneak didn't work for them and then the field goal didn't work. That hit might have saved you three points. Can you talk about Denicos Allen as a senior? Talk about recruiting him as a wrestler and did you see that kind of personality early on?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, Denicos Allen as a player in high school, Hamilton High School, Jim Place was his coach and Jim Place and I go way back. He was Paul Harker's coach. He was Javon Ringer's coach. He's done a tremendous job with all his players as people. So I knew we were getting a good person, first of all. I knew we were getting a guy that could play winning football. He played linebacker but he was a little bit sized more of a defensive safety, so we recruited him here as being a safety, he was red shirted his first year because of a knee problem but then we moved him to linebacker, and really he's been a dominant player since then. He was the Southwest Ohio, in the entire southwest part of Ohio, all Cincinnati, all Dayton, player of the year defensively as a high school senior. I think he finished second in the state in wrestling. I don't know what he benches, 430? He runs 4.5. He's a player. He started as a special teams player for us and then just developed into an outstanding player really in the 2011 season, I believe, and he's done nothing but positive things for us. He's got a knack for being around big plays. He's an extremely tough guy, and I do think (Mike) Tressel wrestled him in his recruiting visit (laughing)...He's a great player and has made a lot of plays for us. He's one of ours.
Q. I want to ask you more about Max. He was Big Ten defensive player of the week. Talk about him overall and how he's played this year and what he means to the defense.
COACH DANTONIO: Well, he's a centerpiece for our football team. He's a very controlling figure, has been a three year starter now, played on special teams as a true freshman in 2010. He knows our defense inside and out. He knows it as well as our coaches. What he does is his fits are very good, his fits in his gap, takes on offensive linemen, creates situations where the ball has to bounce. He doesn't get washed down the field too often. He's very good in pass coverage. He's got great hands, and he's a very controlling person. He's a very communicative person.
You need that at the Mike linebacker. He's a great blitzer, obviously. We blitz him a lot. We blitz a lot, period. But I think he's all over the field, and the bigger the game, the better he's going to play usually. Because of his past here and the traditions that are held in his family, this is very, very important to him. He's done an outstanding job for us.
Q. Bennie Fowler again at the top of the depth chart. Are you hoping to have him this week?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, hoping to have him. We'll see this week how it plays out. I guess you'd say he's questionable, but we expect him to practice, so we'll see how it goes.
Q. Can you just talk about I guess the trap element of this game? Obviously the Michigan game is lurking, a lot of people can see that in the state. Illinois is a team that on the surface wouldn't seem to pose much of a threat, but Purdue didn't seem to, either. How do you guard against that, and do you think your team needs to play better to win this week than it played against Purdue?
COACH DANTONIO: A lot of questions there. I would say, first of all, hopefully we understand as we move through the process here, you have got to be able to handle success. You've got to get yourself ready to play the very next game. We're going to find out more about that as we go in and practice this week and see what our players and get a feel from our players, but you just never know. Are your players too loose? Are they too uptight? I don't know. I almost quit trying to figure that out. I look in their eyes and see if there's focus. We might be overly focused sometimes and play tight.
We know we have to go to Champaign and play. We'll be with our players, our football team the entire day. I think that's good for us. I think it's good for us at this point in the season to go away and play because of the focus that will be gathered as we do move away. We look forward to that opportunity and that challenge.
We have to play better to improve as a football team. We need to be playing our best football as we get into November, so I would think it's very, very important here at the end of October to play our very best football team and then the next game needs to be our best and the next game needs to be our best and we have to continue to do that. That might sound a little bit coach talk, but I really believe that you have to play your best football in the month of November, and if you're going to go to the championship game, which that's our goal, and win the championship, which that's our goal, then you'd better be playing your best football towards the end.
I think we were improving as a football team. Did we take a step back this last week? Probably. In some cases we did, in other cases, even offensively, in other cases we took a step forward. Langford has his best day as a Spartan. So there are positives that we can look at in every respect, and there's also going to be negatives. We got a shutout (against a Big Ten opponent), first time since '99. Did we play our best defensive game? Probably not.
So it just depends on how we look at it and what we have to do. But that's why we're coaching and we're just going to try and identify problems and solve those problems as we move through the process here.
But I can tell you that our football team will be motivated. Now, does that mean we're going to play well? It doesn't guarantee it, but we'll be motivated.
Q. Do you think Lawrence Thomas is any closer to getting back on the field this week, and is part of him, aside from the conditioning and everything, not being able to get on the field, a result of so much depth that you guys have this year with Drone and Scarpinato, Knox, all these guys rotating in?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I hope LT sees the field very soon. You know, he missed August. When you miss August and you miss most of September, you're missing a lot of the grind. So you don't have that part of your game down. It's a physical game inside there. There are 300 pound people pushing on each other and snapping on each other. So that's part of the football game. We've got to get him some live reps. I think we've got to get him some live reps this week and we've got to see him come on.
But there's no question he should be a valuable member of our football team, and I keep trying to push the issue, but at the end of the day that's his deal. He's got to show what he can do in practice, and we've got to open it so that we feel like it's safe for him to go out and play and that he can be a productive player on the field, as well, because when you stick him inside, if you get doubled and knocked off the ball, then you're in Max Bullough's lap.
Those type of things exist. Those are real things. That is not something that is made up. Those situations are going to exist on a football field, and you've got to play for them. But he's certainly talented enough, and I do think he's been practicing for the last two or three weeks, but that's not...he missed August and September. So just to come back in and pop yourself back in there and say, I'm back, it's not quite that easy up front.
Q. You talked about motivation. Is there more motivation this year with all the scrutiny, the offense, in a lot of ways the team was under early on and just the way that first month sort of went?
COACH DANTONIO: No, I don't think there's any more scrutiny than there ever is, is there? What are we talking about? There's always scrutiny. That's just the way the world is built now. You can look at every aspect of life right now. I do think that we're more resilient - that's how I would term it, that we're able to handle it a little bit easier. We went through some tough times last year, we lost some close games. I would think our players understand that and can move forward with that aspect of it.
What matters to us is the people in our little bubble. I have to really tell you that right now in our worlds, there's not too much outside of that bubble. I turn on CNN every now and then, okay, but that bubble exists, and it exists everywhere in the country right now. It exists in Champaign, as well. It's very hard to recognize what's going on outside and what's going on inside. You don't read everything. You read some things, you hear some things, some things irritate you, some things make you happy. I don't know which is better to be honest with you.
But what you need to understand is you need to find reality and what is reality to you what exists as reality to you, you need to try and improve that reality. That's what we try and do.
Q. Is there an update on Jairus Jones?
COACH DANTONIO: He's not practicing yet. He thinks he'll practice maybe the bye week, but I just don't know. I would think that he's a late season guy if we get him back. That's probably the best I can see. But right now he's not in pads. I think that's the fair thing to say. But when I asked him last week, he thought he'd be ready for the bye week, so we'll see.
Q. You talked about when breaking red shirts about how many games in is really fair. Now that you're seven games in with LT at some point do you have to start thinking about a red shirt?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, it would have to be a sixth year for him, a medical sixth year. But if LT is what I think LT is, I don't think he'd make six years. I think he'll have graduated, and I think he'll be ready to go play at the next level. That's my opinion. My plan is to use LT. If he can't play dominant football, we don't just want to throw him in there. That's something we have talked about. But two years from now he's going to be a fifth-year senior, he will have graduated. I just think at that point in time he's probably saying, hey, I'm going to go. But that might not be the case, but that would be my initial thought.
Q. Have you ever had a player like R.J. Shelton, sort of the way you're using him like a Percy Harvin kind of guy?
COACH DANTONIO: I think he's a player that I sort of liken to Devin Thomas in some ways, when Devin was here, and I only had one year with Devin, but I think he's a strong runner, he's got tailback type ability, can catch the ball very fluidly. He's learning to become a wide out, but last week he played more wide out than he's played, so initially we got him in in a couple plays. It doesn't mean he was going to get the ball, but we got him in there a little bit. But I think he's a big game breaker, and he could be a game changer. It's exciting that he's out there.
The thing that's really exciting when you see him is he's not intimidated by the situation at all. I mean, he is ready to go. You see him in that football game, he reminds me of Edwin Baker, and Edwin Baker was all in as a freshman and beyond that. When you look into his eyes, he's going to compete, and that's as big a transition that you have to make from high school to college as anything. You can't be afraid of the situation that you're in.
Q. Why do you move him to wide receiver during fall camp?
COACH DANTONIO: What I thought was we had three tailbacks that were young at that point in time playing, and let's see how he catches the ball, and I put him over there with the wide outs for a day and saw how he caught the ball and how he was able to snatch it. So we started building on that. So that was the process.
He still has the tailback ability, but he catches the ball like a wide out and runs routes like a wide out, so I mean, I think he's growing, and that learning curve is a big learning curve. Every practice, he gets better. Every game, he gets better. I think he's going to be an outstanding player here for us.
Q. I haven't heard much about Jamal Lyles in the past few weeks. How are you feeling about him and the tight end position as a whole at this point?
COACH DANTONIO: I feel good about our tight end position. We play four of them, so you just sort of put them in there. He's growing, I think, fundamentally as a tight end. He's proven he can catch the ball and do some different things run blocking. But he didn't play as much last week as he had the preceding weeks. The reasons for that is - I ask the same question, but it is what it is right there. But he's a good player for us, red shirt freshman, should prove to be a very, very good tight end for us. He's got great ball skills.
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