Oct. 26, 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 Iowa.
The No. 5/5 Spartans (8-0, 4-0 Big Ten) travel to No. 18/19 Iowa (5-2, 2-1) to take on the Hawkeyes Saturday, Oct. 30 at 3:30 p.m. ET. The game will be televised on ABC (ESPN reverse mirror).
The following is the complete transcript from Tuesday's press conference:
COACH DANTONIO: First of all, I think we've talked a little bit about Northwestern this past week. But pretty exciting game. Puts us in a position to move forward. That was the one thing we wanted to make sure we were able to do. Probably the next step is probably what we thought going into the season, one of our bigger challenges: going on the road to play at Iowa.
When you preview Iowa, first thing I think you got to look at is the last three years we played them, it's been a double overtime victory for them, a close victory for us on a fourth and one where Adam Decker makes the play down here as they're driving, and last year, missed the last play of the game. Been very, very close games.
We have a great amount of respect for their coaches, Coach (Kirk) Ferentz. Especially want to recognize Coach (Norm) Parker, Norm Parker, all the difficulties he's going through, our thoughts are with him.
Statistically when you look at Iowa, first of all I think you look at their defense, because I think it always starts with defense at Iowa. Outstanding front four, probably the best we'll see. (Adrian) Clayborn and (Broderick) Binns, Christian Ballard, (Karl) Klug, outstanding football players. Secondary, (Brett) Greenwood and (Tyler) Sash, (Shaun) Prater, they've all played for quite some time. Very established football players. Play very, very well.
Linebackers are somewhat new other than (Jeremiha) Hunter. But statistically when you look at them, they're pretty much the top defense one, two or three in the conference in almost every category. So it will be a challenge, a challenge for our offense playing in that environment.
When you look at playing in Chicago, when you look at playing in Michigan, when you look at playing at Florida Atlantic, that's a different away game than when you look at playing at Kinnick Stadium, a majority, certainly 95 percent of the people will be dressed in black and gold.
(Ricky) Stanzi, I think it starts with their quarterback. Excellent quarterback. Number one quarterback in passing efficiency in the conference. He's been playing for quite some time. He knows where to go with the ball. He's the guy that gets them set up, whether it's checks at the line of scrimmage, running the football or throwing it down the field, engineering a two minute drive or whatever the case. Outstanding quarterback in his own right.
(Derrell Johnson-Koulianos), all time leading receiver in Iowa history. Huge statement. Very exciting player, No. 15. (Marvin) McNutt, converted quarterback. Also very, very good player, a guy that they go to. Big receiver, makes big catches. Tight ends are very solid. (Running back) Adam Robinson is averaging 105 yards in the game. Fifth in the conference. Offensive line is solid, two starters back.
But a very good football team. Well coached football team. And they win the right way. I think they win with execution.
Special teams have been solid all year long. Very, very good other than the Arizona game. Very, very good. One of the top punters in the conference in Ryan Donahue.
Again, a great challenge for us, I believe. But we continue to look forward and focus on our next challenge, and that is the Iowa Hawkeyes.
I'll take questions.
Q. Kirk Cousins, you've talked a lot about leadership with this team. How good of a leader is he for this program? There's been a lot of talk about Denard Robinson and the Heisman. Is it time maybe Kirk's name comes up?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I'm not sure on the second question. Kirk Cousins was elected a captain his redshirt sophomore year. He got the most votes, a vote that was taken twice. It spoke volumes to me about his leadership and his character at that point in time. That was before he was even named the quarterback at that point in time.
He went through the season, worked his way through an injury, an ankle injury, had a very productive season as a young player.
What you see in Kirk is a guy that's come back his second year, extremely hard worker. He's a giver, he's not a taker as a person. I think his faith, spiritual faith, strengthens him in so many different things. But he's a person that is able to rise above challenges. You see that on the field. He has confidence in himself, breeds confidence to our football team.
He's a tremendous asset for us. That's not just on the field. That's in the locker room. That's away from football. And there are other people leading, as I said before.
It's gratifying as a coach to see that we have that type of leadership on this football team at this point.
Q. You have obviously won a few close games this year. What is the difference from previous years winning close games? Is it quarterback play? The occasional trick play? What is the difference winning close games?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I just look back and parallel some games we had in '07. We were a pretty good football team, but we lost games close in '07. Whatever happened at the end of two minute, Brian Hoyer's first year as a starting quarterback. There's a lot of things you see that you can't prepare for as a first year starting quarterback. I just believe that. You can't practice the pressure. The pressure occurs out there, TV, whatever the case, when things are being played for keeps. I think the same thing happened a little bit last year.
That second year in '08 Brian Hoyer established himself and we won a lot of close games. I think that's what's happening here. I said before that the quarterback is such an invaluable part of a football team. He's a guy that has to touch the ball every play.
I also think we're playing better defensively than last year, especially in the secondary. We have the number two pass efficiency rating in the conference. We're playing better in the secondary. We're getting turnovers. Solid special teams. We have a couple special teams fakes in there that are more about timing and execution than anything.
I think our guys are believing. When you start winning close games, great things are possible. We experienced that at Ohio State when I was there in '02. We didn't win by more than three points. I mean, we won 13 7, 10 9, double overtime, whatever it was. But when you start making plays at the end of a game to win a football game, you're in a close game, you start developing confidence you're going to win that game and you find a way. I think there's something to that.
COACH DANTONIO: Eric Gordon comes to play every single day in practice. He comes to play every day in games. He's an extremely explosive player. I think he's playing maybe his best football he's played in four years. He's got power, strength, he's extremely quick. He's making plays.
Maybe doesn't get the hype that Greg is getting, but he's certainly playing very, very well with our linebacker crew. I think Chris Norman is playing well, as well, and Jon Misch is playing well, too. We're getting good play from our secondary. Obviously Greg Jones. Good play from our linebackers.
I think we're playing a lot of players up front so we're staying fresh. Because of that you see us doing some good things on defense and we're believing. Coach Narduzzi is doing a great job, (as are) the rest of the coaches, and believing.
Q. What do you think this team needs to do differently in order to avoid another slow start?
COACH DANTONIO: The slow start I think occurred because of a couple (things) we had the penalty on the 23 yard run; we didn't get the first down on third and 2 one time, (the) receiver slipped when he smoked it out there (on second down), then we didn't get the first down on another third down and short. Defensively, it was a third and long and they hit a deep out cut, burst the coverage, which was a structural error. It's going to happen. We didn't get pressure. We have to be able to handle that.
Credit Northwestern. Like I said before, I think Sunday night, (Dan) Persa, I think he scrambled 18 times in the game. We sacked him eight and he scrambled 10 times. A couple other times he was running around making plays with his arm. We got pressure on the quarterback for making plays there. The bigger the target on your back, more people are going to get up for you. We expect that every week.
We felt that on the other end. Certainly when Iowa came in here last year, we felt that. We tried to play up. I think we did. We had a chance to win that football game. So I'm sure that everybody is going to do the same versus us.
Q. With Aaron Bates, everyone knows about the passes on the field goal and the punt. Can you talk about how important he is to the success of your team, not just on those plays?
COACH DANTONIO: He's critical. He's the holder. He's been the holder for us for four years. If you take that into consideration, think about the last four years, how they mishandled snaps that they've had, the guy never even held in high school. He was a kicker in high school. When you look at the success (Brett) Swenson had, now you look at the success (Dan) Conroy has had thus far, it starts with the snap, (Alex) Shackleton, then goes to Bates.
So he's thrown in some fakes in there along the way. I can think of five of them off the top of my head in the last four years. He's an excellent punter. The thing about Aaron as a punter, he has great placement...He says, `We got to put that ball into the sideline.' He has the ability to place the ball, the ability to turn the ball over, put it inside the 10, turn it so it comes like a kick.
He's an excellent technician. I believe he has a future at the next level. You can't say enough about him as a leader, a person in his own right, student of the game, integrity as a person.
Q. This game would be significant anyway, but it takes on more with everything going on in the Big Ten, Michigan State controlling its destiny. How do you manage expectations but also realizing that pretty much with this game some really good things could happen for Michigan State with a victory?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, you know, what I tried to do is take it one game at a time. Won six, Bowl eligible. We won seven, maybe going to go to this Bowl, this scenario. Now we've won eight, and here is where we're at now.
We've tried to really talk about what's got us to this point, how difficult it was last year, how the difference between good and great is not very much, and the difference between winning and losing, going back the other way, is not very great, not very much. We've tried to keep that in perspective. I think we've taken a pretty mature outlook on how we address everything.
In saying that, we're going to get excited before a game and we're going to have fun. What I've tried to say is, `Let's have fun with this experience.' We went through last year. It wasn't a lot of fun sometimes. We had to scratch for everything we could get just to get back even. We got even, then lost another one (in the bowl game).
So we need to have fun with this, enjoy the ride a little bit. In saying that, you know, continue to be enthusiastic in our own way and continue to try and put the next block up. That's how we've tried to do it.
Q. Coach, with (Chris L.) Rucker getting out of jail on Thursday, will you play him Saturday? How do you apply your zero tolerance statement that you made with this situation?
COACH DANTONIO: In both cases, I'll just not answer your question....I'm not commenting on Chris L. Rucker or our personnel issues at this point in time. I'm not commenting.
Q. With being in the top five now, basketball is going to be number one and two (in the polls), can you talk about the direction this athletic department is going in, the job (Athletics Director) Mark Hollis has done?
COACH DANTONIO: Mark Hollis has been an asset for our entire athletic program. When we came here, I've continually said we didn't have to look too far across Munn Field toward the hockey arena and other areas of our athletics to see excellence at its finest.
Some of our guys watched them in practice going into the Final Four because I made mention, `You got to go in there and watch those guys practice, see how they communicate with each other, et cetera, et cetera, see the enthusiasm they practice with.' I think we did that.
So Tom (Izzo) is a very close friend and a great ally. Mark Hollis as well. It's good for all Michigan State, the state of Michigan, and it's good for all Spartans.
The fact that we're getting there doesn't mean we've gotten there yet, but we're moving in that direction. But there's still a lot of work to be done.
Q. Mark, talking yesterday with Tom, he said you and your staff have one of the best staffs at evaluating talent among high school kids. Without giving any secrets away, what do you do as far as evaluating high school talent?
COACH DANTONIO: First thing we have to do is look at them and see if they fit into our system. We're constantly trying to make decisions based on character and work ethic. Grades are important, as well.
I think the basis of recruiting, when you have a five star guy, everybody wants those guys, but if you can find the guy, the diamond in the rough, that guy can come and play like Le'Veon Bell, Darqueze Dennard or Greg Jones, you get guys like that coming into your program and they excel, I think it paints a pretty clear picture that the stars that are put on people sometimes, it's a beginning, it's not an end. It's the beginning of their prospects, it's not an end.
We make sure we try to get guys to camp, watch them play in person. I like coaches that watch them play, see how they interact with their teammates, see how they respond after a bad play, see how they respond after being down 28 0, talk to their coach after a tough situation. All those things I think can be brought into it. I'm sure everybody does the same thing.
But we do the best we can. We evaluate everybody. It doesn't really make any difference whether stars fall on the guy, we're going to try to take guys that we think can play at this level. We're not always going to be right, but I think we have good evaluators on our staff.
It's a collective thing. We don't say, `Okay, hey, you recruit Chicago, so you get to choose who we want to take from Chicago.' It has to go through a series of levels, and I have to watch that player at the end, then we have to talk about them as a staff quite often before we make decisions on offering them, then we have to get them on campus. You bring them to a basketball game, you bring them to Spartan Stadium. We can sell that young person on playing here in this environment.
Q. Around town there's a sentiment that this is a team of destiny, a team that has magic. Do you believe any of that silliness or do you think you create your own?
COACH DANTONIO: No, I don't believe (that). I said it before, I don't believe in superstition, I believe in God, my faith. I do believe that our football team is special. I do believe that we have leaders. I do believe we're on the edge, that we have an edge to us. That edge to us exists because we're winning, we're confident, and we have a belief in how we're doing things.
From the coaches, from the head coach, through our entire program right now, whether it's our trainers, guys on scout team, whether it's the starting quarterback, I think it's a ripple effect down there that people feel like we have an edge.
Q. Is that why at halftime when everybody was ready to jump in the Red Cedar River, you said, `We're okay, we're all right?' Is that part of your belief?
COACH DANTONIO: I have a belief in this team. I always feel like we've been able to come back and respond. I said after the game, when that tag is put on you, like 'same old Spartans,' for three years and eight games now we've competed here. Doesn't mean we've always won. Like I said, the difference is (small) sometimes.
If you take the games and add them up in terms of how many games we lost by a touchdown or less, how many we've won by a touchdown or less, I think it factors in that we will play.
That's the important thing to me, that we show up, that we're able to look at ourselves in the mirror afterwards and say, `We did our best, prepared our best, gave it our best shot.' That's how I've always coached. You have to look at yourself in the mirror first, so that's what we've done.
Q. You were able to use Edwin Baker on that game winning drive when you were throwing pretty much every down. How much has he improved as far as his pass blocking, understanding of the offense?
COACH DANTONIO: Same as Larry (Caper), same as Le'Veon (Bell), as we continue on. The more times they have opportunities, the more game experience, the better they get. Edwin is a player. All three of those guys are players. What I like about those guys is before I see them, I look in their eyes before a game, they're hyped, ready to go.
You know, there's nothing about me that stands up on a table (pounding his fist on podium) and says it like that. I believe each person has to get themselves individually ready. Our players have bought into that fact. They're responsible for getting themselves ready to play emotionally, preparing mentally. So they get themselves there. They're worked up into a pretty good frenzy and they're going to compete.
Q. You put as much into this as you do rankings, being a touchdown underdog, is that surprising or you don't pay attention to that at all?
COACH DANTONIO: I didn't know that...But we're playing at Iowa. It does speak to the rankings. Don't want to put a lot of attention there. There's a reason they're a seven point favorite. They're playing at home, have a good football team, they're in a must win situation. There's a lot of reasons.
But, you know, does it bother me? No, because we're going to go play.
Q. How much of a factor might last year's game be considering how emotional that was? I know you don't talk about injuries, but you do in the case of season ending injuries. Is there an update on Keshawn Martin?
COACH DANTONIO: It's not season ending, no. We'll see if he can play this week.
As far as last year's game, we just talk about how close the games have been. That's what we've talked about. Chance to win it. We hit the trick play out there, hook and lateral, got the touchdown. We rallied back. Very close game. Very defense oriented game probably till the end, the last two series on both sides.
But I think every experience that you have you learn from. I don't care what it is. Hopefully our players have learned from that and put that behind them and are ready to move on, and I think we have.
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