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Mark Dantonio Weekly Press Conference Coverage

Oct. 28, 2008


COACH DANTONIO: Quickly recapping the Michigan game, I thought our players played one play at a time, and I think that was very important. I think we need to continue to be able to do that. The players played with a lot of emotion, but that game's over now. We need to move forward and focus on the present.

In regards to the University of Wisconsin, they come in here with a 4 4 record. This is a football team that was nationally ranked early in the season but had some very close losses early on to Michigan and Ohio State. I think they've gotten back on track now with a big win versus Illinois, and they'll come in here as a very well coached football team.

Wisconsin has an outstanding running game with two big backs, in P.J. Hill and John Clay. They have a big offensive line, and they've got good skill at the receiver position although they lost (Travis) Beckum. They still have very good skill on the defensive side of the ball. Again, they're very well coached. Coach (Bret) Bielema is a defensive coach by trade. They have outstanding special teams. We'll have to be able to defend against the run and keep the ball as well, so it will be a tough challenge for us.

So with that, I'll just focus on the questions first and then we'll sort of finish things up.

Q. At 7 2, thoughts of New Year's Day Bowl games are looking more and more probable if things continue to go well. How much do you talk about that with your players now?

COACH DANTONIO: We certainly talk about it. We talk about every aspect of our program every week. I think if you don't talk about things of that nature, you're selling your players short, your program short.

The thing that's important to understand, as I said Sunday night, is that all of our goals that we talk about: in winter conditioning when we raise our hands up and say, 'Big Ten champions,' or we talk about in spring football, or we talk about in summer conditioning, summer camp, all those goals are still attainable for this football team.

That's what's exciting right now. We'll have an opportunity to see what we can do this weekend. We'll certainly be motivated. It's important we have a great week of practice and we move on. So that's what we will do. But we're excited about the challenge, though.

Q. How surprised are you to be taking on a Wisconsin team that's 1 4 in the Big Ten? Do you feel at all folks maybe are thinking this is going to be an easier win because of that?

COACH DANTONIO: Well, the answer to the first question is nothing surprises me any more in college football. I think there's great parity. This is a very tough conference, and it's tough to win away. I see teams coming back. There's a lot of balance in every football conference right now and throughout the country. So nothing really surprises me.

Certainly, Wisconsin lost an outstanding quarterback (Tyler Donovan) from last year's team, so there's a transition period. They have an outstanding football team, and they're very well coached. People will rise to the occasion. So we expect a great football game. We need to play inspired football because we're not to the point we're just going to throw our hats out there.

In answer to your second question, I hope that we're realistic enough to understand that nothing happens without hard work and challenges. There's going to be adversity in this game out here on Saturday that we're going to need to handle as well.

Q. On Sunday, in talking about getting over the win against Michigan, you said you're trying to change a culture here. At what point do you feel like you will have the culture change and where are you on the culture change?

COACH DANTONIO: Well as a football program, since we came here, we've been in every football game, probably with the exception of one, and that's 22 football games. So the expectations that I have of our football program is that we'll come to compete and we'll be focused. We expect to win every football game we play.

From my standpoint, it is what it is. But there still seems to exist the possibility of letdowns and these types of things. We have to guard against that, just like everybody in America does, because it's not a perfect game.

But we're trying to establish ourselves. Obviously, we haven't quite established that respect in that area yet. So we'll keep working.

Q. I know you won't go into specifics, but how is Javon (Ringer) doing health wise?

COACH DANTONIO: That's good that you're not going into being too specific, but he's doing fine.

Q. Will he practice regularly this week? Will he practice as scheduled this week?

COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, he'll practice as scheduled.

Q. As happy as you were for yourself and the players Sunday, were you perhaps happiest for Brian Hoyer because it seems like you stepped up to defend him for two years? People said he couldn't win the big game or be a difference maker. Can you personalize it for him at all?

COACH DANTONIO: I look at the play of our quarterback in the two years I've been here and I think he's played very, very well. The guy passes for 20-plus touchdowns last year and goes into the Penn State game has five interceptions and 2,800 yards. We won the Penn State game, which was certainly big. I think last year his performance against Notre Dame at Notre Dame in a game that everybody thought we would crumble in, he played outstanding. So I would say that's a pretty big game.

Again, we come and play against Michigan. The Cal game, he played pretty well. He's been very good this year in terms of guiding a team that's 7 2 right now. That's how you have to measure things.

Again, this is not a perfect world. Wide receivers don't always run the correct routes. We don't always block the right guy. We don't always handle the pressure and sometimes, we get beat physically. Sometimes, we drop a ball and sometimes, the ball is overthrown. So there are a lot of things going on out there. You can't just judge it just in terms of looking at a piece of paper sometimes and say, he completed this many.

I was very happy for Brian (Hoyer). I was very happy for our football team and our coaches. As I said Sunday night, I also was happy for all Spartans.

I don't know if I'm answering the question or not.

Q. This is a Big Ten tiebreaker question since this team is in the mix. What do you think is the fairest way to determine that? As it stands right now, Ohio State, Penn State, they'd be penalized for playing a I-AA team. You said before the season, you're almost forced to play I-AA teams because of that 12th game.

COACH DANTONIO: I can't comment on other people's schedules and won't. But I think we played a very good schedule, a tough schedule. I think we went out to Cal and played a good team; I don't know how far it is, 3,000 miles away from here and got back at 6:30 in the morning. I think that was a challenge for us. We certainly could have played somebody at home where the opportunity to win might have been a little bit better.

We've got to play and we've got to win this next game. That's our focus. I can't really speak to that (tiebreaker) because I'm not qualified. I'm not qualified in a lot of things, so . . .

Q. You inherited Blair White, who joined this team as a walk on. Is he an example of the diamond in the rough kind of player Michigan State is built on, or is he someone you might have recruited?

COACH DANTONIO: That's tough to say because I don't know what his development was at that time. The guy runs very well. He's about 6-2, 205 pounds right now. When he came in here, I'm not sure where he was physically. He catches the ball very well. He was actually the number one wide receiver drafted in the spring draft. So a lot of people had belief in Blair (White) before this (Michigan) game. He's been playing consistently throughout this season.

The main thing to focus on is that he's done the job and he's been rewarded for that. He plays on all kinds of special teams as well. He's a good football player. He's a great student and a great person.

Q. What do you see about Wisconsin offensively and defensively?

COACH DANTONIO: They get a lot of people at the point of attack. When running the football, they have a big, physical offensive line. A couple guys were hurt in that offensive line early on, and they're getting one back. They've switched quarterbacks, so they've gone through a little bit of a transition there.

Offensively, they're very well coached. I think Coach (Paul) Chryst does a great job in terms of play calling, the way they function, the way they're built conceptually.

Again, I just go back and say every time I think I have a press conference and you watch the teams that we're getting ready to play, they're very well coached teams. Things are tied together very well. They have explosive players. Coach (Bret) Bielema has an outstanding record in the time he has been at Wisconsin as a head coach.

I know their expectations are to win football games. So their expectations remain the same and they'll come in here ready to play, and we better be prepared.

Q. Keshawn Martin seems to be getting a little bit more of a role. Can you talk about his versatility? Also revisit the recruitment (process). I know he was a little bit under the radar as a prospect, how you stumbled upon him.

COACH DANTONIO: We're playing a number of freshmen. We recruited three outstanding freshmen wide receivers: Keyshawn being one, Fred Smith, and Myles White. All of those guys will be excellent players. Fred is actually playing some as well.

But Keyshawn was a quarterback and defensive back (in high school). When we watched him, he had a very exciting highlight film. We went and watched him play in a game, and obviously, we were able to get him to come to Michigan State.

He gives you versatility to do a lot of different things. He's a natural athlete. Just the ability to go out there and field the punts in the Michigan game is a statement (for him). He had been a quarterback, so he threw the one pass. He's a great return guy. So he does a lot of different things for us. He could probably be a corner for us, as well.

But, you know, he continues to develop, as all of our other players. He's gained experience and now you have seen him make some plays in the Northwestern game. Keshawn made a couple plays in this game (against Michigan). He's becoming better and better as he becomes more accustomed (to the system).

Q. With Keyshawn (Martin) and Blair (White) emerging, do you feel better now about the receiving corps than you did a few weeks ago?

COACH DANTONIO: Sure, I think we have more depth year than we had last year. We still don't have Deon Curry back yet in terms of complete health, but he's able to play sporadically in and out. That gives us five guys. We've got a couple of other guys who are greatly improved. We have Fred Smith, who would be a sixth receiver, and Chris D. Rucker is a guy that's getting better and better. You're going to see him play here. Then you have David Williams. We really have eight guys that are functional (at wide receiver).

That's the word that I always try and talk about. They're functional, which means they can go in the game, have an opportunity to perform and can get some things done. We have guys in those positions.

It's a good situation. It will continue to get better with our incoming freshmen next year. It will be exciting to watch them as well.

Q. Sunday night, you weren't in the mood and hadn't heard yet (from anyone at the Big Ten) to talk about the pylon call. Have you heard anything yet?

COACH DANTONIO: I've talked to Dave Perry and Jim Delany has issued a statement from the Big Ten Conference talking about all that. I really try hard to talk to our players about playing the next play. Forget about the last play, refocus, have a short memory in those areas. I think it's important that their coach does as well in terms of, hey, a mistake was made. I know it's not an intentional mistake. There's human error in everything.

I'm glad it didn't cost us the game, or I'm sure there would be a lot of people a little bit more riled up. But it happened. We dealt with it. We kept playing. We made the plays we had to make to win the football game. That's what's good about it. So you go from there. I'm sure that they'll correct that problem and continue to try and do things to the best of their ability, as we always do, in all aspects, whether you're a player, coach or administrator. So I'm very satisfied with the way the Big Ten handled it.

Q. You went into the Ohio State game with a big surge of momentum, all the good things being said about you. Have you learned how to handle success better going into this game off of that game? Are there things you're going to change?

COACH DANTONIO: I think our attention to detail on game day needs to be certainly better than it was against Ohio State. But from my perspective, we lost to Ohio State because we couldn't tackle the people carrying the ball. Something you have to do. And we turned the football over. All of a sudden before you know it, it was 21 0.

You're playing against a very good defense. You're put in pass situations. Your quarterback gets dinged out of there. (Kirk) Cousins came in and did an outstanding job in the second half. We got close, but boom, the ball came out again. We started to get a little bit of the momentum back - not that we were close when we were down on the 20.

We didn't quit (against Ohio State). We need to refocus. We need to learn from our lessons. But I think that's part of maturity. I think that's part of growing up in the program. I've said all along that this program is a work in progress. So we'll learn from our mistakes and try and correct them this weekend.

Q. Some of the players who didn't dress on Saturday (against Michigan) are listed again on the depth chart. You didn't want to talk about it then. Can you give a reason for their absence now?

COACH DANTONIO: You know what; I'll address that right now because that's on my list of things to talk about.

I have 105 players on our football team. That's more people than are here in this room. I have a little focus every day that I've talked about at certain points in time. The focus today is from General Patton. I like quoting Patton a little bit, all right? One of them is: Protect the troops first. So I'll say that again: Protect the troops first.

So I'm always going to protect our team. I'm not going to throw people under the bus. I am not going to put things out there when things have not been substantiated. I think that's the fair thing to do.

I think what's not fair to do is what Rob Parker did. If you want a story, call him, Rob Parker, from The Detroit News. I don't think I need to spell that name, but Rob Parker, who went on TV the other day, WDIV-TV Sunday night in Detroit, and made reference to Kirk Cousins being at the heart of this whole matter, which is totally inaccurate. I take offense to that. His family takes offense to that. He was with his family all night Saturday night. I think that borders on slander. If you're going to say something, you better get it right. That's number one.

Number two, I take offense, this program takes offense, at The Oakland Press for singling out three people who did not dress. Incidentally, Ethan Ruhland had (knee) surgery. Again, borders on slander.

What you've got is five million people reading something down in Detroit or from here, an entire state, picking up on things that are not correct. So here's a young man who does everything right, and he's thrown under the bus by somebody who has no credibility in my mind. So that's where I'm at with that.

In regards to your questions, I'll say what I've said before. Nothing's been substantiated. I discipline or we discipline internally. When things come to a head and people make charges and those type of things, police are involved, that's when I'll talk about things and give names. Until then, I'm going to protect our football team. I think that's the way you'd want your family protected or your children or your brothers. That's what we're going to do.

I don't know if I'm answering the question, but that's how I feel. If you want a story, I guess you need to go find other people and talk to them.

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