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Spartan Players Press Conference Coverage

Connor Cook will be making his third career Big Ten road start at Nebraska on Saturday.

Nov. 12, 2013

Video: Calhoun | Cook | Dennard | Fonoti

EAST LANSING, Mich. - Sophomore defensive end Shilique Calhoun, quarterback Connor Cook, cornerback Darqueze Dennard and offensive tackle Fou Fonoti answered questions from the media on Tuesday inside the Huntington Club in Spartan Stadium regarding the upcoming matchup against Nebraska.

The No. 14 Spartans (8-1, 5-0 Big Ten) will take on the Huskers (7-2, 4-1) on Saturday, Nov. 16 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:

Shilique Calhoun

Q. Can you talk about the feeling you had a year ago on a Saturday night walking off that field and how it serves to motivate you against this same team this year, if at all?

Shilique Calhoun: I think the biggest thing is that what we took from that game is that we didn't execute the way we wanted to. We didn't play Spartan football like we usually do. It was a lot of errors, and it kind of hurt us. We had an opportunity that we could have beat the team, but we didn't play to our full potential.

Coming into this game, it kind of motivates us and pushes us to keep looking forward. All of our goals are still ahead of us. They're just another team that we have to beat, another great team that's going to be in the way, and we've got to take the proper - just the proper steps to win in that game and get through practice on Tuesday and Thursday and Wednesday, we've got to make sure we execute everything we need to do and have everything focused and down pat for Saturday.



Q. As you grow into a player, are you developing more of an appreciation for the film room, and over the last two weeks what's stood out to you as you watched Nebraska?

Shilique Calhoun: Of course. I mean, when I came in here freshman year, film wasn't a big thing. You just kind of want to go out there and play, you just want to have raw talent. But as you realize, the more film you watch, you get a better understanding of how other people play and how you can maybe gain some of their tendencies and be able to beat them on certain plays.

Over the years I've learned that film is a big key to winning the football game. Sometimes it just doesn't come down to just playing. You have to understand what your opponent is doing and how maybe you can match their talent or overcome and overtake what they have going on. Obviously it is big in this game, especially against this team who our staff hasn't beaten them since they've been here. It's going to be key in understanding what they want to do against us and what we need to do against them.

Q. Can you talk a little bit about what Taylor Martinez did last year against you guys, and what this year is different with maybe knowing that he's out versus the other two guys that they've got?

Shilique Calhoun: Taylor Martinez is a playmaker, a guy - he can make a play with his hands, throwing the ball, and also running. And I think that the big thing that he did against us was he was able to move his feet. He didn't stay stationery. He ran around, he made sure that it was hard for us to tackle him. On one drive he was able to score, actually he took off and started running, so the biggest thing was not having him in the game, you just have to respect the quarterback that's in there, but you don't think that - he's not Taylor Martinez and he's not taking off like he is, he's a little more stationary, so that's the big key for the game, and that might help us out a lot, actually.

Q. Some of the conversation today before you got in here involved the Nebraska crowd and how they kind of kill you with kindness. I know you've been to other places that have been more hostile. For a defensive player is that something Michigan State has fed off because I think Dantonio has referenced you guys have one of the better road records in the Big Ten and this is a team that's played with a chip on its shoulder. How do you keep that chip when you're going to a friendly place with so much praise around you?

Shilique Calhoun: I have not been to Nebraska yet, this is going to be my first time, but I've heard about it and heard how they're extremely kind and it kind of throws you off a little bit. I think you have to go in with the mindset that you have something to do and it's a job. Sometimes you don't always want to fire that nice guy but he has to be fired. The biggest thing is you've got to be focused. Keep your mindset straight and make sure that you get the task at hand done.

Q. When you were 6 1 and you beat Purdue 14 0, still nobody seemed to believe in this team. The last couple of weeks seem to have made believers out of everybody. Is there any satisfaction in that for you?

Shilique Calhoun: Right now we don't focus on the outsiders. We basically focus on we need to believe in ourselves. That's the biggest key because people are going to talk, people are going to say what they want, people are going to have their own opinions. But as long as we believe in ourselves and we keep focusing and striving for success, there's nothing that can stop us.

Q. Can you talk a little bit about Abdullah and what kind of running back he is and what you guys have to do to slow him down?

Shilique Calhoun: Abdullah, he's a very shifty guy. He's really good with his feet. He's really good at getting around people and running around people. The biggest thing is to try and contain him, make sure he doesn't get outside the box, make sure he stays in the backfield. That's the kind of aspect we go into every game, but this game is, like everyone knows, is the bigger game. But that's going to be key, also, try and stop their game and make sure they don't get long yardage because that could be very devastating to our defense.

Q. Coaches and players have not really shied away from the fact that this is a chance to win a championship for you guys. What is the talk that you guys have internally amongst each other knowing that this is a game that can win a championship for you guys, or at least part of a championship to get to Indy?

Shilique Calhoun: I would say we looked at last year and we understood that we had great opportunities, and we didn't take hold of them. This year the biggest focus is on don't let that opportunity slip by you. Coach D always says you will be the ones, so we're trying to make this year known as we're going to be the ones. We're not going to be like, well, maybe next year. This is an opportunity now and this is such a big game, we don't want to let any game go to waste. These opportunities don't come all the time, a dime a dozen. You have to definitely try and take hold of it and grasp it now and don't wait for someone else to do it. It's big now and something that we've tried to focus on every day, that every game is our last and you never know when your time will be up, so try to make the most of it.

Connor Cook

Q. Have they talked to you about the environment (in Lincoln)? Obviously you heard Mark's press conference. What have they said to you in preparation for it?

Connor Cook: I just know hearing from other players here and the coaches that the fans are super nice there. It's not like a hostile environment where you go into Iowa, you have guys barking on you on the sideline, yelling mean things at you. But the fans are nice, but I've heard that it's really loud, and we're used to that. We've played in environments like that, Notre Dame, we've played at Iowa, we've had success on the road. I think Coach is going to have the music turned up loud at practice, and I think we'll be okay.

Q. What specifically have you done in the bye week coming off the Michigan game? Has there been one or two things that you've tried to focus on?

Connor Cook: I think I've just focused on watching more film, getting in there, watching more tape with the extra time that we've had with the off days that we've had. I know in previous weeks or the previous bye week that we had, I was coming off a poor performance at Notre Dame so I worked on the fundamentals, went back to the basics, worked on my accuracy, my footwork and all that stuff, and this week I've really focused on getting in there and watching more film on Nebraska instead of working on my skill part.

Q. Even though you're young you're still the quarterback, and by position you're a leader. This team is getting a lot of attention now, there's a lot of talk, not just in the media but when you go to class and everything else. What do you say to the team to stay focused on one game at a time when you can see the bigger goals closer than in October?

Connor Cook: I think we've just got to continue to have the same attitude that we've had all year. We always go into every single game, especially with the Big Ten games with every game meaning everything. Our first Big Ten game was just as important as this game. We go into every week wanting to go 1 0 and that's our goal. Last week was a big game against Michigan. I think we did good. Could have done a lot better on offense. But we know it's a big game. The coaches know, we know, and I think as long as we just go into the game with the mindset we've got to go 1 0, I think we'll be okay.

Q. You've watched a lot of tape on Nebraska. What have you seen in Nebraska's defense maybe from their last game last week against Michigan back to the beginning of the season? How has it changed and what are the differences?

Connor Cook: You know, I sat down, I watched the whole UCLA game a couple days ago, then I watched Illinois, and then I watched the Michigan game. Early on in UCLA they were in more zone, and then they had some success passing the ball later on in the game, and I think they went back to just going straight man coverage, and that's where they had the most success. They know what they're doing. They know that the opponent, the offense knows what they're going to run. They're going to line up in man coverage and try and beat us. They're really, really good at that. They're good at what they do, and they lock them down. I think we've got to go with the mindset because they press you, just got to be able to get off the line, work with man coverage, work against the press, and I think as long as we focus on that, our receivers will be good, because we've gone against press ever since they've been here. Any time we go against our defense they're pressing us, spring ball, going up against one of the best defenses in the nation. I think we'll be okay.

Q. Anyone that's followed you going back to high school, you have the ability to be a game changer with your feet. Do you need to run - I don't mean designed runs, but do you need to run a few more times to respect that a little bit more rather than staying in the pocket sometimes as long? Do you feel like you need to tuck the ball and run a couple more times a game?

Connor Cook: For sure. Watching tape on Minnesota, when they played them, their quarterbacks, both of them, had a lot of success running the ball. When the play broke, they were able to scramble, or if there was a designed quarterback run, but I think Minnesota had a lot of success in that football game because the quarterbacks were able to do that. But definitely with me, I think, I remember Coach D saying not trying to create too much and I think I've done a good job of not trying to create, but then there's like a fine line of not trying to create and creating, so I think I really need to move the ball, move the ball downfield a little bit with my legs and not so much with my arm and actually look to run more because if you have a quarterback that can run a little bit, get - not trying to get like 20, 30 yards on a carry but maybe four or five yards, six yards, maybe get the 1st down, that'll keep the defense on their heels.

Q. This game has its own importance, but add to it the fact that Coach D has mentioned a couple times this is the one program they haven't beaten, and you add to that the sick feeling you guys had to feel last year walking off the field, does that play into any of this at all, or is that just talk?

Connor Cook: Yeah, it plays into it a little bit. There's always extra motivation if you've never beaten a school and stuff that happened last year, I know we had extra motivation playing against Michigan for what happened last year at their place.

But definitely it was a disheartening feeling last year knowing we had the game in our hands and they took it out from us. But we're coming in with the mindset like any other Big Ten game that we've had. It's a big game, we all know that, everyone knows that, but I think we're going to come in focused, and we're going to trust ourselves and we're going to believe in ourselves, and I think we'll be okay.

Q. Coach Dantonio talked about the fact that clinching a share of the Big Ten Legends Division is very tangible with this win, that players can sense the fact that winning this one game can clinch a co share and that's something that can really motivate the team. Do you sense that and how do you use that positively instead of negatively?

Connor Cook: Like I said, you've just got to take it one game at a time, but obviously a win here is a big time win, never beating Nebraska obviously, and then clinching a share for the Big Ten Championship game. But I think as long as we win I'm not really trying to focus on if we win here, what if we win two games out of the remaining three or if we lose to Nebraska we have to win the next two. I think we just focus on the task at hand, focus on the game at hand, focus on going 1 0, everything will take care of itself.

Q. After the last bye week you went out to Iowa and you and the whole offense had one of the best games of the season. Now coming off your second one, how do you make sure you know you come out firing again with that extra week as opposed to looking rusty on the road?

Connor Cook: I think that's all up to the individuals, the players. You've just got to come and you've got to get yourself pumped up. You've got to have the right mindset going into a game like this. But I think for how big the game is, we don't really have to worry about us getting pumped up. We all know it's a big game and players get pumped up to play in games like this. I think we've done a good job for coming out with a lot of intensity in all of our games, and I don't think it's going to be anything different for this one.

Darqueze Dennard

Q. When you watch them on film, they like to attack the corners. For a guy like you that plays with a chip on his shoulder and likes that, do you get more amped up knowing, okay, they're coming this week?

Darqueze Dennard: Yeah, definitely amped up just knowing I'm going to have a lot of opportunities to make plays to help my team out. I think Trae (Waynes) and I both, we're both ready for this weekend. It's going to be a lot of opportunities to make plays, and we're just ready to go.

Q. Look back to last year's game here. Obviously you returned an interception for a touchdown that got called back and there was a call in the end zone. What do you remember about that, those moments in particular, and then also, what was it like getting over that game and that loss?

Darqueze Dennard: The moment was kind of heartbreaking because not only - the touchdown thing, I can get over that because we were still in the game, and just coming down to the last drive, and just knowing if we stopped them, forced them to maybe kick a field goal and we can block it or they can miss it and just knowing we had an opportunity to win the game after that and just getting the call that was called, it was hard. I think it was tough for the whole team. And just knowing that we've been through that earlier this season, we got into it with the refs already, we know how to change our game up now and just play our type of game. Trae and I both, we've been playing well, I think, been playing tremendously, actually. We haven't got many pass interference calls after the Notre Dame game and I think we've done changed our game well with the refs. So I think we'll be all right.

Q. How many times, give me a number, have you been asked about that play in that Nebraska game in the last year?

Darqueze Dennard: I lost count.

Q. What would you guess, 100, 200?

Darqueze Dennard: Yeah, it's probably - it's well over 100, I'll say that.

Q. With all that happening last year, are you more excited to go to Nebraska knowing you can maybe return the favor in their stadium and also with the Big Ten title and the Legends Division on the line, does it mean that much more?

Darqueze Dennard: Yeah, I think the whole team, knowing all our goals are sitting in front of us and knowing that Nebraska is the main team we've got to focus on right now, for me personally, it's a great challenge for me just knowing I can be able to make plays this weekend and hopefully I can get a pick six like I did last year that makes up for the last game. I'm just ready to go.

Q. As a leader on this team, you guys have some pretty big goals still conceivable and well ahead of you, in front of you. You can see it now, whether it's walking across campus and students talking to you about it or family or in the media. It's everywhere, you can't get away from that. How do you talk to young players? What do you say to Connor, Delton, these young players to keep them focused just on Nebraska because you've done a good job of that.

Darqueze Dennard: Just say just do what we've been doing the last couple weeks and not lose - the same thing that's got us here. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. I just tell those guys just focus on this game, take it one game at a time. Put all our chips into Nebraska, because the biggest game is the next game up. With all our goals still in front of us, yeah, you can kind of peek and be excited a little bit and look ahead a little bit, but at the same time we've just got to stay focused and get that tunnel vision. I think every guy in the locker room has got it, and we're all just focused on this one game right now.

Q. What's happened to you DBs since the Notre Dame game? I can't remember many pass interference calls since the 27 that were called that day. Even the video kind of shows that those were not great calls. How have you changed? What do you mean by we've adjusted to that?

Darqueze Dennard: Just with Coach Barnett and Coach Narduzzi and also Coach D putting his hand in throughout practice, with the refs being at our practices we just ask questions, and just knowing what can we get away with, what will be the call? Knowing when we go out there and play the game and just the feel of the game, we'll know how the refs get in, just play our game.

Q. You said that you want this team to approach it the same way, but in some ways it's not the same. Part of what fueled this team earlier this season it seemed like was a big chip on the shoulder, not getting any recognition, not being regarded as the best team in the state. All that's changed now, you're 14th in the polls, you beat Michigan clear and out. How does this team maintain the chip on its shoulder?

Darqueze Dennard: Don't read the news chippings. That's all I can say. Just stay out of - just save them right now, you can read them at the end of the season. I tell the guys, just focus. We've got this one opportunity. We've got a great opportunity. We're chasing greatness right now, and we have a great opportunity in front of us, and just don't look too far ahead because that's what a lot of teams do and end up slipping or messing up.

My goal for the team is, or my message to the team, is just take it one game at a time like we've been doing.

Q. You guys were ranked No. 9 the last time you went to Nebraska. Did that sort of happen to you at that point?

Darqueze Dennard: Probably. We really weren't focused, didn't come in and play with the same energy when we went down there. We started out slow. I know the defense didn't play the way we wanted to play...When we just come out and play our game, we'll be excited for the game, like we've been doing every week we've been playing. Just come out and have that excitement just like it's our last game, and we'll go out and have fun and fly around and make plays.

Q. Can you talk a little about what the difference in quarterback for Nebraska is like right now? Obviously Martinez last year was kind of a thorn for you guys. Knowing that he's out or probably going to be out versus the other guys that you've seen on film, where are the differences and where are the similarities?

Darqueze Dennard: The difference is with Armstrong there's a little bit more option. He can throw the ball as well. There's a little more option with him, and when they bring Kellogg in it's a lot more throws. He doesn't run too well; not saying he can't, but the team, when he comes in, they're not looking to run. If they do run, it's just going to be handing the ball off to Abdullah. It's probably more throws with Kellogg in, and with Armstrong coming in it can be a little bit are both, more spread out, roll out passes with him. And I say more option with him, as well. It's a big difference with Martinez, but with them changing quarterbacks, we know what to expect.

Q. A lot is made about the environment at Nebraska, how the fans - walking off the field the last time, they gave you a standing ovation, just the whole environment. What is it about that environment that makes it special?

Darqueze Dennard: It's just different. Their fans are pretty great...They'll be very proud. But at the same time it's a different atmosphere because they're friendly. It's a difference between Iowa. Going to Iowa you know you're going to get, "you're going to lose," da da da, but go to Nebraska it's a little bit different. I hope you guys have a great game, and da da da, and it's a different feeling. It throws the teams off a little bit.

But we're just going to go there and play our game, don't let that environment mess with us. We've been doing good this year on the road games and handling the environment. I don't think we're going to let that take a toll on us.

Q. You mentioned Abdullah a moment ago. Is he the best running back in the Big Ten? I think he had 100 yards on you guys last year, and he's got a streak of eight this year or something like that.

Darqueze Dennard: I would argue that. I like Jeremy Langford. He's a pretty good running back. He's been having great games the past couple weeks.

Q. Outside of the Michigan State program.

Darqueze Dennard: Outside of Michigan State? I don't know. He's a good running back. He can do a lot for their team. He runs tough. Even though he's a smaller guy, he runs tough. He likes to run inside, he runs hard, and he's also shifty. He's fast, and he's a good player. I will say that.

Fou Fonoti

Q. I remember talking to you on signing day when you talked about wanting to go back to California and play in a Rose Bowl. Here you sit in November with that generally being ahead of you. How do you not look ahead to that and just focus it one game at a time?

Fou Fonoti: Coach D always talks about - he made a great point. He said we shouldn't worry about we need this team to beat that team, this team to beat that team. If anything it's for us to take care of our own work, and I definitely feel that the truth is in that.

\We've just got to continue to go out here each week, become 1 0, and that's pretty much our main goal and not look past our opponent. We definitely have a great challenge this week in Lincoln, so definitely excited about that.

Q. Nebraska, I think they have more sacks than anybody in the Big Ten. I know you guys watch a lot of film and you guys have been pretty stingy about preventing sacks, so what are the keys to that match up as far as Nebraska's pass pressure against State's offensive line?

Fou Fonoti: They definitely have a group of guys up there that's definitely getting the job done. No. 44 defensive end, No. 9, I remember them, but they do a great job, just a lot of stunts, a lot of movement up there, a lot of very shifty guys, use their hands well. We definitely take that as a challenge to go out there and just keep Connor safe.

Q. You've mentioned about No. 44, Gregory. What have you seen in him over the last few weeks in terms of film and what he does maybe to get to the quarterback in particular?

Fou Fonoti: You know, he's definitely an athlete at 6-6, I want to say 275 or 280, he moves very well, shifty guy. He can make a quick move on the inside and speed rush on the out. Just watching him, we know he's definitely one of their - probably one of their best, their best defensive linemen. It's definitely going to be exciting for us.

Q. You were injured last year, right, in this game?

Fou Fonoti: Yeah.

Q. You watched that sickness from the sidelines, I guess?

Fou Fonoti: Yeah. Yup. I was sitting on that sideline in crutches.

Q. What do you remember not only about that, I know you didn't play, but about going there two years ago and what kind of environment that stadium is?

Fou Fonoti: That environment kind of throws you off for a second. You know, going into a hostile environment, you're not expecting people to welcome you the way they did. You know, it was definitely - I don't know what it was. You walk in and people say, hey, welcome to Lincoln, pleasure having you here, we wish you all the best. We're down at halftime and we're walking in, and people are saying, hey, keep it up, keep it up. As a player going there and knowing that, you don't know how to really cope with that. But knowing that from two years ago, we know any environment is going to be a difficult place for us. We'll definitely be willing to embrace that.

Q. Are you saying you're almost more comfortable being yelled at than being treated nice?

Fou Fonoti: I like the hostile environment. I like knowing that the only people I can rely on is my brothers out there, and it's definitely something I'm used to. But when you're going out there and you hear people trying to shake your hand, it's definitely something different. I'll definitely say that. But that environment is definitely incredible.

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