Nov. 13, 2012
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 Senior Day and the challenges of facing Northwestern's offense.
The Spartans (5-5, 2-4 Big Ten) take on the Wildcats (7-3, 3-3) this Saturday, Nov. 17 in the 2012 home finale at Spartan Stadium. Kickoff is set for noon and the game will be televised on ESPN2. Prior to the game, there will be a ceremony recognizing the 2012 senior class.
Following Dantonio's press conference, junior quarterback Andrew Maxwell also answered questions from the media.
The following is a complete transcript from Tuesday's press conference:
COACH DANTONIO: First off, I just want to congratulate our hockey team in their big win on Saturday night against Michigan, and then also congratulate our men's soccer team as well with a Big Ten Championship with another win in that venue over Michigan in the championship game. So congratulations to them.
Coming off a bye week, got a lot of things done, I felt, outside of football: Recruiting, got our players away a little bit, so that was a positive for them. Also turned our attention to Northwestern and this football game.
Last game for our seniors at home. We've got a number of guys making their last game here at Spartan Stadium. And I think the feeling is they've accomplished a lot of things here in the last three, four, five, six years - five years, I guess. They've not been here for six.
Canned food drive is this week. We've done that annually since coming here. So anybody coming, we'd appreciate it if they brought something for the food drive for the Lansing and mid Michigan area.
Then we turn our attention to Northwestern, a 7 3 football team; 3 3 in the conference. Three close losses as well in the fourth quarter. When you look at them right now, you always look at Northwestern, you're looking at a well coached team that puts an emphasis on toughness, and a very fast pace on offense using a two quarterback system with Siemian and Colter. Doing a nice job with the option, the passing game as well, very exciting offense. I think defensively they pressure, systematic approach. Mike Hankwitz I've known a long, long time. I was a graduate assistant when Hank was a linebacker coach for Purdue and Jim Young in 1981, so there is a little history there.
It will be a great challenge for our football team. When you look at this football game, we need to come motivated. So with that, I'll take questions and we'll go from there.
Q. Where do you stand at safety coming off the bye week?
COACH DANTONIO: Kurtis Drummond will be back. He's been cleared to practice. He's been practicing since last week. Then I think RJ Williamson will be back in the mix. He's coming off the ankle, and he's practicing as well. So we should be okay at that position...I think we're healthy.
Q. Can you talk about how important Chris McDonald has been for you? First, on the field, do you feel like he's performing like an all conference type player? Then off the field, with as many injuries as you've had rotating guys in, ups and downs in terms of leadership and what he's meant to your football team?
COACH DANTONIO: Chris has been a staple in our offensive line this season. He's been the one guy that I think basically has remained intact. He's the one guy that's had a consistent start every game for us on the offensive line. He's done that really throughout the last three years. He's an extremely hard worker. He's been very consistent in everything that he's done for the past five years. Been really a role model for us on the field. He's taken a leadership approach with our offensive line really throughout the off season and during the season he's a quiet leader.
I think that as far as an all conference player, he's certainly a guy that you'd have to consider based on his performance. When you look at an offensive line, so much of the offensive line you have to look at how did they perform as a group. But when you look at him individually, I think you can point to it in that direction.
He's been an outstanding contributor for us. He's a guy that to me is a foxhole guy. You want him with you whenever you have an opportunity to choose up people you want Chris McDonald with you. And that is a huge compliment from where I sit, people that you want with you at all times.
Q. Coach, how much of an advantage was it to have a bye week? Not just to get your guys healthy, but to prepare for a team like Northwestern that not only has two quarterbacks, but runs the option and looks like a full plate to prepare for?
COACH DANTONIO: We started working on it last Tuesday. Obviously got a little bit in advance on them in terms of what we've been able to do. So we have them broken down with the exception of the Michigan game, which, again, they always do something different. Regardless of who you play, they're going to have something different for you and you'll have to adapt. I think that's basically the way the game goes in general across the league.
So we had an advantage in that respect, and I think we also healed up. Like I said last week, it gave us an opportunity to step back away from the game, which I think we needed to do that and refocus and regenerate our enthusiasm for this week. So we'll be ready to play.
Q. Can you talk about DeAnthony Arnett's progression and where he's at right now? He's one of those guys that's been talked about quite a bit this year without seeing the field too much.
COACH DANTONIO: DeAnthony is a guy that needs to continue to grow in our program. It's unfortunate that we didn't red shirt him because we had such high expectations and hopes for him at the beginning of the season. The reality is how many guys can you play? That's the reality.
He needs to be a little more consistent in terms of knowing what to do. Play a little better at the point of attack in terms of blocking and pitching the ball more consistently down the field. He has big playability and a great future here. That being said. he's got the positive of the whole red shirting, non red shirting thing. If you're being red shirted, usually you're on the scout team and you're not getting the coaching that you're getting day to day. So he's received that. He's traveled at every game. But the number of plays that he's gotten game time really hasn't come to fruition for all parties involved. I'm sure he's disappointed in it. I'm a little disappointed in it as well. At the end of the day, you ask where his attitude and effort is, and it's very, very good. I think he's going to be a great player for us here. But people have to grow in every venue and environment they're in, and he has to do that as well. You have to say who is playing the best right now and try to go with those guys consistently.
COACH DANTONIO: Both those guys, Chris Norman and Larry, are valuable members of this football team. They've had great careers here. I think right now Norman's a little hampered injury wise. Larry hasn't been on the field as much right now, because of Le'Veon Bell's success, but he's had a very, very successful career here. And I'll always remember Larry Caper for his freshman year, and what he's been able to do after. Sometimes it takes a big man to look at things and say, okay, I'm still part of this football team. I'm still successful, and I'm still a major contributor in this respect, even though he might not get as much pub or as much ink as maybe he had when he was a true freshman and he was the guy. So that's difficult.
But at any point in time, he could make a play out on that football field, whether it's the Indiana game with the huge touchdown or whether it's another football game. I remember Minnesota last year with the big catches as well. But he's going to be on the field. He's going to be playing for us, and obviously looking for big plays from him.
As far as with Chris, I still consider him a co starter on this football team. He's a team captain. He's going to be a major contributor in terms of what goes on here in the next two games and where we're at in the whole process.
But it will be those guys, as you get to your last couple of games and your bowl opportunity and your senior year, you look at it, time is precious. For all of our seniors right now, you look at where they're at and their expectations and what they want to accomplish and their future. And so many of our players look at what have they done in the past? Where are they in the present? What is their goal and where they're going in the future? And that's tough to look at some times as a senior as you go down the end of your senior year.
We've got two weeks left that are guaranteed for us. We need to make the best of those and come out of here 7 5 and go into a bowl game and have that feel good feeling about this football team.
Q. Aside from recruiting, did you get a chance to sit down and watch any football this weekend or do you try to get away from it? Just wondering how you handle that during the bye week personally?
COACH DANTONIO: I think I watched football from 12:00 till 11:00, but in between there I did some different things. Went out and cleaned up the yard, did some things like that, cleaned up the garage. But I always centered back to the game. That's sort of what our family does. So whether it's me and my daughters sitting there watching it or me and my wife or whoever it is, that's what we did. But we certainly watched the Northwestern Michigan game, because that's who we're playing next. So good football team; tough, tough end of the game.
Q. You said you've been able to get away and look at your team from the outside and reassess. What did you see in this bye week when you reevaluated your team as far as what you can change in these next two ballgames?
COACH DANTONIO: I see a football team that plays extremely hard, that gets ready to play every week, that comes with a great motor, and it's one play away in a number of games. Where that one play is, tough to say. Some of (them) you can control, some of it you're not controlling. Some of it you can't control. But that's what I see when I look at our football team. I still assess it and say, well, what should be, could be, would be type of year. But this is where we're at present time, and we have to deal with it.
Sometimes, as I said earlier, sometimes that brings people together and makes you tougher as the end result, and that is the approach we have to take. We have to reevaluate where we're at, where we're going, and get things in line.
But the way I look at our football team, very proud of the way our players handled things, because a lot of people would not be able to sustain after a Michigan game and play the way we did at Wisconsin and win in the end. A lot of people wouldn't be able to sustain the following week after an emotional victory or the letdown going into the Iowa week. So we've come out ready to play every week, and that is the trademark of what we've been able to accomplish here, and we want to continue to be able to do that.
A lot of you guys write for a living. You have to assess it, you write about it. But a game of inches, I guess. You see it every week. You saw it...just take your pick on the games. The game is never over, I guess, until it's over. We're trying to look at the end game situations and cover every possible end game situation that we can fathom, basically, because they all seem to be occurring across the country. Not just here, but across the country.
Q. When you watch games when you're off, do you second guess coaches like we do?
COACH DANTONIO: No, I don't ever do that, no. I actually sit there as a fan a little bit, and I sit there as a coach somewhat and look in terms of how it can impact us. If it has no impact, direct impact on us, for example, Northwestern. Certainly watching Northwestern more than watching Michigan and what they're doing as a coach, but, other than that, just watching as a fan.
Q. I happened to be in Ann Arbor Saturday. It looked like that Northwestern offense has such a confidence that every time Michigan scored they felt like they were going to score again. That makes this opponent unlike a lot of other Big Ten opponents. You just have to outscore them usually, don't you?
COACH DANTONIO: We've had great games with Northwestern throughout really the five years we've been here. Score may not indicate it at some point. I think last year the score was 31 17 maybe. So it may seem like it wasn't as close, but it was an extremely close game. 10 3 right before the half. Then it opened up and closed up, that type of thing.
But we've had great games with them. We've played them extremely hard. They've played us extremely hard. And I have a great respect for how they play the game. They play extremely hard. You need to understand that before you play them. Whenever you play Northwestern, you're getting their best shot. There is no question.
Q. Venric Mark is a guy that's emerged for Northwestern. Can you talk about him and the challenges he presents?
COACH DANTONIO: Great punt returner, great kick returner, two touchdowns on punt returns this year. Kick return called back against Michigan on an officiating call that I'm sure they'll be concerned about as well, very concerned about. But I think he's a great guy that can catch the ball down the field. He can run the ball in the zone play, run the ball in the option. He's elusive. He's got a next gear. His size, he's smaller in size, but he packs a punch. He runs powerfully, can break tackles. I think he's a very good running back.
Q. Can you talk about the difference between Colter and Siemian and what each of them sort of possess?
COACH DANTONIO: I think Colter creates very effectively. Even creates on the run. He may be running the option to my right here and cut back all the way to the left. So you have to be able to play things out the back door as well with him. You have to close down all the running lanes when he drops back to pass.
I think Siemian is a guy that obviously throws the ball very effectively. They don't seem to miss a beat when they come in there. They want to change things and take it to a different concept in terms of passing the football. He's able to do that very effectively. He can also run with the ball when it's given to him, and he's shown that as well.
Which direction they go, they've gone a couple of different directions throughout the season. So it depends on what kind of game plan they have in mind when they come here to play Michigan State. But I think both guys have been successful, and they've sort of leaned on Colter here as of late. Your guess is as good as mine.
Q. Everyone knows how dangerous Colter is as a runner and Siemian as a passer. But when you look inside the numbers, Colter completes (68 percent) of his passes. Is he underrated as a passer?
COACH DANTONIO: I think he's got a higher percentage of passes based on where he's throwing the football, probably. He may create on the move a little bit, so the receivers have broken off passes and broken underneath. But, yeah, he's very efficient, as you said, not a lot of turnovers.
Q. Do you feel like Kurtis Drummond has made strides? He seems like he sort of took his game to another level.
COACH DANTONIO: Kurtis has played well this year for a guy who is a red-shirt sophomore. He's had some very big plays for us this year defensively. From a consistency standpoint, he needs to stay healthy. He needs to continue to grow as a player, but he's gotten invaluable experience this year.
As a red-shirt freshman last year, he was sort of our nickel guy for a while, so that's been a positive for him as well. I think he's prepared to take his game farther and farther to the next level as he goes, but he's had big plays for us. I can remember the Ohio State game and the game against Nebraska. He's a good football player.
Q. Each group handles Senior Day differently. How do you expect this group of handling the emotions of playing their last game at Spartan Stadium?
COACH DANTONIO: Hopefully, very well. I think that one of the toughest things I think as a senior is if you come out flat your senior year and your last game if you come out flat. Everybody needs to get themselves ready to go. You can't be too saddened by the experience that you're not ready to play. I think it's an opportunity to showcase your talents one more time in Spartan Stadium in front of your family, your home crowd, and your friends. Our guys will be ready to play, no question.
Q. You faced (Coach Fitzgerald) as a player, assistant coach and now a head coach. What is the signature and trademark of his teams, and will you commiserate with him before the games since you've been so close in games on the wrong side of games by inches?
COACH DANTONIO: Commiserate? I won't commiserate; I'll only look forward. But I think the trademark of Pat's teams are they play with a great amount of toughness and effort. And they're always moving forward. They're always playing for the next play. They're very positive in terms of how they play. They play with toughness, which is like I said before, a trademark that we've tried to...I think we have shown here. But I have a lot of respect for how they play, and what they've been able to accomplish.
Q. Prior to your arrival, as you know, Michigan State did not make Detroit a priority. When you came, you did. Chris (Norman) was one of those early guys out of Detroit, had a lot of offers, could have gone to a lot of places. But he bought into you. Specifically talk about that? I know you're close with all your players, but is there something special early about guys who buy in before others had something tangible to see?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, he was one of the first of that class, really, that '09 class. Had a lot of great players that were really national recruits from the state of Michigan in that class. Larry Caper was the same. Edwin Baker who was in that class, Andrew Maxwell, a lot of guys. I could probably go on.
But Chris Norman, as I remember, we had one evaluation in the spring at Renaissance High School, talked to their coach. Later on that day he called me and said he wanted to commit right at that point in time. I asked him if he was sure, and he was sure. He never wavered on that throughout the entire process. He came here and was an immediate player for us in 2009. I remember starting him against Notre Dame that year because I wanted him to have that experience because I knew he was going to be a great player for us.
More than anything though you see Chris Norman grow as a person. When I think of leaders, I always think of when you become a leader, you're really becoming a servant. I think that he's done that. He's given of himself; he's put others in front of him throughout the entire process. He's a quiet, unassuming guy, and had to take the role of a vocal guy this year. Even though that might not always be his personality, he's done a great job with that, embracing that and stepping forward in that responsibility a little bit.
I'll always remember Chris as an outstanding person. He'll be a difference maker in society. Whether that be in Detroit or anywhere he decides to live, he'll be a difference maker. He'll make an impact on people.
Q. Following up on the senior theme, are Friday nights kind of special? Do you visit them longer or anything you can share with us on what Friday nights before their final game is for the seniors?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, Friday nights we always have meetings. I've always, really this year and last year, we've had a senior or one of our leaders basically talk to our football team and have a little presentation on whatever they wanted to have it on. We call it a traveler's gift. One of the traveler's teams gifts to our team.
On this Friday night, we'll sort of have a video that encompasses all of our seniors and them talking on that video to our football team. So it will be an emotional experience. It always is. I think what we've learned though is to try to have that emotional experience on the day before the game, not on the game, because that emotional experience on the day of the game can sometimes linger for us. So we need to get that out of the way and get on to business a little bit.
But I think it's something that they can look back on and it's their way of touching our football game on that last home game, and their last game too. It will be special.
Q. With only two games left, will you try to make an effort to get some of the back ups in the game that's haven't played much this year?
COACH DANTONIO: We're playing to win. Anything that helps us win will be in there. Anything that doesn't help us win won't be in there. We're playing to win.
Q. Last year during Senior Day, the student section was smaller than normal. Is that something you're preparing for? Maybe seeing a bit emptier stadium this week? Is there something you'd like to say to the students to come out more?
COACH DANTONIO: I'll prepare our football team. I'm not preparing our student body, preparing our football team. So our players will be out there playing, and we'll play to the people that are here. I'm not concerned about who doesn't show. I'm concerned about who does show. When they show up, that they bring their A game, whether that's a fan, a player, a coach. That's all I can concern myself with.
There is a lot going on in America and in society. People have very busy lives. I understand that. So I'm appreciative of the support that we get, and I concern myself with that aspect of society. Not the aspect that doesn't show.
QUARTERBACK Andrew Maxwell
Q. Can you talk a little about Chris McDonald and what he's meant, first, on the field? Whether you feel he's performed at an all conference level, and off the field, with as many changes as you've had on the line and as many ups and downs, what he's meant as a stabilizer and leader?
Andrew Maxwell: Yeah, certainly. Chris has been one of our best linemen for a couple of years now. A testament to Chris, just how hard he's worked, because when I came in as a true freshman and Chris was a red-shirt freshman, he was on the scout team with me. He didn't even crack the two deep as a red-shirt freshman. I know that was a disappointment to him, really hoping to crack to the deep that year. But all the work that he's put in to be a two or three year starter for us, he's been one of our most consistent linemen. I think he's been the only guy who started every game on the offensive line. So just the hard work and durability he's shown for us has been a real constant for us.
Q. Did you watch the Michigan and Northwestern game? Was there anything about the defense that jumped out at you? Did you watch for pleasure or were you watching from an X's and O's standpoint?
Andrew Maxwell: To be honest, I only watched the first two series, and I went to the Midland High game, so I didn't see the ending or any of the game.
Q. Have you seen any film of Northwestern this year?
Andrew Maxwell: Yeah, I watched not specifically the Michigan game, but I have watched some film on Northwestern this year. I see a disciplined football team. I see a tough football team. A team that's playing with great effort the whole game, and that's what you're going to get in this conference week in and week out.
Q. You and Chris Norman were two of the first big recruits that committed to Mark, Obviously, you redshirted, so he's graduating this year. But you two have built a very special relationship that goes beyond football. It's more like even brothers. Would you talk about that relationship that you have with Chris Norman and what he means to you personally?
Andrew Maxwell: Yeah, the relationship that I've built with Chris especially recently, I really cherish. He's become one of my closest friends. You would call it a brotherhood because of our roots in Christ. We've gotten to know each other from AIA (Athletes in Action). When he came back from Ultimate Training Camp last summer, he came back really changed. He's challenged me in my walk with Christ, and we've grown together through that.
So when you can have a common bond in a faith and in a sport like this, that's really two of the biggest things in your life, and you can really grow together and become stronger and better friends and like brothers through that. That's really meant a lot to me.
Q. Going back to the Northwestern game. They've lost a few games closely in the last quarter. Is that something that's sort of familiar to you. Do you feel for a team that does that?
Andrew Maxwell: Yeah, I think we have that in common. That's just going to if that's any indication of how we're feeling in our locker room, they're probably feeling the same way. Just kind of having that so close feeling. If they're working like we're working, they're going to be working hard. Any time you have a close loss like that, that kind of keeps you going and you dig a little deeper and look a little harder to find those extra inches.
Q. How is this a different football team than it was two weeks ago, and how has the bye week helped?
Andrew Maxwell: I think obviously the bye week helps. You get everybody who is a little dinged up, you get healthy, and you get to take a break and come back. Coach D always talks about being fresh. So it's having a week off to kind of take a step back and watch things play out and just kind of reevaluate where we are as a football team. I think we're a more mature football team. A team that's ready to approach this two game season, which is what it is, with the most tenacity and most focus we've had all year.
Q. Kirk Cousins, preseason we asked you about your dialogue with him. Have you had much dialogue with Kirk with your season or has he counseled you at all?
Andrew Maxwell: I talked to him a little bit, I guess a couple weeks ago it was. Just kind of nothing too formal or nothing too serious. Just a couple of inside jokes here and there through text message. But beyond that, I haven't talked to him that much. Not for any particular reason, just because we both have busy schedules.
Q. Talk about Norman for a second. You said he came back changed. Can you expand what you meant by that?
Andrew Maxwell: Well, Chris is a guy that grew up in the church and kind of grew up around it, but didn't really understand what it meant to have a true personal relationship with Jesus. He went to Athletes in Action Ultimate Training Camp, and he just kind of had his eyes opened and just kind of saw things in a completely different perspective. He'll tell you that's where he truly got saved. He came back with a completely different outlook on life and living for a new purpose. You can ask anybody in our locker room, and they'll tell you the same exact thing.
Q. Can you talk about DeAnthony Arnett's development? He's a guy that's a little off the radar now. What's he done over the course of the past 10 weeks?
Andrew Maxwell: Well, he's getting better every week. He's bringing more attention to detail. He's bringing more focus to practice. Because DeAnthony has been the guy with all the physical tools. He's as quick a receiver as we have, and when he runs his routes, he's as shifty as there is. So each and every week really learning the offense for him, being around it, and seeing the adjustments and the checks that he's really soaked in. You can see it in practice that he's not thinking as much. He's just going out there and playing and it's coming more naturally to him. I think that's showing in his performance in practice.
Q. You talk about it being a two game season left to go here. How important is this bowl streak to you guys and putting a little extra emphasis on this game and not wanting to let it go to the last game to make sure you're bowl eligible?
Andrew Maxwell: It's very important. I think everybody that's been to a bowl game can tell you how good an experience it is not only for the team, but the whole program and for the University. For everybody who gets to be a part of that trip, it's an awesome experience. It's something that I've really enjoyed in my time, and for people who haven't experienced it, obviously, we want them to be able to. Especially for the seniors, you don't want to end your senior year where you've been to four bowl games and your fifth year you don't go to one.
So obviously we'd like to get our sixth win this week, and not have to make next week essentially a playoff game for us. But we're going to do whatever we can to get bowl eligible, because that's something that's important to us.
Q. When you look back at the season opener here at home, how different do you feel compared to that night and comparing where you are right now as a person, mentally, emotionally, as a player, all of that?
Andrew Maxwell: I think I've matured. I think I'm a different player, a different person than August 31st. I think everybody on the team, we can say that for ourselves as a team as a whole. But this being the last game, it seems crazy how fast it goes. It seems like just yesterday we were running out of that tunnel and it was Boise State.
But this is really important for us, and our seniors just to send them out on a high note and have them leaving with a good taste in their mouth, and good feelings about playing in Spartan Stadium.
Q. You discussed your faith and conviction. With all due respect to that though, is there any way you could consider this season a success without going to a bowl game?
Andrew Maxwell: Absolutely. Personally for me, I could consider it a success because the way I look at it, I'm lucky and blessed enough to still be playing this game at this level. I used to when I first started playing football, the field we played on Saturday mornings at 8:00 o'clock in the outfield of the middle school baseball field.
Now I look, and we go to these places and I'm stretching and I don't want to make it sound like I'm star struck, but I have a perspective of I'm blessed to play this game. I used to play in the baseball outfield, and now I'm playing in Spartan Stadium or up in Madison, all of these places I grew up watching on TV.
God put me in an awesome position here. I can go to bed at night and put my head on the pillow at the end of the season knowing I gave it my all, and our team gave it all. Chips fall where they may, bowl game, no bowl game, championship or no championship, I can be content because I have a scope and identity that's bigger than all of this.
Q. Fans sometimes have a lot on their plate. There have been some mid to late November games with big holes in the crowd. What would you tell people who aren't sure they should come watch this game why they should be there Saturday?
Andrew Maxwell: It's Michigan State football. If you're a Michigan State football fan, I don't think the record of the opponent should really matter. It's the team we're putting on the field. We're a different team than we were two weeks ago, and we're a different team than we were at the beginning of the season. It's our last chance to see us at home this year. That's something we realize and we're taking to heart, and we'll put on a performance on Saturday that is hopefully going to be our most passionate and heartfelt performance yet.
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