Dec. 3, 2013
EAST LANSING, Mich. - Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio held his weekly press conference Tuesday inside the Huntington Club at Spartan Stadium. Dantonio talked about the challenge of facing second-ranked and undefeated Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game and the journey the Spartans have taken from the beginning of the season to winning the Big Ten Legends Division.
The No. 10 Spartans (11-1, 8-0 Big Ten) will face the No. 2 Buckeyes (12-0, 8-0) Saturday, Dec. 7 in Indianapolis at Lucas Oil Stadium. Kickoff is set for 8:17 p.m. ET and the game will be televised on FOX.
The following is a complete transcript from Tuesday's press conference:
COACH DANTONIO: First off, I just want to congratulate our football team and our staff for representing the Legends side of the conference in this championship game. It's an earned opportunity, 11-1 football season, 8 0 in the conference, and it'll be a tremendous challenge for us.
When you look at what we've tried to do and our motto really all season long has been to chase it, and that's what we've done. We've sort of come after every football team that we've played. Nothing has been easy as we've gone through the season, and I said way back when that they would be the ones, and now we have this opportunity to prove that.
It's very, very exciting for us as we move to this next stage, I guess, of our goals. Goal number one down, goal number two is up this Saturday.
When you look at OSU right now, I think obviously you always look at three facets of every football team. You look at their offense, certainly No. 1 offense in the Big Ten conference, nationally ranked, excellent tailback, powerful runner, outstanding quarterback in Braxton Miller. Carlos Hyde is obviously an outstanding running back. I think they've got very talented wide receivers. Devin Smith, obviously Corey Brown, you go in and you look at Evan Spencer is a guy who's played a lot of football for them. Offensive line is experienced.
Difficult match up; (it will) be exciting for our defense to match up against them, and it comes down to the basis of playing football. You need to block, you need to tackle, you need to catch the football in all different aspects of the game, and on defense you've got to play the ball in the deep part of the field. Cut down the running lanes, put them in bad situations, and get the ball off, and that's basically what we'll try and do.
When you look at them defensively, I think they're a talented defense. When you look at them, a lot of the players that they have on their football team are guys that we're well aware of through the recruiting process: Michael Bennett, defensive tackle; obviously Shazier is an outstanding linebacker. You look at the back end, CJ Barnett, Roby, those guys, Doran Grant, are guys we all know, are very well aware of, and they play fast.
They're a well coached football team in all different aspects, special teams included. They've blocked a lot of punts this year. They've had a couple returns for touchdowns. It's going to be a challenge at all different angles as we approach this football game.
My history at OSU, was a graduate assistant there, so I understand the traditions. Earle Bruce, Woody Hayes was still there when I was there, was in and out of the program a little bit. Obviously I worked for Coach Tressel and he's had a huge impact on my life, had some very exciting times when I was there, but I understand the traditions, I understand the expectations that go along with being there. Have deep respect for Ohio State and what they've been able to accomplish.
Before we ask any questions, just want to also congratulate our soccer team for being in the Elite Eight, our volleyball team goes into the NCAA Tournament this weekend, as well, and then obviously our basketball team is No. 1 rated team in the country, and big game I guess tomorrow night against North Carolina, so that'll be very exciting, as well.
Q. You mentioned Ohio State. A lot of people are looking at this Ohio State offense as an unstoppable force. You were in Pat Narduzzi's shoes at Ohio State when you played a Miami offense who seemed to have an answer to every position. How similar is this situation for Michigan State to what Ohio State had to take on in the 2002 national title game?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think that they're two entirely different offenses. One offense predicated on the passing game, this offense deals a lot with the running game, with a quarterback that almost has a thousand yards rushing and a tailback that basically played more than two thirds of the season but not a full season and is the leading rusher in the Big Ten games. A little bit different aspect in terms of who they are and the type of quarterbacks that they have.
But two very successful offenses, two offenses that basically have marched through every different football team that they've experienced. We had a great defense back then in 2002. I think we have an outstanding defense here this year in 2013. So it'll be about match ups. I know our guys are going to be geared up. You can't underestimate the aspect that we do have common opponents, some, and that we do know something about each other, and I think that is a lot more information than we had in the championship game back in 2002.
Q. Does it give you and your team any extra confidence knowing some of the success you've had against sort of similar offenses with Denard Robinson at Michigan and Nebraska to an extent, just the mobile spread quarterback. You guys have been awfully successful against them. Does that give you guys extra confidence heading into this where other guys might have a deer in the headlights sort of look?
COACH DANTONIO: I think we've done a nice job competing and playing against those offenses in the past, and limiting the opportunities that they've had and shut them down basically, shut down Robinson every game that we played him.
But this is a different offense in the fact that Braxton Miller is more like a tailback, and if you could make the comparison I thought Denard Robinson was probably more like a very good flanker when he got loose, and Braxton Miller is more like a tailback. He's a power runner. He's a spin runner. You have to force him into making mistakes. He's more like a tailback oriented player back there, so they're able to run certain things with him maybe that another team would run different plays, and that's just one example.
I think Armstrong at Nebraska, I think we played against football teams like this. I think that's the day and age that we're in in offenses throughout the country right now. But it will be a big challenge for us.
Q. With so many guys on your roster from the state of Ohio, it's certainly been a big game for them the last couple years. Do you see a difference from them this week? Is it like kids from Michigan playing against Michigan, they have that added kind of jump this week?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I think that goes sort of hand in hand when you play a team. We have a lot of players from Ohio. I think (26) or so maybe. I haven't counted them up this year. But we have a lot. It's been a place that we've recruited very heavily because of our ties in Ohio, I'm from Ohio, a lot of our coaches are from Ohio or have a background there, and I think that when you play against people that you know, it takes on added significance. When your family is from there and everybody that you know growing up is from that particular area, I don't care whether it's Ohio or if we were in a different state competing against - if you were in the Georgia South Carolina game, it's much the same. When you grow up in that state and all the people in that state that you know, it just sort of stands to reason that you're going to be excited about the opportunity to play. That's the way our guys have always been. I get texts from guys who played in the '98 game way back when I was here in '98 that were from Ohio that played on our football team that have something to say about this football game, that played for Michigan State. I think that's natural, but we embrace it because it's a little bit more motivation. It becomes a little bit more personal, so embrace it.
Q. Can you talk about how critical Connor Cook's development has been to this year, and when in the season you knew you were going to be okay with him?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, it was obviously extremely critical. He's 10 1 right now as the starter. I look back and say should I have kept him in there those last two minutes of the Notre Dame game to be honest with you because he at least was in. What kind of decision did I make? But I think he has grown. I really felt like after the Iowa game we saw great growth, and then when he was able to come back in the next game and the next two or three games and put together back to back games with great play, I thought that it was a very big positive step for him.
But these are new experiences as we go forward. They are new experiences, they're different games every week, different defenses, different personnel, so there's a learning curve there. But I know he's excited about this opportunity being from Ohio. I also think he's a resilient young man. I mean, he can get knocked down and get back up, and that's as important as anything in a football game. He has that presence about him, that ability to take a hit, to take something bad happening out there and be able to respond, and I think that's huge, especially in a championship venue, because there's going to be some bad plays.
Q. Sort of along those lines, your running back Jeremy Langford, a guy that moved around, seems to play with a bit of a chip on his shoulder, the player that you have that maybe weren't as - even Connor Cook, weren't as highly recruited as other players, do you look for guys like that, that have that chip that are willing to wait for that you are turn, or is that just by happenstance once they get here?
COACH DANTONIO: I think that's something that the culture within our program creates. I think there's no question that every football program you have to go and you have to work to become what you want to become, and I think within our system here, you come in, you get into our weight program, you develop, you're on the field, we give opportunities to our players, and eventually you figure out that it's on you, that the buck stops there, and that you have to be the one that brings their play along, and I think Jeremy is an outstanding athlete. He was an outstanding athlete in high school, played a multitude of positions, and then he came here and he played a lot of positions for us: Tailback, wide receiver, and we've said this over and over, defensive back, corner. So he's got skills, he's got explosive ability.
This year, the opportunity afforded itself probably sometime in September a little bit. In October he took hold of the position, and he's got the feeling now that every time he touches the ball he may go the distance, and I think that's made the difference in his play. He's matured greatly as a young person like all of our guys do when they've been able to conquer challenges and been able to move forward, and I think at the beginning of the year, who's going to be our quarterback, who was going to be our lead tailback, so there were a lot of unknowns in this football team as we entered the season, and I think our guys have done an outstanding job in terms of elevating their play and growing and establishing an identity. I think our coaching staff should be commended for that, as well, because we persevered through some things and we've been patient. But players make plays, and he's done the job.
Q. 11 wins in three of the last four years, you talked about getting this program to where you wanted to, and maybe the national perception of this program continues to evolve. What would a win on Saturday mean in terms of this program and those perceptions going forward?
COACH DANTONIO: I think that a win on Saturday for myself and for our program, it would be goal number two accomplished. Number two. We've got three of them. So that would be the second goal accomplished. I would think it would send a message throughout the country right now. I think we're sending that message. We're doing all we can to send the message in terms of how we play on the field.
Sometimes we've got to scratch and claw a little bit more than others, but that's the nature of it. We have to earn ourselves into that opportunity to be thought of with that type of prominence year in and year out. I don't know if I'm answering the question, but I think we're coming. I think people will recognize us - when we met Georgia in the Outback Bowl I thought we were recognized, and then again, the next year everybody props us up and we didn't have as good a year. We have to be able to continue to understand what this is an every year type of thing, which it has been three out of the last four.
Q. Two part question: Going into the 2011 game you had played in a major championship game before but your players hadn't. Now it's reversed this year. Your guys have been there, done that. Urban has been to them but his players have not. How much of an advantage is that for Michigan State?
COACH DANTONIO: I think it's a big advantage, but there's no question that we all have played in big games. We have played in big games. The games that we've played, whether it's been down in Indianapolis, we've played in that. We've played in games here versus Michigan and in games versus Georgia or whoever, Alabama in the bowl game years back. So we've all played in big games, and I just don't guys are going to get excited, players are going to get excited, players are going to feel pressure. Don't want them to feel any stress. They're going to feel pressure, though. So I just don't know how much farther they can go.
When you feel pressure and it's a big game and it's a national TV game and they've all played on it, and we've all coached at that level already, I just don't know how much farther they can go.
In the end I truly believe it'll be the little things that get it done, the attention to detail aspects of a football game, the mistakes, the execution, and the physical play, offense, defense and special teams, in terms of fundamentals. So we've got to be a very, very fundamentally sound football team and we've got to play smart.
Q. Second part: Coach Warner said that they didn't play like a championship offense last weekend. A couple times this year Connor has talked about being excited. What do you say to a young quarterback to keep him calm or is it just going to be growing pains?
COACH DANTONIO: I think you say what everybody says: Settle down. There's not much more than - everything is okay, get back to business. That's what we do. That's how we handled it. He threw an interception at the end of the first half which I thought would have certainly led to some points. What are you going to say? You're going to say let's make the next play. So we've not been the type that has lit into somebody and ripped him. We've been the type to teach with that moment. Use it as a teaching moment.
It doesn't mean we're not disappointed. It doesn't mean we don't scratch our heads sometimes, but I think that happens all across America, regardless.
He's grown. Like I said, he's 10 1. The first big game he had we lost by four points. So I think we're far superior offensively. At that point in time we didn't have an established tailback, so we've grown a lot since then. We'll see where we're at on Saturday.
Q. A lot of the talk this week is about various scenarios if you lose the game, Ohio State's National Championship hopes, the fact they maybe need to blow you out to make sure they're in the title game, the fact that you could go to the Rose Bowl with a loss. Do you use that this week or try to ignore all of it?
COACH DANTONIO: No, it's about us. Absolutely, it's about us. It's not about them. We have to play them, and we'll confine our thoughts to who we are and what we're trying to do. We're going to try and go to the Rose Bowl. That's our goal number two. When we, or however you want to put this, if we're 12-1 at the end of the week, why not us? That's all I'll say, because we'll probably be No. 4 or 5, so why not us? So we'll let that stand at that point.
That's how I'm going to approach it. I'm not going to sit there and worry about losing. We're going to play hard, and whoever is the best football team will probably win. Whoever executes the best, makes the least amount of mistakes will probably win the football game, and I do believe should Ohio State win that they should represent in the National Championship game. I do believe that. I think that when you have an undefeated football team, that's the right thing to do.
A lot of people were saying in 2002 we didn't belong in that football game, and we won it. Enough said. But with that said, that's my tip of a hat towards Ohio State and Columbus, Ohio, but with that being said, why not us. So we'll concern ourselves with us.
Q. So the why not us is based on if you're 12-1, why not you for the national title game?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, why not us?
Q. You mentioned earlier...
COACH DANTONIO: If certain scenarios take place. If certain scenarios take place, which obviously last week you saw a lot of scenarios take place. There are no givens in college football. I don't believe in that. There are no givens.
Anybody can rise up and beat somebody else. That ball bounces a lot of different ways. The fact of the matter is we're 11-1 right now, we're competing in a championship environment, and we'll move from there. So don't limit yourself. Dream big. That's what I tell our football team.
Q. You mentioned earlier phrase the buck stops with you. Can you elaborate on that, and what are the challenges of instilling that mentality in your program?
COACH DANTONIO: You know, about four years ago, I stopped in at Columbus, or three years ago I stopped in Columbus and saw Coach Tress, and he gave me a book they were reading, "The Traveler's Gift." Maybe you should read that book and you'll understand about it. The first gift was the buck stops here. I think we all have to understand that, that it starts with you. You have something to do with the outcome of this football game, even if you're on the kickoff team and that's all it is, you have something to do with winning this football game, and you have to take that component and idea and embrace it before you can go to anything else. You have to understand that you're responsible for your own success, and that's what we'll try and do. That's who we are.
Q. I don't know if this was going to come up today but I'll take a shot. The Marcus Hall situation and the reprimand he got, I wonder if you have a feeling about that and how you would have reacted differently if one of your players are flashed a double obscene gesture to the crowd?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, first of all, I've been in that situation before, as we all know. And secondly, the only person that should be commenting on that would be the person involved in that situation, which I commented on it at that time. So I'm not in that arena. I chose to side with my player because I knew my player. That's what I felt the right thing to do was.
I'm not qualified to speak on that. There are other people paid to do that job. It's of no consequence to me. That's a distraction. That's a distraction for me to even think about that. So that's beyond our scope.
We're going to play their best. That's what matters to me. We're going to play their best. We're not backing into any football game. We're going to play their best, so let's go.
Q. You mentioned about the crazy scenarios that have happened in the past week, obviously the Alabama Auburn game being one of them. Did you get a chance to see that? And secondly, can you kind of touch on I guess what this game maybe means for Alabama and if you've had any conversations with Coach Saban in the past couple weeks?
COACH DANTONIO: No, I'm not concerned about that. That's not - again, that's not in my wheelhouse here. I'm concerned about Ohio State. I'm taking a half hour to come over here to a press conference, and I'm going back over there and watching film and dealing with what's on our plate. All I can concern ourselves with is what's it take to become 12-1 and then worry about what's happening after that, one way or the other, and deal with that. And that's the way we've always tried to do things.
Q. The Big Ten nationally has a perception about it that doesn't match the SEC and whatnot. Do you feel like this match up between you guys and Ohio State can change some perceptions, and do you think it's fair people say Ohio State hasn't played a tough defense yet until yours, you haven't played a tough offense yet, so we don't really know what these teams are about?
COACH DANTONIO: They are excellent, excellent coaches in this conference, and coaching is being done every week at extremely high levels. Everybody that I see, every offense that I see is well designed, conceptually laid out, and sometimes you play an out of conference team and all of a sudden you lose to an out of conference team and all of a sudden the whole perception of your program goes in this direction.
But when you're playing week to week in this conference, there's going to be a winner and there's going to be a loser. It's pure and simple. These two football teams that are playing in this championship game haven't lost to anybody in this conference. So the winner of this game to me represents a lot of people.
The same could be said about the Southeast Conference or any other conference. It's not my point or my place to talk about other conferences. But it basically comes down to sometimes how you play in bowl games, and that's one game. That basically talks about your strength of conference, how you represent in the bowl game, I guess. I'm not really sure how it's totally done. But all I can say is you play the schedules that you have and you get ready to play. You try and win those games, and then based on how many games you win you sort of fall into a slot.
I think I was asked probably three or four weeks ago are you concerned about not being in the top 25. I said, no, I'm not concerned at all. If we're 11-1 at the end of the year, we'll be in the top 10, and we are, and that's all that matters. So just win. Things take care of itself if you win. Northern Illinois is climbing up the ladder. So is UCF. Just take care of yourself. Don't worry about the things you can't control.
Q. We were talking to the Ohio State coaches yesterday, and their common theme was how much better your defense is this year than the one they saw last year in the meeting here. How is the defense better this year in your opinion?
COACH DANTONIO: In my opinion we've got more turnovers, takeaways, we've got more sacks than we ended up with last year. When I watched the film last year, we gave up one deep ball when we were ahead. We've got to play that more effectively, but it was a great throw and catch.
But we played hard, tackled pretty well. The game was a one point loss. I thought we had opportunities in other areas. We dropped a couple interceptions, one that would have been six.
So I mean, we're talking about a game of inches last year, and the one thing that I would say at the end of the football game, they found a way to grind it out, and that's what won the game inevitably. We didn't get the ball back with four minutes to go. But I think what's made our defense better are the takeaways, the sacks, and just another year of experience with our guys who were playing last year.
Shilique Calhoun had an incredible year. Last year he was our third defensive end and probably didn't play as much in that football game because it was earlier in the year. So he's obviously matured greatly in just a year's time. And I would say the same thing about some of our other players. Trae Waynes didn't play in that game at all last year, and he's a very reliable corner, has huge potential for big plays, et cetera.
Q. Over the last couple years there have been some minor issues that came up between you all and Ohio State, whether it was over recruiting or doctored game film or whatever. Just curious is there any lingering bad blood there or was all that resolved?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, all that is resolved to my satisfaction. I think coaches are very competitive people by nature, okay, and they're going to try and win, and they want to try and get every single little bit of information that they can. But yeah, there's no issues. There's no issues. I have some very, very good friends that are on Ohio State's staff, mutual friends with Coach Meyer, with Urban Meyer, go on the Nike trip every year together, so there are no issues.
A lot of times I think it's the media bringing up things that happened two years ago that are trying to create that.
Q. You mentioned three goals. Just to be clear, what are the three goals, just so I know?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, goal number one this year was for us to get to this football game because you can't go to the Rose Bowl unless you get to this football game. Goal number two was to get to the Rose Bowl. Goal number three was to win our bowl game and to finish and to complete our circle. That's our circle.
Q. You talked about having to scratch and claw where others haven't. You've often said that nothing is ever easy here. In that respect how much of an emphasis do you place on getting things done, getting your goal to the Rose Bowl on your own terms, and would it seem almost unfitting to back into it, so to speak?
COACH DANTONIO: I'm not really understanding the question. To back in?
To not win this game and still go to the Rose Bowl.
You know, once again, we're not there yet. We're not there yet. I'm talking we're not there yet to even talk about these decisions. When we lose a football game, we regroup. That's the nature of this program. When we lose a game, we regroup and we drive forward. That's what we do. So wherever we go, whatever we do, we're going to regroup after a win, we are going to regroup after a loss, and we're going to move forward. So I think that we're one of the better teams in the country. I think we're deserving of a BCS bid.
Our goal is to go to the Rose Bowl. Our goal is to win this football game, and those are the thoughts that we have right now. So to think about anything beyond that is really - it's just sort of a waste of my time right now. We'll be ready to play. We're going to represent, et cetera, et cetera. Whatever we do, whatever bowl game we go to, however we handle ourselves.
Q. Pat Narduzzi came to the press conference the other day and said we're going live (in practice). I wonder if that's a no brainer and if you can elaborate on how that could hurt you and what kind of risks go on that by going live? COACH DANTONIO: Well, there's risks, so when we do that we do that in a limited type situation, which is safe for both ends of the spectrum. I think what we do is we have to be able to tackle well in this football game. You've got Braxton Miller who obviously when he breaks out and scrambles and we had him dead to right a couple times last year and he got out and he made a throw or whatever the case. So we've got to tackle well.
I think we've tackled pretty well throughout the season. That should give us enough experience to do that, enough experiences to do that well on Saturday, but you have to - I I think you have to get that mentality right, so we're going to get the mentality right as we move forward. Obviously we can't risk getting guys hurt, but at the same time we've got a quarterback that can simulate him to the best of our ability, and so we need to use that and we need to allow our players to have that experience in practice, at least today and tomorrow.
Q. Do you think that hurt you more than helped you? By not going live.
COACH DANTONIO: Last year's Ohio State game? I knew that we missed some tackles. Did it hurt us? We're just trying to reinforce what's important. Trying to reinforce what's important, which we've done other times during the season here. We've done that - we did that going into the Nebraska game, as well.
Q. I'm just curious if you could elaborate on Damion Terry's role this week in simulating Braxton and what he's giving you leading up to this game.
COACH DANTONIO: Simulating Ohio State? You know, he's a big body guy that can run, can make plays in space, that has size. He's 225 pounds, can throw the ball. He's done an outstanding job throughout the entire season simulating various difference quarterbacks that we were going to play against. It's hard to get the - it's not the real deal, so we don't want to compare it to that, but it does a great job at least in simulating from a scout team perspective what we will see.
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