Dec. 4, 2013
EAST LANSING, Mich. - Sophomore quarterback Connor Cook, senior right tackle Fou Fonoti and senior wide receiver Bennie Fowler met with the media on Tuesday to preview the upcoming matchup against Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game.
Below is a complete transcript of Tuesday's press conference:
Sophomore quarterback Connor Cook
Q. Can you talk about when you first knew that the coaching staff was beginning to trust you and those first moments after the Notre Dame game and then the weeks that followed after that?
Connor Cook: I know that the first time they said that they trusted me was going into the Youngstown State game. They said to me, you're the guy. Don't be afraid to make mistakes. We're not going to pull you, and that just fulfilled confidence within me and then knowing that the coaches believed in me made me feel even better. And then the Notre Dame game rolled around and coach made that decision. Can't really talk about that, that's in the past, but ever since then I feel like I've done a much better job of being a leader, commanding the offense, and just making better decisions and stuff like that, and now we're here.
Q. Connor, you mentioned it yesterday, but being a guy from Ohio and so many guys from this team on Ohio, is there a little extra special meaning to this game?
Connor Cook: Yeah, for sure, being an Ohio native, having all my friends that go to Ohio State, kids I went to school with that go to Ohio State, obviously the game is already big, big enough, but having those extra people, those ties with people who are connected to the university, it does make the game a lot bigger.
Q. A lot of noise around this game, national title implications, all that. The fact that you guys might go to the Rose Bowl win or lose, do you hear all that? Can you listen to it? Does it change your perception at all that the Rose Bowl could be there either way, win or lose?
Connor Cook: I've heard stuff about that, but really our main goal is just to win. Obviously if we win, everything will take care of itself. I really don't even want to picture us, if we lose what would happen. Our main goal is obviously win and everything will take care of itself. Really us as a team, players, coaches, everyone, we're not really even like looking at it as if, if we were to lose. We're confident in us, confident in the coaches, confident in myself and the whole team. We believe we can win, and that's the mindset we're going to have going into the game.
Q. A couple years ago Coach Warner remarked that he'd never seen a quarterback prepare for a game like Cousins prepared for that championship game. Do you remember being in the room, seeing anything different about him that week? Did you take anything from that, and is your week any different than a normal game week now?
Connor Cook: I talked with Coach Warner earlier this week and he mentioned heading into this game Kirk just had blinders on, was so prepared. Watched a lot more film than he normally would, and that's the same thing I'm going to have. I'm going to put the blinders on, I'm going to get in and watch so much more film than I have. I've already been watching a lot throughout the season, but this is the most important week of our entire lives. Definitely it's the most important week for my life since I've been alive, stuff you dream about, the implications that are riding on this game. So you can't come away from this game with regrets or anything, so I'm going into this game with no regrets, prepared my butt off, getting the film, watching the film of Ohio State, and just going over our game plan.
Q. You talked a little bit about what each team does from a schematic standpoint. Has Ohio State been pretty true to form throughout the year and what do you expect to see from them on defense?
Connor Cook: We expect to see a lot of movement up front in their defensive linemen, their linebackers, and then they run a lot of cover three and cover six, middle field closed. So they have a variety of different coverages. They have a variety of different fronts. They're going to mix it up and they're going to heat you up with a lot of blitzes. I mean, they're just a very, very athletic group. They're well coached, and they play well together.
Q. I know the goal is to win the game and all that, but when people analyze this game they talk about Ohio State's offense and Braxton Miller and Michigan State's defense, and it's like you and the offense are an afterthought. Do you think what you've done offensively here in the last several weeks deserves a little more respect than that?
Connor Cook: Yes. I think you look at the stats and we've beaten every single Big Ten opponent by double digits. That's not just our defense, it's our offense putting up points, too. The offense has won games, Big Ten games this season. When we went to Nebraska we played really, really well as an offense, went to Iowa and played really, really well, and Illinois. We have an offense here at Michigan State, not just a defense. When we hear stuff like that, we take offense to it and we're going to have that extra motivation throughout the weekend, and it's going to make us play a lot more harder on Saturday.
Q. Dantonio was saying that you have three goals for the year. Is that something you talk about in August and put aside or does it come up on almost a daily basis?
Connor Cook: It's stuff you talk about all year. Obviously the main goal is to make it to this game, win it and then go to a bowl game, but you've got to take it one step at a time, not look past anything. We've done a great job this whole season of not looking past anything, taking it one game at a time, trying to go 1 0 every single week. When you get to a point like this obviously you're closer to those goals, but still, we've just got to take it one step at a time.
Q. You guys lost five Big Ten games last year by a combined 13 points. Some of the writers are calling it the Revenge Tour. You've beaten four of those teams. Ohio State happens to be the last one on the list. Is that something you're cognizant of and how much does that one point loss here last year motivate you guys?
Connor Cook: Yeah, we feel like last year was definitely a game that got away from us, slipped away. It was in our grasp at the end and feel like it was a game that we definitely should have won. We're obviously looking at last year's film, watching it. It's hard to watch for how well we played and stuff like that, and we feel like it's the same group of guys we're going up against and it's pretty much the same group of guys that we had last year. So it's going to be a similar rematch, and we feel like we played well enough to win, like our offense come a long way since then. I feel like our defense has come a long way since then, too, but we are cognizant of playing Ohio State and that they're the last one on the list. But just going to treat it one game at a time, just like any other game, it's just another opponent, and I think if we do that, all our guys will be ready.
Q. You've talked before about Ohio State didn't recruit you, and there's other maybe not as highly recruited players on this team. Does that give this team an edge, call it a chip or whatever you want to call it that it plays with, do you see that in you and your teammates?
Connor Cook: Yeah, definitely. I mean, growing up in Ohio everyone wants to go to Ohio State, everyone has dreams and aspirations of going to that school, and if they don't recruit you, guys have that extra motivation when they play against them just like Central Michigan and Michigan State. When we play Central Michigan we say all the guys are going to play extra hard, they're going to bring their "A" game, they're going to work super hard. The game is going to be a little bit more physical just because they're a little upset maybe that they didn't get recruited by Michigan State.
Same thing playing Ohio State. We have a lot of guys from Ohio on our football team that maybe if Ohio State did recruit them or Ohio State did offer them they would have gone there. We do feel like guys like Travis Jackson, guys like Denicos (Allen), when we play a team like that from our home state, teams that we liked growing up and they didn't recruit us, we're definitely going to play with an extra edge.
Q. With the way the season started and not being the week one starter, and the Notre Dame situation, all that, now being named second team All Big Ten, what does that mean to you, and is that kind of a representation of this whole offense starting with a lot of question marks and unknowns and whatnot and sort of developing into something that's getting recognition and respect?
Connor Cook: First of all, I owe it all to my teammates, definitely my offensive line for protecting me the whole season, doing an exceptional job of just keeping me protected and making me go through my read progression, reading the defense downfield, and especially my receivers coming up big this year, making plays when I needed to be, and then J Lang (Jeremy Langford) running hard. I owe it to my teammates and the coaches for voting, too.
But it just shows with hard work you can accomplish a lot of things. I think ever since I came here I've just been a super hard worker, always working for something. Day in and day out, whatever it is, if I find something to work at, I'm going to work. If I have something in front of me, I'm going to do whatever I possibly can to accomplish it.
I'm just proud of our team, proud of our team for how far we've come as an offensive unit, especially from the beginning of the season. I think we didn't have a first touchdown pass until the third week of the season, which is pretty rare, and you look at us now, we have an 11 win season under our belt, and we're not done yet. Really just proud of our offense.
Q. You've said that this is just another game you want to look at it as your next step, but you also said that this is the biggest week of your life. How do you balance those two facts? Are you trying to strike a medium there?
Connor Cook: Really you just can't make it out to be a bigger game than what it actually is. I talked to my dad earlier, and everyone knows the implications riding on the game, everyone knows how big the game is, but you have to treat it just like any other game because if you treat it like it is the biggest game of your life, the biggest game you've ever played in, you could get caught up in it. You could get caught up in your emotions and stuff like that. You just kind of have to maybe take a step back and just be relaxed, take a deep breath and not just look at it as - obviously it is a huge game, we all know that, but in my mind maybe go in a with a different mindset of just treat it like every other game.
Senior right tackle Fou Fonoti
Q. What would it mean to you to get back to California? Have you already kind of talked to family about this in terms of just having that vision of it?
Fou Fonoti: It would definitely be a blessing. You think about it, how many chances you get a second opportunity, and it's just - to understand that we're finally here, we've just got to finish this year off strong, and to know that we have the opportunity to get my brothers back home, that's the way I see it, so definitely excited about that.
Q. Two part question for you: First, bright red pants; are you allowed to wear red this week? And secondly, more importantly, what does Ohio State's front seven do that presents a challenge for you and how do they compare to some of the other D lines you've faced?
Fou Fonoti: Start with the first question. I'm a festive guy. I love Christmas. And being a thing that comes final time, I like to dress myself in things that bring positive vibes. This is my last week of class. I was feeling good with these PJ pants.
Second question, these guys are a great group, front. If I'm correct they're leading the Big Ten in sacks. But we definitely have our work cut out for us, but I definitely have all the confidence in our guys. We take on the challenge, we take on this challenge headfirst, so definitely excited about that. You've got guys, Noah Spence is a great young guy, as well as (Joey) Bosa, very explosive, strong guys, and you have Bennett inside there who's quick, moves, uses his hands well. Definitely excited about that, and should be definitely an exciting day.
Q. Coach was saying if we finish 12 1, why not us in terms of if certain scenarios fall our way, that we could be in the BCS national title talk. Do you guys feel that that's the case given that you had maybe a controversial close loss to Notre Dame, that you guys have done enough to put yourselves in the conversation?
Fou Fonoti: You know, that's definitely something that I know many have thought about and Coach D always talked about we worked hard enough to be in the position we are today if things come out. But our main goal is to come out here and make it a great game and get the W. Whatever things may happen, we just - all I know is we've got ourselves believing in the team and making our own work. Definitely excited about that, so just wait until Saturday.
Q. Connor was pretty emphatic about saying we have an offense here at Michigan State, it's not just a defense. Is there a certain chip on your shoulder as an offense that you guys have because there is so much talk about the defense and rightfully so, that you guys are pulling your weight, as well?
Fou Fonoti: Definitely. It's tough to always hear. We're definitely buzzed for our defense; hats off to them for always getting it done. But we definitely have to pull our own weight, and it's tough to always hear people get hesitant when they talk about our offense. It's something that we take pride in and we're going to do our best to go out there and perform and get the job done.
Senior wide receiver Bennie Fowler
Q. Can you talk a little bit about Connor's development and when you knew he would be okay as the quarterback this year? When in his development did you know it?
Bennie Fowler: Well, throughout camp he had shown a lot of flashes that he had the talent and that he was ready to play. But I'd probably say in the Notre Dame game. He made strides as the game went on. He got better and better, and that was our first away game. Throughout the game he played in a hostile environment like that, he showed flashes that he was going to be that guy. And then Iowa he probably took off in one of his best games passing.
Q. Connor was talking about so much talk about the defense, but hey, we have an offense here, too. Talk about kind of the growth that you guys have had on that side of the ball, and is there maybe a little bit of a chip on the offense's shoulder because the defense still gets a lot of the credit, and rightfully so.
Bennie Fowler: Well, week in and week out we try and play with a chip on our shoulder because our defense is that good and they get a lot of the attention, which they should, and they deserve all the attention that they get. But we had a first couple rough games, first two games. We didn't do what we wanted to offensively.
And then pretty much after that we took a little bit of a step back against Notre Dame, but throughout the Big Ten we've showed that the offense can play up there with the defense and that this is a team game. Even though our defense is that great, we've done well this year, too.
Q. How do you think this team is a reflection or takes on the personality of Coach Dantonio?
Bennie Fowler: Coach D is a guy that believes in discipline, a family atmosphere, and that's what we are as a team. If you looked at teams throughout the nation, throughout the country, it's about chemistry, and those are the teams that win. That's the reason why we win is we have a good chemistry with our team. It's not about the defense is better than the offense or things like that. It's about it being a team atmosphere and a family atmosphere, and that's what we take on from Coach D.
Q. The discipline part, how much does he harp on that all year long?
Bennie Fowler: We talk about discipline every day because discipline is what's going to win you the football game. It's not about being exciting, about this and that. It's about being disciplined and doing what you're taught.
Q. I'm wondering, Mike Sadler was talking about the feeling of losing that game two years ago, and I think he said we had roses between our teeth and had them swiped. What kind of motivation can that serve, remembering that painful feeling you had after losing that game two years ago?
Bennie Fowler: It serves as a great motivator, the fact that we were so close to our goal and it was taken from us. We have a lot of experience from that game, a lot of people that traveled to that game, played in that game. We're going to use that as motivation this week.
Q. Going into this game a lot of the talk is about Ohio State's National Championship hopes, where the SEC fits in and everything else. Do you guys feel a little bit overlooked in this conversation heading into this game?
Bennie Fowler: A little bit, but at the same time, Ohio State hasn't lost a game in 24 games, so they deserve some of the credit that they've been getting. I can see why people are looking at them that way.
Q. A lot of games Coach Dantonio has taken a knee at the end, you guys have ran out 12, 13 run plays the last 10 minutes. When you look at Michigan State's offensive numbers, do you think they're a little misleading considering the way he's played out some of those fourth quarters?
Bennie Fowler: I think our offensive numbers, they're pretty good, but at the same time we have run the clock out on certain teams in certain games. It's not really all about stats per se, it's about wins and losses, and we've only lost one game, so that's the most important thing.
Q. Back to Ohio State, there is a lot of talk about what will happen in the event of an Ohio State win and Michigan State loss, people are saying Ohio State needs to blow you guys out, national title talk. Do you use that this week, that people are basically discussing the loss scenario for you?
Bennie Fowler: We're not using that as motivation. We want to go out and win the game, and we need to play to the best of our ability. It's not about what they do, it's about what we do. We have to control what we can control.
Q. Coach Dantonio mentioned last week about the possibility of that sixth season for you. Is that something that you are considering or have you made a decision either way?
Bennie Fowler: It's a great opportunity, the fact that I have a sixth year of eligibility. But I'm not really thinking about that right now. Ohio State is the most important thing, and Coach D and I will talk about that after the season.
Q. Can you kind of touch on your season? We saw the touchdown catch at Northwestern, and you had the one at Illinois, too, a couple crazy plays involved there. Talk about I guess what the season has been like for you and how you've grown this season.
Bennie Fowler: The first couple games were rough for me, but I got going against Youngstown, did okay against Notre Dame, and throughout the Big Ten I've been able to make some plays, and that has to do with Connor, the offensive line and all my teammates around me. I feel like I've grown maturity wise and I've made a lot of big plays for this team. It's a team atmosphere, a team game, so I just appreciate all my teammates, the defense. We've gotten a lot of possessions because of our defense, so therefore we've been able to make a lot of plays.
Q. We never really got to ask you about that catch you made (at Northwestern). If you could just talk about that. You've made a lot of great catches in your career. Where does that one rank, and if you could just us through that catch?
Bennie Fowler: It was definitely top five in my career. The wind was going crazy, and at first the ball seemed like it was going long, and then it was short, and then it was in front of the DB and then it was on his back and I was able to catch it. Just happy I was able to make that play for the team and happy Connor was able to make that throw and that read and that check that he made at the line. It's up there, up there with the Wisconsin and up there with the catch I had against Michigan last year. It's up there in one of my top five.
Q. Obviously Ohio State struggled last week, has had some ups and downs on defense. When you look at their secondary, what do you see on film?
Bennie Fowler: I see some very good players, Bradley Roby, their safeties, the corner, Doran Grant. That's a good secondary. That's a good overall defense. We have a good challenge in front of us, and it's all going to come down to execution and who's going to out execute who.
Q. When they have struggled, what's been going on from what you see?
Bennie Fowler: I mean, I just see some coverage breakdowns, some people getting lost in certain spots or maybe they're not communicating the whole signal throughout the whole defense. I just see little things like that, but they're still a great defense.