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Big Ten Championship Game Coverage: Mark Dantonio Press Conference
 
 
 
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Dec. 6, 2013

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INDIANAPOLIS - The Michigan State football team arrived in Indianapolis Friday afternoon and held a walk through at Lucas Oil Stadium in preparation for Saturday night's Big Ten Championship Game against No. 2 Ohio State. Following the walk through, Spartan head coach Mark Dantonio addressed the media and previewed the matchup against the Buckeyes.

The following is a complete transcript of Friday's press conference:

COACH DANTONIO: First of all, it's good to be back. We experienced this challenge, this opportunity, in 2011. We made that turn on the highway and saw Lucas Oil, it became a reality.

We've had an outstanding football season, 11 1. I think we're the type of football team that sort of scratched our way into the picture a little bit, developed an identity in October with our offense, have put together some great football games, have won 13 out of our last 14 games.

We're looking forward to the challenge. Ohio State poses a tremendous challenge for us in all facets.

Q. Outside of preparing for a different opponent, did you do anything in terms of preparation, anything different in the run through you did getting ready for this game, even today?

COACH DANTONIO: We always treat it as an away game. It's a little bit different when we get down here because of this.

But for our football team, it's very much like an away environment for us. We're not going to change anything we didn't do when we went to play Nebraska or Iowa or somebody else. We just want to keep our football team geared in and locked in in terms of our normal procedure.

That's what we did. We practiced the exact same times. Just did our deal.

Q. Coach (Dave) Warner talked the other day about looking at this Ohio State defense, some of the passing errors they gave up. He says it's the best defense you've seen this year. Do you agree with him?

 

 

COACH DANTONIO: I would agree with that. A lot of those yards came on screen plays or some broken plays, scramble situations. Just happened to be big gainers. I think they have outstanding personnel. Well coached football team. I think they have a culture built in there. That culture has sustained for quite some time in terms of playing good defense.

I just feel like they got good players. They run. They tackle. A lot of their players we know obviously because we recruited Ohio heavily. They recruit nation wide as well. They have great talent there.

Q. Michigan State and Ohio State played 14 months ago. Do you take anything from watching film of that game?

COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I think you do take things. Conceptually there are some similarities. Obviously, we've changed somewhat; they've changed somewhat. A lot of players that we saw last year are a year older, a year more experienced in their system, yet it is their system, it's what they were doing.

You get a feel for Braxton Miller in terms of what he did last year against us. You also get a feel for how Carlos Hyde played and Devin Smith, some of the other players that played against us.

It gives us something to compare to. But at the same time they are who they are this year as well. We need to take into consideration more in terms of who they are this year.

Q. You obviously played a great game here with Wisconsin two years ago. To have two undefeated teams in the conference, is this sort of maybe what the Big Ten was hoping for, this kind of game, when this conference title game was created?

COACH DANTONIO: I think so. I heard today, a minute ago, they added more seats here. Must be a sell-out. I think it's a very exciting format.

I found that last year when we came in here. You feel the electricity on game day because you realize and recognize as a player and as a coach that after this football game, this game can propel you forward into the Rose Bowl.

Both teams are great football teams. I think we are a BCS team. But time will tell on that at the end of the day.

Excited about the challenge, the opportunity. I think this paints a picture of how the championship format will be next year at even a larger stage. These championship games, I mean, they're so competitive. They just bring out the competitive nature I think even in sportswriters and everybody. You're sort of waiting to see who wins. You don't back into it; it's going to be decided on the field.

Q. With Ohio State being ineligible last year, now eligible to play in the championship game, does it add any more juice to this game tomorrow?

COACH DANTONIO: Well, not for us. Maybe for them, but not for us. I mean, last year we weren't in this football game based on our record, our performance. Really had no significance on us, nor does it have now.

Q. I believe you said once the offense started clicking, it would really start rolling. How gratifying was it to see that actually happen this season? Did you ever have any doubts early in the year that it would happen?

COACH DANTONIO: I knew we'd find an identity. Obviously very gratifying because you need to be balanced offensively, defensively and special teams if you're going to have a good football team. You cannot be just one dimensional.

Last year we were more of a one dimensional team in terms of scoring points, giving up points. Every one of our games, every one of them, were down to the last series or the last play in some cases.

This year, because of our balance, they were all close games, but we widened the gap at the end of the game because of our offense playing a little bit more successfully I guess you'd say.

But a lot of people, offensive line is experienced, our wide receivers have been catching 50/50 catches, that's what I call them, the ones that are tough. Our quarterback has created some. He's had a great year. We've not turned the ball over very much. We possessed the ball a lot, a lot of time of possession. All those things were offensive things that sort of went in our favor.

Q. Since day one you made no secret that the goal at Michigan State is to win the Big Ten championship and go to the Rose Bowl. I know this game means a lot to you and your team. For your fan base, the anticipation for this game is off the charts. Do you talk to your team about what this win would mean to Michigan State, everybody that buys the tickets?

COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, we talk about that. I think you've got to dream big. I think that's part of sports. Every season we've gone into the season saying we're going to get to this game, we're going to get to the Rose Bowl, we're going to get into this game since its inception. That's what we talk about. That's what we plan for.

I do understand how much it means to the Spartan Nation out there. At the same time we live in a little bit of a bubble, those who are in it, as coaches and players. It takes on even an added significance for those people because they really are, right now as we sit here, they're in a life moment. They're in a moment they should remember for the rest of their lives.

As a coach, that's what you're trying to create for people. I think maybe a lot of fans are like that, too. For our players right now it's a special time. It's our time. We've earned the right to be here. I'm just very happy for our football team, our players, their families, because it's a special moment.

Q. Many years ago there was a hockey coach facing a Game 7. He didn't have a pregame speech. He wrote on the board, Win tonight, walk together forever. Do you think there's something in that message in a game of this magnitude?

COACH DANTONIO: I think it propels us forward, to be honest. We're not a finished product. We're at a point, though, where we can do something special, as I just said. Not a bad idea. Maybe that's what I'll do and I'll get out of there, so...

Q. How much did the loss to Notre Dame help you find that identity you were looking for on offense? How did it help Connor (Cook) figure things out?

COACH DANTONIO: I wish we would have won the football game. But with that being said, you saw glimpses against a good opponent, against a defensive line that had a lot of people back from their national championship game, that were very successful. You had some linebackers back, secondary players back. You saw our offense move the football. I think we won the line of scrimmage.

We had opportunities with the ball on the ground that we didn't get. Two of them were taken away from us. We had an opportunity for five turnovers, didn't get it. Down in the red zone four times. Missed the field goal kick. Didn't get our red zone opportunities. There were other situations, as you know. Those are the ones you can control.

We came out losing by four. We also came out of there with the feeling we should have won the football game. Took a step back in the off week. We planted our feet and we drove forward versus Iowa. We didn't look back after that.

I think that's when we started to figure out and develop confidence in ourselves. I've said it many times, I think confidence breeds success.

Q. I think Michigan State is the lowest ranked of the one loss BCS conference teams. You kneeled on the ball in the red zone three times, then you ran the ball. If there is a scenario when you're not in the BCS bowl, would you rethink how you finish games?

COACH DANTONIO: No. My job is to win. Our job is to win. That's what we do. That's what we'll continue to try and do.

Really not thinking about losing right now. I just know if they're 12 1, we'll jump over some of those other teams based on who we're playing.

I really don't think about that. I'm thinking about, How do we get out of this game, finish this game? What's the best way to do that?

We busted some runs at the end of the game that put us out of reach. That's just how we've done it. I don't know that I would change that.

Q. When you see Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde on film, what are some things that stand out? Why have they been so difficult to stop?

COACH DANTONIO: In terms of Braxton Miller, I see a magician, a guy with a sixth sense, a guy that can take a bad play and make it a very good play, a guy that can create, a guy that's conceptually - you can know what Ohio State is doing, be right on top of it, do what you do to stop it that particular time, but he can create and make it a good play. We have to be able to defend the loose plays. He's been excellent at that.

Second thing, Carlos Hyde is a bull of a runner. He's not just tough, he's fast. We've got to be able to control him. That's designed runs with him. Also has the ability to catch the football.

Be a great challenge for our defense. We're looking forward to that opportunity and that challenge. That's why we're here at this game. That's why they're here. They're very, very formidable.

Q. How important is it for your offense, the confidence of your offense, to get out to a fast start considering Ohio State can do the same thing?

COACH DANTONIO: I think the biggest focus that we have to have is as an offense we have to be consistent, not beat ourselves. We have to do what we have to do. I can't say, do we have to be off on a fast start, score the first three possessions? It would be great if I could say that. This is over the long haul. Last time we were in this football game, we got off to a relatively slow start, then the second quarter was ours.

However we get it, we just have to have more points at the end of the game. I think that's the focus. Of course, we want to start fast, all that type of thing. The main thing that I want us to understand is there's no panic. We need to play every play, not panic, be fresh, have our mindset, and understand the speed of the game.

Quite frankly, the question just was asked from an offensive standpoint with Braxton Miller, the speed of the game, we can't simulate that in its entirety. The speed of the game on both sides of the ball is going to be different from what we practiced against. We have to adapt to the speed of the game as we move forward. I think that's one of the big things in this football game.

We have great team speed on defense, but we've got to adjust to that and have tackling ability, play the ball in the deep part of the field, things that allow you to be successful.

Q. Obviously Braxton Miller's versatility is a large part of what they do on offense. You have guys like Tony Lippett that can imitate his speed. Can you talk about how important that was.

COACH DANTONIO: Damion Terry played that role this week as well as Trey Kilgore, who was a quarterback in high school. He's a wide receiver. I thought Terry and Kilgore, but especially Terry did a tremendous job working that.

But still he's not Braxton Miller yet. He's a guy that's extremely gifted. A big, physical type runner. Braxton Miller is more like a tailback than he is a Denard Robinson type. He's a more physical runner. He's a break tackle type of runner. That's what makes him even more difficult to handle.

We have to adjust to that as we go. We did that last year. Made some plays. Lost by one point. They're a better football team than they were at that time. But I think we are, too. We'll find out what all that means tomorrow night.

Q. You were on the staff with Coach Saban at Michigan State in 1998, went into Ohio State, and knocked them out of the championship game with the win there. This is a little different. You're playing for a championship and a Rose Bowl here in this game. That game put Michigan State on the map, started Saban on his course. Reflect on that game and what's at stake for you guys, a program changing win.

COACH DANTONIO: I remember that game. I was a secondary coach. At the beginning of the game, Ohio State pretty much was doing what they wanted to do. As the game progressed in the second quarter, we started to figure out we could play at that level. I think we went in at halftime maybe down 17 9. Had a touchdown or a long punt return called back. We just started chipping away.

As the game progressed, we became more confident. Won the game at the end. Four blitzes at the end of the game I believe from the 20 yard in. It was a great football game.

As far as what that has to do with this game, I haven't thought about it in that regard. I just haven't because it's been quite a while ago. This is a different football team at Michigan State. It's a different Ohio State football team.

Really, to be honest with you, I know people may not agree with this in Ohio, but the magnitude of this game I think is bigger just based on from my perspective sitting here with the green helmet, from their perspective as well, because it sends you someplace.

Q. Could you reflect on Jeremy Langford's career a little bit.

COACH DANTONIO: Jeremy is a guy that came in, wasn't a highly recruited guy. I mean, he was, but more Mid American Conference teams. We offered him. Colorado ended up offering him. He came.

He's a great athlete, tremendous athlete. Same high school as Keshawn Martin. Brian Swinehart brought him to our attention, who was the athletic director there at the time.

Played tailback. Moved him to corner. Played him at safety. Moved him to wideout. Moved him back to tailback, back to wideout. Trying to find a way to play him. He would start fast at positions then plateau. We moved him back to tailback, which I think is his natural position.

He's went through spring. He went through fall. Pretty nondescript. We had other guys. They were all competing. Then he sort of found himself.

Again, I go back to confidence breeding success. Now at this point, you know, I think he has seven games over 100 yards in a row. But he's a thousand yard rusher. He's playing with great power. He's dynamic as a runner because he can break one and go the distance on you.

Looking forward to watching him tomorrow, watching him perform.

But it's a great story. It's just an indication if you just stay the course and you keep working and you keep your attitude right, he's been a great special teams player for us, he's been a big contributor, but if you just stay the course and keep working, great things can happen for you if you just don't give up on your dreams. I think that's what's happened.

Q. What did you get out of going live in practice this week and what did you see from your team throughout this preparation?

COACH DANTONIO: Saw Damion Terry make some plays that got you excited. I think you're trying to put yourself in as many game like situations, safe, not getting injured, so you can simulate as close to what you're going to see on Saturday. I think we pushed the envelope there a little bit to try to do that. We did do that on Tuesday. We didn't do it as much on Wednesday. We did it some. We didn't do it yesterday.

I think our players need to understand, Hey, it's not touch out there, it's full contact. We have to play.

There's no question in my mind that Braxton Miller is the most physical quarterback that we have played this year in terms of his physicality, in terms of taking hits and running with power as a quarterback.

Q. In 2002 when Ohio State won the national championship, you were the defensive coordinator. Jim Bollman was the offensive coordinator. You guys are together again. What has Jim brought to the program that you thought he would when you hired him?

COACH DANTONIO: Well, first of all, Coach Bolls is a guy that is a great team person. He's a great guy to have on your staff. He's extremely loyal. He's extremely intelligent. He's a guy that coached tight ends in the NFL. He coached the offensive line long periods of time throughout his career. He's been a coordinator at the highest level. When you're a coordinator at the highest level, you're going to take some shots at some times, and he's weathered the storm.

I just can tell you that Mark Staten, offensive line coach, they have a very good working relationship. He's brought components and different things to our program, to our offense, that have been creative, have helped us form an identity.

He's done an outstanding job. I just can't tell you how much it means to have him here because he's like a brother to me, as well. We have a very close staff. But he gives you another guy, another person, that you've been through a lot of things with. He's a foxhole guy. He's been there with you through thick and thin. Means the world to us, he and his family.

Q. Last year seemed like Wisconsin was the looser team, more comfortable team because they've been in the game before. What is the mood of your team entering this game?

COACH DANTONIO: I hope it's loose and focused. We're looking for extremes. But we have been here before. As I mentioned, when we took that turn, saw Lucas Oil, my feeling when we saw the stadium was, Okay, we've been there. It wasn't, Wow, here we are, what are we doing here? It's like, We've been here, we need to take the next step here.

There's been a focus, there has been all week. We have a lot of players from Ohio, from the Midwest. They understand the nature of this football game, the nature of where we're at.

But that's where that experience ends. We have to play a different football team with different problems, different things we have to deal with. But I do think having been here before, our players understand a little bit about the environment here.

Is that going to help us win? What's going to happen on the field tomorrow will help us win. We've always been loose and confident, but we've always been about business, too. We're not out here to make friends.

Q. Win or lose, what are you hoping your boys walk away from with this opportunity?

COACH DANTONIO: I really think, as I said earlier, it's a life moment. That's what sports and athletics should play. They should be life moments. If you're playing in high school, you're playing a championship game, you should be able to remember that for the rest of your life. If you happen to go to the NFL, play a championship game, that will be in your mind the rest of your life. This is no different.

My thoughts are, what I try and give to our team is, this is an opportunity, you need to nail it, but this is an opportunity you should remember for the rest of your life win or lose. Certainly we want to win the football game. No question about that. We've prepared very hard. But win or lose, you will remember that because of the magnitude of the game, the sense of camaraderie that you have with the people that experienced these things, not this game, but the entire 2013 season. It started last year on February the 4th. That's when we started this.

Q. I know the main reason for the live contact and live scrimmages in the spring was to help settle quarterback competition. What did the rest of the team get out of that? Also, what prompted you to tell these guys they would be the ones at a team banquet after a 7 6 season? Came out of left field a little bit.

COACH DANTONIO: That would be me, kind of left field.

First of all, we went full contact every spring practice. We didn't do it in the spring game because it would horrify the fans probably. We did do it during practice because I think we needed to do two things. We needed our quarterback to be more creative. We came down on our sack total. We had (45) in 2011. We came down on our sack total. We needed to be sure we could pressure the quarterback, needed to get after him. We needed to make it a live experience not just for our wide receivers and tailbacks, but a live experience for the quarterback. We needed to be able to throw the ball in time, create sense of urgency for our offensive line. All those things.

We did it. We did it carefully, but we did do it. We created a lot of different drills that would simulate that. Then we also went live in practice.

Sometimes I would say, It's not live right now. Most of the time I would say, Okay, we're going live, protect yourself. Don't take any unwarranted cheap shots. I thought Andrew Maxwell took a huge hit in one of the scrimmages, got up and led the offense to a touchdown. That was a huge moment for me.

As far as prompting, why did I say what I said at the banquet, we had a special team last year, a good football team, but we couldn't finish. Our point production wasn't as good. We had an outstanding defense. We lost five games by a total of 13 points. Many of those games, one point to Ohio State, double overtime to Iowa, last play of the game against Nebraska. I could go on.

But we were resilient after each of those losses. After we lost to I think Nebraska, we beat Wisconsin at Wisconsin in overtime. We won the bowl game. We had to go on the road to Minnesota in 13 degrees to play for a bowl game. We got it done.

We were sort of a resilient group of people that just kept pressing. I think when you go through adverse situations or storms in your life, it tends to bring you closer together. That's what happened to our football team.

I felt that. At the banquet, I felt like we had something special. Usually when I feel like that, I'm going to share it with our football team. I did at the banquet. It's come to fruition. We'll find out tomorrow are we or aren't we, but we've come a long way.

Q. We know obviously how good the Ohio State offense is, we know how good your defense is. What is it like when you sit down to X and O in game week and prepare for a game like this?

COACH DANTONIO: Well, it's tough because you have that X factor like I said. Pat Narduzzi, our defensive staff, they've done it. They're the ones. I've taken on the context of being the head football coach. I'm in and out of meetings. I know what's going on. I don't want the meetings to stop when I have to step out to do something else. That's a lot. They've done an outstanding job.

What you see and what I see as a defensive coach, you see concepts that are difficult to handle. You see concepts which create a tailback in the backfield in a one back set having Braxton Miller as the quarterback. Using pulling guards, pulling tackles, zone plays, run pass conflicts, those types of things. Then you see great wide receivers catching the ball deep down the field. You also see a bull of a tailback that runs with great power. You see some other guys that are electrifying as well. You see a very experienced offensive line.

What you see is an extremely productive offensive football team that is capable of a big play at any point in time, at any given moment, from anywhere on the field. We've got to be able to control that, work through that. That's why I said earlier, we've got to get accustomed to the speed of the game as the game moves forward.

There are no huddle offenses, which further complicates things. It's en vogue now. You play against those naturally all the time now. We've done that. Been there with that.

At the same time, they have different tempos, those type of things. They're a very well coached football team with tremendous players with an X factor, the X factor being Braxton Miller, quarterback. That's what makes it so difficult.

With that being said, we've experienced success playing people. Our defensive football team is motivated. We want to play against the best. We want to prove that we are the best. I think we're prepared.

Q. You talked about Jim Bollman being like a brother to you. We know how close your relationship is with Jim Tressel. What has he thought about your team and what do you think he'll be doing tomorrow night watching this game?

COACH DANTONIO: I talk to Coach Tress every now and then. I talk to him just to settle me as a person. I listen to his advice. Doesn't talk X's and O's. He talks to me more about how to handle situations. He's been a great friend and a great mentor. Also hear from Nick Saban a little bit. But it's nice because it's people who have an influence on me over the course of my life. This is a big moment. I would like to think he's sitting back and watching. I don't know if he's got green on or not tomorrow night, but maybe.

Q. Rob Harley, he played for you at Ohio State. How did he come about that he joined your program last season? What has he brought? What's a week like this for him considering his history?

COACH DANTONIO: I like to hire graduate assistant coaches who have played for me because I think it's special to have somebody who's paid the price, been in your program. There's that built in loyalty. You know who he is as a person. You know the hard work he's experienced. You've had an opportunity to coach him, so he knows things conceptually.

For Rob, being a sideline reporter after the fact at Ohio State within the media world there, I think it's especially exciting for him. He's done an outstanding job, outstanding job. He's worked on the defensive side of the ball, offensive side of the ball. Currently on defense. Worked on offense last year.

My thought process is to always take your graduate assistants and move them from position to position, offense and defense, so that they're able to get a job and be versatile as a coach as they move forward.

Ryan Manalac played for us at UC. Zac Hueter played for us at Michigan State. Paris Johnson is a guy who is another graduate assistant for us. He spent the last seven and a half years as a policeman, played before that in the NFL.

We've got a great group of graduate assistant coaches, and they will be outstanding coaches in the future.

Q. You have a ton of players that have played for you before that take a lot of pride in this program. Have any of them addressed the team as a whole leading up to this game, or the guys two years ago speak to the younger guys?

COACH DANTONIO: We have an honorary captain pretty much every game. We do not have one this game. We've had guys on our sideline throughout. My phone just keeps buzzing.

We've had a lot of people calling, texting. I'm sure our players are getting the same thing. You're trying to answer everybody. There's no possible way that you can.

So we've been seven years at Michigan State. Seven groups of players that have been very, very important to my life. It's gratifying when they reach out, but it's also gratifying that they're part of this process.

This didn't start last February. This started on November 26th in 2006 when I became the head football coach at Michigan State. So the process has endured. We've gotten close on occasion. We were close two years ago. 2010 they didn't have this format. We got passed over.

But there's been a lot of people involved in this, a lot of people, not just from a football player's standpoint, our athletic administration, Mark Hollis, Greg Ianni, our president (Lou Anna K.) Simon, our Board of Trustees, George Perles has been so influential because he's been here in the past as a football coach, former football players, Joel Ferguson is the president of the board when I was here before, he's still president of the board, is very involved. Just in terms of being positive.

I said from day one if we could all go together, not splinter apart, great things are going to happen. That's what's happened here. You see a group of people working together and you see greatness right around the corner.

We're going to find out tomorrow how great we are, as Muhammad Ali used to say, how great we are. We're going to find out a little bit more.

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