Dec. 17, 2010
EAST LANSING, Mich. - Numerous reporters and media outlets attended Michigan State's Capital One Bowl Media Day Friday at the Spartan Club in Spartan Stadium. Head coach Mark Dantonio, offensive coordinator Don Treadwell, defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi and several players, including captains Aaron Bates, Kirk Cousins and Greg Jones, previewed the New Year's Day matchup against defending national champion Alabama.
Below is a complete transcript from the press conference:
THE MODERATOR: To preview the Bowl game against Alabama, head coach Mark Dantonio.
COACH DANTONIO: Just to start very quickly, it's been a very busy time these past two weeks or so since we've been involved with the Capital One Bowl, recruiting, all these things we go through. It's been hectic. It will continue to be hectic.
Our players are through with exams. We practiced last weekend, had six days of practice, go these next four, cut them loose a little bit, then get down to the bowl game. Very excited about the opportunity. Tremendous challenge.
As you look at Alabama, as we have been pretty much every day, big play receivers. Julio Jones is a tremendous receiver. Big body, great catching ability, runs great routes. (Marquis) Maze is an outstanding receiver as well. (Greg) McElroy, great touch with the ball, knows where he's going as a quarterback, does a great job of controlling his offense. They have the two running backs, Ingram and Richardson, who are tremendous players, and a solid offensive line.
When you look at them defensively, certainly I'm sure you talked to our coordinators. Big, physical, fast. They lose their one safety for the season (Mark Barron). But they've got good players. Obviously up tempo defense that thrives on pressing the quarterback, stopping the run. Good special teams.
It will be a very difficult challenge for us. But we're looking forward to that opportunity.
Q. While you're on the road and recruiting, just to follow up, have you noticed the momentum from the 11 1 season, the attention you're getting in this bowl game, have you tangibly noticed that in recruiting?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I have. I'm allowed to go one time into a school. We have noticed that, though. I think there's a definite feel that the Spartans are moving, upward mobility in everything we've been doing. That's been positive. We have some visits coming with some outstanding football players that are national type recruits. That's very exciting to us. Those will happen in January. We have a great group of committed guys thus far and we're excited about those guys.
I spent time visiting those players, visiting some top recruits as well. But I do feel like momentum is changing and I feel like we're going to have an outstanding recruiting year.
Q. Could you tell us about some of the young guys who have caught your eye. Could you give us an update on Henry Conway.
COACH DANTONIO: Henry Conway is an outstanding offensive lineman. He's a young player. Had a neck injury. Right now we're allowing that to heal. There has been a healing process that has taken place. How far that comes, we'll have to sort of continue to remain positive with him.
But as of right now, he's not practicing. We're hopeful that he can practice in the spring, if not then in the fall. He had a serious neck injury, so we're trying to allow that to heal, and there is healing taking place. So that's a positive with him.
As far as the young players that really catch your eye out there, I really went through our 2010 and 2009 recruiting class yesterday and talked about those guys with Coach Staten. We have an outstanding class that came in 2010. The guys are really impressive.
Obviously the guys who are playing for us on the field, but the guys who have been redshirted, Keith Mumphery had an outstanding camp, electrifying receiver, does everything. Tony Lippett is another guy. Tony Lippett could play receiver or defensive back. We were close to playing him from the Iowa game out of necessity. I feel like he has the talent to play immediately right now at this level probably either of the positions. Certainly at the skill positions on offense, we have more depth in that area. He could play either/or.
When you look at our offensive line, Skyler Schofner, Travis Jackson have been guys that have been very impressive. Mike Dennis, as well. But Schofner, extremely tough, very active player. Travis Jackson, very athletic.
As I look around, our tailbacks, Nick Hill, we did redshirt Hill. (Joe) Boisture is our quarterback, came in (last) January, continues to improve. Gained a lot of weight since he's come. He's about 230 pounds, 6-6.
In the secondary, trying to go through everybody, but our defensive ends Marcus Rush and Taylor Calero, solid players, active, weighing about 250 now, can run very well. Mike Sadler will be an outstanding punter for us. You just have to walk out there and watch him punt.
I know I'm not touching on everybody, but those are some of the guys we've gone through.
I think when you look at our players, you ask, are they good people, doing the right things on and off the field, and do they have a career path ahead of them at Michigan State. Really, our entire 2010 class is outstanding. I would say the same for our '09 class. We have an outstanding class of young players rising.
Q. I know recently you had a chance to go to Orlando and see Coach Saban. Can you share what you talked about, having to face each other here coming up.
COACH DANTONIO: There's a lot. Very busy when you go to those things. You're together really about five minutes without anybody around you.
But just, `Hey, how you doing? How is the family?' We really talked about our families having grown. Tremendous respect for Nick as a coach, as an organizer. As I said at the bowl game (announcement), I wouldn't be standing here at this podium as the head football coach of Michigan State had I not been hired by Nick, Coach Saban. Feel very, very good about our relationship. Look for him for guidance throughout my career.
Q: How bad do you want to win this game? We want to win every football game. This is not about Nick Saban versus Mark Dantonio. This is about Michigan State versus Alabama. It's very important that we win our last game. I think that's important to a program because it sets you on the road to success for the next season. That's our focal point right now, our focus.
As far as that challenge, as I said, it's great. As far as how bad we want to win, I guess we'll have to show up on game day and see that. But I think our players are going to play extremely hard. All I can continue to emphasize with them are the things that Coach Saban talked about when he was here. Play with great effort, toughness, have knowledge in what you're doing, and stay poised, we'll be fine.
Q. What have you learned in the last three years of bowl losses that's helping you prepare for this year's bowl game to get your first win as a head coach at MSU?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, we played very tough bowl opponents. When we look back at the first game against BC, they were a No. 11 ranked team in the nation. Matt Ryan was their quarterback. We all know how he's played. That's been one game.
The next game was against Matt Stafford, No. 1 pick, great Georgia team ranked No. 1 (in the preseason).
Then last year, Texas Tech was a very good football team as well.
We've drawn some tough draws. This is the same. You expect that when you play in bowl games. How will we prepare? We will continue to critique things as we move forward every single bowl game. I can say in every game we came to compete and every game we had a chance to win that football game in the fourth quarter. That's what you're coaching for. I think you're coaching to get the opportunity to win the game in the fourth quarter. At that point in time you've got to make plays, one side of the ball or the other. We've been able to do that this year. We made plays in the fourth quarter to win football games. That's what you coach for, to get to the fourth quarter to have an opportunity to win. That's what we'll continue to do.
Challenging game, as I said. Our players have great expectations, very high expectations. This football team has been special. So that will carry us.
Q. What would it mean for you to get this win, not just for the university, but for the Big Ten Conference going up against the SEC?
COACH DANTONIO: I've said this all along. It's the Big Ten Conference, everybody measures out how strong the Big Ten Conference is relative to other conferences. I think the thing we have to continue to focus on is Michigan State versus Alabama. It's not an All Star team playing each other. Certainly we want to carry the flag of the Big Ten Conference into this football game as co champions. That's important that we represent, very important that we represent. At the same time it's about us versus them. It's pure and simple.
How important would that be to our football program? I think if we win...we're going to be probably about a top five football team in this country. I think that makes a big statement for Michigan State and where we're going with this program.
As I said earlier, I think after the Penn State game, this is not the end here. This is not the end of this program, our time here. This is sort of the middle of the road. This is something we've accomplished after four years of hard work. A lot of people have been involved in this. It will continue to push us forward and move forward, I guess continue to rise to the top in terms of how I would look at it in terms of our overall program perspective.
Q. Have you had an actual opportunity to let everything sink in that's happened over the season, being co-champions, finishing 11 1, a comeback in terms of your health, or would it come January 2nd?
COACH DANTONIO: Probably come about February 2nd. It's been a unique season, to say the least. That's been interesting. I don't think we've had a season like this where all things are sort of going in one direction on the field for the most part. We've had adversity off the field. It's been a good season. We've been blessed. I want to thank everybody for all their prayers for this football team, for this particular coach and our coaching staff, everything that we've done.
Q. The fact that you have players now who have played in a third bowl game, some this will be their fourth, what has the practice been like? Is it a different purpose year one, two or three with these guys?
COACH DANTONIO: I think that it is. When you look at our four bowl games, the first one was the first time we played in a bowl game in four years. That was a new experience for a lot of our players. The second bowl game was the first time we played on New Year's Day. It was against a good Georgia team, in a more national type light, media spotlight. This last game, it was about respect. The Alamo Bowl was about going down there with the people we had and representing. We had a chance to win that football game at the end.
Hopefully we've grown. Hopefully we've matured. As I say, discipline and maturity makes the best teacher for us all. Hopefully we gain more of that as we move forward and we understand the opportunity that we have.
This is an opportunity of a lifetime for our seniors. The focus has been very, very good. Our players have done an outstanding job in practice thus far. They're working extremely hard on and off the field. We really haven't let up. We played a week late from what we usually do. We gave them a week off, then we've been lifting, running and practicing pretty much after that. We've stayed pretty current.
This is the first week we've not practiced during the week. That was because of exam weeks coming a week late. That did hurt us a little bit, but we'll get back to that today.
Q. Obviously Ingram is a great player. He's a guy that you wanted here. What did you like about him? Why did you want him here? Obviously the results you see on the field.
COACH DANTONIO: Well, we'd take more than just him from their football team. We'd want some others, too.
I think Mark Ingram being from Michigan, he was a guy we focused on in our recruiting at that point in time. His father played here. His grandfather played here. His mother graduated from here. He was a Spartan fan growing up. All indications were that this could happen for him.
I think he was relatively an unknown to some degree within the national spotlight. Not that he didn't have a great junior year, but he wasn't getting as much hype maybe. All you had to do was watch a little bit of film on him and you saw what he was capable of doing.
We felt good about that. As I said to all recruits, you have to make up your own mind, you have to live your own life. We do not pressure players to come to school here. I don't believe in that. When he made the decision to go to Alabama, we wished him the best. He's done an outstanding job. Very proud of what he's been able to accomplish.
COACH TREADWELL: Certainly, just thinking ahead with the bowl preparation, which we're in full swing as you can imagine, it's always a challenge because as you guys know it's a little bit of a juggling act because here we are still in a contact period in recruiting, flying all over to see a lot of young men at this point in time, yet at the same time trying to piece together a game plan for the upcoming opponent. That has been a challenge.
Here we are today. We're off the road. Today has been a day we've gathered as a staff to try to tie up some loose ends. We'll practice here over the next three or four days. Coach Dantonio will address that more with you in preparation. The fun part of that is I'm getting to lock in a little bit more on the opponent, Alabama.
In talking about them, certainly this is a great challenge for our program. Obviously there's a lot of other pieces to the story. I'm sure that many of you are aware of in terms of Coach Saban and many of his staff members having been a part of the program here at Michigan State.
Certainly beyond that is how our players perform. As we look at them from an offensive perspective, they provide a tremendous challenge because from top to bottom they're an outstanding defensive unit. When I say that I'm referring to the fact that you can go across the board from their D line, linebacker group, all the way into their secondary, you look at their group and you say, `What round are they going to be drafted in? That's just the kind of talent they have at Alabama.
That brings an exciting challenge for our young men. Our guys are looking forward to it certainly on offense from that perspective as we prepare to get ready.
Probably a side note that many of us use in as well in the bigger picture, in the bowl games, no matter who you're playing, it provides an opportunity for your underclassmen to get fundamental reps and bring them along a little bit more from where they normally would be.
Coach Dantonio has done a great job of allowing us, offensively and defensively over the last week or so on certain days, we've had practices where we've had some developmental days, if you will, where we've had an opportunity to focus in on our young players. You can't put a price tag on that, that time spent with them. Now you don't simply have to sit back in the spring and say, `Let's see what's going to develop.' You had a chance within the last week or so to take a peek at some of the younger kids. The focus will be a little bit more obviously with the veteran players as we get ready for the game plan.
From that point, I'll take some questions.
Q. How would you compare their defensive line to Iowa or Illinois that was underrated?
COACH TREADWELL: I think very comparable. You look at Alabama, you would easily lump them in with some of the better teams in the Big Ten defensively because they just present that challenge.
What you try to look for in certain teams, if you will, is there a weakness. There is no weakness as you look across the board at Alabama. Probably a good observation on your part. Very comparable to some of the top defensive groups in the Big Ten.
Q. How much of an impact do you think it will be with Mark Barron out for them, their safety?
COACH TREADWELL: That one remains to be seen. Anytime you've had a starting safety that you've had in more or less, like Marcus Hyde for us, if he were not in a game, there were things, because of his experience, that would be more positive to have him in than not.
What do they do on that end? It will be interesting to see. Does it simplify things more for them or do they feel like they have enough time in four weeks of prep to still get up and running the variety of things they do. That's one thing they do very well on the back end, they present a lot of different coverages, have a lot more wrinkles than a lot of the teams we've played up to this point.
He's (Mark Barron) a tremendous player. Not only does he appear to be the one that gets those guys all lined up in the back end, he has range, he's a very physical tackler, and has very good ball skills. He certainly was one of the complete packages when you look at an individual in evaluation.
Q. With Kirk Cousins ending the season banged up, how big is it to have this month off before playing Alabama?
COACH TREADWELL: I think with all of our kids, any little nagging injuries, if you will, that time to heal, you can't get that back. It's been tremendous. I think it will certainly show by the time we play the game.
When you look at it, we'll probably practice over the next three or four days. The young men will have some time off. Even when you're down at the bowl site, there's a four day window of practice there.
That practice time coming up, then more down time to continue to let those guys that maybe have a few nagging things heal up, has been tremendous. It should serve in our favor as we move forward.
Q. For 30 seconds or as long as you want to talk about it, can you talk about your situation, all the other distractions you've had. You've been up for a couple jobs, you want to be loyal to Michigan State. How are you handling this? Are you feeling some interest after the year this team had and your role in it?
COACH TREADWELL: I think, like anything, any program that has success, whether it's Michigan State or other schools, at times there are opportunities that may present themselves from time to time. That's the nature of our business. We have a tremendous head coach here, tremendous administrative staff that are all supportive of us that one day would like to be a head coach.
We take those things case by case when they come and evaluate them at that point. We've never let them become a distraction. Obviously the focus is always where you're at. Unless you're invited to the dance, you just keep dancing where you're at. Very much appreciative of what you're doing.
No, it never has been a distraction. I don't anticipate any of those scenarios becoming that. I think many of us as assistant coaches look forward to go to being a head coach someday. Until that happens, we're excited about this particular challenge we have. We certainly keep the focus on Alabama at this point in time.
Q. With Le'Veon Bell, great start, tapered off down the stretch. How much of it from what you saw might have been the freshman wall? Do you think defenses figured out who he was, prepared for him?
COACH TREADWELL: In the bigger picture, one of the positives in that is that Rock (Edwin Baker) has really stepped his performance up. I think we talked to you guys early in preseason, there was kind of a three headed tailback group there. We always said at the same time Coach Salem had the opportunity along with Coach Dantonio if they feel a certain young man got hot in a scenario that might limit some other reps because we would go with the guy that got hot.
Edwin Baker of course had a tremendous year. I think that being more so than not what Le'Veon did not do. Le'Veon is still an extremely good back. All three of those guys have tremendous work habits if you were to watch our practice. It keeps it so competitive there. But I think, again, at certain times this season, Edwin stepped up his performance and that really made the biggest difference.
Q. There was a lot of talk before the season about Coach Salem's impact. Now that the season is over, can you talk about what he meant to you as his boss?
COACH TREADWELL: Every coach brings something special to the table. I think one of the things in a big picture with Brad, number one, he's been a head coach, so he has that ability to look at a scenario and figure out ahead of time and in advance because he's practiced it, how does it affect everyone. Then you bring his calming spirit. He's just tremendous to have on board within our staff, number one.
Then you just see his influence and impact with our running backs. That shows another reason why the success is there. Certain coaches have those intangibles, as I call it, the opportunity, much like Coach Dantonio, the relationships, ability to connect. That's a strength of Brad's.
Q. Could you talk about your depth of talent at wide receiver and how that played into your success this year.
COACH TREADWELL: Depth is always something you're always striving for. One of the neat things, I've said it before, with our football program, let alone offensively, is now that we've been in place for four years, it's been kind of neat to see the evolution and how these young men have evolved in the system.
If we continue to bring in the quality type players that we have, good young men as well as tremendous players, what it ultimately does, to answer your wide receiver question, it provides competition. Boy, nothing can beat that to raise the standard and bar of what you're seeking to the point that we hope as we move forward at every position, it would be nice to bring a young man in, and he would have to be a little bit out of the ordinary to come in and be a big part of the offense or defense right away.
The word often referred to is 'redshirting'. We're getting to a point where that's not new to us. We don't have to realize and sit and think that every young man that comes in as a freshman is going to have to play right away because we've had an opportunity to create some depth and it's been tremendous for competition.
What you're talking about in a receiver is best demonstrated there. We rolled in four or five guys this year throughout the course of a game. Because of that good competition there, and camaraderie, it's made our receiver position much better than it's been over the years.
Q. Have you been able to get more reps for some of the young guys in these bowl practices? If so, anyone standing out to you so far?
COACH TREADWELL: It's been collective. Yes, we have had, as I mentioned earlier here, the earlier bowl practice we've had, a lot of emphasis on a lot of our younger players. In general you go across the board and you want to see the evolution of those guys, how they're coming in what they're being asked to do. We kept it generic, just to give them a little bit more anticipation of what's to come.
It's almost a reward for them because many times we refer to it as scout team players, or the word we use is 'rocks'. They're just practicing a position we're going to work against. For them now to have a chance to do what we're asking them to do offensively speaking has been a bonus.
Not one guy I'd point out, per se. Collectively it enhances your program to be in a bowl to even give them a chance and more importantly to be coached more in terms of what our terminology is, not lining them up saying, `You're going to do once again what the defense does we're playing or the offense does.' Now they've had a chance these last couple of weeks to really do what we want to have them do and have them develop in that way.
Q. Coming into the season, there were some questions on the offensive line. Can you talk about how they developed this year, how key they were to your success.
COACH TREADWELL: No question. I think any success you have on offense, much like defense, but the defensive and offensive line have such an impact. Coach Dantonio backs us and reiterates it quite often any success we have is going to start up front. You've got to win the battles up front.
I think we had a couple of young men coming back that had a little playing time in there from the center, the tackle of course with D.J. Young, certainly (Joel) Foreman. But to have the other guys step in, Chris McDonald, J'Michael Deane, they've really stepped forward. It's been really neat to see their development this year.
So those questions that we were wondering about in preseason, even last spring, they really stepped forward to say, `Coach, you can count on us.' Then that of course allows some of the other younger guys, again, a little more of a competitive role. We rolled a few guys in there. (Jared) McGaha has been in there, a few other guys. Much like receiver, it keeps the competition good.
We've been very pleased. A lot of that, again, goes back to Coach Roushar, Coach Staten, those guys that are in charge of that group doing a tremendous job in getting the most out of our players.
COACH NARDUZZI: Overall, Alabama is a good football team. I think you all know that. National champions a year ago. Heisman Trophy tailback...One of the coaches in the SEC, won't tell you who it is, said, `When you get there, put a curtain up at the 50-yard line and don't look down there.' Obviously looked pretty good.
Q. When you look at their attack, they're very similar to you guys offensively being pro style. How much does it help that you practice against that quite often?
COACH NARDUZZI: It helps us a lot. They're not obviously a spread. They have the element of spread in it. It obviously helps us a bunch. They're very similar to us. They're going to run outside zone, power, a little inside zone, going to try to throw it. It helps us a lot, I think.
Q. What sort of game do you feel Greg Jones is ready to play?
COACH NARDUZZI: Greg Jones has a great attitude. I don't know how many different honors he's had this postseason. Greg Jones will be ready to go. It will be his last college football game. We expect Greg Jones to have the best game he's ever had.
He had a great one in the Penn State game. Expect to have a great one out of him this week.
Q. Alabama obviously has a very balanced attack, strong attack. Is there any facet that you look at as being most dangerous?
COACH NARDUZZI: No. They have a very athletic offensive line. They've got Julio Jones out there, a man child. They have two great tailbacks. They got a quarterback that can get it to whoever he wants to. He makes good decisions.
We just got done watching third down. He gets the protections where they need to be. He's obviously a very smart guy as well. That's important.
Q. I was going to ask about the rushing attack. Is there any rushing attack you've seen probably in the Big Ten this year that compares to what they have with Richardson and Ingram?
COACH NARDUZZI: Every week it's a little bit. But I would say they're similar to Iowa offensively. They have a lot of things Iowa does. We didn't fair very well (against Iowa). Outside zone, inside zone, they're going to keep pounding you. Offensive line is similar to Iowa athletically. They're not a huge Wisconsin type of offensive line. They're a very athletic Iowa tough and know exactly where to go.
Q. Does this extra time benefit you? Do you take this time and go into way more film? You try to keep the same routine?
COACH NARDUZZI: Obviously you got a little bit more time. You never have as much time as you want. I got back off a recruiting trip here at midnight last night. Was supposed to be back at 8:00. You know how flights are. Coach Gill got in this morning. I was luckier than he was. You hit the road trying to do everything. You come back, `What the heck do they do on first down again?'
We obviously have more time to prepare. More time will help us prepare, but it will also help them prepare. It's a two way street. Not like they're getting six days to prepare and we're getting 36. I think it's an even thing.
But anytime you have more time, you're able to do some little things different, it helps you.
Q. Some of the early draft projections haven't had Greg Jones all that high. Wondering what you see for his future in pro football.
COACH NARDUZZI: Greg Jones has a great future. Let me just tell you, he's got a great future. Doesn't matter where he gets drafted. You can go with all those projections, all that, all those draft people. The only people that really know is the NFL teams, what they're going to do, where he's going to fit.
One thing I know about Greg Jones: wherever he goes, first or second round, someone is going to get a steal. He'll be a hungry son of a gun, I promise you.
Q. With more time to prepare, they run wildcat with Ingram from time to time. Will that help you, having more time to prepare?
COACH NARDUZZI: I don't know if we've seen any of it except in our offense. That's a bonus because they don't know what we do to it. They don't have a snap on tape of what we like to do. We have some different stuff they won't see. I think that's a bonus.
It obviously helps us. We've always had our plan going into a week if they do that, what are we going to go to. We practiced it throughout the year. The great thing is they don't know how much we've practiced it. Think that's a benefit to us.
Q. Any of the younger guys stand out in these first five or so practices that you had?
COACH NARDUZZI: When you look at younger, younger guys, Marcus Rush has really stepped up. He's a guy that's been on the scout field all year, when you talk younger guys. He hasn't had a whole lot of time to prepare for a game or anything like that. You forget about him when he's on the scout team. We've had some showtimes where he's really showed up and done a nice job, showed he's going to be a very good football player for us. He very well could have played this year for us.
... Mylan Hicks, he showed that he's going to be a great player. Tony Lippett, too. Two guys I don't even see as young because they've gotten reps on our field. They're going to be great players for us in the back end for us. Lippett could be a two way player for us, because he could be a great wide out. Those are our young guys that are down on the scout field a little bit.
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