Mark Dantonio Weekly Press Conference Coverage
Dec. 17, 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 beginning of Rose Bowl practices as well as preparing for the top-five match up with Stanford, and was joined by assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi and co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner.
The following is a complete transcript from Tuesday's press conference:
COACH DANTONIO: First of all, I don't think we've had a press conference since the championship game, so I want to congratulate our football team on this opportunity to play in the Rose Bowl. It's an exciting time for us. You look at Stanford right now and they're a football team that's been in four-straight BCS games, so they've been to that mountain a little bit. They've been there. This is new for us.
I think that the most important thing that we have to do when we move to L.A. here a week plus from now is to handle success. That will be our mindset as we move forward and need to be ready to play and play with a lot of energy and those type of things. So it will be another tremendous challenge for us, but another great opportunity.
With that said, winning the Big Ten Championship is something that we've pointed to and dreamed about for quite some time since coming here. To win it outright and win it in a championship-type format, it's a goal attained. Now we need to go and win in a bowl game.
I think the best thing to do in these type of situations, because I really don't know what to talk about, so I'll take questions and go from there.
Q. One of the things you love most about bowl practice is experiments. Moving guys around, getting looks at guys. You haven't had a ton of practices, so what are your anticipations for where guys will get looks at?
COACH DANTONIO: We'll move some guys around from our defensive line to the offensive line and create some opportunities there. The two guys we especially want to look at is James Bodanis, an offensive linemen here in this postseason area, then also Brandon Clemons. Those are two of the guys we want to look at. Riley Bullough will be moving over to linebacker, so he'll get opportunities there, and we'll see if we can get him game ready or not. It would be nice to play him a couple snaps in the bowl game just because of the opportunities that may lie ahead for him. But we'll see how that all works out. Obviously, he's a fixture on our special teams.
Q. Not often that you get a top-5 match up in a game like this. Reading a lot about both teams, clearly you have senior classes that have accomplished a lot. Do you see some parallels between the two programs that have built from where you were to where you are today, two top-5 programs?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I see a lot of parallels. When you look at Stanford, they're a football team that's going to get it done fundamentally. I think they play with a tough mindset. Their rosters are senior dominated. We have quite a few seniors, especially on our defensive side of the field.
Our offensive line, we have three seniors in there as well, and senior wideouts. But there are a lot of similarities in terms of how they play and how we play in terms of what's going on. It will be a game where you're going to see a fullback in the game some, and you could look a lot of different teams across the country right now, and they don't really have that type of match up. So you'll see that at times in both offenses; it will be a great match up though.
Q. What has life been like for you in the last nine or ten days since winning that game?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, it's been hectic. A lot of opportunities go with winning games like that. Darqueze Dennard was a finalist for the Nagurski Award, so I was in Charlotte for that. Max Bullough, a finalist up in New York City for scholarship athlete. I was back down to Orlando with Darqueze where he won the Jim Thorpe Award, which was very exciting for him. Then, obviously, just the going and coming. So it's been a fast week, week and a half that's gone by very, very quickly.
Q. Have you been able to enjoy it though? Enjoying it at home or with colleagues?
COACH DANTONIO: No, it's been pretty much back to business. Right now we're in preparation for Stanford, so there is really not a lot of time to sit back and say this is what we've accomplished. I think you do those things at the end of the season, and our season will end on Jan. 1.
Q. In this past week or so here, Pat Narduzzi had the opportunity at Connecticut and decided to stay here. Talk about what that means to your program that Pat will appear to be around another year and what he means to you guys?
COACH DANTONIO: First of all, we have outstanding coaches on our staff. When you look across the board and you really do want to go through our guys individually. You look at our defensive backs. How many football teams in the country have four defensive backs that are All Conference? Three First-Team All Conference and one Second. Harlon Barnett has done a tremendous job. Our linebackers, what has Max Bullough done? What's Denicos Allen done? How valuable has Taiwan Jones been? Our defensive line, what kind of difference did Ron Burton make with our defensive line?
Obviously, Pat Narduzzi is the coordinator and does a tremendous job. I think him staying here sends a message that things are good here. Things are very positive here and he'll leave for the right position at the right time and not before then. Because I think he enjoys the aspect of being here, his players, our players, the program and those type of things.
You look at the offensive side of the ball, what kind of difference did Jim Bollman make? Same with Dave Warner calling the plays. Then also Jeremy Langford, what a difference maker he was this year. Look at our offensive line and the number of sacks given up. Mark Staten has done a tremendous job. Our wide receivers are catching the ball, Terrence Samuel did an outstanding job. Brad Salem with the development of our quarterbacks, great job. I've already talked about Coach Bollman and what he's brought to the table.
Our guys have done an outstanding job, I think, across the board. You look at our special teams, same thing. You can point to the players who are doing things. I want to congratulate Mike Sadler on his First-Team All American. I think he's an ESPN selection. Shilique Calhoun, First-Team All American. Obviously, Darqueze (Dennard) has been named to almost every All American team.
But our staff has done an outstanding job. It's my hope we can keep our entire staff together. But with that being said, I also understand people look around and say `what are they doing at Michigan State?' So we're going to have guys that are going to be highly-sought after, and it's my intention to do the best we can to keep all of our staff and certainly going back to your first question, having Coach Narduzzi remain here is a big aspect for us. He's a good friend, very loyal, and also an outstanding coach, as I would say about every one of our coaches.
Q. You were talking about the assistants one by one. I wanted to ask you specifically about Dave Warner. Early in the season when we would interview him, it looked like he had a pretty tough job with the way you were moving quarterbacks in and out. Did you ever have to put your hand on his shoulder and say you're being graded on a curve right now. I know I'm moving quarterbacks, but it seemed the play calling had to change with every quarterback. It seemed that would have been a tough task for Dave.
COACH DANTONIO: He's an outstanding coach. I've known Dave since 1991, so we go back a long ways. Yeah, I understand. Players make plays, guys. Players make plays. I've said that many times in here. What we need to do is structurally be sound in what we're asking them to do, offensively, defensively and special teams. Then also put them in the best situation that their abilities allow, and that is coaching. In the end, the players make the plays. As long as we have a good, structured plan, a well thought out plan, as long as we're always critiquing what we do and trying to move forward with the plan, whether we're successful or not successful, hopefully we're learning things.
I've always had great faith in him as a coach. I've seen what he's done with Brian Hoyer and Kirk Cousins as a coach. There was no doubt in my mind he was going to be successful in what he was doing. I also said earlier, I think Brad Salem has done a tremendous job with our quarterbacks, and that was a position that there was transition in a very media frenzy way. So it goes with the territory.
Q. Coach, you talked about seeing if the players can deal with the success that they've had winning a Big Ten title. It seems all year there's either been the defense coming up with a big turnover to seal the win or with the last two months, Jeremy (Langford) getting kind of that nail in the coffin score. Have you really already seen the fact that at least in game they can deal with success and how does that translate now into the biggest game of the year?
COACH DANTONIO: I have seen that. We've seen that they're able to go and deal with success. To me it's about getting yourself ready to play in every game and being able to handle the adversity in that game - not being flat, preparing and not taking things for granted.
I think our football team is doing that. But every time you take a step forward, a big step forward, I think you have to evaluate where you're at and ask yourself, are we doing everything we can to get ready? What is the attitude? We coach attitude. So while our seniors may feel like they understand what the ramifications are there because they've been through some things, how are our younger players handling all of this? How are they handling it moving forward in their development as players too, and that's important. So far, so good.
Q. When you look back to where you took over the program, is there a lot of, maybe character or mindset changes that you had to do with the players that you're bringing in? How do you feel that the mindset and character of the players has changed over the seven years that you've been here?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, first of all, I had, we call them our `Eagles', but our leadership council today, and Kirk Cousins will be honorary captain for this football game. But more importantly, what I said to them was that everybody shares in this process; that this process started back in 2006 and 2007, so the Kaleb Thornhills, and the guys back then, the Javon Ringers and Travis Keys, those type of guys, the Ervin Baldwins. All these guys have had a place in my heart and they've had a part of this process, so they should enjoy in this as well, and that's my hope. Everybody that's come through here in the past seven years all has a part or a piece of this.
How has attitude changed? I think attitudes have changed basically with the young people. I think the world is a little different today than it was five or six years ago in terms of the social network, the way people go about their business. How have attitudes and the culture changed since I've come here? When I came here in 2007, that first spring, that first winter conditioning program, our players embraced it. Our players embraced it at that time. They knew it was tough and we started changing the way we went about thinking about things.
But there was nobody holding back from us. Everybody wanted to be successful. They wanted to be just as successful as the football team is right now. That's always been gratifying to me. They've given everything they've got, and I've always felt that.
Q. Have you gotten a sense of a change in outside perception about the program since the Ohio State win this season, or are you too much in a bubble here?
COACH DANTONIO:Yeah, I live in a bubble a little bit. So, no. I know there are a lot of things written out there, but your performance on the field, things that we go through, that changes perceptions, obviously. That doesn't make it reality. That just changes perceptions as we move forward. You know, we're moving up the chain. I don't think that that game by any means was a fluke if that's what people are asking. You can print that one.
Q. Kind of a follow up to your earlier question and your earlier response. Otis Wiley on the field after the Big Ten Championship game, he looked like he was still playing he was so happy. I think I said to him this is for all you guys that couldn't do it. I'm wondering, since that game, how many former players you've heard from or if you could share any conversations you've had in dialogue in the last eight to nine days?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, lot of former players, a lot of texts, a lot of just that overwhelming feeling like not just that this football team did it, but that we did it. That collective group that since 2007, so many players like Kaleb Thornhill and et cetera, I can go on and on about people making plans to be at the game. They're coming to the football game and doing this, doing that. So they're going to be there for this football game.
Again, you go back and look at what Stanford has been able to accomplish in the last four years - having BCS teams the last four years, they've got that. That's their standard right now. This has to become our standard. This is the first time we've been to a BCS game, but we've climbed a ladder. There is no question we've climbed a ladder and we've scratched to get there. That's what makes this a little bit of a unique story, I think.
Q. Does that go a long with building the culture?
COACH DANTONIO: We've been trying to build this culture. I feel like we've been on the cusp of this three out of the last four years. I feel like we were sort of looked past in 2010. I still feel that way, even though we didn't measure up in the bowl game. But that was a pretty good football team, and we were there in that environment. But the 2011 team was very close to being here in this same situation, and now we have the opportunity. The more times you get there, the more opportunities you have to get over the hump, I think, too.
Q. Coach, the balance of enjoying the bowl experience, and it's going to be an incredible experience, with getting your team ready and performing on the field. You seem to have figured it out the last couple years. What is the key to balancing those things?
COACH DANTONIO: I think we need to keep our players fresh. We have to have a fresh mind and fresh bodies. We have to be rested, no question about that, and we have to be prepared. We have to be able to handle adversity, and you have to understand you're playing against a very good football team. So you need to be able to respond on a big stage. I think we've done that. The championship game was a big stage. We've had some big stages, like I said, around here. But that's a part of it, so we're going to work on it.
Q. You talked about your staff being sought after by other people and when Mack Brown resigned on Friday, some people in the media floated your name as a candidate for that job if you were interested. I guess what is your reaction to that? Is that a sign of respect of where this program is that would see your level of success and say you could go on to bigger things?
COACH DANTONIO: I guess the way I'd answer that question is I see Michigan State as the destination, not a stop. That's how I see it. Flattering, but that's how I see it.
Q. With playing in a January game, it takes the window up to recruiting so close. You presently for the 2014 class do not have a committed quarterback. I know you told us in the past your desire is to have one per class. Do you anticipate pursuing one?
COACH DANTONIO: That's a good question. Basically, it depends on the pursue-ee, I guess you'd say. So we'll see how that all shakes out. I don't feel like that's a necessity. I feel like we have three outstanding quarterbacks right now. We may go in a different direction in terms of our numbers, the numbers of scholarships and those type of things and the needs of our football team.
Q. What about for you? Have you changed as a coach? Anything significantly, maybe even from a few years ago when you had the adversity? Have you changed anything significantly in that time?
COACH DANTONIO: I hope I've gotten better. I think you're always trying to get better as a person or as a coach. You hope that all these experiences shape you in a positive way, whether they're a negative experience or positive experience, you hope that you learn from them and you grow. But you'd have to ask my wife. She probably knows. She might not give you the right answer though.
Q. As a BCS Bowl setting, will you approach this somewhat differently than the past bowls you've been at that have been non BCS bowls?
COACH DANTONIO: I think that the bowls we've gone to, it's sort of like `what is the time you have out there,' `what commitments do you have with that time.' I think besides that, the police escorts, all those things, those are all at every bowl we've been to; they're outstanding bowls. There is a big time feel to all of the bowls we've been to. So I don't see that being much of a change. I think the day of the game, it may be a little bit different the day of the game. But I know there are going to be a lot of Spartans out there, so it will feel like home. So that's exciting for us.
Q. I know it's early in the preparation, but has it hit you yet that this is going to be the last time preparing for a big game with this senior class and guys like Max (Bullough), (Darqueze) Dennard, Blake (Treadwell) that have been here and climbed the ladder as you said, or is there no time to be sentimental and look at things like that yet?
COACH DANTONIO: No, there is time. We talked about that relative to our Senior Day out here and the emotional experience. We talked about that today again with that group that I talked to you about. When you take that uniform off, I don't care where you're playing. I don't care if it's high school or college, when you take your uniform off, that is a tough deal. When you think of the sacrifices, hardship and joy, and all the emotions that come around when you play football at any level. When you take that off, you just don't know what the future holds for you. Is it professional football? Maybe. Is it not? Is it a job? What is it? There is a void in your life that's going to occur at that point in time.
It has made me think, okay, Max Bullough Blake Treadwell, Darqueze (Dennard), Isaiah (Lewis) and all these guys that have been with us for four and five years that have sacrificed a lot and been through a lot with us. We've been through a lot together. That is part of life at this level. It's part of being on a college football team in this case, and we're going to embrace that. It's a special time. But when that time happens, we want them to take off their jerseys as a winner. It's important that we finish and finish in a positive way. I'm sure everybody points towards that as their individual program. That's what we'll attempt to do. It will be a great challenge and opportunity to do that on Jan. 1.
Q. Riley Bullough, when he moves back, how many of his reps will be at middle linebacker?
COACH DANTONIO: We'll have small opportunity periods within bowl practice structured for our young players this week. When we get out there, it's going to be business as usual. But this week, we'll do some of that. So he'll play either SAM linebacker or MIKE linebacker; we'll probably not put him at the star. We'll try to find a place for him in there. Shane Jones starts practicing again as well. Sean Harrington is a guy that's shown a lot of things throughout the years, so he'll have an opportunity as well a little bit in there to show some things. Then we already have a core of linebackers, obviously, that are coming back that are very good. But that's the plan.
Q. How about Dan France, is he going to be able to go?
COACH DANTONIO: Dan France, I think he'll be able to go. He's looking good. He won't practice today, but I think he'll go towards the end of the week. I think he'll be ready. But obviously, it's a statement saying, `are you going to be ready to play?' It's another statement saying, `are you going to be ready to play well enough?' Even if you're ready to play, you need to play better than the guy behind you too. So that's a part of this too, but I think he'll make the game. I think he'll be dressed, and I think he'll make the game.
Q. Forgive me about bowl distractions, you've been to enough bowl games to maybe learn some things from it. But doesn't a Rose Bowl take on a life of its own? Players are going to hear from high school friends they haven't heard from in years and family members. How do you guard against these distractions as opposed to embracing the whole experience?
COACH DANTONIO: I'm sure they're all going to hear from different people. They'll see some movie stars and things like that, that's all a part of this. We'll try to make life moments for our players, and I think this will be a life moment. So we'll embrace it.
At the same time they need to focus on the job and task at hand, too. That is the thing that they have to be able to do. That is called maturity and handling success. So we'll find out more about us as we move forward. That's always I think something special when we're going to grow. There is no question about that. We're going to grow. So Jan. 1, we'll see how we're growing. But it's going to be exciting.
Q. All the players are excited about this. But talk about Fou Fonoti, specifically, a guy who came in as a junior college guy. How quickly he bought into everything here and he talked about being able to bring his team back home. How excited is he right now?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, he's very excited. Fou is a tremendous person. When he made the decision to come here from California, to come here and become an immediate starter for us, it was a big sacrifice because he knew he was coming to a place a long way from home. He knew his family was going to have to travel to get here and see him play games. He's got a very close girlfriend that's been with him through the entire thing. So his family has done that. It's a huge sacrifice not just for him, but his family as well. He's paid that price.
Now to be able to go back and be at the Rose Bowl where his grandfather can see him play, you really can't put a price tag on it. It's an emotional thing. It's an emotional thing for his family. It will be something that I think all of our players are going to really embrace for him. So it will be a special time.
Q. Fou's position seems to be the spot next year that's maybe the biggest question mark. I guess if (Donovan) Clark moves inside and you have the other spot handled. Are (James) Bodanis and (Brandon) Clemons getting looks at that spot? Who are you looking at at right tackle?
COACH DANTONIO: I think that's too far. We're not far enough along in the future yet. We've got to see what they can do. But Kodi Kieler is also a guy that's a good player and as a young player he's shown good signs of doing some things. Obviously, (Jack) Conklin can move over and play right. Donavon (Clark)'s played left. So we have to see how it all fits in there as we move forward. Those decisions probably won't be made until sometime during spring or after spring.
Q. Getting the program to this point to a Rose Bowl this year before the new playoff takes hold where a Big Ten Championship may not lead to this direct path in the future, how important was that to you? Did you know it might have to be this year because that might not be the path?
COACH DANTONIO: I really didn't think about that. I just sort of thought about where was the Big Ten Champion usually going to go? In this case, he was going to go there either way. So that was our goal. Our goal was first to get to the championship game. I can't tell you how many times football teams across the country stick their hands in the middle of 100 people and say on three. We say on one, and they say Big Ten champions. That goes on across the country regardless what conference you're in. They just change it up. I can't tell you how many times we've done that over the past seven years. We put our hands in there like that and to be able to do that at the end of that football game last Saturday was as rewarding as anything maybe we've done, as any ring or anything that we've done.
The champion of that conference goes to the Rose Bowl, and that is the next step, win the Rose Bowl and be Rose Bowl Champions. But there is a big plaque out there on the side of that (Rose Bowl) stadium that has 2014 and who played in it, or 2010, and who played in it. I'm not sure how big they are, maybe the size of this table. But when I was out there this May, there was one out there from 1988 that had Michigan State on it. Our goal was to put Michigan State under that 2014 plaque, and that got accomplished. So that's a big accomplishment for our program, and something that we've tried to hammer home and we were able to do that.
Q. With finals finishing up, I wanted to make sure everybody was on pace. Did you lose anybody?
COACH DANTONIO: Not to my knowledge, no. We should be good in that area, very good.
Q. You talked about perception, maybe that perception isn't necessarily reality yet. I'm wondering about playing a non conference opponent like a Stanford as far as the measuring stick that it puts out there for Michigan State. Obviously there are critics in different regions of the country. How important is it to win this game for Michigan State to take that next step. Not just to be there, not just to make it, but to be able to compete with a four time BCS team.
COACH DANTONIO: I think it's very important. We're up there, and we want to show that we deserve to be up there. So it's very important. You're on a big stage. You get to the championship, and you're on a big stage. While we took care of business there and we showed that we belonged on that stage, now it's important to show that we belong on this national stage.
I heard today there's only one football team that's won more than 13 games in the Big Ten's history, and that was the 2002 championship team at Ohio State, which won 14. There's never been another team that's won 13. So these opportunities don't come around much. You've got to win 12 or more to get to 13. So you'd have to win 12 more next year to get to 13. We're a lot closer right now than we would be next year. So it's an opportunity to step up and show who we are. It's an opportunity to do our thing there. So we're just excited about it. I think our players are. Again, it will be a great challenge versus Stanford, and they're a proven football team. But we'll bring our guys out and see what happens.
Q. If you could talk a little more about Mike Sadler. How much of a comfort is it for you to have a punter of that quality? How difficult is it and can people understand how difficult it is for him to do what he's done in the classroom as well as on the field?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, Michigan State's had a history of great punters here. They really have. Aaron Bates when I first came here in 2007 became a starter for us for four years, and now Mike Sadler is in his junior year and will be a senior next year. He's done an unbelievable job. He is money putting it down inside the 10. He can hit them. You know, he's a left footed guy, so he'll turn the other way a little bit. He's done a great job really handling pressure situations, whether that's picking up a bad snap at Ohio State two years ago or whether that's running a fake. He's been a holder for us.
You really can't put a price on what he's meant to this football team. To do that without ever getting a B, ever; he's a straight A student here. He came in with 46 hours of advanced placement classes, so he was, I guess, almost a junior when he walked in the door. He's got his office over here. He's working on his doctorate, and hopefully next year, he'll have an opportunity to be a Rhodes Scholar. We'll find out.
But those types of things are immeasurable for this program, I think, just in terms of what he's been able to do. The way he's done it and gone about it has been a classy way. He's a great individual right here from Michigan. I still remember the day I was driving back from the Big Ten media day, pulled over into McDonald's and he called me on the phone to say he was coming to Michigan State. I know exactly where that was. Every time I drive by there, I say, `Yep, that's where Mike Sadler told me he was coming.'
So he's been a very important figure and player in this program really for the last three years, but especially this year.
Assistant head coach/Defensive Coordinator Pat Narduzzi
Q. Pat, when you watched them (Stanford) on film, they're a team that's going to go strength on strength. They're a team that's going to try to run on you, and when teams try to stack the box, they just keep doing it. What do you like as a coach when you know a team is going to be stubborn? If you stop them, they're just going to keep coming.
Pat Narduzzi: It's amazing. We've got a six game break down on them. They're really 50 50. I think that's the image they portray is that they'd like to run the ball at you every snap. But really 53 percent run is what our stat is on them. They're going to do a little bit of both, try to run the ball, play action you hard and throw the ball deep. So when you look at it, they're going to get a lot of jumbo sets and have big tight ends in the game with knee braces on that are 300 pounds. They do a lot of jumbo sets. So they're doing a little bit of both. They're going to try to run the ball, but also try to take our corners deep.
Q. On the surface it looks like there are a lot of similarities between their offense and Michigan State's offense. The more you break them down, is that still the case? Are there a lot of parallels or once you get deeper into it there may be more differences than appears on the surface?
Pat Narduzzi: Yeah, I think there are a lot of similarities to their offense and our offense. When you look at their regular personnel, 22 sets and 21 sets as far as personnel goes. I think there are a lot of similarities. They've got a very good tailback, offensive line wise they're big and physical. They have a great scheme. The one thing I think that's going to be huge is just how we adjust on the run.
I think with what they do, we can go out there. They're going to have all kinds of differences when they get there. They'll have different tweakings on how they'll block different plays, and those are things that we'll have to adjust to as the game goes on.
We know that right now, and we're a couple weeks out. We'll just wait and see what it's going to be on Jan. 1. We'll have to adjust as the game goes on.
Q. Got to ask, how close were you to taking the UCONN job? What is your outlook from here through the bowl game with possible dominos falling still?
Pat Narduzzi: When I went through it, obviously it was close. You're always close. It would have been an hour from my mother in law, and I don't want to answer many questions on this today, so this is the last one. But it's an hour from my mother in law. I really said probably the key is my wife being a great coach's wife, because she could have said, `Hey, Pat, let's go,' and I would have fallen off the fence either way. But she was strong enough to say, `Hey, what's the best move for us as a family and for you coaching wise?' It wasn't just about being close to home and all those things.
Obviously, with the amount of money that you probably could have gone to go do something like that for and have your own program, it was close. But when you look back and say what do I have here in Spartan Stadium, the fans and the staff that I have to work with every day here is the best in the country, no question about it. When you talk about something like that, it's not about you because I'm nothing without Harlon Barnett, Mike Tressel and Ron Burton, period. I'm nothing without Denicos Allen and Darqueze (Dennard), Curtis (Drummond) and Isaiah (Lewis), Shilique (Calhoun) and (Marcus) Rush and all those guys. It takes more than one guy. I guarantee you that. So there is a lot of hoopla that goes with that.
If you're grounded and smart, you know it wasn't you. It was everybody else that you're around. You hate to break up a great party that we have going on right now, and it better be a great opportunity. It felt like this is the place to stay.
Q. I don't know if this is a good follow up, but I was going to talk about the emotional attachment that Coach Dantonio has to this place. You kind of touched on that a little bit. Do you sense that with everybody on the staff that there is something incredibly special here? You talked about not wanting to break up the party.
Pat Narduzzi: Yeah, it's a great place. I enjoy coming to work every day. You never know what you're going to have on the other end of that. That's what it is - it's a great place to work. If I was just half happy, you know, it's easy to go take a job. It's easy. But it's a great place to work and you're happy with the people you're with and the players. There is an attachment there.
I mean, it's hard to leave your players. I mean period. I've got Shilique (Calhoun) busting me yesterday like, `Come on, Coach.' It's hard to leave those guys. That's a fact.
Q. Coach, a couple weeks ago I talked to William Gholston about what makes this defense work. He said a couple things. That you can't feel like you have to make the play every time. It's everybody working within this defense. I want to know how accurate that is. Also, he said you put guys in a good position to make plays. I want to know what your philosophy is and what you try to do as far as making guys better?
Pat Narduzzi: If Will said it, it's a hundred percent correct. But Will's exactly right. Plays are to be made if you're in position to make plays and if they run your way. You can't try to do too much. But our defense is built around putting kids in position to make plays. Sometimes guys are put in a position that's a tough position, whether it be a safety one on one or number two receiver running full speed at them with play action pass.
But everybody's got a job, and it comes down to everybody doing their job. We didn't execute particularly well, I didn't think, last Saturday at least in that third quarter. But there were even some quarterback runs that were like, `Hey, what are you doing on this play?' But the defense is built for that. I think when we game plan, it's structured so that we can be sound versus everything. We're never going to have a blitz where we have two guys running through the same gap versus gap protection, which is really good. But it's only good if they throw the ball. It's not good if they run the ball.
So everything is structured to be sound versus everything, and not be really good against this and bad against that. I'd say that is probably the best way to say it.
Q. Will you be upstairs with us for the Rose Bowl or downstairs?
Pat Narduzzi: Upstairs.
Q. You'll go back upstairs?
Pat Narduzzi: Right where I belong. That's right.
Q. No temptation to stay down on the field where you were?
Pat Narduzzi: I don't know. It depends on how the weather is. If it's really nice out, I might stay down. I don't know, but it goes based on what Coach Dantonio says. I like calling the game from up in the box. I can see better. There will be a lot of adjustments to be made, so it will be important to be up there. I'm sure with all the media that this thing has, they'll have fourth-quarter adjustments too, so I have to stay up there for four quarters.
Q. Were you ever at a Rose Bowl?
Pat Narduzzi: No, I've never been there.
Q. Where were you in 1988?
Pat Narduzzi: 1988, I was in college I believe at the University of Rhode Island. That was a bad year for me.
Q. From a personnel standpoint, these games always seem to come down to match ups. I know that the Ohio State offensive line gave your defensive line more trouble than you'd like based on what you said after the game. Going in, is that the biggest concern, Stanford's experience, size, and physicality on the offensive line?
Pat Narduzzi: No question about it. To me, I tell our kids every Saturday when you go out there you're playing off of weaknesses from a week ago and strengths from what you have. Certainly their O line and offensive coordinator is looking at some of the problems we had in that game and how they can take advantage of a Tyler Hoover or Micajah Reynolds inside and schematically what they can do.
So without a question that is something that we've got to face. We've got to be better inside than we were. And it trickles down. I think their secondary played a great game. I think some guys up front played well, but there was some weakness at linebacker that we didn't play exactly the way we needed to play. Not based on ability, but based on what we did and what we were thinking, our mindset and attitude. So there was some really not very smart things we did in that game that really gave them some stuff that normally we don't do. I saw them do stuff we don't normally do, so we addressed those things yesterday with our team.
Q. I know you look at the offensive side of the ball for them. But how similar is their defense to when Scott Shafer was out there? Does that allow you to help in any aspect here?
Pat Narduzzi: No, Scott has really no bearing on what they do out there. I think they're totally different from what they were. I'm not sure exactly what Scott was doing, but Scott was very similar to what we do, I think. I have no idea on the other side of the ball what they're doing. I haven't looked at one lick of tape over there. I just know they're big, tall, lean and athletic from what I hear.
Q. Middle linebacker seems like the big off season thing for you going into next year, how would you break it down right now and going into these bowl practices? Who are you looking at and what are you looking for from them?
Pat Narduzzi: Losing Max is going to be a big replacement. It could be a bunch of different guys. I don't know who it is going to be. First of all, it has got to be a guy that can run the defense from huddle or a no huddle standpoint. I think Darien Harris, I think Riley Bullough will have a chance. Ed Davis will have a chance. We've tossed that name around, too, putting him in there. We have plenty of good guys. I think they're all similar positions. So it could be anybody in there. But if you look at trying to get the three most experienced guys in game situations, those are the first three that come to mind. If Shane (Jones) and (Jon) Reschke step up and show something in bowl practice, everything will be told in spring ball as far as where we stand there.
But right now you'd like to get three experienced backers out there and give those young guys a chance to grow a little bit instead of starting their first game at Spartan Stadium at MIKE linebacker. But those guys can get it done too. I think either one of them could. We don't get to see as much on our offense. They're down there most of the time, but we'll find out here in a couple of days of bowl practice.
Q. I asked Coach Dantonio the same thing. Has it hit you that this is the last time with some of these guys like a Max (Bullough), Denicos (Allen), Darqueze (Dennard) that you're going to be with them preparing in a big game situation like this. Are you going to miss that? Or is there no time with this preparation to be sentimental?
Pat Narduzzi: There is time to have a heart. No question about it, but you thought about it in your last game against Minnesota at home. Every week it was like, `This is our last game in Spartan Stadium'. I think that was a big obstacle. Then you go into the bowl championship game and there is always that thought that it's our last game.
The thing about our relationships with our players is it's never over. It's just our last time coaching them. It's not ending our relationship with our kids. It's not like they're moving out of the country. So we'll be with them forever. That is the key. We might not be able to coach them, but they'll be back. Just like the rest of our players that we've coached here. They're all going out to the Rose Bowl and shooting you text messages all week. So you never leave them. They just, you know, it's like kids graduate from college and move on. But no question we'll miss them; that's for sure.
Q. Aside from the fact that you've made a bowl game every year here, what do those extra practices do for this team?
Pat Narduzzi: No question having seven-straight years of having bowl practice makes you better. We're obviously the major focus for me; Coach Dantonio is more into development. I'm more into Stanford and games if we didn't have any developmental periods. That's why he's the head coach and I'm coaching on defense. I'm worried about stopping the next opponent. I'm not worried after practice if we have a bowl scrimmage with our younger players. That's all fun.
But as far as what we need to do is beat Stanford. Obviously, those practices are huge for our kids. Getting an opportunity to work with them fundamentally and structurally, we'll have some seven on sevens and some team run periods to help develop them and at least see where they want to be seen. I think that is the biggest thing. They want to say, `Hey, Coach!' They want to answer Joe's question as far as who is that MIKE (line)backer going to be? We are going to throw some guys in there and see what they do, but they want to be seen by us. Just younger guys on the depth chart. There will be a point, I don't know if coach talked about it because you had him out here for a while. But say, `Hey, listen. Take your seniors out and take your starters out. Let's see what these other guys have and turn it up and go'.
Q. On that same line, what guys shifting positions do you want to take a look at?
Pat Narduzzi: Obviously, Riley (Bullough). I told Riley today it's about time you got back on the defensive side of the ball. You've been soft over there on offense for so long now. I'm sick of looking at you over there. But he's one guy I'm looking forward to just getting back over to see what he's got. You lose a lot when you're not there. There are meetings every day when you're not sitting in there listening to what's going on. When a mistake is made against Minnesota or Ohio State, you're not hearing it. You're hearing about protections and foot work and taking a hand off. So that's the main guys. Those other guys have been on defense for the most part. So we have a good feel for who those guys are already.
Q. Damion (Terry) got a good look running the Braxton (Miller) look for Ohio State. He tweeted asking everybody in Spartan nation to pray for him. You've got a couple guys you've looked at. But what did you think of Damion (Terry)?
Pat Narduzzi: Damion Terry has grown a lot since camp. I personally didn't feel he was ready watching him through camp based on who he was out there against. But I think he's come a long way as a football player, a quarterback and a leader. He's been the guy.
Believe me, you'd rather see him as the guy on the scout field than the guy at Spartan Stadium on Saturdays, I think. He's going to be a better player leading that thing. We had to teach him everything on how to check. He had the worst fake checks I've ever seen. You had to pretend like you're checking into another play and it was awful. We had to coach him up on that too.
He was a really quiet guy that was laid back. I think he's grown a lot from that experience over there. So I think there's a lot to come with Terry here in the future.
Q. I wanted to ask you about Mark (Dantonio) as a boss. Has he changed at all during the time you've been with him? Anything significant? Has he been the same guy the whole time or has he changed in the last few years?
Pat Narduzzi: I think he's been the same throughout. I think the first couple of years, Cincinnati had been more involved in defense. I think he let it go once he felt comfortable that things were in good hands. That is the biggest change I've seen from the first couple years to year 10 as far as a football standpoint.
I think he lets his staff coach. That's why it's fun to coach here. He hasn't changed as a person. He's been the same person he's been. I think he's become a better head football coach every year. I think every coach becomes better. I think you become a better reporter after ten years. He's become a much better head football coach, and that is saying a lot. He was already really good, so now I think he's really great.
But he's been very consistent. I think that's what you've got to like about him. He's been consistent in everything he's done on the field, off the field and decisions made throughout the program; he's been consistent. It's easy to work for consistent people. When you're inconsistent, you're not sure which way that ball is flying. It's hard that way, but it's easy because you know what you're getting every day.
Senior linebacker Denicos Allen
On the relationship the coaches and players have...
On the anticipation of the Rose Bowl experience...
On staying focused for the game...
On what Coach Dantonio has provided to the team throughout the season to help keep them focused...
Senior linebacker Max Bullough
On the past week and a half for this team...
On winning the Big Ten Championship and being able to play in the Rose Bowl...
On coming back from last year's season of close losses and now being Big Ten Champions...
On what he's seen from Stanford so far...
On what he's most looking forward to on the trip...
On his family tradition of playing at MSU and what they've been saying to him...
Sophomore defensive end Shilique Calhoun
On areas that the team can keep making strides on...
On the impact of the atmosphere of the Big Ten Championship game...
On how the Big Ten Championship helps prepare the team for the Rose Bowl...
Senior defensive back Darqueze Dennard
On his awards...
On reaching the heights he's reached during his career at MSU...
On what his story tells other people...
On what the past week has been like for him...
On how the perception of the MSU program has changed during his time on campus...
On being a part of a team that's built upon the foundation of this program...
On when it hit him that they were going to the Rose Bowl...
Junior safety Kurtis Drummond
On the significance of this team's run...
On balancing celebration of this achievement while still getting to business...
On the key to success in preparation for a bowl game...
On what he's most looking forward to on this trip...
Senior defensive tackle Tyler Hoover
On the opportunity to take on an opponent outside the Midwest...
On the opportunity as a senior to bring Michigan State back to the Rose Bowl...
On how the program has developed...
On the kinship within the team...
Senior safety Isaiah Lewis
On the "No Fly Zone" nickname for the defense...
On the importance of the defensive backfield in MSU's top-ranked defense...
On making it to the Rose Bowl...
On winning the Big Ten Championship in his hometown of Indianapolis...
Junior defensive end Marcus Rush
On what stands out on film about Stanford...
On the `battle'-like matchup between Stanford and Michigan State in the Rose Bowl...
On Damion Terry as Braxton Miller in preparation for the Big Ten Championship game...
On the mindset of the team going into a game like this...
Co-Offensive Coordinator Dave Warner
Q. Coach, earlier Coach Dantonio was complimenting his whole staff, and I asked him to reflect on the start of the season and what you had to go through with the musical quarterbacks. Can you reflect on how hard that was for you with different personnel groupings, different quarterbacks? Were there three play charts? How crazy a time was that?
Dave Warner: First of all, it seems like a long, long time ago. But it was very difficult for a lot of reasons. First of all, it was difficult on our offense trying to settle in on who that guy was going to be, who they were looking at in the huddle each and every play, and then trying to get quality reps in practice because we were uncertain. We were torn with who the best guy was in the long run. To Coach D's credit, he stuck by his guns and we weren't going to rush into anything. We took our time. Though a lot of people didn't agree with it, but we took our time.
But through all of that, again, you're trying to rotate three guys in at quarterback in practice. You're trying to give them the reps that they're going to need to go out and execute on Saturday. That was the most difficult part about it. It was tough on them. It was tough on the quarterbacks and tough on our offense, because those guys weren't getting the reps probably that they needed to perform to their highest on Saturday. That was the most difficult thing about it going through the whole experience.
Q. What was it been like your first time as a play caller in over 20 years?
Dave Warner: Yeah, there were some difficult times there. But as far as play calling and game planning, our game planning didn't change. Or the fact that if Tyler O'Connor or Connor Cook were in there, we had a little bit more flexibility in some quarterback run game. But it's not like there was a big difference in the play chart that I had in front of me on game day. It was just a matter of who was the guy in there, what we were doing good at the time and trying to dial up those plays.
Q. Along those lines, how necessary was the arc that the season took? When you think back to the Notre Dame game where the offense was sort of in between where it was and where it became, how important and necessary was that game and everything that happened in developing this team?
Dave Warner: Well, hopefully it was necessary. Hopefully we went through it for a reason. I think as you look back where we started the beginning of the season, even if you go all the way back to the spring, we're hoping all along, going all the way back to spring that one of those quarterbacks is going to grab ahold of it and take charge. We felt like we gave all those quarterbacks equal opportunities through it all. Obviously there was a point in time where Damion Terry was in the mix.
So we gave everybody the opportunity. For whatever reason, no one sort of jumped out in front of the other guy and took the bull by the horns and said, `This is my job. I'm going to take it and run with it.'
It was difficult. You get through the Notre Dame game, and Connor Cook sort of took over there and played well. We obviously made a change right or wrong at the end of the football game there. I guess the Notre Dame game was probably the point where after that game we said Connor's the guy, even though he went through the Notre Dame game as sort of being the guy, and we pulled him at the end. But after it was all said and done, we said we're going to go to war with him and let him be the man.
Q. Looking at the Ohio State game, some of those big chunk plays and consistent drives strung together, and looking back to Western Michigan and a couple first downs seemed like a prayer. Are you surprised at the level you guys are able to get to now? I know you talked about early in the season, we need to become competent. But now it's a level where the offense is a strength to certain degrees.
Dave Warner: I'm not surprised we've gotten to this point. This is what we were striving for all along. Our players have been resilient through it all and kept the confidence. I knew we'd get there. I think Coach Dantonio knew we'd get there. We said all along when we sort of settled in and guys started making plays at whatever position it is, whether it be running back, quarterback or wide receiver, the play making positions. When guys start making plays, things will snowball for us, and they sort of did. I'm not sure if snowball is the best. But we started make plays. Guys got more confident across the board. Our receivers became more confident. Our quarterback, running backs, everybody just got more confidence in our ability to make plays and score points and we got to the point where we are now today.
I made the comment to them yesterday though, and I said it every week all the way through, `Don't be satisfied because you look at the film, you look at that film and the championship game, we still could have been so much better.' That is the thing we're going to keep striving for. We're not going to be satisfied until we get to the point where we're clicking on all cylinders.
Q. You're facing an experienced, composed, intelligent defense. What does any quarterback, in this specific case Connor (Cook), consistently need to remind himself when he's facing a defense that's been on this stage and is so composed, intelligent and experienced?
Dave Warner: Connor just needs to do what he does and not try to go above that, I guess. I mean, Stanford is a defense, as you said, they're experienced. They're an attack defense. They're very complicated. I think Connor needs to have confidence in those around him protecting him in the pass game first and foremost because they're going to put some heat on you in the pass game, and they're good at it. Again, from different, complicated defensive fronts. He needs to handle those and, again, be confident in the protection around him. Just being able to execute the pass game I think is probably the big thing.
Q. The first three games we were all talking about receivers dropping passes. Then you decided on Connor. They stopped dropping passes. The offensive line seemed to get better. Jeremy Langford seemed to get better. I'm just wondering what kind of settling effect making that decision to stick with the quarterback had on the whole offense. It's not just coincidence, is it?
Dave Warner: Probably not. I think certainly again when you have the same guys stepping in the huddle all the time, I think there is a familiarity. There are guys that sort of say, `Here it is. Okay, it's time now.' I think that's sort of what happened.
As we all remember, it wasn't like all of a sudden we started clicking. I mean, it was still a growth when Connor became the guy. It was still a growth of receivers making all the plays, as many as they made. It was still a case of Jeremy Langford really getting going. So it was a process still, but I'm sure settling in at that quarterback position helped. There are a lot of other factors as far as guys making plays, and that is sort of where we got the confidence going from there. But I'm sure that's part of it.
Q. Can you address the job and growth that Tony Lippett and Bennie Fowler have shown over the course of this season? And from where they were at at the end of last year to now, what's their mentality changed to become such productive forces in the pass game?
Dave Warner: I guess I can begin by saying that I think those two guys coming to where they are now, if you can point to a couple guys, they're a big part of it. Because they've stepped up and become more confident. I think Connor has become more confident in them. I don't know. You can say Connor's looking for them more in the pass game now. But you can see by the receptions they've had over the course of the Big Ten season that the ball has been thrown their way a lot. So just from a confidence factor, even from my standpoint in play calling, I think there is a confidence factor in those guys.
You look at where they were last year and how the season started, and that wasn't the case. To their credit, those guys were basically benched early in the year. Not that they were written off, but to their credit, they didn't hang their heads. They didn't pout. They didn't throw in the towel. They put their best foot forward and kept pushing ahead, and as things started happening for them that gradually became more and more for both those guys. I think as our offense saw that, I think that was a big part of everybody as an offensive unit gaining confidence in what we're doing offensively.
Q. In terms of young players you're going to get to look at, who are you looking forward to seeing in what roles here in these bowl practices?
Dave Warner: Yeah, it's going to be hard to see those guys in a few practices. Offensive lines need to sort of grow in and learn the offense and so forth. Now I'm sure Mark Staten will be able to work with them and get a feel athletically.
I think obviously, Damion Terry is a guy with a lot of reps. As he learns the offense, we're anxious to see what he does. We'll try to give him some work there. Gerald Holmes is a guy at running back who I've told Coach Dantonio all season long, he's going to be a player. So we're anxious to look at him. Those are the guys that stand out right now for us.
DeAnthony Arnett is another guy. Let me throw that out too. Sort of put him on the back burner because he got hurt and was getting limited reps early in the year because we had a good crew there. I've heard nothing but positive, good reports about him on the scout field stepping up. He looks better. He's putting on weight. So I'm anxious to see what the future holds for him also because we all know what we expected of him when he showed up here. So I'm excited to see him in the future.
Q. Last time we talked to Delton Williams he was still talking about defensive reps. Where's he at? Will he stay on offense moving forward or get looks on defense at some point?
Dave Warner: I think that a little bit depends on how some of our other running backs develop. It depends on what our needs are going to be on defense. There are a lot of factors that go into it. But I'll say I'm very happy with Delton Williams and what he's done this year. Wish we could have gotten him in there more. But he's shown he has the ability to be a Big Ten football player as a running back. Whether he stays there or goes to defense, we don't know that. But we're happy he's with us. He's going to help us win football games in the future.
Q. Follow up, you were talking about Stanford in there and the complexity of their fronts. Is it like no other team that you've played this season? What do they do in their secondary?
Dave Warner: No, it's not unlike anything we haven't seen. But they do a little bit of everything. They do a little bit of what everybody's done. It's not like this is their base front. They've got variations of many different fronts. Again, a lot of nickel packages. On the back end they're a little bit more of a pro style secondary, and they're going to play deep safeties. You know, they are going to fire zone, zone blitz a little bit, a fair amount, and pump backers through there. But the complexity, I guess, just comes from how many different fronts they play and where they move guys, because they have guys playing all over the place.
Sophomore OL Jack Allen
On the offensive line's strength and continuity this season...
On the ability to work with moving pieces on the line...
On the match up with Stanford being ideal for the line...
Junior quarterback Connor Cook
On his development alongside Jeremy Langford...
On the development of the playbook...
On the week following the Big Ten Championship victory...
On what it's like to "walk the streets"...
Senior offensive tackle Fou Fonoti
On meaning of ending his MSU career in California...
On being able to play in the Rose Bowl Stadium...
Senior wide receiver Bennie Fowler
On the reality of having won the Big Ten Championship...
On looking back at his MSU career and the meaning of being able to prepare for the Rose Bowl...
On being able to keep the same focus preparing for Stanford as the team did for OSU...
Junior running back Jeremy Langford
On the struggles of play...
On when the team's turning point was early in the season...
I think maybe it got difficult sometimes, but Coach D always talked about it, that we had to stay together as a team. The media might be trying to talk about us different or outside the room people may think different of us, but the team, we've got to stick together in our room.
On earning his spot...
Junior wide receiver Tony Lippett
On if playing against MSU's secondary in practice helps the receiving core...
On the growing process over the course of the season...
Junior wide receiver Keith Mumphery
On recovery in the season and working for time...
On his hometown friend playing in the National Championship game...
Senior offensive lineman Blake Treadwell
On Stanford's 3-4 defense and if other defenses from the season will help them prepare...
On Stanford's linebackers...
On his senior class...
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