Dec. 27, 2012
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - More than 30 members of the Michigan State football team, along with head coach Mark Dantonio, met with reporters on Thursday at the Camelback Inn in Scottsdale for Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl Media Day.
Following the 45-minute interview session, the Spartans, under partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the upper 50s, conducted their fourth bowl practice in Arizona at Corona del Sol High School in Tempe.
Below are excerpts from interviews at media day.
COACH DANTONIO: Very excited to be here representing Michigan State at the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. Very appreciative of the gift given to us now. Everything at this bowl has been first class from the time we accepted the bowl bid until right now, including all the different things that our players have received, the experiences we've had, the practice facilities, the hotel. We're very excited about the opportunity and the challenge to play against TCU here Saturday evening. We're looking forward to a great football game. With that, I'll take some questions.
Q. How much does the result determine whether or not the season in your mind is a success?
COACH DANTONIO: I don't know you can say success or failure. There's no question a bowl win at any level, whether you're coming off an 11-3 record or an 11-2 record, which we did in the past two years. We lost one bowl, we lived with it for eight months. We won the other, we lived with it eight months. So I think it propels you into the next season and it sort of sets the tone. I don't think it translates into success or failure the next season as evidence of this. At the same time it makes those eight months a lot easier to deal with and live with. You feel yourself moving forward when you win a bowl game. I would say that whether you're coming into the game 6-6 or 10-3 like we were last year.
Q. What have you learned about yourself and your program throughout the last three months?
COACH DANTONIO: I learned that we have a great foundation at Michigan State in our football program right now, that we've got great chemistry, that our players expect to win, that winning hangs on a thread sometimes. It can go either way. But the real result of who we are and what we do is what you see from our players on a day-to-day basis. It's not just about winning football games, I'm not naïve to that, it's about how you go about your business, what they're able to gain from their experience here, not just as a football player. If we keep that in mind as we move forward, we'll be a successful program. Winning will take care of itself. If we start to be divisive and think about only ourselves, that's when things start to fall apart. I've learned our football team is built on character and I'm proud of that.
Q. What are some of the moments this year that told you it's been on solid ground?
COACH DANTONIO: I think the fact we lost five games by a total of 13 points, we've really never caved in, that we kept playing every single game. We came to play every single game, we were prepared mentally, we were fresh, enthusiastic. We had that kind of response after every tough loss, gives you an indication that our football team is resilient. We expect to win. I feel like we can play against anybody in the country and win. The opposite is true, as well. Every program that we play against has that ability to win, as well. You take it for what it's worth, but you make sure you're lined up, got your ducks in a row, and are prepared mentally and physically to do the best you can do.
Q. Was there a point where you were looking for that, there were a bit of nerves?
COACH DANTONIO: There's nerves every game. I think when you come off of losing to Michigan 12-10 in the last six seconds in the game, you have the win, you lose it, it's a big rival game, you go to play Wisconsin the next week, things aren't going very well offensively, you put together a drive and win in overtime is a huge swing momentum-wise. I guess it's a proving ground to where we are as the character of our football team. The same thing could be said after tough losses against Nebraska and Northwestern, two games I feel like we could have easily won. All these games we could have won. But nevertheless, we just kept playing. We got ourselves ready to play in the Minnesota game, played ourselves through things. Played ourselves a little bit off a cliff, if you would.
Q. Coach Patterson said he was watching Notre Dame-Michigan State film more than anything else. Is there a particular game of theirs you're paying closer attention to?
COACH DANTONIO: We've gone all the way back and watched a little bit of Wisconsin from their Rose Bowl experience. Maybe their players are a little bit of different, but somewhat of who they are defensively and who we are offensively sort of merits that. From a defensive standpoint, you look at them as a little bit of Nebraska, as a little bit of Boise State, some of that nature, how they played against Boise State. Boise State is a game we watched a lot. Oklahoma State we watched a lot. Baylor. We've watched them all really. Offensively they are who they are. But there are certain games you see, because they have so many young players playing, they may change. There's an evolution of who they are as they move forward with so many young players playing.
Q. Coach Patterson says not only is it you and him, but it's the wives, everything. He has to put that out of his mind for three hours, this isn't fun. Do you agree with that?
COACH DANTONIO: That's not the fun part of it. But it's a pretty close fraternity of coaches. You sort of have that feeling every time you play. You set that aside, you concentrate on your program, your football team, who we are. I can tell you this - there's no substitute for winning. With all that being said about our football team, all the different things we talk about in terms of the character of who we are, what we're trying to build here as a foundation here as a football team, there is no substitute for winning when it comes to the joy of what we're trying to accomplish here.
Q. On the bowl trip to Arizona...
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, you know, we were riding in on the bus. We don't have Camelback Mountain back in Michigan. It's different. You don't have the sunshine right now. It's just a different landscape, different climate and culture out here. I think that's exciting for our football team. This is the first time our players have been out here in the desert. We've been to Florida. Probably four of the last five years in Florida, one time in Texas. This is different for them. It gives us a freshness in terms of what we're experiencing right now. From my perspective, if you're fresh, you're a little bit more enthusiastic, there's a little bit more bounce in your step.
Q. On recruiting...
COACH DANTONIO: Recruiting is so accelerated now, who is to say because if you're 6-6, you think maybe you can come and have a bigger impact on our program immediately, as opposed to if you're 11-2, you may never play. It goes with the territory what we've been able to accomplish as a result of our players, them buying into a system, us recruiting players that fit our system. A lot of it's timing, a lot of it's due to when is your time. When your time comes, you have to be ready to play.
Q. What is it you sell this year?
COACH DANTONIO: This coming year?
Q. When you're on the road.
COACH DANTONIO: We're a relatively young football team right now. The majority of our scholarships are tied up already with commitments. So we're on to the last few guys. So it's tight. If you're going to jump in, you better jump in quick because this is a special program going special places. We're a very young football team and I think there's great things in front of us.
Q. What do you forecast for the future when you look back on this year being a building block?
COACH DANTONIO: Everything we do, whether it's game to game or season to season, is a building block schematically in that season or in this program. So we put that building over here say, this is where we could have been, this is where we're at. I do think it's a solid piece of the foundation. So many times you have to fall down a little bit to be able to move forward. As long as we're always following forward in what we're doing, we're going to continue to gain ground.
Q. In Tempe now, walking through the stadium, is that going to bring something special?
COACH DANTONIO: It will. My daughters were 10 and eight when we came here in 2002 (as Ohio State's defensive coordinator). They still want to go back to The Princess a little bit and remember those times. I was talking to Jim Tressel today a little bit about our time here back in 2002 and 2003. But it was a special moment in our lives.
Junior QUARTERBACK Andrew Maxwell
Q. On comparing TCU to Wisconsin...
Andrew Maxwell: Well, they're two different styles of defense, mainly because we play in two different conferences. In the Big Ten you get power run defenses. I tell you, the similarities that you do see between a TCU and a Big Ten team is the toughness is there, the intensity, the style of play is there. We really respect and admire about them.
Q. Is there a team that reminds you of someone you played this year? . Andrew Maxwell: I'll tell you, when I first turned on the film, they kind of reminded me a little bit of Boise State. They're pretty multiple in their looks. They do a lot of variations of things. They're one of those teams where you turn on the film the first time, you have to run things back and rewind it a few more times than you usually do because it is a little more complicated. Just the feeling we're getting about Boise State, and TCU, the more you watch the film, the more comfortable you get, the more recognizable it becomes to you.
Q. What do you think about Kirk Cousins, what he's doing?
Andrew Maxwell: I'm proud of him, so happy to see what he's doing. Couldn't have happened to a better guy. He's worked for everything he's gotten in his entire life. Not being very highly recruited, coming out of high school, then the career he had in college, getting looked over by some teams that we didn't think he would get looked over by. Just the way he continues to work and be persistent, that was really awesome to see. I'm really happy for him.
Q. What was the depth chart with you and him? It took him a while before he got his shot, like it took you a while, because you were behind him for a while?
Andrew Maxwell: When I came in in 2009, Kirk was a red-shirt sophomore. That was his first year starting. He was in competition with Keith Nichol that year, who transferred from Oklahoma. They kind of battled it out. That was Kirk's third year in the program, so he started in 2009. I was number three then. So he played 2009, though '10, 2011, and I was third, second string, second string 2010, 2011.
Q. What would you say you learned, not only from him, but all that time as an understudy guy?
Andrew Maxwell: The first thing was probably just the preparation, how much work he put in outside of actually being on the field. That's something that people don't see. That's something you really don't notice unless you under prepare, then people will notice it. When it's Wednesday night, everybody had left the building, Kirk was still in there watching film. That translated into success on the field. As a young guy, I went through the process, that's something I took note of and how I would get ready for games.
Q. Was there a point this year where your confidence was shaken?
Andrew Maxwell: I wouldn't say my confidence was shaken. Certainly there's some frustrations when the offense isn't producing how we think we can, how we know we can. But I wouldn't say my confidence was shaken. I don't think our confidence as a team was shaken. It was a matter of playing through those rough spots, riding them out. I think the Wisconsin game was a great example of that. We were so close at Michigan, lost. It would have been so easy for us to pack it in, have a huge letdown the next week. But the way we battled back in that game, ended up winning in overtime was a good barometer, we may have been frustrated, but our confidence wasn't shaken. We stuck to the task.
Q. When you lose two critical offensive linemen, can you describe what that does to a quarterback, losing guys you trust, what that does? Does that become part of your consciousness that you don't have those guys?
Andrew Maxwell: Losing those guys (center Travis Jackson, right tackle Fou Fonoti), not only did it hurt with their experience, with how they play on the field, but just with their leadership, with the emotional presence they bring, not only to the offensive linemen, but the whole team. That kind of hurt everybody. I was extremely confident in the guys we had step in. Skyler (Burkland) was a guy, coming out of high school, he could have gone anywhere he wanted in the country, all the physical tools in the world. For him to be coming off that injury when he was, kind of funny how that happened, he was coming back. Then having a couple of capable guys going in at center (Jack Allen, Ethan Ruhland), obviously disappointed to lose who we lost, but I was confident in the guys we had to replace him.
Q. What gives you confidence in this program moving forward?
Andrew Maxwell: First of all it's our resiliency, never say die, never quit attitude. We're a bunch of guys who are tough, never going to lay down. Second of all, if you pair that with the physicality we have, the play-making ability we have...All the frustrations we've had are correctable things that we can clean up. I know that guys are working hard every day to do those things. You put all those things together, that gives you reason to believe we can still be the productive offense we have been.
Q. Is your approach at all different? Are you wiser to certain things? Talk about approaching that with this group.
Andrew Maxwell: I certainly think it will be different than it was last year. Last year, it's the gray area where you're the starter now, but you haven't played a whole lot. You don't really know how much leeway you have. But now that I have a year under my belt, you can look back and take a whole overview of the season, see where things have gone better, what are some things we can change in every aspect of how we played or prepared. When we go to lifts, having that year of starting under my belt, I feel I'm more comfortable stepping out and taking that role.
Q. Le'Veon Bell, all those guys have decisions based on their own situations. What would you tell them is a reason to stay, forgoing the other side of things? What would you tell them a reason to be part of the offense is next year?
Andrew Maxwell: You have to look at the nucleus of our offense and team is young. We have an opportunity to come back and do special things. I think as competitors, those guys can look at that and say, We didn't accomplish all the goals we set for ourselves this year. The good news is that doesn't have to be the end. Obviously we have this bowl game, but we still have next year to really get back to work, really re-evaluate our goals. I don't think we have to lower our goals we had this year. We do have the people and the ability to attain those. I think if those guys look at that, which they will, they'll consider that, they can look at that and see that as a pretty attractive reason to come back to school.
Q. On where he thought this team would be at the end of the year...
Andrew Maxwell: Certainly not where we thought we would be. We had to battle to get those six wins and get to the bowl game. Certainly never going to complain about getting the extra game to play, extra opportunities, getting to come on a trip like this as a team. We look forward to the opportunity.
Secondary coach Harlon Barnett
On the possibility of back-up players seeing more time in the bowl game...
"Mitchell (White) has always been a guy who's right there in the fourth quarter over the past couple of years. He has good feet, runs well, and has good ball skills.
"Trae (Waynes) is a guy who has come on strong. He has done some good things and continues to get better. This could be a chance to let him get his feet wet. It will be a good experience for him to get ready for next year as well.
"These guys got a lot of bowl practice and it really does help, rather than hearing about it all the time and not being able to get reps. They've been able to get reps and get coached up, and they've gotten better because of it. I look forward to those guys taking advantage of their opportunity."
On facing TCU...
"They have a good scheme and they have good players. We have to play well with good eye control and execute all of our techniques. They (our players) will be just fine. Obviously TCU will make a few plays here and there, they are on scholarship as well, but we're looking to make more plays. When you have a space game like this, you have to be able to get guys on the ground and get a chance to play another down, rather than give up big plays."
On Darqueze Dennard...
"Darqueze has been a big help to Trae. He gives him little tips here and there that he has picked up through his experiences as a player. He's been a big help, and I'm sure Trae appreciates it."
Quarterbacks Coach Dave Warner
On the passing game during the time off...
"I don't think you lose it, but you need to polish it up a little bit. You look at our season, obviously it took a while to get a comfort level with our pass game, but I think we got there to a certain degree. We still have a long way to go. We polished up a little bit in December, and this last week for sure, we've gotten our timing back down. We're trying to move it forward."
On facing the 4-2-5 defense of TCU...
"They have a little bit different of a look, but at the same time, they're very talented. They have some pass rush guys that can really put some pressure on you. The back end of the secondary I think is excellent - as good as we've faced all year. It's very difficult to simulate in practice. Our scout team has done a great job of getting us prepared. We have to be ready to go. We got some good work in against that defense in practice; now it's a matter of going out and executing."
On getting Andrew Maxwell more mobile in the pocket...
"I think that's important all the time. We haven't done as good of a job with that as we should have in the past, but certainly any time they know where your quarterback is sitting, it's a little bit easier to get there. With TCU's defensive linemen and their ability, I think we do need to move Andrew around."
On Andrew Maxwell's health...
"Hat's off to Andrew - if people would have seen what his elbow had looked like the last week (of the regular season), it wasn't pretty. But he gutted it out, played well and got us a win and got us to the bowl game. Bottom line is that this time off has been great for him. I think he's back to 100 percent. Now we just have to keep him upright and keep him healthy."
On Andrew Maxwell's maturity throughout the season...
"I've been impressed with the maturity process he's gone through, but I haven't been surprised. That's Andrew Maxwell. He handles everything in a mature way. He's his biggest critic, but he also has a lot of confidence in himself. From a physical standpoint, this time off has helped him heal. But from a mental standpoint, I think it has refreshed him a little bit. He's practiced very well this week. The time off, just to clear his head, and having a chance to get away from it for a little bit, has been good for him as well."