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Holiday Bowl Head Coaches Game Preview Press Conference

Dec. 27, 2017

SAN DIEGO, Calif. -- Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio and Washington State head coach Mike Leach took part in a final preview press conference in San Diego on Wednesday at the Manchester Grand Hyatt on the eve of the 40th annual San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl on Thursday, Dec. 28. Kickoff is slated for 9 p.m. EST between No. 16 Michigan State (9-3) and No. 18 Washington State (9-3).

This marks the first-ever appearance for the Spartans in the Holiday Bowl. The game will be televised nationally on FS1.

The Spartans finished the regular season with a 9-3 overall record (7-2 Big Ten) and are in position to record their sixth double-digit win season in the last eight years with a victory in the Holiday Bowl. It marks the 10th bowl bid in 11 seasons under Mark Dantonio, who owns a 99-45 record at the helm of the Spartans and will be looking for his 100th win as head coach at Michigan State. Dantonio already owns school records for most bowl wins (four) and bowl appearances (10), including a school-record four-game bowl winning streak with victories in the 2011 Outback Bowl vs. No. 18 Georgia, 2012 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl over TCU, 2014 Rose Bowl against No. 5 Stanford, and 2015 Cotton Bowl vs. No. 4 Baylor. The Holiday Bowl marks the eighth meeting between Michigan State and Washington State. MSU leads the all-time series, 5-2, with the last meeting arriving in 1977. It will be the first meeting between the two teams in a bowl game.

The Spartans will be making their 27th all-time bowl appearance (11-15 record).

The following is a complete transcript from Wednesday’s press conference:



Mark Dantonio: Thank you very much. I would like to echo had a great experience here at the Holiday Bowl and I would like to thank them (the Holiday Bowl committee) personally and the program for everything they have done for us. I think it’s 1 degree back home today, so we’re glad to be out here and we’re motivated to play a good football game. I’ll take questions.

Q. Mark, the chance to get to 10 wins is something you have preached quite a bit. In the last few days how have you tried to keep your guys focused on that?
Mark Dantonio: I think every time you have an opportunity to play a football game you’ve got to be ready and you’ve got to be fresh and your mindset has to be correct, so we have to make sure that is in place. The opportunity to get 10, whether it is us or Washington State, puts us in a double digit-type win category, both football teams, and not too many football teams in the country can do that on a yearly basis. That’s our goal. That’s our goal as we came out here was to play our best football and move it forward.

Q. Mark, we have talked about this senior class. Last night they go through their last practice. I know a lot of them posted stuff about how emotional that was for them. What was that like for them and what has that meant to the program?
Mark Dantonio: I think any time you take the jersey off for the last time or practice with your teammates you start to go through emotions, you’ve got to get closure. We try to make that special for them at the end of our practice and it becomes an emotional experience for some of our guys. Those guys have been to the Playoff game, had some great moments here and we’re just looking for another life moment for them.

Q. Coach, you’ve been able to coach some really talented quarterbacks in Connor Cook and Kirk Cousins. How does Brian Lewerke compare to those players?
Mark Dantonio: Brian is a sophomore, so we have a young football team, much like Washington State. So I think for the future of the entire football program, both programs look pretty bright. Brian is a guy that can create in the pocket. He’s also got the ability to recognize things quickly and get the ball out quickly. He’s got a strong arm. There are a lot of similarities between (Brian) Hoyer, Cousins, Cook, a little bit with him. But he is his own guy a little bit, too, so the fact that he can create and has run for 540 yards net is a big positive. We have not had that with our quarterback situation in the past, but he can throw it.

Q. With all the youth on the team this year, how much different has this bowl experience been for these guys, a first for a lot of the guys?
Mark Dantonio: It’s been different, an initial bowl experience for our freshmen and last year’s freshmen which makes up 53 players on our team. That’s been a positive. I think our players are excited about everything. Everything is a new experience for a lot of these guys and you have half of the team leading them because they’ve been to the Rose Bowl or a Cotton Bowl or two.

There are some positives on both ends there, and we have had a great experience and we’ve done what we needed to do leading up to this football game and now we have to close. To me, closing is playing your very best. Doesn’t mean you’re going to win but playing your very best.

Q. Coach, you were a defensive back in your playing career. What have you seen from (Washington State defensive coordinator) Alex Grinch and his secondary, top-15 in a lot of categories this season?
Mark Dantonio: I think what gets lost in the shuffle a little bit is how good Washington State’s defense is, 15th in total defense, No. 1 on third down defense in the country, and they get on you, they play you tight, they provide pressure. A lot of different pressure, a lot of different people running from different places and you’ve got to beat them. So we’ve got to make plays on 50/50 balls much like they do. You’ve got to put the ball in the vicinity and the receiver has to make the tough catch and that run after catch is so important as well, so we’ve got to limit it on our defensive side and be able to exploit it on our offense.

Q. Mark, they’re very talented but when they have lost is it because they have been forced in pressure to get the quarterback off high center? For you is that the biggest key defensively to this game is getting him to move?
Mark Dantonio: When you talk critical to winning, you’re always talking about protect our quarterback and pressuring third down that’s the name of the game in college football and pro football as well as, get him off his dime, his landmark and good things happen with the defense and if he’s able to throw with time bad things happen for our defense.

That usually leads to turnovers or sacks, which takes -- that’s always a key in every football game, and this is no different, I think, they have an outstanding quarterback. I don’t know how many records he has broken in the Pac-12. You go back a lot of years, a lot of great players. I think what they do is cutting edge conceptually, so we are going to have to play well and play up here (points to head). They are going to have to play fast, but play with their minds as well.

Q. Mark, how familiar are you with the air-raid offense and what kind of challenges does this present to you in this game coming up?
Mark Dantonio: We played with great concepts across the country. Somebody is going to always take part of that and implement it in their offense. We’ve got some of the same things that they do in our offense, okay. But we’re not just totally in that regard. We played against Texas Tech when I was at Ohio State, we played against Texas Tech when we were at Michigan State in ‘09, so there is a little similarity there, a little bit. I think what they do now, everybody is always changing their offense or defense and critiquing what they do and implementing new concepts. This is 2017, this a new game. I can tell you we’re going to have to tackle well, we’re going to have to pressure the quarterback and going to have to make plays on deep balls, and balls in general.

THE MODERATOR: One more question for Coach?

Mark Dantonio: Is it a raccoon question? I don’t have any raccoons, I trapped one once! (Laughter.)

Q. You were out here for Coach Leach’s press conferences. I was wondering if there was one presser or rant that you heard that you agreed with or found entertaining?
Mark Dantonio: I live in a bubble. I’m not out there surfing the net or anything. Always had a great time talking with Coach Leach, and I think he’s one of the outstanding coaches in this country and all the other stuff sort of gets put over here. I look at the coach. Outstanding coach.

You guys all good? Thanks. Go Green!

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