Dec. 28, 2012
TEMPE, Ariz. - The Michigan State football team underwent its final preparations for the 2012 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl with a team picture and walk-through Friday afternoon at Sun Devil Stadium.
In the morning, MSU head coach Mark Dantonio answered questions from the media in the last press conference before kickoff against TCU. The 2012 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl is set for Saturday at 10:15 p.m. ET and will be televised on ESPN.
"We're ready to go," said Dantonio. "The players know what's at stake, so we'll be up for the challenge."
Below is a complete transcript from Friday's press conference with Dantonio.
COACH DANTONIO: As I said yesterday, very excited to be here with an opportunity to play against TCU, a great challenge for us. Our players have had a tremendous time. First-rate bowl game. Facilities have been outstanding, both the hotel and the way we've been accommodated.
Now it's time to get down to business.
We're looking forward to the opportunity tomorrow and the challenge that lays ahead.
I'll take some questions.
Q. Mark, can you talk about your defensive backfield, health, condition. Do you think you're going to have everybody at 100%?
COACH DANTONIO: I said yesterday, probably Johnny Adams is the one guy who may be doubtful due to a foot injury. But I guess things can happen. I think everybody else will be okay. We're looking forward to having everybody other than Johnny.
Tony Lippett, an opportunity for him to get involved, as well.
Q. These two defensive ends, a lot of is made of Fields, but they're good up front. Is this the toughest front you've seen in terms of pass-rush?
COACH DANTONIO: I think they're extremely active players. Statistically they're very good as well. Fields has nine and a half sacks. Very athletic. The thing that's most impressive about TCU is their longevity in playing defense. That comes from structure, attention to detail, coaching. Coach Patterson has had that reputation for a long, long time.
They're the next people up. They've had athletic guys in the past. Very, very good players, including their defensive tackles, which are young. They're a young football team. That's what is impressive, as well. Outstanding on defense. They run, play with power. They transition very well.
So they're a little bit readers versus the run. When it comes third down or pass situations, they turn into a little bit more attack pass-rushers.
The thing that is most impressive to me is their ability to change direction in transition from the run game to the pass game, and they can run you down.
Q. Does it make it harder to study a team with so many young players; they're not set in stone yet the way they play from game to game?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, you see them, when you look at them early in the year, they have a couple different people playing. Their offensive line, they have a young freshman player that wasn't playing earlier in the year. You see, again, transition from that football team at the beginning of the year to the end of the year. You see different players beginning to play.
As you just said, they're younger players, so you see them a little bit more in and out initially. As the season progresses, you see them more as standard players. But they're a good football team. Impressive to me is they have a quarterback that can make things happen. Wide receivers are extremely talented. I'm very impressed with their running backs. Defensively skill sets are very good. The corners are very good. I think they're extremely well coached, very well disciplined on the defensive side of the ball, and they tackle in space well. They play the ball and run.
I think that's what makes up a good football team usually.
Q. Mark, with the way their defense and your defense has shaped up this year, do you feel in a sense you're playing Michigan State?
COACH DANTONIO: No, I really don't. I've never really thought of it like that. There are some similarities in some of the things they do but they're different as well. It's not a carbon copy. They've played different teams. We've played different teams.
I think what you have seen, if you want to make a comparison, you've seen us play pretty well defensively in the last three years and I think they've got a longstanding transition of being very, very good on defense as well. There may be some similarities there. There's some carryover. I don't look at them and say, Well, that's just like us.
But they are built on defense. He is a defensive head coach. He's involved heavily on the defensive side of the ball. So there are some similarities in that respect, I guess.
Q. Gary mentioned through the years watching you coach, all the trick plays and stuff you've pulled over the years. Is this year a little bit different in the bowl game considering the offensive issues that you had this year? Has the focus been more on just kind of to get that offense on track, not so much some of the other things you might do?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, you know, I think I said this yesterday as well. When you look at our football team there's a little bit of a mystery there in some aspects, even in the turnover margin. We're sitting right at zero. We've turned the ball over a little bit but not overly more than we've gotten it. We have the leading rusher in the Big Ten Conference, if you take away the championship game, but yet we're not scoring as many points.
We have moved the ball. Our wide receivers are coming. I think our wide receivers have improved greatly since the beginning of the year. I think our quarterback situation was inexperienced initially, but we have more experience now.
Our offensive line, because of the injuries that occurred early in the season, was much younger now. Skyler Burkland is playing more effectively. The bowl practice has helped us.
There's no question we need to score more points. That goes without saying. But what we do and who we are, there has to be a foundation there with that as you move throughout the season. There's a foundation you try to build on and try to improve on.
But I think offensively, we just need to score more points. We get down in the red zone, we're kicking too many field goals. We've attempted over 30 field goals.
That's a lot in a 12-game schedule.
Q. Mark, who has stood out in these bowl practices?
COACH DANTONIO: You have to look at some guys to me like Demetrious Cox. He's not playing this week. But some of our younger freshmen, like Riley Bullough, those guys have stepped forward. Jack Conklin is a guy you see athletic ability, a big guy. Guys that have helped themselves, L.T. Thomas, going to see him play. He's going to be an outstanding football player for us. He can play either side for us. I think Hammock is a guy that moved positions. He's a good football player. It's just a matter of finding a place for him on the field.
Our wide receiver skill set, Aaron Burbridge is a tremendous freshman, able to take it down a notch and rebuild every single week. That's tough for a freshman when you change things up, have two, three days to prepare. Now we have more time to prepare, he should know exactly what's going on.
I think DeAnthony Arnett has played much better, caught the ball more effectively, has a great burst and speed. Those are some of the guys that have caught my eye. On the defensive side of the ball we pretty much play our guys. We have a lot of guys that have played. I don't see any change there. We have a lot of young players. We're a junior-dominated team or younger probably.
Q. Jeremy Langford is a guy that's moved around a little bit. Can you talk about what you've seen from him.
COACH DANTONIO: Jeremy is playing on a lot of special teams for us. He's a guy, because he sits behind Le'Veon, he's a guy we try to move over here, over there, try to find him a position because he's a very good athlete. Tailback is his natural position, so he's sitting and being patient.
If he gets a crease, he can go the distance. He needs to be a little firmer in between the tackles. But he's getting bigger and stronger as he grows. He's 205 pounds, where before he's a 195-pound tailback. He has two, three years left beyond.
There's good things in store for Jeremy Langford as he continues to improve. He's going to be a guy next year that people will have to deal with. We'll see tomorrow how it goes. He's been impressive. He can run, play. He's a good football player.
Q. On the young guy thing, what about Nick Tompkins? How is he looking? Regardless of Le'Veon, can he give you that speed element that you lacked?
COACH DANTONIO: He's a (true) freshman. We're going to continue redshirting him. That's a question for the spring basically. Some of these questions have to be answered maybe more in the spring because we've seen him on scout team.
Cox, he's traveled with us and worked with us the entire year. Cox is functional. He could play tomorrow. We won't take the redshirt off of him.
Q. Since you dropped that line about 'our offense needs to change with the times', there's been some change in reaction. Without being specific, are there tweaks you've made we'll notice tomorrow or is that more for the future?
COACH DANTONIO: I guess we'll have to wait till tomorrow. Can't let the cat out of the bag (smiling).
There's always things you mess around with. But, you know, whether things come to fruition or not, that's game-time decisions.
Q. Do you ever send staff members to other teams to see what is going on? I asked Coach Patterson about visiting. Do you have plans to do that?
COACH DANTONIO: We constantly do that. We constantly go and see people offensively or defensively or even special teams, whether it's on the NFL level or college level. That's part of the critique process that we go about in the offseason, really whether it's in March or whether it's in May or whether it's in June. We take opportunities to do that. Usually we'll pinpoint various programs. TCU is one of the places we were going to go visit. We just got short on time. I guess we should have made that decision and gone a year and a half ago. Such is life.
Q. After studying TCU, what would be the one thing that you would pick, the thing you appreciate most about how TCU plays?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, again, that's where you think things are similar. I think they play extremely hard and with toughness. That's all I ever asked our football team to do: know what to do, play with great effort, great toughness. I see that in their football team. They don't flinch, they play up, they overachieve. I think at every level you have to overachieve if you're going to be truly great. You see that. You see guys not taking plays off. They're an extremely disciplined football team, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
I think offenses, they create sometimes. Their quarterback creates. They have a plan; they have a function. But he's going to create some plays.
When you look at them defensively, when you look at them special teams, they are who they are, they do what they do, and they do it very well. As a coach, you respect a lot of that.
Q. I'm curious, with the regular season that didn't go exactly how you hoped, where is the mental approach or the focus of this team in the last couple weeks? Has it been as sharp as you would expect?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I think our football team has been sharp. I feel when you watch our practices, when you watch the intensity with which they've come to practice with and work, we did a lot of live situations early on. There's a Catch 22 with that, but we felt like we had to play football, tackle in space, do some of the things we had to do. So we did a lot of live work, as I mentioned earlier. We're ready to go. Our players know what's at stake every time they step on the football field. Their reputation as a football player and team is on the line every time you step on the field. You better be up for the challenge. If you're not, you're going backwards.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, coach.
COACH DANTONIO: Thank you very much. Go Green.