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September 23, 2014

Mark Dantonio

COACH DANTONIO:  First of all, just to wrap up the other day, last Saturday, I thought we came out with great focus.  We need to be able to continue to do that as we move forward.
Wyoming football team is an extremely well‑coached football team.  We have a lot of respect for what Coach Bohl has been able to do at North Dakota State.  You can see some of the things starting to happen already at Wyoming.  Found a way to win last week.  Very exciting game at the end of the game.
I think when you look at them offensively, I think their tailbacks are excellent.  Outstanding wide receiver that is on the Biletnikoff list, streak of 41 games where he's caught a pass.  Going to try and play physical defensively, collectively run very well, a lot of different things they do.
Homecoming this week, so that will be another opportunity for our players to come back.  Drew Stanton will be the honorary captain this week.  It will be an exciting week and be great to see some of our guys.
I'll take some questions.

Q.  Clear this up, get this out of the way.  Nick Foles, I know your media guy doesn't recognize him as a former Spartan.  How do you recognize him?  Do you look at him as a Michigan State guy?  What type of relationship do you have with him?
COACH DANTONIO:  I have a great relationship with Nick.  Although he didn't graduate from Michigan State and played here, I consider him one of our guys, one of my guys.  As a matter of fact, talked to his father yesterday, talked to Nick recently.  Got married.  So his life is going obviously very, very well.
But he was a great young man.  Extremely talented guy.  Sort of unique that we had Brian Hoyer and Nick Foles and Kirk Cousins all in the same room as quarterbacks being coached by Dave Warner back in 2007.
He's a great young man, great young man, great football player.

Q.  The coach was saying yesterday when they were at North Dakota State, they spent time with you, studied your offense.  How different is your offense now than when you were letting these guys in?
COACH DANTONIO:  Coaches tend to share.  North Dakota State has been here.  Spent time with us.  I can't remember exactly what date it was or anything like that.
But people evolve.  We've changed, things of that nature.  In the end it comes down to players making plays on the field.  You can draw them all up anytime you want.  If you get your guys playing hard, they tackle, block well, catch the ball well, good things are going to happen.

Q.  Mark, depth chart this week, you have Burbridge and Kings at wide receiver.  Do you see changing it up at all this week?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think Aaron Burbridge has played very well.  Macgarrett has played well.  They're interchangeable with R.J. Shelton and with Keith Mumphery.  I think we list them like that because you just don't know who's going to be playing in there.

Q.  Question about the quarterback.  You think back to that fall, could you have imagined at that point three of those guys would end up in the NFL?  What did you see from Cousins and Foles that first year?
COACH DANTONIO:  Nick was a big, strong‑arm guy, very successful in high school.  He was about 6'5", 220 pounds even at that time.  Had a great arm, live arm.
Kirk Cousins came in, as I remember, had a great fall camp.  As most freshmen go, plateaued a little bit, as most do.  Kirk had a great attention to detail.
Didn't know who the guy was going to be.  Both great individuals, great young men, had passion for the game, were going to compete.
Then you had Brian Hoyer in his second year.  He was obviously a fifth‑year senior, much farther along in terms of the offense and things of that nature.  He's done an outstanding job where he's gone.  He did a great job in 2008.
But we thought that both guys, when we try and assess guys, we thought both young men were going to be great quarterbacks.

Q.  Mark, Nick Hill is a player who has been certainly overlooked.  Freshmen come in.  He's stuck it out, fought through some injuries, held a spot competing for that number two spot.  Talk about your affinity for him, his stick‑to‑it‑ativeness with this program?
COACH DANTONIO:  First of all, Nick has graduated.  Nick had the opportunity, if he wanted to, to go in a different direction and play immediately at any other college in this country.  Could have gone anywhere and been the featured back.  Decided to stay.  Really was never in question.  But I recognize that fact that he could do that.
By nature of being a Spartan, he was going to stay and play and compete.  He's had a great spring.  He's had a great fall camp.  He's a guy that he's got a very workmanlike attitude.  Tough, catches the ball very well.  He'll block.  He'll do all the necessary things he has to do.
You've seen some very exciting runs from him in his time here.

Q.  Back into Macgarrett a little bit.  Pretty solid game the other day.  What have you seen from him coming out of his suspension he had in the spring?  Are you seeing the things you want from him?  Can we see that role growing for him on the field?
COACH DANTONIO:  We have depth at our wide receiver position.  We want to be able to use those guys, recognize their talents and use them correctly.  Macgarrett had a big punt return that started the whole process last Saturday.  I think in the first quarter had two more big plays.  He's an exciting player to watch.
I don't know if his role expands or stays the same.  He's been a play‑maker for us really last year as well.
As far as him doing what he's supposed to do, he's doing what he's supposed to do, so...  Everything remains.  We keep moving forward both on and off the field.

Q.  I don't see Connor Kruse listed on the depth chart.  We were told he might be ready to come back this week.  Is he going to be available for you?
COACH DANTONIO:  We're going to find out what he can do later in the week on Wednesday.  He may be on the depth chart game time.  I didn't want to list him right now because it felt like we were really not quite sure.  But he's close.

Q.  Ann Arbor is your fault for winning a lot, flipping the script on that rivalry.  Do you feel any sympathy for that program or for Brady Hoke, who you have spoken fondly of from a human aspect?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think first of all coaching college football at this level is a very, very difficult job.  There's a lot of criticism.  I guess there's a lot of fanfare plus and negative.
I think basically what I'm trying to say is I don't think there's a bad football coach out there.  I think there's things that start to roll one way or the other.  A lot of it is chemistry sometimes relative to what's going on at the moment.
But I have a lot of respect for Brady, what he's done, the coach that he is, the man that he is.  But I also know and am very sensitive to media coverage, I guess you'd say.  So it's up and down.  It's never as good as you want it and never as bad as you want it.  Or it is as it is.
I don't know if that's a good quote or not.  I wouldn't use that (smiling).
But I just try to concern myself with my little bubble here.

Q.  You don't really have any empathy for them, right?
COACH DANTONIO:  Empathy?  I don't know, I have empathy for people, yeah.

Q.  When you come off a game as it turned out to be, do you get concerned with players thinking that this game is easy?
COACH DANTONIO:  No, the game is not easy.  The game became as it was because of the turnovers as much as anything.  When you make mistakes, bad things happen.
But our focus needs to be on getting better.  As we talked about, we compete against ourselves as well as the opponent.  Every time you step on that field, you're being critiqued.  We're trying to become better and better and better as we move through the process.
We were able to do that last year.  We were a much better football team at the end of the year than we were at the beginning.  I think that's because we got better, we stayed focused.  Hopefully that's the makeup of this football team.
I still believe that we're in that time period right now.  We're still trying to find out who we are a little bit as we move forward.
We're going to find out more this week.  I think Wyoming is a very well‑coached football team.  I think they play hard.  They've got good players.  They played Oregon.  They played some other teams tough.  We're going to find out a little bit more about ourselves, then get into the Big Ten season the following week.
We need to continue to try to build an identity, who are we, how we react when things go poorly, all those different things.

Q.  The safety position.  Where is Montae Nicholson right now?  Is he pushing to get on the field more?
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, I think he's pushing to get on the field because of the nature of his ability.  He's young.  Usually when you're young, there's a big curve.  You'd like to see it play out a little bit to see where does he plateau, and then you know.  Then you'll know this is where he's at this year, at this point in time.
When you're a young player, you tend to learn as you move forward.  Games are different than practices.  They just are.  Things are going a lot faster.  There's more on the line.
But he's an active player.  He's 6'2" plus.  He's extremely quick and fast.  He's 212 pounds, a good tackler, got great ball skills.  Usually when that happens, you're trying to push the envelope a little bit trying to find out what's going on.
I thought R.J. had a good game.  Curtis is playing well.  Cox is continuing to try to up his game as well.
We've got good players.  The competition level is fierce.  We play against good players.  Even against Eastern Michigan this past week, they hit a play down the chute.  They're a well‑coached football team.  They have plays, too.  You just try to continue to push.

Q.  How difficult is that position as a true freshman?  How much of R.J.'s intangibles helped him get where he is?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think it's difficult.  I think the game is a game of adjustments, especially at the safety position.  Very few times do you call just a coverage.  I don't really know of a coverage that stays that particular coverage, this is what you do, too often anymore.  I mean, there's so many different formations that you see.  You have to be in the correct alignment versus those formations, the wide receiver sets.  That takes practice, that takes awareness.  There always seems to be something that you never worked on that you encounter in a football game.  You have to adjust on the fly.
So every game is different.  This game will be different than the Eastern game, which was different than the Oregon game just in terms of what they run and how they run it.
That's where the tough situations come, because you have to adjust every single week defensively.  You may be called, Hey, let's cover four, but that cover four is going to be different this week than it is next week because of who you're playing and how it adjusts out.
I think that's pretty normal these days with the different offenses we're seeing.

Q.  I'm sure the landscape of college football came up before the season.  As I'm hearing and reading now, it's almost like there's this almighty final four and everyone else is nobody.  Is there a danger in the system that for 20 or 30 programs, yourselves included, if you don't get in the final four, the season's a failure?
COACH DANTONIO:  Well, I'm not looking at it like that.  I'm looking at it like we need to get to the championship game.  That's our goal.  That's always been our goal.  We need to win the Big Ten championship.  That's our goal.  Then you springboard past that.
I think maybe it's like basketball a little bit where if you don't get to the Final Four, maybe it's not as successful.  But expectations have something to do with that.  You want expectations to be high.  That's what we came here for.  We came here and said seven, eight years ago, whatever it's been, that we wanted to win championships and compete for them on a yearly basis.  That's what we're doing.
So, yeah, the expectations have risen here.  But you still need to keep things in perspective, I think, as well, within our program, and understand it's very difficult.  You got to be game‑ready every single game.  You've got to be ready to play and focused.

Q.  The early starts, late‑arriving crowds, do you notice that big bank of empty seats?  Secondly, if you could just go through Mike Sadler's recovery, where do you think he's at right now?
COACH DANTONIO:  First question, you have to remember, I coached at Youngstown State, Akron, Butler Community College.  Didn't have many people at Butler County when we played.
I don't get involved in the attendance.  I'm involved in how loud the crowd is, how excited the crowd is, and more importantly how excited our own players are.
There are certain things you can control, certain things you can't.  In this day and age, you see it all over the country.  You can go out to the Coliseum in L.A., it's never packed.  They have a great program.
So across the board, you deal with it.  But I'm sure in a couple weeks it will be packed.  So with that being said, I appreciate, again, the people who come, appreciate the time and effort that it takes to get here, the amount of money it takes to buy tickets for this place, to tailgate, do all the different things.
All I can tell you is Michigan State has been top 25 in attendance in this country for I think the last 60 years, or near 60.  It is one of those places that are the have's and will always continue to be one of the have's long after I'm gone.  I think that's the important aspect of it.
Mike Sadler, just like we've always done, we limit his punting on Wednesdays.  Tuesdays he'll punt.  Thursdays he'll punt.  I think his knee is responding.  I think he gets a little frustrated.  But he was booming the ball in the spring, summer camp and everything.  I think he's been a little frustrated maybe.  But he's still punting very well.
He's a very good punter, he's a gamer.  Mike Sadler is not one of the guys I worry about here.  He'll do the job.

Q.  At linebacker, Ed Davis is still at starter, but Riley started last week.  Is that going to be a situational thing?  How is that going to play out?
COACH DANTONIO:  Ed does what he's supposed to do, he'll start.

Q.  Are there things he is not doing?
COACH DANTONIO:  On occasion, yeah.

Q.  Did you talk to Tom at all this off‑season or before about handling those expectations or success or anything like that?
COACH DANTONIO:  No.  I haven't talked to him about the final four stuff here.  I have talked to him about expectations a lot, about how things have changed a little bit in that respect.  I actually talked to him a lot about those things.
It's challenging.  But that's a good thing.  That's not a bad thing.  So that's one of the reasons I think that we're here.  Again, I've already talked about that.  I think we're here to win championships.  We've gotten ourselves to that level where we can compete for championships.  I think that's a positive.

Q.  (No microphone.)
COACH DANTONIO:  We talked about it.  We talked about handling success, as we've said, earlier in the season.  We talked about that a lot.  We want to make sure we ground ourselves and look at every opportunity as an opportunity, not a given, not be entitled.

Q.  Do you worry that the value of a conference championship, with this weekly talk about who is in the final four, is being diminished?  There are elements of the Playoff that are ruining things that are great about college football?
COACH DANTONIO:  No.  I think a Big Ten championship ring is still going to mean the same thing.  It's going to mean excellence in your area, in your league.  Beyond that, great things are possible beyond that.
But you have to do that first.  I think that's the main focus we have to have.  We can't say, Hey, let's try and go 11‑1, not get in the championship game, then we'll get into the Playoffs.  I don't think it should work like that.  That's just my opinion.
Glad we don't play in that championship game, we won't get in that final four.  Hopefully the committee sees it like that, too.  My vision is you should be a champion of your league before you can be a champion of the country.  That would be my vision, if I was doing it.  Might not happen like that.  But that would be my vision.

Q.  Tailgating, have you ever in your pre‑coaching life?

Q.  Ever?
COACH DANTONIO:  Does after the game count?

Q.  I guess.
COACH DANTONIO:  Then I've tailgated.

Q.  How about before a game?
COACH DANTONIO:  No, I never have.  Never have.

Q.  You mentioned the style of offense for Wyoming.  How different is this especially for your defense to face a team like this?  Does it help at all moving forward?
COACH DANTONIO:  They are probably more like us than anybody we've played actually.  So I think that's a positive for us.  They run the power.  They're going to keep it tight in the A gap, be a downhill run team, they run the G play, truck play, outside, pulling people.
They want to be a two‑back team.  They have a good fullback.  They got two good tailbacks.  They want to run the football.  A lot of what they do is similar to us in that respect.

Q.  (No microphone.)
COACH DANTONIO:  I think it helps.  I don't know how many teams out there there are like that.  The only focus I really have is what does it do for us this game.
Thank you.

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