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September 30, 2014

Mark Dantonio

COACH DANTONIO:  Good morning, guys.  This weekend against Nebraska, very exciting, challenging weekend coming up.  Should be very exciting in Spartan Stadium.  Really looking forward to the opportunity.  Great football game last year.  A lot riding on the game.
Really one of the reasons you probably come it a place like Michigan State and play in a conference like this is to have these type of games.  So there will be a lot of national media attention.
When you look at Nebraska I think you see a very well coached team.  Coach Pelini has had a tremendous success there in the past seven years.  I think this is his seventh year as the head coach there.  He's won nine games I think the previous six years, at the very least, so a lot of success.
Great football players, great football team.  Obviously the offense is anchored by Ameer Abdullah and Kenny Bell, Tommy Armstrong, defensively, Gregory and Santos probably.
So, a challenge.  We'll have to be at our best, expect us to be at our best, and we'll focus on energy.  So I'll take questions.

Q.  When you look at their quarterback, Armstrong, how is he different this year than last year?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think last year at this time last year he was just coming into his own.  He was just starting to really play a lot.
This year he's more experienced.  That's his only loss that he's had on him since he's been a starting quarterback was last year.  And I'm sure he wants some of those plays back.
So, I think he's much more experienced, much more confident as a playmaker, much more in control of the offense and he is the guy this year, whereas last year he was a guy who, initially, it was Martinez and then the other guy and then it was him.  I think he's the guy in charge and there's confidence that goes along with that and a sense of ownership.  I think that's a positive for any football program.

Q.  How do they compare?
COACH DANTONIO:  They're going to do similar things, I believe, but Martinez, he was exceptionally fast out in the open field.  I think Tommy Armstrong is a lot more like Braxton Miller, probably.  Able to break tackles, one of those type of guys, in my opinion.

Q.  As you watched your offense take off since last year, the Nebraska game there last year, that's a step for that group when Nebraska actually was able to get some offense or offense going against your defense.  Was that the first game the offense actually kind of had to win for you and how important was that setting for everything that's transpired since?
COACH MARK DANTONIO:  Well, as far as the setting goes, it was the last football team that we had not won against on the road.  So we accomplished that feat.  That was one of the things that we needed to do I think as a program.
So we looked at it as a program win.  Because we needed to go to a place like Nebraska where we didn't have a lot of fans in the stands and they had a ton and be able to play and play well and that was accomplished.
Offensively, we were starting to click and I think we saw that, felt that, but we got great field position from our defense.  Yeah, they hit a couple play, they hit two, a long run, they hit a couple plays, on us offensively, but the turnovers that we were able to acquire really had a lot to do with the game.
It would have been a much closer game.  It was still a close game, but it would have been even a much more closer game, series in, series out, I think, beyond that.
So, a good football team, they know how to run the ball.  Interestingly enough they run the ball very, very well, and they play pass defense very, very well.  So it's a little bit interesting when you look at that aspect of them on defense, they're very highly ranked in passing efficiency and have been throughout the years and then they have always been able to run the football.

Q.  Would you mind just describing Curtis Drummond's leadership on the defense this year how he's evolved into that role?
COACH DANTONIO:  Curtis is a quiet leader, but confident.  Much like a coach on the field.  There's a lot of things that he's experienced in his five years here as a player.  He's experienced being red shirted, so he understands how the freshmen feel.  He's experienced being the nickel back in 2011 and coming in and out of the game and playing on all the special teams, so he can, he understands how those guys are feeling.  Then he's been a starter and he's understood the pressures that come with being a starter and playing at the highest level.
He's been an all Big‑Ten player.  He's been a catalyst for our defense and a catalyst for our secondary and he's a player coach, really.  He has great relationships with our coaches as well.  Outstanding young man, everything that you want in terms of a player, a work ethic guy, preparation off the field, really a good person.

Q.  You only played them three times, but it seems like they have they have been really intense.  Can you go back to the game where, maybe your most gut wrenching loss here, is this quickly becoming a rival of yours?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think we have a lot of rivals in this conference, because there's a lot of games like that.  But they have been great football games.  The one in 2012, the one in 2011, I don't think we played up to our abilities.  We had very high hopes going into that game but didn't play well enough.
2012, we came to play, it's a great football game.  Don't really want to rehash some of that, and then 2013 last year, also great football game.  Two competitive football teams, two teams that don't want to lose, don't like to lose‑‑ nobody does‑‑ but play with a lot of effort, play with a lot toughness, play with a lot of desire.  And you see that on the field.  Up‑tempo, but you see, you can feel the adrenaline, you can feel the emotion from both football teams whenever you go, you can feel the emotion.  And that's exciting and that's what makes college football so great, so unique.

Q.  When you look at these two programs historically both you and Bo are defense guys, but the offenses this year have been leading the way and scoring a lot of points.  Why is that and is that out of the norm and do you expect kind of a high scoring shoot‑out here?
COACH MARK DANTONIO:  Is that out of the norm?  It doesn't seem like it's out of the norm in this day and age in college football.  There are so many different ways that people are lining up and creating motion and creating different formations and it's sort of cutting edge.
You see that from our offense as well.  You see a lot different ways to do things.  I think offenses right now are keeping things simple, but comprehensive, and that's what I've always believed in as a defensive coach.
Comprehensive to the extent that you're very difficult to prepare for, simple to the effect that these are the concepts we run and we try and expand on those concepts.
They have got great players‑‑ I'm talking about a lot of offenses now‑‑ they have great players at the skill positions, many people are using those skill position players to run the football as well as to catch it.  Throwers run it as well as throw it and running backs seem to run it and catch it.
So, the versatility of all the offensive skill players really is being used, I think, by coaches across this country.

Q.  I think you were 8‑2 in your career at home.  Night game.  Is there a different atmosphere or something that comes to the night games rather than let's say a noon game against Wyoming?
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, Spartan Stadium comes alive every Saturday, but I think especially at night games.  I can remember the night games when I was here before, whether it be Notre Dame or Oregon or whatever it was, they're exciting games.
We have had a lot of exciting games here.  Since I've been back as a head football coach.  And I just think that you sit all day, it's hard to sit, it's hard to sit all day, but as you sit all day on Saturday afternoon, you're seeing all these different games being played and your game's being talked about and you just can't help but get a little hyped.
And then I think that same thing happens to your fans, it's a big game, it's going to be very loud in there, especially when they have the ball, hopefully.
It should be an exciting atmosphere.  It should be a great atmosphere and it's a program game, I think.  When have you that opportunity like that to put ‑‑ you're on a big stage, which make it's exciting.

Q.  You opened the season with a game against Oregon, very tough team, then you go with two, we'll say, less tough teams.  How does that contrast affect your team going into the Big‑Ten season?
COACH MARK DANTONIO:  We play who is in front of us.  I talked about that before.  I think it's important that we focus and pay everybody respect and get ready to play them and that's what we have done.
So, this is the next one up, there will be one after this one, so our focus has got to be to bring energy every single game and treat them all the same and then play as enthusiastically as we can.  I think certainly the competition level is going to be higher.  We expect that.  We acknowledge that.  But we played in those environments before and it will be great test for us, a great challenge.
And again it goes back to what I talked about last week, we'll start to develop an identity.  And I think that's a step, that's a step in every season that you have to take, you have to figure out this is our identity, this is who we are a little bit more.  We find out a little bit more about our football team and until you're finally at the end of the season and you sort of come to some conclusions generally.

Q.  What's your protocol within the department when it comes to head trauma and head injuries for players, what situations happen on the sidelines that you guys go through and other folks have been bringing up a Will Golson situation from 2012 where he said he got knocked out.  Where did you trust what a player says, versus what the medical staff says?
COACH MARK DANTONIO:  First of all, we have a neurologist on sidelines, Doctor David Kaufman and then Doctor Randy Pearson is also, has extensive concussion research and things of that nature.  So we rely on our medical staff.
As a coach, I've also sat in three and a half hour concussion symposiums from the leading expert in the country.  All of us have to pass a concussion test and education test, formatted education and then tests beyond that for both youth campers, and then for high school campers and then that also serves for our players.
We're not going to put anybody in the game that we think is at risk.  I didn't comment on the Will Golson thing, because I can't, I'm not sure when that happened.  But we establish the baseline for every player, when they walk in the door.  And that baseline then is given, that baseline test is given to a young man who has got a possible concussion.  And it's called an impact test.
That impact test basically talks to the relevance of the concussion.  I know the younger a player is, even a true freshman, it takes longer for them to get over a concussion than let's say a senior, a fifth year senior.  So there is correlation between the age of a young person and it's important that that person be have no symptoms of a concussion.
We always start back having our people do light exercise and see if they, how they handle that.  That's what we do.  We have sat numerous people because of it.  That's our policy and I think our doctors are as up as we can on it, but concussions, as you know, there's, there is gray area in that, because players want to continue to play, too, and sometimes you're trying to, they're telling you they're okay and those type of things.

Q.  Depth charge things.  I see Jack Allen, Gleichert, Kittredge Knox are all back on there.  Are you assuming they're going to play or is it all still wait and see?
COACH DANTONIO:  Well, I think there's a wait and see maybe on ‑‑ well, I don't talk about injuries, do I.  We'll leave it at that.  Okay.

Q.  But‑‑
COACH DANTONIO:  They're on the depth chart.

Q.  Okay.  But along that offensive line at least you got to get some of those other guys back in.  You mentioned before you wanted to see more from the running game.  Is it offensive line at the point you need it to be going into the Big‑Ten?
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, I think our offensive line is gelling.  We have got Connor Kruse back, so that was a positive.  That gives us more depth experience.  When I say more depth, I mean starting depth, on our offensive line.
So, but again, things are so wrapped up in how the wide receivers block, how the tight ends block, if we have a fullback in the game, how he blocks.  How we take stress off the offense by doing different things relative to formations, like I just talked about.
So, there's a lot of things to running the football.  I guess if you evaluate running the football, you got to look and ask yourself, okay, Nebraska has the ball, take out the quarterback scrambles out of that, what do they get pure rushing, when they run downhill.
That's how you evaluate our defense against the rush.  And again that's how I would evaluate our offense take out the scrambles, take out some of the other things that you do and what is pure rushing.  What is, do you have the ability to purely run the football.

Q.  Obviously, Wyoming, more seasoned club than say Eastern Michigan, have you been able to quantify that offensive performance yet based on the film and how it will translate against even a higher level opponent and where that offense is?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think when you look at a passing game you're looking at timing, you're looking at accuracy of the throw, you're looking at pass protection.  I think our pass game is playing, is playing very, very well.  Passing game, we're executing very well.
You can see that.  You can see, as Connor talked about, throwing a guy open, you can see him throwing the receivers and the ball being right on the money before the guy even makes his cut.  That's a positive.
So we're executing I think on the running attack it gets a little bit more physical in terms of who you're playing against, certainly.  I think you have to quantify that a little bit.  But as far as where we're at as an offensive football team, we're doing the things we need to do, we're making the catches, we have not turned the football over, we're not beating ourselves too often, although we had some penalties last week, that was a little bit out of character maybe for this season thus far.  I hope it does not continue.
But we have been executing, playing very well on the offensive side of the ball and I think it shows.  I don't care who you play, when you put up 72 points or 73 points, that's a lot of production.  Same with the output this past week.  So, and even if you look at the Oregon game, we were in position to score a couple more touchdowns in that football game.

Q.  The other side of the ball, the defense, I know we talked a little bit about that after the last game and big plays.  I guess I would like to know where you think the defense is headed from here, can it end up being as good as last year, is there still time for that; and then my other question is, you were on those Michigan State staffs that suffered some pretty horrendous losses to Nebraska.  I wonder as a coach if you ever forget that or, when you're a defensive coach, when a team puts 50 on you, that's something that always kind of stays with you?
COACH DANTONIO:  Oh, yeah, it always stays with you.  But I have to tell you that I was at Kansas before I came here, so we just referred to it as the Big Red Machine in my house at that point in time.
So, but, yeah, our first game here as a staff in 1995, we played Nebraska with Tommie Frazier and Lawrence Phillips and it was quite a football team.  So, as far as our defense is concerned, I think that my feelings are that the things that, when things happen, and there is a breakdown, it's about how we get it fixed.  Do we get it fixed with personnel, do we get it fixed with structure, do we get it fixed with coaching on the sideline, those type of things.
I think that it's very apparent that we have the ability to do those things, we have done it in the past.  Our defense is not broke.  I know that we gave up 14 whopping points last week, but our defense is not broke.  We still have the second ranked defense against the run in the conference and I think we're number four in the nation.  I'm not sure where we are in points, production‑wise, but if we have a breakdown, we got to fix it.  But this is modern day football.
It's extremely uncommon for teams to give up, to shut people out or to give up one touchdown to win games, 20‑7.  That's extremely uncommon these days.
So, last year's defense set the bar very high.  The expectations are very high.  There's expectations from our coaching staff and from our players to be that dominant.  But we have to play ourselves to that position.  And every game's a new challenge, it presents new challenges with new formations and new players and new concepts to deal with.  It's how you change every week that really is going to define you, I guess is what I would say.  And then have you the physical part of it, the tackling, playing the ball in the deep part of the field, coverage aspects, but you have the physical aspect of it that you have to be able to deal with as well.  So I hope I'm answering it, but, yeah, I think we can be as good.

Q.  Just to follow‑up on that first part about Nebraska and your time at Kansas.  How big of a step, you talked about taking steps in this program and first, how big of a step would it be to be the first Michigan State team to beat Nebraska in consecutive years against a program like that?
COACH DANTONIO:  Oh, yeah, it's going to be ‑‑ it's a big football game for us, period.  I think it's not so much Nebraska, it's winning our first Big‑Ten game, it's going to 4‑1 as much as anything.  We have great challenges down the road, we have a great program, so I'm going to see how we play.  But it's going to be very exciting when you drive it home.

Q.  With Tony Lippett it seemed like early last year he was kind of even out of the rotation in those first couple games.  Can you pinpoint, I know you guys had a meeting, but a certain moment where maybe it flipped for him?
COACH MARK DANTONIO:  Yeah, I do think it flipped on, it flipped after the Notre Dame game, I believe.  He started catching the ball very well and he's such a confident player right now.  He's extremely difficult to cover, he's a big guy, he goes 6‑3.  He's got some toughness to him.  But extremely confident, runs great routes and he understands our offense and can play a variety of positions.

Q.  When you look at your offense and the time of possession versus points scored, that shows that the efficiency that you guys are working with right now.  That's also rare though in this day and age, because usually you see the up and down.  Talk about the ball control that this offense has proven, while also scoring the points.
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, it's two‑headed type thing.  We still are getting people off the field, three and out.  That's still occurring.  Even last week it was five times three and out.  You can look at even the Oregon game I think we went five straight times three and out.  So that's getting the ball back to our offense and our offense is able to control the football.  Converting object third downs, the ability to run the ball, stay balanced, those type of things also, I think, plays into this and the execution, but it is big.  Especially now we have the ability to go up‑tempo, but we're more, we're still huddling, so that means there's a little bit more possession time that comes with that.  But we're playing a significant amount of plays every week.
And that's the bottom line, how many plays you are putting on the field.  So whether it's 82 or 90, we're playing to that level, which I think last week maybe Nebraska had 96 against Illinois.  So, we're up in the 80, high 80s or 90s.

Q.  Some of the different offensive stuff we saw on Saturday with just getting wide outs the ball in different ways and also on the touchdown pass to Price, I'm not asking you to go into great detail here, but just how long has that kind of been in the works and how did you guys go about putting that in?
COACH MARK DANTONIO:  That's been in the works for awhile.  We have done some of those things since the spring.  We're constantly trying to develop new ways and new looks and those type of things.  I think quite frankly I think Jim Bollman in bringing Jim Bollman back here to Michigan State has added to that capacity.
He's a guy that's had extensive knowledge of quarterback runs with Pryor being down at Ohio State and those type of people that they have had down there.  And I think that he's brought some of that with him and he's been a great addition to this staff.  But all of our offensive coaches add to this and they're doing a tremendous job.

Q.  Do you expect Montez Sweat to red shirt at this point?
COACH MARK DANTONIO:  I'm not sure.  We'll have to see, because we have got the ability to go until six games before we have to make decisions of that nature.  He hasn't played‑‑ the rules are you can't play in four games, so he has that ability, but we have to see how, how his injury status is, basically.

Q.  When it comes to playing starters in the first few weeks I guess specifically probably Connor and Jeremy mostly, it feels like in the past it's been an issue to get some of those backups in.  Was that a change in your thought process this year or was it just a case of that's how the games played out so you got to get back ups in a lot more?
COACH DANTONIO:  Well, the games played out that way, but also we tried to force the issue, especially the first game and really this last game force the issue as well.  I just feel like when they go in and the game is not over, that there's more pressure on them to play well.  There's some risk in doing that, but I feel like we could handle that risk and I think it provides greater growth for those individuals and you see what they have got and in a little bit more crunch time and I think that's a positive for them.  It tells them we have confidence in them as well.

Q.  To follow‑up, didn't you say that's what helped with Connor Kruse's development when he got in some meaningful time backing up Andrew?
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, I did.  His red shirt freshman year he played, I think, in the Iowa game very, very briefly.  But we came back in the TCU game and played him.  I made a commitment to doing that.  It was a little scary to do it, but we made a commitment to doing that and I think he excelled.  He started to get better and started to get more confident and I think those things carry over.

Q.  15 night games in school history.  You coached in nine of them.  I don't want to over analyze this, but do you change the way you prepare for that?  Do you change your corn flakes or have you learned anything from playing all these night games?
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, we try and pass the time and keep them busy, but also keep them allow them to stay fresh.  I think the big things we're trying to do is bring energy to the game and stay fresh.  I don't know if we're going to have a problem with that this week, because I think our guys are ready to play and I'm sure they're ready to play as well.  So it should be very, very exciting.

Q.  Comparing Nebraska to Oregon, are there some concepts offensively that are similar and in looking back at what Oregon did, did they steal anything from what they had seen from Nebraska.  I know Frost has some connections to that school.
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, I think there are a lot of similarities from what they have done.  Frost does have connections I think he visited Nebraska probably the spring before or whatever the case, much like all coaches do in preparing for a new opponent.
So there are similarities.  Zone reads and things of that nature.  Quarterback runs, some option, play action passes, and things of that nature.  So there is a lot of‑‑ I think there's carryover.  Not a lot.  How much there is, you know, it's a little bit unknown, but there is carryover.  But it's a different personnel, which makes it a different style though, too.

Q.  Nebraska has some of the players, one of the players was saying yesterday he felt will like Michigan State would stay pretty true to form on defense and I know Coach Narduzzi has spoken about doing that.  Is Nebraska typically a team that stays pretty true to form?  Do you guys kind of know what to expect from one another or do you think there will be ‑‑
COACH DANTONIO:  No, I think that basically both football teams know who they are and stay who they are.  I really believe that.  And they have a system on defense, they believe in their system, they're going to play their defense.
System on offense, they know that, they're going to have wrinkles, they're going to have tweaks, but it's going to be who they are.
I think the same can be said basically for us.  We have had success in what we're doing, and we're going to maintain true to form, but we're going to have tweaks and we're going to always have adjustments and try and get better and do the different things that we have to do to make sure that we offset any of the things that they do.

Q.  Wondering how you see the offensive line location working out.  With Connor back, does he get back to that right guard starting spot eventually or did he kind of become the jack of all trades he was before?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think he can play offensive center, he can play either guard and I think he can play right tackle, he probably can play left tackle as well.
So he's a guy that can go anywhere any place at any time.  The guy has extensive knowledge of our system.  I think the one thing that Connor brings is another very strong leader on our offensive football team, a guy that under stands adversity, that promotes toughness, and that is a guy that you want with you.  He's a guy that you want surrounding you.  He's a tremendous leader for us and I think that as much as anything he brings back into the fold.  So he just adds to our group.
As far as being a starter, we'll see how he's progressing this year.  He played 22 plays this last week, but, so he's coming back, but he's got to get back into playing shape and that would be the same with all those guys.

Q.  Is there scenario where we're going to see Damian Terry's package of plays or is that more for games that are a little bit less close with the score?
COACH DANTONIO:  You don't really expect me to answer that, do you?

Q.  I thought I would try?

Q.  Another concussion protocol question.  In terms of communication, if someone is diagnosed, say like on a Sunday, what would be the expectation there in terms of the information getting to you?
COACH MARK DANTONIO:  The information comes to me immediately, directly, and they tell me that he's got an issue and that we got to keep him out.  Then we work to try and bring him back gradually.  They work through our weight room on treadmills or such or lifting lightly, and then progress to working out heavily and then running heavily.
And then when they're cleared and they pass their baseline test, there's no headaches, there's no problems, then that's when they're brought back into the fold.  But they're again brought back in limited, gradually.

Q.  Along those lines, again with the concussion situation, you kind of eluded to it before, but how much do you have to fight and the medical staff inform players when to back away.  When you talk about player toughness, that's something that you don't ‑‑ there's the whole concept of playing hurt and playing injured.  How do you get them to define that line within themselves as players?
COACH MARK DANTONIO:  I think it's difficult, because you try and educate them, but at the same time, having played college football, there are times when you hit somebody and you're stunned.  You're stunned a little bit.  You got to clear your head or whatever the case.
And so guys want to stay in.  A lot of times they feel like they can stay in and sometimes, quite frankly, they don't tell you.  They don't, they do not tell you what's going on.
So, it's difficult to assess, sometimes, like that.  I think it's difficult.  But our protocol is as I've said.  So I think when they see a hit, and they acknowledge that that was something happened there, then the next step has to be the testing aspect of it, but it's difficult to recognize sometimes, because there's a lot of people flying around out there.  Thank you.

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