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October 5, 2014

Mark Dantonio

THE MODERATOR:  Good evening, everybody.  We're joined now by Head Coach Mark Dantonio.  He'll begin with his general thoughts on yesterday's game and then we'll entertain your questions.
COACH DANTONIO:  Thanks.  First of all, I thought we came out as a football team very enthusiastic and focused as we've had really throughout this season.  In control of the game against a very good football team, a 5 and 0 football team that had the second leading rusher in the nation, playing against them.  So we end up 4 and 1.
Found a way to win at the end.  So when you look at us and you start to break it down offensively, I guess what you'd like at is, hey, I think we won because of big playoff offenses, offensive plays.  We protected the quarterback, had zero sacks.
We need to be able to put the game away.¬† Have a four‑ minute offense, put the game away at the end of the game and run the clock out, probably be a little bit more consistent running the football.¬† You know, we could also see some structural things, too.¬† But had too many turnovers, and I think our throwing consistency as an offense probably lacked, comparatively speaking, where it was, but the big plays of the game, we still run for 200 yards.¬† We still pass for 200‑plus yards and Lippett had some plays.¬† I thought he and Burbridge played very well as well.¬† Langford runs for 120‑plus yards.¬† So we got some production, but it just needed to be more consistent.
Defensive side of the ball, played extremely well, stopped the run, no 15‑yard runs against an offense that's predominantly run oriented.¬† We wanted to obviously affect the quarterback.¬† I think we did that; sacked him five times, hit him numerous other times.¬† We had two picks, he threw two interceptions, had a fumble.¬† And then we played extremely well on sudden‑changed situations where we got the ball‑‑ where the opponents got the ball inside the 50 against us.¬† I think we had a couple missed opportunities, obviously, with the missed interception that I think could have taken it‑‑ I think could have taken it through 34 to 3 at that point.¬† But‑‑ I think.¬† But nevertheless, I thought we played extremely well on defense.
Special teams, you know, again, sort of a mixed bag there a little bit.¬† We have a big punt return that sets up the score.¬† Thought we played pretty well inside‑‑ on our kickoff team and punted the ball down inside the five twice.¬† But then again, we fumbled a punt.¬† We had two punt returns, one going for touchdown, the other for 30, and our punting overall probably needs to be better than it was.
So with that, you know, we come out of it 4 and 1, as I said, and I think we played a very good football team.  I don't think the score was indicative of the game.  But the way it rolled that we were in control of the football game, but we didn't manage to put it away at the end.  So I'll take some questions.  That's a little longer than I usually go.

Q.  Coach, this series with Nebraska certainly seems spirited.  Do you enjoy it?  I mean we've seen a little back and forth between the players.  We've had heard Pelini.  Do you enjoy kind of getting your blood pressure up for this series with Nebraska, given the history of that school and the places you've been?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† I think every time you play a great football team with a lot of tradition, a lot of history, you know, it‑‑ you know, you remember those games.¬† I coached at Kansas when it was the Big 8.¬† We played Nebraska.¬† Didn't have very much success.
And you know, the first two games out of the box here‑‑ the first game that I was here in '95 was against Nebraska, same situation, same outcome.¬† And so to win the last two games in the way that we did, I think it shows that we're building something here as well.
So yeah, I get‑‑ I'm competitive just like everybody else, but I got a good football team.¬† And I think they played the game the way it's supposed to be played.¬† I think they played hard, and you respect that, and it brings out the competitiveness in you as well.

Q.  Mark, just wondering kind of what went into the decision to start Montae Nicholson.  How did that process play out throughout the week, and then also just how you graded him out last night and do you see him remaining starter going forward?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† Well, the situation that led to that was we've been bringing Montae along as a player and giving him opportunities in the game.¬† You know, the game before he went‑‑ we went two series, and then he'd come in for one series.¬† So he's playing a significant amount of plays, especially as the game moved on last week against Wyoming.¬† He played a significant number of plays.
So the decision was made that we were going to start him based on his practices and his game‑‑ you know, his game as he plays it.¬† You know, his game results his game is grading of his game film.
So I think R. J. Williamson still a very good player and he still figures into this all.  As far as will he start this next week or not, you know, we graded the film.  I thought he played pretty well, but it'll be based on how he performs during the week, much like it is everybody else.  We'll probably play both guys.

Q.  Mark, just wondering, Damon is supposed to be back, seemed like he got a couple of plays in there.  Will he maybe get a little more action in future weeks?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† I couldn't hear.¬† Damon Knox.¬† I thought Damon, he played a little bit more maybe than I even thought he would.¬† But I think he went in there and got significant‑‑ you know, some plays.¬† I'm not sure how many plays.¬† I'm not looking at the grade sheet right now, but I thought he performed pretty well.¬† I think our entire defense did.
And it's great to have him back in there playing.  It gives us another valuable inside player, and you know, inside players that can play inside are extremely valuable at this level.  It's good to see him in there.  And you know, he only practiced a couple of days and it was very light last week.

Q.  When you guys get into short yardage, have you given any thought to using Delton Williams more often in spots like that?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think we need to reevaluate what we're doing short yardage wise in light of this past week, but those are the things structurally that we have to look at, you know, personnel structure.  But you know, you can't argue with Jeremy Langford's results in time, overtime, I guess overtime.
So you know, Delton will get on the field for us.¬† I didn't really realize that he didn't play for us yesterday.¬† He usually does.¬† He's a good football player.¬† He brings strength to that‑‑ to the power game, to the running game.

Q.¬† Coach, I noticed that Josiah Price only had one catch, and he's been kind of a go‑to safety valve kind of guy for Connor throughout the year, and Nebraska seemed like they did a really good job on your receiver.¬† Was he something that Nebraska took away or was Connor not having time to get the ball to him?
COACH DANTONIO:  I thought protection was very good for Connor last night.  He basically got touched twice.  I think they did a nice job covering him up.
You know, as I said, Nebraska is a good football team; well coached, and they were small windows out there, for our quarterback.  I thought a lot of the plays that we made were great throws and great catches actually.  They were what I call 50/50 catches.  The defender also had an opportunity to get his hands on the ball, but our receiver really won.  I thought Burbridge especially did that.
So call it what it is, you know.  He's gotta get loose.  He's gotta work himself open, but he was in the routes, and he has been a big factor for us and he will continue to do so, but credit Nebraska, I guess.

Q.  And then to follow up on some more personnel questions, Kurtis Drummond was telling us he was a little surprised they were going at Trae Waynes.  Does that say something for the way that Darien Hicks has played for you at cornerback as of late?
COACH DANTONIO:  I thought Darien had a very solid game as well, and we just decided to play left and right corners yesterday.  Sometimes we do that; sometimes we don't.  Sometimes you play field boundary.  Sometimes you match them on receivers.  There's different ways we do it.
Last night we just decided to go left and right.  And so Trae just happened to be maybe to the right side, which is where they threw the ball probably.  Just happened to work out that way yesterday.
But I think that Darien had a very solid game, played very well.

Q.  And I guess I'll keep going here.  Let me follow up with middle linebacker.  We've seen a lot of Jon Reschke.  But last night Taiwan was out there.  Did you also feel that he had his best game and why didn't we see more Reschke?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† Yeah.¬† I think Taiwan played extremely well last night.¬† You know, he was very, very good at the point of attack, you know, getting off the blockers, two‑gapping linemen and then making the tackle.
Reschke pulled up a little bit in the game and so we just really just decided not to use him.¬† It was not a‑‑ he probably would have played a little bit more, but we just decided not to use him.¬† He should be fine.

Q.  When you look at Connor, 11 for 29 it just seemed like he missed some throws, but there were a lot of tight windows.  Is that just Nebraska and the way they cover?  What exactly went on with the passing game?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think there's three things you always look at when you're evaluating Nick.  Was it a mental error; was it a physical error, couldn't get loose or was it structural error.  Was it the right play call or even in the game plan.  So there's structure of things as well.
So you gotta look at it as a complete play in itself and ask why and how, why did it work, why didn't it work, how it worked, how didn't it work.  I think you can look at a lot of it and say Nebraska played very well in those areas, and I think also sometimes the ball is right on the money and tight windows, like I said, with great catches by our wideouts, and then other times he didn't quite get it in there or he had to throw it low because of great coverage or throw it high because of great coverage.
So there's a lot of different things.  The big thing you want to look at I think at the end of everything is the turnover rate, which he tried to force early in the game on the second play.  After that he didn't turn it over.  So that's a positive, especially as the game went on.
I also think towards the end of the game, the last eight minutes based on what was going on, you know, it was my decision to sort of, hey, let's run some clock and take some clock.  They needed three scores, take some clock and try and work it and milk the clock, and I think we did that the one series, but we've gotta win the short yardage situation.  If we do that, the game's over.

Q.  I don't know exactly what your emotions were like last night, but did you have time today to sort of step back and enjoy the win over a Top 20 team to open BIG TEN play, kind of regardless of that active fourth quarter?
COACH DANTONIO:  That's probably the best question we've had.  I'm exhausted.  You know, it was a late night.  Got home about 2.  So you know, got up and spent the morning with my family and then came in.
So yeah, I've reflected on the win.¬† I think it's a big win over Nebraska, any way you cut it.¬† If you said, hey, we're going to win 27‑22, at the end of the day I would have been happy.¬† The way it all shook out, when we were up 27 to 3, you know, you're not so happy because of the way it ended, but you take them any way you can find them.
I watched a lot of games.  When I got home last night, I stayed up for about an hour, watched the outcomes of a lot of football games.  A lot of things happened which are unexpected.  I think there's great parity in college football right now.  You see that on the field.  And anybody can beat anybody, so you need to be ready and you need to be thankful when you do win.

Q.  I was just going to ask about, we usually wait until Tuesday to get into too much detail, but just kind of a quick thought on Purdue, a team that gave you a pretty good run last year and a team that's coming off a big road victory.
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, I've probably gotta wait on Purdue because we've had different things going on today with recruits and things of that nature.  So we'll just deal with Purdue next Tuesday, but got a lot of respect for what they're doing.  They had a big win against Illinois Saturday, and obviously had a chance to watch some of that because we were in the hotel.

Q.  Mark, I was just going to ask you about looking at the film, the two plays for Jack Allen after the snap, what you thought about those calls and also the pass interference at the end.
COACH DANTONIO:  You know, I'm sort of limited on what I can say about officiating.  I think it's a difficult job, first of all.  I think the officials were trying to control the football game relative to the personal foul penalties, on them and on us, because I've seen much worse.
As far as the pass interference call, I thought the ball was uncatchable, you know, but ‑‑ obviously I was upset about it, but you know, you move on.¬† You know, you gotta play the game.
THE MODERATOR:  Any more question?

Q.  I was just going to ask, I know Coach Dantonio is not a really close follower of the polls, but he mentioned seeing the results, and I'd like to get just his reaction and wondered, Coach, were you curious to see where you were going to end after that historical shakeup?  I think it was the first time since 1990 that four of the top six teams lost and whatnot.  Were you curious to see where the Spartans were going to end up today in the polls?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† You know, I really‑‑ I knew that four of the top six teams lost, and you know, now they have one loss, so really I didn't know where it would all shake out.¬† I just know if we keep on winning, good things can happen, or better things can happen; we won't go‑‑ well, we shouldn't go down, and that if you lose, it looks like people fall seven, eight places.¬† So I think the key is to continue to play well. ¬†If you do lose, you need to bounce back and play up after that.
So my focus really, as I said, it's on trying to get to that championship game, and this was our‑‑ we're 1 and 0 in the BIG TEN.¬† That's the most important stat out there.¬† It's much more meaningful to me than our polls.
THE MODERATOR:  Anything else, guys?  Thanks a lot.  We'll see you Tuesday.

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