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October 7, 2014

Mark Dantonio

COACH DANTONIO:  Good morning, guys.  Looking forward to the opportunity to go to Purdue this weekend.  I think it's been‑‑ only one road game this year at Oregon, so it's a good time to do this.
I think Purdue is an improved football team.  Doing a great job in a lot of different areas.  The offense is much more productive than it was last year at this time.  They played us extremely tough last year and I think defense has improved, as well.  Special teams playing very well.  And you know, I'll take some questions.

Q.  Michael Geiger has not had a lot of potentially consequential missed field goals in his career yet, looked dejected leaving the field.  Did you talk to him at all about the missed kick or do you stay away from him?  How do you deal with somebody in that position?
COACH DANTONIO:  Just asked him how he's doing and is he good.  It's his birthday on Saturday, that's probably part of it.
You know, he's a very, very good kicker.  He's a gamer.  His confidence will not be shaken.  He's going to go out and do the job, so I have all the confidence in the world in him at the cross bar.

Q.  You talked about people's expectations high‑‑ the performance against Nebraska, how does that make you feel, seeing that as kind of ‑‑ like that everyone is kind of expecting for this team.
COACH DANTONIO:  Well, I think we strive for perfection and excellence.  I think we understood what had to happen in that football game for us to be successful defensively.
We had to shut down Abdullah and had to pressure the quarterback and do the things that we did.  As I talked Sunday night, those things got done.  Made them go the hard way.  And even though in the fourth quarter, there were a couple plays made, for the most part we played very, very well, extremely well I felt.
So I sort of feel like it's a little bit of redemption maybe.  Guys played well, though.  Specific players played well.  Structurally we played extremely well and had great attention to detail.

Q.  The depth chart this week; that a long‑term injury?
COACH DANTONIO:  I will address Mylan.  Mylan has a broken arm, so he's out for probably five weeks and it's unfortunate.  He's a senior, he's playing well for us, and he'll continue to be a guy there that will bring a lot of emotion to our football game.  He's going to be out for a little bit.

Q.  Following up on that, how do you adjust, I know he was a guy that was playing lineman and kind of like the star in nickel, too.  What do you do to adjust to his last?
COACH DANTONIO:  Demetrious Cox and RJ Williamson can also play star.  We can leave Montae in there but Demetrious Cox has been playing star a lot.
We also moved Jalyn Powell to an outside linebacker position, and he's been a very active safety and have not gotten him on the field.  About 210 pounds, so he's a little bit bigger than Mylan.  He gives that you defensive back mentality and movement so he'll fill in there.
And then Chris Frey will move up the depth chart a little bit, as well, in that area.  So we have got guys and we expect them to play well but you're going to miss Mylan's enthusiasm, his leadership and his experience and his playability, play‑making ability.

Q.  Philosophical question, I saw a stat that you're 37‑0 when you have a 17‑point lead, and yet Sunday night you were saying that you told the offense to go a little heavier on the run.  Do you re‑evaluate based on the personnel how you control those leads with the quarterback like Connor Cook?
COACH DANTONIO:  What was happening in the football game, first of all, when it was 27‑9, we had an opportunity to pick offer the ball.  The ball goes through our hands because it sticks the other way and floats to a receiver's hands and he runs it down the field and they end up with a touchdown on that drive.
So I think at that point in time, don't quote me on it, but probably seven minutes to go.  I felt like they needed to use their time‑outs or we needed to run some clock and get a couple first downs which we did.
I also felt like there were some near interceptions, the windows were tight in terms of how the coverage was being played and there was risk involved there, risk with an 11‑point lead at the time.  Really didn't feel like we should take that risk.
What happened after that with the quick punt return really changed the game and at that point, we had our hands team (ph) in, they had no time‑outs left, I believe, or they used their time‑outs but they had their hands team in because there was two minutes to go in the game.  They called a time‑out.
After we got a run back to about the eight‑yard line, we were down there pretty deep in their territory and we had to go from there, as I remember all this, and then the punt return and then you know they are on side kicking again.
So re‑evaluate it, as I said on Sunday, I think we need to look at our four‑minute game plan to close out a game.  But sometimes I think you're up by X number of points, let's face it, really we're one series away from putting the twos in, at 27‑3 and all of a sudden the game just changed.
So you know, when things change that fast, sometimes I think it's never really the same situation.  You're just going to have to coach and make the best decisions possible.  So I thought we tried to play the game to win.  Didn't want to take any additional risk based on what was happening in our throwing game.  I thought it was becoming inconsistent and we needed to just grind it out and get out of the game.

Q.  To follow up on that, part of that four‑minute offense, something else you talked about, that you said you were going to get your hands in this week was the short yardage run game.  Where does that start and what are some of the things that you'll look at this week to address it?
COACH DANTONIO:  Well, I think what you just have to do as a staff, as a staff, look at it as an offensive staff and I'll be involved with some of that just in terms of who we are playing against, what they do in short yardage situations and how can we make it better.  That's the main focus.
And from a game management standpoint, I have to look at that and say, hey, we have realistically, we have two downs to make a first down.  It's third and four but we have two downs to make the first down if we are close; if the clock runs down to under a minute.
Because if the clock runs down and it's fourth down with, what, 24 seconds to go or something like that because the clock runs down, then we're going to go for it on fourth and two.  We're not going to kick the field goal.  As it was with whatever the time was left, felt like we had to kick it.

Q.  With Dave obviously calling the plays and being the running backs coach, who handles running backs getting in and getting out?  Obviously I'm thinking Delton not playing.  Who makes the personnel decisions there?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think Dave usually makes those decisions and he gets them going in there.  For whatever reason this time, Langford was breaking some runs, as indicated by the last run he broke, a 17‑yarder.  So we stayed with that with Hill and Langford in that rotation.
But I think Gilbert has to play.  A lot of times, I'm going to say get so and so in there.  I'll recognize that‑‑ and I just didn't recognize it, the way the game flowed, for whatever reason.  But he needs to play.  He will play.  He's a great young man.  He's a good football player and he's played for us.

Q.  We didn't get a chance to talk to Dave after the game.  Did you get a reason from him why Delton didn't play?
COACH DANTONIO:  Basically because he wanted to keep Langford in the game based on how things were rolling there.  And then a little bit of just‑‑ everybody looks back, I think after a football game and says, what can I do better.  And what's one of the things, because I asked the same question you just asked, as we go through personnel.
But it's hard.  It's hard to roll three tailbacks.  We had that problem before when Larry Caper was here, and Larry was a very good player.  But it was very difficult to get three in there.  Especially when you're trying to get the touches for Langford in the football game because he could possibly break one.  You know, that's something we've got to acknowledge and we've got to get better at.

Q.  At the beginning of the year, Purdue looked absolutely abysmal against Central Michigan and was competitive against NotreDame.  What have they done besides the quarterback change when you look at them over time that's made them a little more competitive?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think they are staying the course and trying to be more consistent.  Hunt, No.1 for them, the tailback, when you think about it Leroy Keyes, pretty good player.  John Stanford, to get 21 catches in 1999 against us; I think Taylor Stubblefield, he was No.4 in all‑purpose yardage in the history of Purdue.
They are more productive on offense when you look at their numbers now compared to their numbers last year.  They are trying to find their way in the quarterback position.  He did a nice job last week.  They have some guys hurt a little bit, in and out.
But I think they are staying the course a little bit.  Usually when you stay the course and you allow yourself or people allow you to critique what you're doing, you can get better.  I think that's what they are doing.  They seem to play up to their competition, and maybe when they are favored, they play down a little bit.  I don't know.
But they seem to play up to their competition.  And you watch the NotreDame game, you watch the Iowa game, you watch this past game; you're impressed by what they have done.  You look at last year's game, what they are able to accomplish.  It's a close football game.

Q.  Going back to the playoff format, there's almost a climate the way the game unfolded, almost like you lost because you lost the lead.  With the playoff system, is that the danger in all this, that if you don't win the game with style points?
COACH DANTONIO:  You can look around the country and ask four or five other teams how they feel this week.  So it's all about winning football games, because this gets forgotten.  In the big picture of things, if you win, you're going to advance; if you lose by a couple, chances are you don't.
You know, somebody reminded me, hey, we have won 19 out of the last 21 games here.  We're 19‑2.  So we just keep marching on, we'll be fine.  And, hey, the game‑‑ I don't want to say got away from us, because we won the football game, but things happen in football games.  Crazy things happen.  I was at the Purdue game in 1997.  We were up by 11 kicking a field goal with two minutes to go and we lost.
So things happen.  You have to be prepared and you know, as a coach and as a staff, we have things we can coach on now because like I said, we pick off that pass, everything's rosy and we're sitting here maybe winning 34‑9 or whatever the case.  But that's not the case.
Credit Nebraska.  They kept playing.  They kept playing up front.  They didn't make it easy for us to run against them.  They got off the field.  They forced the punt.  They drove down the field.  They hit a big play somehow, some way.  And they got back in the game.  So that's a credit to them, too.

Q.  As a follow‑up, with the upheaval that we saw in the rankings over the weekend, does this strengthen your argument that MSU has a pretty good chance, despite the lack of quality competition, really, in the rest of your schedule?
COACH DANTONIO:  Well, you know, it's very competitive.  I could tell you this:  When I'm sitting over there, it's very competitive in terms of every week that we play.  And I know how everybody else may look at things because they look at the big picture of things.
But I think that if you just continue to win, good things will happen.  And I can just look back at last year, and there's a great indication in terms of what went on, because last year at this time, I think we had the same record but we weren't even in the Top‑25.
So we somehow advance by winning games.  Other people are going to advance, too.  There's enough football teams in this conference that are winning games, that they are going to advance, as well.
So if we do what we're supposed to do or what we're attempting to do and get in the playoff game, power playoff game, the Big Ten Conferences playoff game and win that game, then I think good teams are possible.  I think we turn on a lot of TV sets, and let's not be naïve.  It's about who is watching the game, too.
And so you've got a quarter of the country watching a football game.  They want to see a football team from this part of the country in that game.

Q.  So you think that there is a regional sense here that people nationally want to see a Midwest‑based team?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think everybody wants to see a football team that has success.  So if you have great success, you have a chance to get in there.
I also think that‑‑ it's just my opinion.  You guys are asking a question.  So I'm just a fan right now.  Just want you to know, I'm just a fan, okay.  (Laughter).
But it's my opinion that as a fan, as a football fan, that if you win and you have one loss, because of what you did the year before, the chances of you getting in a game are pretty good, because what happened last year has something to do with it.  What happens in your conference has something to do with it.  Your ranking obviously has a big part to do with it.
I remember last year, a lot of teams lose two games, a lot of teams.  So it's tough to be a one‑loss team and then a one‑loss team is going to get at least a second look.  They are going to at least get a look.
Now who that one‑loss team is, that can be a variety of people in this conference, because right now there's quite a few of us that have one loss.  I think as long as people keep winning, you know, good things usually happen.
But again, that's just me as a fan.

Q.  Last year's game against Purdue, as well as your team played the second half of last season, the Purdue game was kind of the egg that your team laid in that stretch.  How much of that was you versus how much of it was them versus just maybe Hazell, he's got a pretty good background, maybe just understanding your offensive philosophy. 
COACH DANTONIO:  I think that they played well.  They came and played extremely hard.  It was a physical football game, really from the get‑go.  There were some things that maybe we could have done better, I'm sure.
But at the same time, you credit Purdue and what they came and brought to the table.  Again I think played up when they came here and I expect a very competitive game over here.
It's tough to play away.  It's tough to play at Purdue.  We have been there before.  We have always had great games with them.  I think there's sort of a history, there's a little bit of tradition there that we have always played close games.  I can even think back to when I was here before, close games.

Q.  Going back to the fans, does it surprise you how big of a story that empty student section has become, and do you think it's an issue that should be at the forefront right now?
COACH DANTONIO:  That's why you brings notes to the conference.  (Laughter) Because I felt like I might be asked that question.
Okay, first of all, you know, I support what Mark Hollis said.  Mark Hollis's job here is about how can he make Mark Dantonio's job better, how can he make football better, okay.  We are trying to develop a culture here‑‑ I may have to look at my notes.
Trying to develop a culture here.  So when you don't get what you want at the end of the game, you know, you have to at least let people know that that's not what you want.  You have to at least let people know.
So great environment, great environment at the beginning of the game, really throughout.  And in the fourth quarter, it was a long football game.  The game wasn't over I think until 12:15.  So you know, there's a lot of things to do out there after 11:00 I guess.  So we didn't have them there at the end of the game.
You know, at the end of the game, we needed them there.  So I don't think there's anything wrong with asking why.  Again, we're 19‑2.  We all want a championship.  We feed off our fans.  Our players feed off our fans.  They just do.  And I think the fans probably feed off of what's going on on the field.  They just do.
So when you look at that, if you want to change something, you've got to get involved.  One aspect of it, just in the history‑‑ of everything we do.  You want to change something, you've got to get involved.  So to get involved, you at least have to ask.  You have to ask and you have to say that you're disappointed.
But I've always said in the response here, very appreciative of the people that were there and very appreciative of the people who stayed, and that's sort of how I feel now.  If we had closed it out, nothing would have been said, yeah, maybe.
But as the game went, as it came down the stretch, you know, there was a big red roar a couple times.  There was still a lot of people there.  Student section got a little sparse, which it does at a lot of places.  It was very late.  I left the stadium I think at 1:30.  So it was a late game.  But you want a night game, you want a primetime game, everybody wants that.  There's a price to pay and a sacrifice for those, too.
When you look at Mark Hollis and what he asked for, he's got to make tough decisions sometimes and I think that we all look at that, sometimes‑‑ how do you change a culture?  Sometimes you have to change a culture internally.  Sometimes you have to look out externally.  That's part of game management I think.

Q.  You and coach Bollman are the two guys on the staff with the rings, the National Championship rings that you can show players.  I don't think it was character or anything like that, but after the Oregon game, your guys admitted that he probably relaxed a little bit, and some guys talked about getting comfortable against Nebraska.  Does that concern you, because you've been to a National Championship, how little margin of error is, and how do you coach that up so it doesn't happen again?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think you coach for the next play, first of all and we tried to do that in the game on Saturday.  Did we coach correctly?  No.  Did we play correctly?  No.  Because there were things that we needed to do better on both ends, so we are all in it together.
I got asked the question by Mike after the game:  The Oregon game was still in question.  We had scored to go up by nine.  They came right back and cut it to seven and cut it to two the next years.  I don't know what our players were talking about there, because that game was never over.  Maybe I'm to blame there because they are misguided in that one, okay, and I'll take the responsibility there.
This one, we had a comfortable lead, but Nebraska is a good football team.  All you have to do is turn on the film and watch them play against us.  They are a good football team.  They have got players that can make plays.  They can change the game very quickly, as they did.  And that's a product of having a good football team.  I don't really know why it happens.  Sometimes things just happen.
But momentum swung and especially after the punt return, momentum swung and we started to hang on a little bit.  Great job by Curtis Drummond getting the onside kick.  I thought we kind of closed it out, but then we ran out of bounds.
So I think we could have gone with a different play, but at the same time, he had 35 yards to get down.  So that's a bad decision by the player, as well, okay.
So no, I don't think our players‑‑ we've never coached like that here.  We've always really tried to finish games and really tried to finish games and really tried to strive to be the very best.  And if we are, I'll address that; today at 2:30, I'll tell them.  There's no easy games out there.  I just know how we coach.  Very difficult to win.
Now on paper, a 17‑point win or a ten‑point win might seem like a lot, but ten‑point win is nothing.  That's one play.

Q.  When you guys go on the road, how much different happens for you as a team than in your home games in pregame prep and things like that?  How much do you have to consciously get guys into a rhythm?
COACH DANTONIO:  We change things up when we go on the road because we want to keep things fresh.  Want to make it different and want them to have some of the same dynamics they have at home but at the same time it's different.
So you have to approach it differently, so we do some different things that we don't do at home.  I think that's a good thing for us.  We've won away from home.  We have a pretty good record right now away from home, as well.  I guess we've lost two games.  Those two games that we lost are away from home.

Q.  Seems like a month since you've been on the road‑‑ I guess it has been a month since you've been on the road.  There's value in road games.  Are you ready and anxious?
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, I think our football team is ready to go play on the road.  It will be a change for us.  Keeps us fresh, like I said, and it's another challenge.  It's more challenging when you go on the road, and I think you have to rise up to those challenges.

Q.  Try to sneak in two personnel items.  Where are you on Nicholson and Williamson, that competition?  And also, have you had two ends like Calhoun and Rush playing at that level, that many snaps before?  Seems like they played so much football.  Is that a concern in terms of giving them more of a blow?
COACH DANTONIO:  Answer the first question:  It will be either/or on Nicholson or RJ Williamson, depending on how they practice this week.  I would say right now, Montae played well enough to be the guy that starts in practice here.  But that could change very, very quickly.  RJ is still a very good football player, and I thought Montae took a big step forward as a true freshman, playing in that environment and that will only benefit him.
As far as our defensive ends, those guys are the guys doing the job and they have great games and playing at a very, very high level.  But I think you're correct in saying that we've got to continue to try to work other guys in there, and Demetrius Cooper has to play better.  He's got to firm up and know what to do.  He's extremely talented and he's very, very capable.  We just continue to‑‑ he's a redshirt freshman, and we just have to continue to bring him along because he'll be a very good player for us.
You know, there's a lot of conferences that are riding in terms of how a guy plays the quarterback, when he's riding Ameer Abdullah and Tommy Armstrong has the ball.  So you'd better be right.  And that was a big part of our success, how those two guys played.

Q.  I know you're not much for individual awards, but Tony Lippett is a guy you've celebrated, really, since last season when you had your talk with him.  He gets added to the Biletnikoff Award watch list, I guess finally, going into week six.  Can you talk about Tony finally getting some national recognition?  And also the need to continue to develop the passing game with the other receivers.  We saw Burbridge and Kings made some pretty sensational catches.
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, Tony is an outstanding player, leader.  He's been a big‑play guy for us, I really think last year, as well and he's even more on the scene this year.  Seems to be a guy that we go to.  We've really had different guys, but really as I've said, we are deep in our wide receiver groups.
So depending which game you look at, you'll say, whoa, who is No. 85, he's making great catches; or you'll say No. 12 against Oregon and against, maybe it was Wyoming, made some big catches.  And now you have Burbridge now breaking out this past week, and Keith Mumphery had a big week the week before.
I think all five of those guys have caught the ball very well and have had big plays.  You're trying to really figure out, okay, how do we get them the ball.  As the head coach, we are saying, how do we get this guy the ball, how are we getting that guy the ball.
We have playmakers, and that's a very good thing right now.  And then you had Lippett into that aspect and Langford and a couple tight ends that can make plays, as well.

Q.  Following up on Connor Cook, I know you don't evaluate him till the end of the year, some of the throws he's making, is there a wow factor?
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, there is.  There's some 50/50 catches that are on the money.  They are well‑defended balls and he's put them right to that one‑‑ he's put them at the right place.  I thought the throw to Lippett, great throw on the sideline; the throw to Kings; great throws to Burbridge.
But there always can be growth, and I think you have to grow in other areas, too.  So we can't have penalties where two people are in motion because we don't set the guy on the set.
So there's always growth occurring, I think for every one of us; for the head football coach, for the coordinators, for our players, for the seniors.  There's always growth that takes place and I think we have to look for that growth and try and correct that as we go.
But he has all of the ability.  He's confident.  He's got great skills, great skills.

Q.  With the linebackers, can you discuss how you view their different roles?
COACH DANTONIO:  You know, we really have‑‑ because we play so many no‑huddle teams, Nebraska ran 90‑plus plays on Saturday night.  So you're rolling people in there in nickel situations sometimes, as opposed to regular defense situations.  So one guy may be a better pass cover guy.  We put three linebackers in with the fifth defensive back in our nickel situations.  They are a different set of linebackers.
So some of that just goes with that.  We'll want this guy to get experience where this guy does this better.  Riley is a guy that I think is getting better and better.  He's a young player.  But Ed Davis had a great game, played championship football.
I thought Taiwan Jones played as well as he's played, as well.  You want a thumper at Mike and when you watch that game, Taiwan was a thumper.  He got off blocks straight up and made hits.  We need to continue have him doing that.
Darien Harris is in and out of the box, playing a lot of outside‑the‑box plays because of the nature of their formations, and then he slipped inside a little bit in nickel situation.
So those guys are doing a lot of things, and they all had great games I think on Saturday night.

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