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October 21, 2014

Connor Cook

Taiwan Jones

Q.  For both of you, obviously, this is home, so you have a bunch of friends on the other side of the team but for you, Connor, especially the state you come from, just personally can you talk about what the rivalry means to you individually and then on both sides of the ball how you're addressing it with your teammates?
TAIWAN JONES:  It means a lot to me.  Coming up, Michigan didn't really recruit me, so you always have to take that personally.  But I know a few guys on that team, and we talk a little bit.  But this week we haven't said much words to each other.  It's always really personal.  We're looking forward to playing against them and having a good game against them.
CONNOR COOK:  For me, it's a little different because I'm not from Michigan.  Where I come from, Ohio, it's not really divided.  If you're from Ohio, you're an Ohio State fan, so I kind of know how they feel because when we played against Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship, that was kind of my big rivalry because all the kids from my high school and a lot of the kids that I knew growing up went to Ohio State and were talking kind of tough before the game.  But I think after playing that game I realized how big it is for people from this state.  For how I felt against playing against Ohio State and for how I felt after beating them, now I know what it's like and I played in the game last year.  But it's a huge game for anyone on our team, anyone on their team.  The hits are always bigger, the plays are always bigger.  There is pushing and shoving after the whistle, but the energy is just always that much more in this game.

Q.  Taiwan, you said the word personal.  You always hear the word personal at Michigan State, you don't hear it on the other side and you're friends with a lot of guys over there.  Why do you use that word and we don't hear it on the other side?
TAIWAN JONES:  Pretty much because we've always known every single game we play we're never picked to be the favorites.  It's always been about the school down the road instead of I feel like as much emphasis about us.  So like you said, we take it personal because every single team we play, it's always about bragging rights in the state of Michigan, being able to walk the streets.  So that's one of the main reasons why we take it personal.

Q.  Can you talk about it kind of happened before you were around, but how Coach D has put the vibrance back in this rivalry by standing up to Michigan a few years ago and how we're not going to bow down to Michigan and how he's emphasized it and made it a priority and turned the tide of this state?
CONNOR COOK:¬† Yeah, as Taiwan said, it's personal, I think.¬† After Mike Hart made that comment and kind of upset Coach D and everyone here, he said to us that things were going to change.¬† That we're going to come back and the tides are going to turn and there is going to be a power shift.¬† We've done that through the years through the hard work in the off‑season, the winter conditionings, the summer workouts, all that stuff.¬† I think the main thing is the hard‑work mentality.¬† We've always got to call in our lifts, we say "hard work," winter conditioning, "hard work," the off‑season, whatever it is, we pride ourselves on hard work.¬† And going back to when Coach D took the job and made it a point for us to be the more dominant figure in this rivalry.¬† I think it all starts with hard work and started with hard work.

Q.¬† Taiwan, it seemed like every year in this rivalry defense has gotten a little bit better, a little bit better.¬† After negative‑48 rushing yards last year, is there more room to kind of get even better in this rivalry for this defense?
TAIWAN JONES:  Yeah, there is always room to get better.  There are always things that we need to improve on.  I'm sure there are things we'll see this week in film that we didn't have too much success with last year, so there is always room to get better.  We always just feel like we can always do something that much better in order to give our offense a little more momentum and just to give ourselves momentum as well.

Q.¬† Your freshman year when you were red‑shirting I remember asking you about Michigan week, and you said you didn't understand how it could get anymore intense, but it seemed to in practice.¬† Now you're the entrenched starting quarterback.¬† Can you talk about for the average fan who isn't in practice, what is it about Michigan week that sends the intensity through the roof?
CONNOR COOK:¬† Yeah, you have all the coaches flying around, the coaches are moving fast and the players are moving faster.¬† The scout team's energy is up a little bit.¬† I'd say the main thing is everyone's energy is just up here as opposed to being down there.¬† But Coach Mannie is on edge, and our lifts‑‑ Taiwan, did you lift today?
TAIWAN JONES:  We lift tomorrow.
CONNOR COOK:  Yeah, so Coach Mannie is going to be on edge tomorrow during our lift, and today he's probably on edge too.  Everything's just moving faster.  Everything's done with more intensity.  With meetings, there is more intensity in the meetings.  I don't know how you can do that, but just everyone is a little bit more on edge.  Things, just drills, practices, whatever, just move faster and there is more energy.

Q.  Does it feel different at all this year to be favored so much as opposed to the last couple years you weren't favored as much?
TAIWAN JONES:  No, not really.  Being at Michigan State, we're always known for being the underdog.  So we never overlook anybody or underlook anybody, but we just continue to go out and play Michigan State football if we're going to be the underdog in each game.
CONNOR COOK:¬† Yeah, I think with this game especially, it's a big game, it's a big rivalry game.¬† We could be 0‑5 going into the game, they could be number one in the country and it's going to be a tight game.¬† You have that with rivalry games.¬† I don't think we overlook them at all, and I don't think they overlook us.
But it's a Michigan game, it's Michigan week.  I think we always just go into this game with the mentality that you've got to give it your all, give it a hundred percent, and leave it out on the field because it's going to be a blood bath.

Q.  I know Connor and Taiwan, you guys work hard.  Every program works hard, but how do you explain being able to beat a program?  When we look at the recruiting rankings every year, Michigan's got all the four and five stars there in the top 5 and six.  Michigan State's not even in the top 20.  How are you able to win on Saturdays against a team that has so much more talent than you guys come into Michigan State with?
CONNOR COOK:¬† Yeah, I think it starts with the coaches.¬† We buy into what they do.¬† They draw up great game plans week‑in and week‑out for us.¬† They're great coaches, great mentors and great people.¬† I think the reason why we're also successful is the chemistry we have on this football team.¬† Coach always talks about that, and I think you see that.¬† Offense, defense, whatever it is I think we're all super tight, and we all have great relationships with one another which allows us to be successful on the football field, but then it goes from the coaches to the strength coaches with Coach Mannie and the stuff that he does with us in the off‑season, getting us stronger, getting us mentally strong, and I think we're all pretty tough physically, but you look at the mental side, and the opposite side defensive side I think we have a lot of guys that are mentally strong as well, and I think mental toughness overrides physical toughness at times.
So I think that's what the coaches do in molding us into great football players and great people and the relationships that we have.
TAIWAN JONES:¬† I agree with everything Connor said.¬† With the hard work and with the chemistry, hard work, Coach Mannie, we go day‑in, day‑out, I feel like the work ethic we have because of him is what makes us really good.¬† I also feel like the chemistry.¬† A lot of teams have cliques and a lot of teams are not close and they're sometimes separated.¬† I feel like we don't have that on this team.¬† I feel like each day we get closer and closer.¬† You see guys that four years you talk to them every single day.¬† You have good relationships with each other, and I feel like that chemistry is what allows us to be great.

Q.  Defensively last year everyone talked about the minus 48 yards rushing and how you guys kind of dominated that game.  I guess what I'm asking is do you put that as your expectation each week or is it different for this one?  Kind of a separate question, you know Coach Narduzzi is an intense guy.  Is it even more ramped up for him this week?
TAIWAN JONES:  Second question, yeah, I feel like he is.  Every Michigan week he's always amped up.  He's always enthusiastic, has high energy, and we kind of feed off of him through practice.  We always hold ourselves to high standards.  So last year was a different goal.  This year we have new goals.  We're not going to think about last year anymore and just try to improve on what we did last year to have a better outcome this year.

Q.  This year with this extra time off, do you expect to see major differences from them, major tweaks?  What kind of stuff are you preparing for given they have this extra time?
TAIWAN JONES:¬† Well, what we can go off of is what we've seen so far on the field.¬† If they do anything new this week, game‑time, they'll definitely do it on the fly.¬† So we're going in with what we've seen on film so far, practicing that, getting a good game plan against that and just going on from there.

Q.  Why do you suppose Michigan didn't recruit you?  Did you really want to go to Michigan?  Were you hurt?
TAIWAN JONES:  I don't know why they didn't recruit me.  I wasn't that highly recruited out of high school.  But, no, I wasn't really hurt.  But when I came here I went to an unofficial at Michigan and I went to an official here, and I just saw a big difference the way they treated their players, their recruits.  No matter how many stars you had, no matter your status, I felt like Coach D treated everybody the same.  He treated you like you needed to be here, so I felt like I needed to be here and that's why I came here.

Q.  Connor, I'm sure you've talked about this a million times.  Can you tell us about your chemistry with Tony and when you saw him?  When did he become what he is right now?  When did you notice that I can throw it up and this guy's going to go get it?
CONNOR COOK:  Yeah, I think you saw that a little bit starting up in the Big Ten Championship game, transitioning to the Rose Bowl.  Then we kind of picked up where we left off in spring ball.  Then once spring ball ended, constantly throwing not just with him, but I think everyone.  All the receivers in the summer, guys that don't even play, like every dude who played wideout, we were out there throwing, all the quarterbacks were out there.  Literally, we would wait almost every single day in the summer before we started fall camp in August, so like June, July, we'd throw in the morning, we'd throw at night.  Whenever it was, whenever everyone could be there.  You kind of see that chemistry taking place this year with Tony and some other guys.
But I think truly the reason why Tony and I have been successful as we have been this year is because of the long hours we spent this summer throwing, working on timing, working on routes and all that other stuff.

Q.  We're not naive on this side of the podium.  We know that you guys feel a little differently than what you tell us.  How difficult is it this week to, I guess, say what you should say or what the coaches would like you to say, and how much different is it when you guys get around each other and talk about what you want to do?
CONNOR COOK:  I think I'm pretty honest in my answers to be honest.  What I tell you guys is what I usually tell my teammates.  We respect Michigan.  We know they're a great team.  Obviously, they're not having the season they want to have this year, but we know they're going to come in here and give it their all and they're going to try to punch us in the mouth and try to outtough us.  That just means we've got to come in a little more angry than them with more intensity, more energy, and try to take them out.
TAIWAN JONES:  I would agree with that.  It is hard trying to keep all your emotions in right now.  But we have a long week ahead of us.  We still have a lot to game plan, there is no need to get too amped up for it now, just lose it by game time.  So like Coach D always says, keep the Lion in the cage and play for it all week.

Q.  What about Devin Gardner.  I know he said he was excited about this game, last year he took a lot of hits in that game.  Didn't do as much running the ball.  Do you expect Michigan to use him more in that way in this game?  When he gets going, how good can he be?
TAIWAN JONES:  I do feel like because of last year, he does have a chip on his shoulder.  He has a lot to prove.  He's from the state of Michigan as well.  He knows people on the team.  I've talked to him a few times, but I feel like once he gets started, they could be a really good team.  Once he gets his confidence, they can do some great things.  But that's up to us to limit those great things that they try to do and just keep them contained and everybody else on the team contained.

Q.  What about that loss in Ann Arbor?  Beating Michigan is a different feeling than any other game.  What's it like losing to Michigan and having to deal with coaches and go to Michigan State after you lose that game?
TAIWAN JONES:  That's probably one of my toughest games here.  Especially that whole season was actually really tough for us.  I mean, we always wanted to win more games, but I feel if we had won that game our season could have gone a little bit better.  So that game it really hurt it was a close game the whole time.  We made the field goal at the end and everybody on their sidelines is running around, jumping up and down in your face, the fans are going crazy.
I don't know.  It's just a bad feeling.  A feeling you don't want to feel as a football player or athlete in general when you're playing your rival.  We always take that into account and just know how that felt and don't want to experience that again.
CONNOR COOK:  Yeah, I didn't even play.  It hurt losing there.  Like Taiwan said, all the people jumping around and players from our sideline harassing us, it was not a good feeling.  But just because the game is emphasized and it's a huge game, our biggest game of the year, we look at it that way.  Losing to them the way we did, you know, probably had to feel worse on defense because they played so well and didn't give up the touchdown and we still lost.  So that probably was a sickening feeling.  With me, I didn't even play and it hurt.  So losing to them is not what you want to do.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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