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October 21, 2014

Mark Dantonio

COACH DANTONIO:  Here we are again, huh?  Michigan week, looking forward to the challenge, I think it's a great rivalry, we have embraced the rivalry since I've been here back in '95.  We will continue to do that.  I think we look at the Michigan football team right now, you look at them offensively I think they have playmakers, Gardner is a playmaker, he's established that fact with the course of time.  Devin Funchess, as well, they're playing well odd defensive side of the ball, Jack Clark is a solid player.  I think the best thing to do right now is just take questions.

Q.  Mark, seems like every year they have had fewer and fewer points against you.  How do you explain that?  Has it been a progressive improvement for you against them defensively?
COACH DANTONIO:  That's a hard one, I think, to answer.  I think every game is different, every football game is different.  I've sat up here and talked about that many, many times, regardless of who we play or who plays against us.  So I don't know why that has happened, from my perspective that's a good thing.  I'll leave it at that time.

Q.  Coach, you talked about this team's evolving identity and it seemed like last year the Michigan game was what we saw Michigan State football would be going into the postseason.  That said, how important is this game towards determining what the identity and legacy of this particular team will be this year?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think this football game always, ever since I've come here it always has a tendency to ground you a little bit, first of all, as a person, because you're involved in this and it's great rivalry but also to establish your credibility as you move forward.  I think that's the way it is.  I think every rivalry game is like that, regardless of where you're at.  You can look across this country and I think those things remain the same.  So this year it's no different.  To me there is a football season, and then there are these type of games.

Q.  Just to follow up, I asked the players this as well, so much of the attention has been on the success that you've had against Michigan here, 5‑2, 5 out of the last 6, but losing that game in Ann Arbor, what about for you?  I asked the players what it was like for them.  What is it like to lose in this particular rivalry?
COACH DANTONIO:  Will, in that particular game I thought it was a great football game, as I remember, it was a great football game.  It was played hard, it was played clean.  They won on the last kick at the end of the game, I was very proud of our football team in terms of how we represented ourselves and, you know, somebody is always going to win and somebody is going to lose.  But then you go back to work.
That's the way I've always tried to do things and, you know, that's what we will continue to do.  Expect to win every game we play, that's the way we have tried to build it here, I don't care which football game it is.  Doesn't have to be the rivalry game, but when you don't succeed, I think part of who you are is being able to pick up the pieces.  That's important as well.  That's what we did.  I think the next week we went to Wisconsin and won, in is overtime.

Q.  Can you go back in time a little bit and go over the point where you first understood what this rivalry meant.  When was it?  Either when you were an assistant coach or from the outside looking in?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think it was certainly when I got here and I was‑‑ it was 1995 when I first came here and that's when I first got a taste of it.  It was embraced at that time, because of the past, and I've said all along here, I didn't make these rules, I'm just playing by 'em.  I keep trying to play by them.  It gets in your blood a little bit, it's just the way it is.  I've been other places that the same thing has happened.  There is no difference in this game than being at South Carolina vs.  Clemson game when I was in college.
It just divides the state so it makes it unique in that respect, and you embrace it, you get involved in it, and it's in you.

Q.  You are fond of saying, "They all count one."  But the emphasis on this one is certainly not the same as the others.  I'm just curious, the players talk about the coaches even run around faster this week in practice.  Talk about the energy level, just from the coach's standpoint for a big week like this, would you please?
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, I think you as a coach, I mean, you're involved in it deeply as well.  You're trying to do everything you can from that perspective, and sustained energy is what you need, I guess, because it's a long week.
We just do what we do.  I think we're‑‑ hopefully we're like that every week, but I guess not.

Q.  Coach, a lot of great traditions surrounding this game for both schools, a new one starting this week, Alex's great state race, running the ball from Ann Arbor to Lansing, you're close will the Powell family, you were close with Alex Powell, can you talk about your relationship with him and your thoughts on this new tradition?
COACH DANTONIO:  I've known Alex Powell since we came here in 1995.  His family and my family were very close.  Alex worked for us, when he came to Michigan State he worked for us in the football office as a student assistant, analyzing down in the recruiting room, working at trying to become a student assistant involved in recruiting, until he got sick and I was involved with his family throughout that time.
It's a very special time for him to be involved in this as well, so I hope everybody takes just a moment to appreciate what we all have.

Q.  Mark, in regards to the dominance that you guys had over Michigan last season and looking at what has transpired with the Wolverines so far this year, even though this is a big rivalry game, but does it lack any luster considering those two things?
COACH DANTONIO:  Not for me, not for our players and I'm sure not for them.  I think it's the same.  That's all I can say about it, really.  I don't feel any lack of luster.  This press conference I heard would be a little difficult so I'm trying to think a little bit before I talk.

Q.  Mark, yesterday Doug Nussmeier told a story, in '04 he was in the Michigan State press box and he got so excited about taking a big lead over Michigan someone jumped up and broke a window in the press box because he was so excited.  How do you find a way to balance‑‑ I just heard your players talk about how fired up the coaches are and how emotion gets into the game, how do you temper that and not get carried away by the rivalry?
COACH DANTONIO:  There's got to be balance.  I think there's got to be balance in your life in general and balance in terms of you can't get too high and lose your composure, that's part of this, too, you've got to be in control.  You're going to be at your best when you're in control, but you also have to have that energy that's been talked about as well so there is a balancing act, I think, there, and I'm not sure how to talk about it.  You know, when you're in it, you know what direction you have to go, I think.

Q.  Mark, your players talked about it before and you talked about it before as well, that this game is very personal to you guys, maybe even more than it is to them.  Why do you think it is so personal for you and your players?
COACH DANTONIO:  Well, you know, you could go a lot of ways with that question, couldn't you?  I'm sure everybody across the state would like that.  Why is it so personal?  It gets in your blood.  There are just things that happen, things that happen over the course of time that just, you know, begin to set you on edge, I guess, one way or the other, either team.  I think everybody knows which direction we can go with that question.  I think you can go all over the place so that's probably why you asked it.  (Chuckles.)
Like I said, I didn't make these rules up, I'm just involved in it and I'm pretty involved in it, and I represent a lot of people.  I think that's what you have to understand, that the head football coach of Michigan State represents a lot of people on this edge of the spectrum.  So on this edge of the spectrum I'm going to fulfill what everybody expects of me.

Q.  Just a quick follow‑up.
COACH DANTONIO:  Of course there would be.

Q.  Just a quick one.  You've dominated 5 of the last 6‑‑
COACH DANTONIO:  I wouldn't say dominate.

Q.  You won 5 of the last six, dominated last year, I suppose‑‑
COACH DANTONIO:  I wouldn't say that either.

Q.  Okay, what still fuels whatever it is, the anger, because it seems, if a team is controlling a rivalry a little bit that would lessen the fuel somewhat.  It doesn't seem to do that to you guys.  Why not?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think as a competitor, anybody who plays or coaches in these games, you know, on either side of the fence and could really go across at any venture out there, at any football team, I think they're basically competitors and you're going to get yourself ready to play every football game.
Sometimes the more important the game is, the more the competitiveness comes out in you and I think that's the nature of this situation.  You know, it's pretty much pure and simple like that.  I don't care‑‑ really it doesn't have to be this particular game, but you're going to be competitive.  When stakes are at their highest you want to be as competitive as you can.  I think that's human nature.  That's what we do.  We're not going to allow the opportunity to slip by and go through something nonchalant.  That shouldn't exist.  It shouldn't exist for any football game.  We only play 12 of them, guaranteed.

Q.  When you were at Ohio State, how different is the way Michigan State approaches the rivalry with Michigan to the way Ohio State approached it's rivalry with Michigan and Tressel.  Two, I wonder if you talked to Tom Izzo before about the Michigan rivalry?  Is that something every year you guys discuss?
COACH DANTONIO:  The answer to your first question is it was no different for me, at that point in time in my life it was no different.
Of course I had the benefit of being here for six years previous, which was a big plus for me.  But I also have been there now as a graduate assistant coach back in the 80s as well, so I don't think it's any different in that respect.  Insofar as Coach Izzo and myself, we talk frequently about this.

Q.  You guys on the same wave length?
COACH DANTONIO:  Kinda, yeah.

Q.  Does an off‑week matter?  Can that help them?  Do you expect to see vastly different things from them offensively with the extra time to prepare?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think an off‑week can always help you.  I'm sure that we're going to try and be prepared for everything, but every week teams change somewhat, but, you know, not completely, so there is going to be change.  There's going to be adjustments.  There is always adjustments in any football game, and it's how you handle those adjustments a lot of times the key to victory or not.  So we expect the unexpected and we expect everything.  I'm sure they would do the same.

Q.  Coach, you mentioned you have a responsibility to many people.  I was always‑‑ not to ask you, what is the breakdown in fan loyalty in this state, Spartans, Wolverines, how close to 50/50 is it and how much have you been responsible for changing it, if you have?
COACH DANTONIO:  I don't know those statistics, but I have no idea on that one.  I know where my family sits, on that, but I really can't speak to that.  Do you know?

Q.  (No microphone.)
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, that's speculation.  I'm not sure.

Q.  Mark, you kind of said what you had to say many years ago.  Has that made this your least favorite press conference of the year?
COACH DANTONIO:  I looked a lot younger then.  I saw that video.  What was the question again?

Q.  It's our job to fill notebooks and television shows.
COACH DANTONIO:  I know it is.  I figured that out a long time ago (Laughter.)

Q.  And you're walking more carefully now because you made your statements on the field.  Is that part of it?
COACH DANTONIO:  No, I'm just trying to‑‑ you know, I don't ever come to try and‑‑ you know, I try and be a little bit calculated in what I say and make sure I'm not offending people when I talk.  I don't wish to be like that, but I guess sometimes in an emotional state people have a tendency to tell you exactly what they feel.

Q.  Last night Ron Bellamy, former Michigan wide receiver and NFL receiver said he feels like Michigan fans that don't like you are just jealous, and, quite frankly, you have done it "the right way."  Can you turn a sensing tide, Mark?  I know you don't like to talk about yourself, but since you've arrived there is more respect coming from the other way since you got here and before there wasn't much.
COACH DANTONIO:  I don't sense that because I don't know how many people are blue in this state and how many people are green.  So I don't sense that either way.  I don't sense it.

Q.  Mark‑‑
COACH DANTONIO:  Tough press conference.

Q.  At home for you is it a normal week or does your family consciously have a way of letting you know that this is a little different?
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, it's a little different.  I remember when my daughter was in second grade we were at Ohio State then but she wrote a little story and‑‑ she wrote short stories and in the story that if you wore blue and gold you went to jail for a week.  (Laughter.)  So it's a little bit different, yeah, they remind me.

Q.  Get a good grade on that story?
COACH DANTONIO:  I'm not sure what grade she got.

Q.  Obviously the rushing battle is always really important in this one.  Do you view it more importantly this year because it's strength on strength with your rushing attack and their front seven?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think that's an indication of can you control the line of scrimmage or not, and I think that any football team that controls the line of scrimmage usually wins the football game, and I think that's pretty much true probably in most football games.  If you win up front you've got a great chance to win the football game.  Doesn't mean it's always going to happen, but you have a chance.
We try to do that every time we play a football game, we're going to try to win up front.

Q.  This may be off‑topic, but last year's minus 48 yards rushing, maybe not dominant in your eyes, but how dominant the defense has been.  I know you've talked about Pat over the years, but how vital is he to your success and to a rivalry like this?
COACH DANTONIO:  Coach Narduzzi, our defensive staff, and how we function as a defensive is extremely important in terms of how we play overall; I don't care whether it's this football game or another football game, and we've had a lot of success here because of it.  I also think minus 48 yards when you talk about that, you're not looking at pure rushing yards you're being looking at the pass yards on to that, which takes away from that.  So a little bit misleading I think in that aspect.  I think you have to understand that aspect, too.

Q.  Coach, with Lippett, can you just‑‑ are you shocked by what he's doin' right now?  Here is a kid you move on both sides of the ball, now all of the sudden people are saying he's a Top‑10 Heisman guy with the numbers he's putting up.  Can you explain‑‑
COACH DANTONIO:  You know, Tony Lippett works extremely hard to get better every single day.  His confidence is‑‑ I don't want to say at an all‑time high but his confidence is very high.  He was a very gifted player coming out of high school with leadership skills and he understands concepts because he has been a quarterback in high school‑‑ even though it was at the high school level he understands concepts which allows him to move forward, I think, in‑‑ and adapt in the course of, you know, running a route or a pass concept and he understands coverages and things of that nature.
He's worked hard to refine his skills, he's a big‑bodied guy, he's very fluid and he catches the ball on rhythm, and he's made some unbelievable catches so far this season.

Q.  Did you see that coming?
COACH DANTONIO:  I knew it was there.  In 2012 I knew when we started slow on offense and we were having some drops and things of that nature I continually said if he went out and watched our wide receivers practice in practice, the ability was there, we just needed something to jump‑start us.  Even last year we need something to jump‑start us, and when that time would come you would see a flourish and our players‑‑ you know, you would see our passing game blossom, and that's what's happened and it's continued to grow.  I think that's confidence and success breeds confidence.
So that's happened and occurred for him, especially, and it will be important that he continues to be consistent with this as we move through this season.  So consistency is the thing that he's been able to do.  He's been able to do this on a game‑to‑game basis.  So obviously this weekend he will have to have another big game to be able to continue what he started.

Q.  Is this always going to be the most important game for you on the schedule, because it's personal, and you said that it chips away at you?  Or are we seeing the possibility that Ohio State is inching up closer to becoming the most important game for you guys?
COACH DANTONIO:  No, I think from my perspective this is still the most important game on the schedule for me, personally and for our program.  I think when you compete day in and day out with them, and that's what we do on recruits, day in, day out for fans, for everything, you know, it carries over to basketball, it carries over to volleyball, it carries over to every sport here.  That still is a game that we have to point to and say, hey, this goes beyond our schedule, this goes beyond the future.  This is beyond what we're doing right now.  It's just the way it is.
That's the way it is for me, and I think that's the way it is for a lot of our coaches at Michigan State as well.  Now, you still have to look at the whole body of work at the end of everything, but there are just certain times that you have to set down everything and deal with the task at hand and I think this is one of those times.  I have a big sign in my office that doesn't really reflect to this football game but it says‑‑ so I try and make my decisions based on what I have to do that day or relative to anything else based on this sign it says, "Things Which Mean The Most Must Never Be At The Mercy Of Things That Matter The Least" so you have to look at things and say how big is it and for me it's big.  Doesn't mean it's big for every player, doesn't mean it's big for every staff member because I'm not‑‑ I allow everybody to have their own point of view on things but for me it's big, and I'm never going to come here and say on the first day that I was the head coach at Michigan State, oh that game is just another game, because that wouldn't be‑‑ that really wouldn't be truthful, I don't believe.  If I were the next coach, I would assume the same.

Q.  Mark, you talked about controlling the line of scrimmage and your program has established itself in recent years as one that's based on physical play, both sides of the ball, so forth.  What was the biggest obstacle you had you had to overcome in establishing that culture and how tough was it?
COACH DANTONIO:  We just gradually had to find guys one position, one play at a time, and we had to develop depth and we had to develop experience and we had to develop confidence.
It's a long process.  How long did it take?  I can't really answer that question.  Are we there yet?  I really can't answer that question, because I think we can always get better.  I think there is always something we missed from last season or something we gained from this season, but I think it's inherent to the game of football that you have to be a physical football team and you have to be able to win up front.  At some point in every football game there comes a time when that happens, and that involves everybody.  Winning the line of scrimmage, that may involve corners but you've got to win the line of scrimmage, especially in this day and age when the ball is coming outside and around the corner so fast in so many different scenarios because of concepts offenses used today.

Q.  Jack Conklin, could you have foreseen what he's become and when you look at his recruitment is this an example of good scouting or more luck on your part?
COACH DANTONIO:  Well, it's not luck.  He didn't earn it through luck.

Q.  I mean luck on your part.
COACH DANTONIO:  It's good fortune!  (Laughter.)
You know, we saw a guy that was a big, athletic guy that could really run.  We were in a situation from our offensive line standpoint that we needed numbers.  He was going to go to Fork Union Prep School, and I kept looking at him, watched his film numerous times and this was probably‑‑ I can't remember when it was, it might have been January.  And I came to the decision that if we decided to come here and would walk on as a freshman that we would put him on scholarship for sure in January of that following year, when we would have our numbers right, and that he would come and red shirt and then have a possibility of maybe contributing at a later time.
As his freshman year continued on I kept hearing about what a great athlete he was, how good he was and that this guy was going to be special and he hasn't disappointed and he's continued to grow as a player with every season he's grown.

Q.  (No microphone.)
COACH DANTONIO:  I don't want to‑‑ I can't make those decisions like that.  His career isn't done.  We will see how he pans out at the end.  Wouldn't be fair to everybody else who has played for us.

Q.  For all the other BS in this game, you seem to have had great respect for the leaders at Michigan‑‑

Q.  ‑‑ Brady Hoke, you went out of the way to shake Lloyd Carr's hand, Bo Schembechler is from Ohio; you have respected the leaders there, haven't you?
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, I have because I think it's a program that is an elite program.  To be the head football coach at a place like that is difficult.  You know, to be head football coach here is difficult.  Really to be anywhere, I guess, in that respect.  And you appreciate the hard work and what they have been able to earn through that hard work.  I do have a lot of respect for them.

Q.  Can you‑‑
COACH DANTONIO:  Glad that question was asked.

Q.  Can you talk about Connor Cook, from the competition to win the job, trying to rein him in somewhat with the throws he was making now we still see Connor take chances but he's had a knack for playing very well on a big stage.  Can you maybe give an anecdote about when you knew this was a guy that was a gun slinger that you could trust?
COACH DANTONIO:  You know, as a freshman‑‑ as a true freshman there was a lot to learn, obviously coming in out of high school, red shirt freshman trying to get him involved a little bit the end of the season in 2012, playing a little bit in the bowl game, prior to that not so much.  Sophomore year I thought he flourished the second half of the Youngstown State game, step back, maybe Notre Dame game a little bit, higher competition, away from home, and he accelerated after that.  He's a resilient young man, I think he's an extremely competitive guy, I don't think he's afraid to make the throws and take risks, calculated risks, and he's got a great release, great arm and he's a big‑bodied guy.
I think he's a student of the game.  He looks to get better every day, and I think it bothers him if he doesn't get better every day.  So is it perfect?  No, nothing is perfect.  You get thrown‑‑ there are some coaches that never take‑‑ there are some coaches that coach quarterbacks that never allow their quarterback to take a natural drop without hitting him with something or creating an off‑balance throw for the guy or throwing something at their feet and we've done that on occasion as well.  Last year he used to have a manager chase him around with a bag and hit him in the shins and the knees and the shoulders every time he threw the ball.
So I think that's part of being a quarterback, being able to throw and move and create and throw balls off your back foot sometimes, with the wrong foot forward as he did on one throw last week because he got something at his legs.  It's the ability to complete balls when they don't look like they should be thrown sometimes.  Why did he throw that?  Okay, but it was complete.  I think those things just occur, but he's a gamer.  He's resilient, he's our guy, I believe in him.  He's confident.

Q.  The personality, Connor likes to leak little stories about Ohio State never sent him a recruiting letter and last week it was yeah, Indiana saw him throw, but he wasn't accurate enough.  Does he personify the‑‑ you're smiling now.  He seems to personify that player that you like to have in your program, that player that plays with a chip and an edge.
COACH DANTONIO:  It's football.  You got to have an edge to you.  I don't want players that feel entitled; I want players here that have to earn their way up and are constantly striving to be their best, constantly striving to continue to climb and go places where they have never been.

Q.  When you look at the win totals now in the rivalry versus when you took over, do you ever worry about losing that edge in this rivalry, losing that chip?  Will there ever come a day when you feel like this program might be one that feels it's dominant rather than feels like it has a chip on its shoulder?
COACH DANTONIO:  Never really thought about it like that.  I don't think I will ever really think about it like that.  When all the dust is cleared at the end of the day, someday, you can look back and I'll count up the wins and the losses against those people that I hold in those special rivalry games, not just this one, but it doesn't mean I've got there by myself.  It means collectively we've got to go together and do things together.  I don't know if I'm answering the question.  I think it's a great rivalry and choose to embrace it and keep pushing.

Q.  From a program standpoint with the players, how do you keep that edge?
COACH DANTONIO:  We have to keep our edge regardless of who we play.  If we can't do that then we're‑‑ then we've not succeeded.  We keep it the same way we keep it with every team that we're playing against.  We find a way.  We have a method.  I don't know, there is a story in every game we play, there is usually a story of some sort, a little story, whatever.

Q.  Coach, you said you didn't know what‑‑
COACH DANTONIO:  I had a hard time believing that Brady had this long of a press conference.  (Laughter.)

Q.  You talked about you didn't know what the split was in the state.  I remember eight years ago it's right down the middle.  You said things like that, all that stuff.  Why are you different today, the past couple years?  Why is the way you're answering things different compared to then?  Did you have to set a tone for this rivalry when you first came in?  What's the difference between then and now.
COACH DANTONIO:  I don't think I've changed.

Q.  No?
COACH DANTONIO:  No, I haven't changed, I'm just trying to be more diplomatic, civilized.

Q.  Older and wiser?  What's the‑‑ why?
COACH DANTONIO:  Why the change?

Q.  Yeah, like your introductory press conference you talked a lot about that.  Did you have to set tone for this‑‑
COACH DANTONIO:  Tone had to be set at that time.

Q.  That was a Brady Hoke answer right there.
THE MODERATOR:  Thanks, Coach.

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