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November 18, 2014

Mark Dantonio

COACH DANTONIO:  First of all, just getting back after it after the Maryland game.  Great job by our football team over at Maryland.  Look forward to the challenge that Rutgers brings this week.  Be our last game for our seniors here at Spartan Stadium, so that will be a special event for them.  Got a lot of great players, lot of fifth‑year seniors, really guys who have worked extremely hard in the program but have been three and four year starters.
So that senior group when they came here we've won 50 games in the last five years, so that is a testament to their hard work and their value as team leaders.  We've said over and over that we've won here because of chemistry, and I think they've had a lot to do with that chemistry in terms of how they've handled themselves throughout this time.  So we'll look forward to that.
Rutgers comes in, obviously, had a chance to watch the film on Rutgers.  I think first of all, gotten to know Kyle Flood a little bit over the past year.  I've been very impressed with him, very deliberate.  I think he's an action‑based coach, not a lot of fluff, and it shows discipline.  When you watch his football teams, I think that they're making strides.  They've had injuries in the offensive back field, obviously, and that's probably hurt them a little bit.
Gary Nova's an outstanding quarterback.  I think he's thrown 51 touchdowns over his career leading, one of the leading passers or thee leading passer in Rutgers history maybe in terms of yards and things of that nature.  So very experienced quarterback, been playing since his freshman year where he started five games, so he's been very productive.
Big offensive line, Carroo is one of the top receivers in the conference and he was high school teammates with Nova, so I think they're well accustomed to each other.  So that gives them a great duo there.
Defensively, active defense moves around, lot of front movement, play a lot of different people.  Cover two base, but they like to blitz.  From a sack standpoint I think they're third in the conference in sacks or so.  Special teams has been a big deal to them.  They've blocked a lot of kicks there over the past number of years. I think that's well documented.  So we'll have to play well on special teams as well.  So I'll take some questions.

Q.  The senior class, these guys that are graduating, how important have they been to getting to the team the level that it has been this year and last year?
COACH DANTONIO:  You look at guys like Tony Lippett, red‑shirted Tony, fifth‑year senior.  Marcus Rush, who incidentally Marcus has started 50 games now for us, which sets an all‑time record for defensive end.  Then you look at the number of games they've won, Jeremy Langford, his production over 1,000 yards the last two years.  Guys like that, Keith Mumphery, Nick Hill, Connor Kruse, Travis Jackson, Taiwan Jones is a fourth‑year senior.
But really all of our seniors are fifth‑year guys with the exception of one, so they've been really critical in our development here over the last five years in terms of our success.  They've had great success here themselves, but they've worked through the ups and downs of everything, trials and tribulations.

Q.  (No microphone)?
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, if we went out.  If we went out, they'll be the winningest class or tie the winningest class in Michigan State history which was last year's class which previous to that was 2011's class.  So there have been a lot of good things that have happened here in the last number of years, and I think they're very much involved in their successes, big‑ play guys.

Q.  Kind of looking at the other side of it, I would imagine with the circumstances and situations that you're probably not planning on playing anymore true freshmen for the rest of the year.  Is that pretty safe to assume?
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, that would be pretty safe to assume, unless there would be a critical situation.  We can always put the priority of winning in front of everything else, but we would probably be able to go in a different direction a little bit.

Q.  Do you have any determination on guys that played earlier in the year?  I guess they wouldn't play again as well?
COACH DANTONIO:  I can't say that.  I think they're a little farther along, and they've been in the system.  They've traveled.  They've been practicing with us or maybe they've been dinged up a little bit.  But for the most part, I think that's accurate.

Q.  I just wonder what that senior ceremony is like for you?  You're in your game focus and half hour before the game you're hugging parents and posing for pictures.  It's an important step for them, but it's a little bit of a distraction for you, isn't it?
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, it is.  We try to make it as seamless as we can, but it's an emotional time.  They're more than just football players; they're guys that you've been around for five years and you brought in as an 18‑year‑old freshman.  When they're leaving, they're 22 years old, and a lot of our guys, I think eight of the 14 maybe already have their degrees, and their other ones are getting them really in January.
So a lot of these guys are graduating.  They're leaving.  They're 22 years old with a lot of dreams that have been accomplished here, but a lot of dreams that they have for the future too, whether that's in professional football or whether that's in general, professional work.
You sort of see that chapter close, and it is an emotional time because there is a lot tied up.  There is a lot of sacrifice, hard work, toughness, celebration, disappointment.  You go through all those different appearance experiences, I think as a coach with your players.  I think you go through all those things.

Q.  You alluded to this after the game at Maryland Saturday night that Connor has thrown the ball better.  You weren't completely happy with the offense kicking field goals.  What's wrong with the offense?  I guess you set such a high bar with what you were doing earlier this year.
COACH DANTONIO:  I think it's a little bit something different in every situation.  We stalled out a little bit against Ohio State.  We stalled out the one drive.  We got a holding call so it set us back in that one, but we're very productive offensively.  We were still scoring points.  I just think we were a little out of sorts, to be honest with you.  Then we hit a big play.
But the consistency, we got in the second half, especially the fourth quarter, which was good because we closed it out in the fourth quarter which is something we hadn't done earlier in the season.  That was a positive.
But I think what we're trying to do is play complete football game, that's what we're always trying to do.  That means no turnovers; that means very few penalties, that means productivity in terms of opportunities, opportunistic offense, taking opportunities.  When you get to the red zone, scoring touchdowns, and on the defensive side of the ball doing what we did, but special teams being accurate on the field goals, no big runs.
There are things to clean up in every football game.  I think that's pretty much across the board everywhere, but at the same time, I think we're always striving for perfection.

Q.  Can you talk a little bit about going back to the recruitment of Shilique in New Jersey and how that came about.  Also, when you have a guy that plays against his home state that's not necessarily an Ohio guy, how much do those guys take that personally?
COACH DANTONIO:  It's very, very special first of all, when you have an opportunity to play against your home state.  That is important this week for Shilique, Gerald Owens, although he's been red‑shirted, he's from Jersey as well.  In terms of the recruitment of Shilique, we've done a good job in Jersey as far as identifying players and getting them on visits and things of that nature.  Coach Narduzzi is the guy that recruits actively over there.
So we've got a guy coming over from Jersey that was 215 pounds, that was probably about 6'3" and pretty active.  He's grown to 255 and 6'4" plus, and he's an extremely good player.  But it's because of his motor and because of his ideals in terms of the work ethic and things of that nature that's really allowed him to flourish.  But it's an important game for him.  It's a big game for him, and he'll have a lot of people coming.

Q.  Has Travis Jackson been cleared to practice?  Where's he at with the protocol?
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, I'm not talking about injuries today, but we'll make a decision on that as we get towards the end of the week.  If he can't play, I'll announce it.  But our intention was he would be able to play, but we'll see how practice goes.  We won't rush the situations.

Q.  It seems like Jeremy Langford has been a guy that's persevered through a lot of different things.  How enjoyable has it been to see that pay off for him the past two years and what has he meant to the program in that time?
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, Jeremy's an interesting guy because he sat in my office and we've had long discussions about what positions he's going to play.  Hasn't always been, when he moved to defensive back, he really didn't want to move.  I sort of forced the issue.  Then he bounced back.  So he's always wanted to play running back, and I would always force the issue saying you're too good of an athlete to be standing on the sidelines and not getting the reps, so he played special teams.  He's a very, very good special teams player.  The guy was running down on kickoffs last year.  So all those things are testament to his work ethic.
Then to see him flourish like he did last year, that was a life lesson for a lot of our players and really a lot of coaches and probably myself as well.  Don't give up on players, see it through.  Players, don't give up on your dreams.  Players, experience other positions, it will help you grow.  So there were a lot of lessons learned there.  It will all work out.  Cream will rise to the top.

Q.  I guess Le'Veon Bell would be a good lesson too for some underrecruited high school kids.  Did you get a chance to watch him last night?
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, a little bit.  I heard he had 200‑plus yards and touchdowns, et cetera.  Le'Veon was a guy that came in mid-year that was the last guy taken.  Wasn't a highly recruited guy.  Really when we took him, we looked at him and said the guy can return punts, so he's got great ball skills.  The guy was a dynamic player at linebacker.  We'll take him as a tailback, but I know if it doesn't work, he can still play linebacker.  That's why we took him.  Two weeks into winter workouts, we said that guy's going to be a great football player.  You can see it.

Q.  Coach, Mylan Hicks returned into action against Maryland.  How did Mylan do?
COACH DANTONIO:  He's active.  First time back, I think he played pretty well.  High average I think is what we graded him, maybe low‑winning.  You saw him moving on the field.  He's noticeable.  He's very quick bodied.  He brings something other than just his football ability.  He brings leadership, he brings excitement.  He brings a lot of energy to our football team.
Again, he's another senior that's waded through everything and found his way out of the mess.  He's played a lot this senior year.

Q.  Just a follow‑up, Coach.  I know the weather outside is kind of chilly.  Saturday being Senior Day, what about the expectations from you for your crowd?  I guess this is like you said 50 wins in five years.  Is there an expectation from you to have the stands full?
COACH DANTONIO:  Well, I always push in that direction, and appreciate you guys mentioning that.  I think it's a great sendoff to our seniors.  It's a great ending to a football season every year.  It's a show of support.  I think we have great fans.  I've always tried to not criticize the ones who don't come and appreciate the ones who come.  That's the way I've always tried to approach it.
But our football team, we've won a lot of football games.  We're a top 10 football team right now coming off a win.  Coming off a disappointment the week before, which is tough to deal with, but that's life.  We are where we're at.  We have a chance to go to a great bowl game, possible, I don't know what you call it, Power 6 bowl game, I would call it, Selection Committee bowl game.  So we've got a chance to have a great football season.
So it would be great to have a crowd out.  We've traditionally had to push for the food drive as well.  So that's a part of this as well.
But Spartan Nation, we are one of the haves, not the have notes in terms of fan support.  So I know in this day and age you can sit home and watch it on TV, but we are one of the haves, so I expect a lot of people there.  I would expect.

Q.  You make schedules a long time in advance.  With the format the way it is now, will you push for playing games like at Oregon or is it smarter to dumb down the schedule now to be in this all mighty playoff?
COACH DANTONIO:  I don't know.  I get asked these questions from time to time.  These schedules are made out pretty far in advance, so it's tough for me to say.  I'm sure the format will change as we move forward in some direction.  Somebody will make some changes.  I'm just trying to control the things that I can control.  Some things I can't.  So I just want to win.
I think it is attractive.  You take out the Ohio State game and leave just the Oregon game in, I think we're sitting pretty good if we win the Ohio State game.  I'm not sure how much of a detriment that was to us.  But we go from there.

Q.  I know you said you control what you can control and you're focused on your program.  But if Michigan State can't win the Big Ten, I know you recruit against Ohio State, but the way the Big Ten is perceived nationally, would you like to see Ohio State get into the College Football Playoff and represent the conference rather than have no Big Ten in there?
COACH DANTONIO:  Absolutely I would.

Q.  And having played Oregon, if could you talk about that?
COACH DANTONIO:  And playing Oregon?

Q.  You've played both Oregon and Ohio State.  There is a national narrative the Big Ten can't compete.  You've played two of those top teams.  Might be interesting to hear your thoughts on how those teams compare?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think they're very, very comparable.  I think they have two quarterbacks that made plays in the games that we played them in.  I thought both of them had great running backs.  Both of them had skill wide receivers so from an offensive perspective, I think they're both well coached, and both of them have defenses that have some players on them to make plays.  I thought we competed with both.
But with that being said, the first question, yeah, I would love to see a Big Ten team play in that.  If not us, I would love to see a Big Ten team play in there.  I don't care who it is.  But I would love to see a Big Ten team play in there.  In this case, it would be them.

Q.  When you look at Jeremy's streak of 100 rushing yard games, how impressive is what he's been able to do?
COACH DANTONIO:  Extremely impressive because he's played against everyone.  By that time he's played against every single football team in the Big Ten Conference, and he's accomplished that fact, that feat, I believe.  So extremely impressive because at some point in time you've got to be healthy enough to be able to do it, first of all.  So he's maintained his health.  Things happen sometimes.  But I think it's a credit not only to him, but to our offensive team in particular.  I say offensive line, but tailbacks, fullback, tight ends, wide receivers involved in running the football as well and then the philosophy and things conceptually coaching as well.  So I think it's pretty much a great feat.

Q.  When you look at these last few games, I know we talked about it going into Maryland.  But with two more left, is it playing for pride or playing for bowl?  How do you keep the guys focused on tasks and goals right now?
COACH DANTONIO:  First of all, you have just definitely you instill competitiveness in your players.  We go out and have a scrimmage, and I can tell you that we're going to scrimmage to win the scrimmage both sides of the ball.  So I can tell you if we pick up a basketball team there is going to be pushing and shoving in that deal as well because you want to win.  So the competitive nature of the group of people is really what's at stake.  That's number one.  Number two, we have a chance to be a top 10 football team and go to whatever that format was called that Mike talked about.  I still just say power six, trying to do the lottery thing.
Anyway, we still have a chance to go to one of those bowls that would put us in what I would consider the Rose Bowl one year and a bowl like that the next year would be a tremendous boost for their program, credibility, et cetera.  We want to build on our resume.  Quite frankly, this would be, again, if we finish like we hope, it would be another great football team here at Michigan State.  One that would be talked about for years to come, and we played a tremendous opponent in a bowl game, and that's going to happen anyway you cut it.  But we'll play a tremendous opponent that will have a national prestige to it.
It's always a great environment for our players to be able to go and compete in a bowl game in that particular climate and those types of things.

Q.  Wanted to go back to Shilique quickly.  He came into the season with so much hype and buzz around him and some of the noise has died down a little bit, I guess, as the season has gone on nationally.  How do you evaluate his year and what he's given you guys?
COACH DANTONIO:  He's been a leader on our football team.  He's been extremely positive throughout.  He's a guy that can get our guys moving in the right direction, I feel.  As far as his play on the field, I think he's been a dominant player on the field.  Statistically I don't know if I always look at all the statistics on it because statistics do not count how a guy moves and operates on the field.  How he gets off a block.  How he pursues.  How he may not get in on the tackle or may not get the sack, but he forces the quarterback to move this direction or that direction.  So I think he's had a very, very good year, outstanding year and things that I hear from other people, he's extremely productive.

Q.  How did he respond to all the attention and then once that attention petered off, did that change him at all?
COACH DANTONIO:  No, Shilique has not changed one bit in my opinion from last year to this year, before last year.  He's always been a high‑motored guy that is intense and is a worker, comes to work in the weight room, comes to work on the field, comes to work in the film room every single day.  He's always been a great person.

Q.  Coach, I don't want to jinx you here.  I know you have a hundred guys and things happen with young men.  But you've gone quite a while without any serious off‑the‑field incidents.  I'm wondering, how have you been able to instill that in your program now that you have all the guys that you've recruited, we look around America and see a lot of players with serious off the field issues.  How do you think your program has been able to avoid some of the problems we've seen other places?
COACH DANTONIO:  Well, I think first of all every coach in America talks about that to their players and has seminars and different things going on.  I think there are a lot of things that play into decisions away from the football field.  There are a lot of different things and outside sources that can enter into those things.  But what we do here is constantly talk about it.  With success comes more responsibility, we've said that over and over and over.  It's how you handle success not just on the football field but off the football field as well.
So we're constantly trying to recruit the right people.  Trying to build the right people once we get them here.  There are consequences for issues.  With that being said, I try to be very fair with our players and treat them as if they're my own family.  When that's happening, as it occurs across the country, you're trying to save your players and give them opportunities or second chances and things of that nature.  I think that's part of it too.
It's difficult to be a head football coach or a coach in any position at all, and it's difficult to be a student‑athlete because there are a lot of different things going on in your lives.  Everybody's different.  Everybody has different points of issues, I guess.  I tell our players never forget.  Never forget the path of this program, which we've had things occur.  Remember how delicate that is and fragile that is, and always try to make sure that you're representing people to the best of your ability.  I'll remind them again today about that.

Q.  One thing you've had to deal with is guys leaving early for the NFL.  Which is a tough double‑edged sword for you guys.  Can you talk about how you deal with that at this time of the year when there are fewer games and perhaps more buzz in their ears about that?
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, we'll take certain players and see what their draft status is, and take it to a committee like we've done other people.  I'll get on the phone and talk to different head coaches or probably GMs and we'll do our homework.  Ultimately decisions have to be made that are going to be in the best interest of that individual.
I don't ever want somebody to say I've held them back for personal gain.  But I think everybody wants different things out of a college experience.  Hopefully education is part of that.  But some guys have already attained that too.  I think it's a tough situation, but it's a good situation.  It's a good problem.  It's a problem, but it's a good problem.
People want your players at a higher level, that means that these are the reasons you're winning, first of all, and usually you are winning.  And secondly, it opens the doors for others to come and other opportunities.  We've had, I think, five guys go early in the past couple of years.  How are they doing?  A couple of them are doing very well.  Couple of them probably wish they had stayed another year, so there is no perfect scenario.  There is sacrifice involved either way.  I know that and I understand that.
My biggest concern is they leave here and feel good about how they were treated here.  About how they were used here in terms of players and what they got out of this.  And most importantly that they're Spartans for life and they feel they can always come back and we're accepting of them.

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