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November 25, 2014

Mark Dantonio

COACH DANTONIO:  The game versus Penn State.  I think that's a program game.  Chance to win No. 10.  Going to be a great challenge going over there.  Been over there in 2008 obviously, and then also in 2010.
So great environment Penn State has.  Very exciting to go over and play.  I think Penn State itself, Coach Franklin has a football team that's been extremely close.  A lot of parallels probably with our season in 2012, losing a number of games by a total of 15 points.  Maybe four games.
When you look at them defensively, they're No. 1 in rushing defense.  They are in the top 5 in scoring defense, pass efficiency, and then also in total defense.  So excellent defensive unit.
Have a quarterback that can throw it.  A very productive wide receiver in Hamilton.  Had some injuries on the offensive line at tailback, but they seem to be returning to better times in that area.  Very solid on special teams.
I think they're a well‑coached football team.  Challenge will be there for all of us.  With that, I'll just take some questions.

Q.  You said it's a program game.  Just wondering, moving forward, how do you think this series will impact the east, and what do you know about James Franklin and what he's trying to do there?
COACH DANTONIO:  Not too much other than spent a little time on a Nike trip with him.  Built a program at Vanderbilt.  Penn State has always been an east‑coast dominated school, and I think it'll continue to be that in terms of recruits and things of that nature going there.
So we'll find out more as we get there.  Obviously has a great program in place in terms of their traditions, et cetera.

Q.  You may disagree with my premise, but you're 9‑2, top 10 team in the program, playing for a major bowl.  Jeremy's accomplishments, defense and offense, are all nationally recognized.  Still, the Big 10 has not recognized you one time all season.  That seems either blatant disregard or disrespect to me.  Am I overstating that?
COACH DANTONIO:  No, you're probably not.  There are some things we can control and some things I can't control.  Obviously they have a committee for that.  All I can say is we've got a receiver that's I think No. 1 by almost 200 yards in receptions, yardage.  I think he's the fifth leading guy in terms of catches in the conference and he has over 100 yards, 1071 yards I believe.
Langford I think is No. 3 in touchdowns; maybe 5 in rushing.  Has almost 1300 rushing, and has been over 100 yards 14 games in a row, which hasn't been done for 18 years.
We have a quarterback leading the conference in a number of areas.
Obviously we've always had a strong defense.
So those decisions aren't my decisions.  All I can do is vote for them or bring them forward as I just have done.  Other people have to make those decisions.  That's not my call.
Disappointing though, but sometimes I think to the winner goes the spoils, to be honest with you.  We're a little bit of forgotten ones right now.  We have a very good football team.  We have a chance to win 10 football games, and we need to take comfort in that and take comfort in the fact that we're going places and the program is strong and healthy and move from there.

Q.  About 15 months ago whether this offense could be functional, I mean, some people doubted it.  Even some people in this room.  Now this year it sets records for production.  I know you thought a few details could make it better, but this historically great.  Did you see this potential in it, and what's allowed for that to happen?
COACH DANTONIO:  I guess looking at it statistically, we've already set records for the most points scored in the history of Michigan State football in a production year, you know, offensive production.
I think that goes with yardage.  All of our offensive records are falling.  So it's been extremely productive.
What I saw in 2012, you know, obviously we saw a young quarterback in Connor Cook that had talent that need to do grow with experience.  But he had talent.
We saw some wide receivers that I continually said they catch the ball very well.  They look the part, they run the part.  That's flourished in 2013.  I think experience and success really breeds further accomplishments.  I think that's what's happened to them.
They're extremely confident.  We don't just have one wide out, we have five that I think play a lot and productively.  Keith Mumphrey has had a great year.  We've had a traditionally strong defense these last couple years, so I think that formats in with a little bit of what Hondo talked about.
And we're strong again on defense.  But offensively our, offensive line is intact.  We've got good players up there.
We found identities at tailback, tight end, wide receiver, and quarterback in the last year, and that's paying dividends.

Q.  I wanted to ask about Tony Lippett.  Had he taken defensive reps in the past week?  Do you think going forward corner back is his position or is that wide open?
COACH DANTONIO:  First of all, he did not take reps prior to this last week, but his retention was a 10 in terms of what he had retained from being a starter there.
You got to remember, he worked there for a year, for a full season.  There wasn't a lot of change.  He was in meeting rooms, so he understand the terminology and all the different things that go along with that and the techniques involved.
So he was able to make that transition easily.  I think he's a wide receiver at the next level.  I just think this is an added dimension to him in terms of who he is from a toughness standpoint, from a competitive standpoint, and in an emergency situation.
I think he catches the ball too well and is too important as an offensive figure for us to just say, Hey, he's going to play nothing but defense on Saturday.  He's got to be equally productive on offense.
I'll go back to when I was at OSU and I was the defensive coordinator.  We were using Chris Gamble on both sides of the ball and he was playing over 100 plays in three straight games.  So, I mean, it was pretty amazing what he was able to accomplish.
That was because we pushed the issue there, and I think issue can be pushed at if you have the right person with the right mentality.  I think Lippett has that mentality.  He played ‑‑ the game was a little bit out of reach last week, so he played 40 plays, both sides of the ball.

Q.  Just a follow up on that.  Lippett, the plan is to start him this week then?  He's first on the depth chart.
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, he'll start.

Q.  With Jeremy Langford, what are his best attributes?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think he gets stronger as the game progresses.  He's extremely tough.  He runs with power.  He breaks tackles, and he can make you miss.
He's got acceleration of the edge.  I heard a guy talk to me about one time like 45‑degree acceleration.  When you're on that 45‑degree plane and that tackler is coming at you like this, he can accelerate through that.
Some people can't do that.  Some people are straight‑line fast.  He's got an extra gear.  He's a good pass receiver.  He understands our offensive scheme.  He's a little bit drive.  He's driven.  He's hungry.
When you ask why hasn't he been named, that's good.  Muhammad Ali used to say, I'll show you how great I am.  I'll let him know.  So he'll be ready to go Saturday.

Q.  Coach, could you take a moment to talk about the players from Pennsylvania.  Everybody you've got from that state is pretty major contributor in the importance of continuing success through recruiting.
COACH DANTONIO:  Very good players from there.  I don't really want to miss anybody, but Paul Lang is a tight end from Mt. Lebanon who has been a factor, especially in the second half of the year.
Obviously Demetrious Cox has been a guy for us here, and he's got two more years.  He's a redshirt sophomore and he's an outstanding player.  He has so far played safety, nickel back, and corner for us.  He's playing a lot of football for us down the stretch and is involved in all the special teams.  I think he can be a dynamic player.
We have Delton Williams who's got a major part in this program as a tailback, third tailback.  I think he probably has about 50 carries, but he played as a true freshman last year and made his mark.
Damion Terry is going to be an excellent player.  I think he can be an impact player on this program at some time at quarterback.
Montae Nicholson right now has gotten on the field and started three games for us and plays every game.  You'll see No. 9 out there making plays out there on special teams, and then he is going to play defensive snaps throughout every football game.  We've made a commitment to doing that and he gets better and better and better.
Casey Schreiner is a nonscholarship guy that's working extremely hard.  I think that covers it, but I'm not quite sure.
Brandon Clemons is from the east side of PA, and he is another guy that's played offense, defense, and he's playing on both sides of the ball, too.  These next two years he's going to be a factor on our offensive line.  He just moved there this past camp.

Q.  (Question regarding recruiting.)
COACH DANTONIO:  I think we want to have a presence in Western PA and Pennsylvania in general.  We've been able to recruit good players out of there.  It's a great state for high school football.  I think the Big 10 is in that state, and we've had success bringing guys over here and they've played for us.
If you look at that roster and the people I just talked about, everybody is playing for us.  They've been successful here.

Q.  Two questions on the quick order.  Since it's the last game can I break the rules and ask about Travis Jackson?
COACH DANTONIO:  Nope.  He'll make the trip, and that's all I can say.  We'll see how he comes the rest of this week.

Q.  They used to celebrate 10‑win seasons around here.  They would throw a party.  Now you have a chance to have four and five years.  What does that mean to you in shaping the image of this program?
COACH DANTONIO:  I believe that winning 10 games around here right now is the benchmark.  Obviously that gets you a little bit of notoriety.  Not much, okay?  I guess that's a positive.
But that's what we've been able to traditionally do right now, and it's been a very big thing for this program.  Puts us in the hunt always to be relevant in terms of the national picture, and certainly to be relevant in the Big 10 picture.
I think that's what we're trying to do here, and then springboard from there to great possibilities like last year.  Obviously come up a little bit short this year, but the season is not over yet.  Looking to move forward.
It'll be a great challenge going over there.  They have a good football team.  Tough environment.

Q.  You and the players, when a young man has a great career great get a lot of credit, and deservingly so.  Sometimes lost are the parents.  A year ago Jeremy Langford was off scholarship debating transferring, and his parents told him, You committed to Michigan State.  Either find a way to pay for it or earn your scholarship, but you're going back and playing for coach Coach Dantonio.  How lost in all of college football can the parents be in a great career?
COACH DANTONIO:  We constantly talk about the circle of trust between the player, the parents, and the coach.  That's got to exist in order for that young man to be successful.
As I said last Saturday, at one point in their life they had to push that young man out on the football field and say, This is the game of football.  Go play.
Last Saturday they had the opportunity to push them out in Spartan Stadium for the last time and say, Let's go play one more time.
This is the second chapter.  This game will be the end of the regular season, so that's another opportunity for them to do that.  So I think they're instrumental.  They basically shape their young person, child, into being a football player at the major college level, which is extremely competitive and very difficult to do, especially in these years with scholarships and parity and the things that just go along with being able to play at this level.
Then to do that with this type of team success is an even greater achievement, I think.  They're heavily involved in that.  We welcomed them in last week, and we will this week as well.  We want to congratulate them as well as their sons.

Q.  When you look at the offense from last year, at the end, even when it was rolling into this year and the records, how central was Tony Lippett becoming a go‑to wide out?  Because that seems to be the real difference from last year to this year.
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, he was last year as well, I think.  You also had Bennie Fowler in that mix as well.  So six guys in the mix rolling a little bit.
All the guys that we're playing this year were playing last year as well.  So Monty Maderis and AJ Troup has taken over that sixth position a little bit I think, and they'll be good players.
But I think at the X position Bennie Fowler was a little bit of that guy.  Tony had some very good plays in the season last year.  You remember the championship game and the Rose Bowl and things of that nature.
But I think Bennie Fowler also had some good players, and they shared that position a little bit, which was a luxury.

Q.  (No microphone.)
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah.  Yeah, he is.  I think he's taken that step.  His confidence‑‑ you got to remember this guy was a quarterback in high school and he was the guy at Crockett.  He was used to delivering for his football team.  He had the confidence.  I think he had the mindset that he could be that guy, he could be the guy.  I think that's what's taken off.
Every year your leaders, you have to assume that leadership position.  I think that comes naturally to people.  By the time you get to be a senior you have to take on this leadership position.  If you're going to lead, you have to make plays.  You have to be able to do that to some extent.
Regardless of what position you're playing, you have to play and you have to be playing pretty well, too.  I think he's done that sort of naturally.  I think it's inherent in him, and I think that's taken him to the next step as a football player, too.

Q.  Looking at what you built here, part of your success has been a really high retention rate.  Not just finding the talent, but utilizing the talent.  In the last few weeks I know you moved some people.  To keep guys fresh, two for one so to speak, can you share with us some other guys that are getting looks late?  I know you're not tinkering too much with the two‑deep, but some of the younger players that maybe you're looking at here late in the season.
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, really we did that because I don't want anybody to ever get complacent on our football team.  So is that a change for the future?  Probably not.
But I see an issue that Gerald Holmes is a great football player.  A 10.5 long jumper, ad big vertical jump guy, 225 pounds, and he's got to start playing football for us on special teams.
That decision was made by me to create change.  I put T.J. over there to get him happy a little bit.  I think he was excited about that opportunity as well.
So other guys who are doing on outstanding job, I think Vayante Copeland is going to be a very good player.  We've got a lot of guys in there that can be outstanding football players.
I think our last class, this class where we have five guys who have played for us‑ I think five, but maybe three or four playing‑ I think it's an outstanding class, and I think you'll see a lot of development in those guys as we move forward.

Q.  Different question:  You brought it up earlier, and Hondo did, too.  It's almost as some of this plays right into your hands.  You like the chip on the shoulder.  It's part of Michigan State's culture obviously.  Michigan throwing a stake into the ground.  Not having a player of the week.  Can you just talk about how you're able to feed off this?  I know Michigan week some of the media have accused you of dreaming stuff up.
COACH DANTONIO:  Accused me?

Q.  Well, that was kind of the word.  That you look for stuff.  But it's not real hard this season to look for stuff I guess is what I'm asking you about.
COACH DANTONIO:  No, I think you have to have a plan every game.  You go into that football game and make sure that you're ready to play.  Whatever we can take and use to our advantage, we do.
I don't know.  I just think football is a game of emotions, so you better be ready to play.  You better be buckled up and ready.  What I say only carries so much weight.  What our players believe in their heart is the real issue always at hand.
I've said many times, We're winning 10 games because we got good players, but we've got great chemistry.  We really do.  Our players believe in each other, and there is just a chemistry that exists between them.  I think we have gotten great leadership from our seniors every single year.
Even 2009 we got great leadership from our seniors.  I think that's what ultimately allows you to overachieve maybe or to rise up.  If you don't have that, then things start to fall down around you.

Q.  How long have you been working Holmes at linebacker?
COACH DANTONIO:  Just a week.  Three or four days.

Q.  Is that maybe an easier sell when they can see what Langford and Lippett have done going to different positions early?
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, we point to that all the time about how it's not easy.  You got to find your knack here, your position.  You have to be open to position changes.  Your number one goal is to become a football player.  Your number two goal is to become a position player.
So that's what we've done.  Always looked at the guys when we recruit them as football players.  If that guy is a defensive back, can he catch the ball?  If that guy is a wide receiver, can he make tackles?  That's the way we've tried to do it here.
I think at the end of the, we want guys that can run, catch, do it all on both sides of the ball.  That makes us stronger as we go.

Q.  Do you anticipate some I guess nostalgia when you walk into the Penn State locker room where you won that first Big 10 title?  Does it seem like four years since then?
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, that was a great moment I think in our time here these last eight years.  We did it the hard way.  It was a cold day.  We had to go away to do it, and we got it done.  I think when you do things the hard way you have a little bit more appreciation for it.
But it was a great moment.

Q.  If my memory serves correctly, couple years ago when a lot of your receivers were having trouble catches passes, Tony Lippett couldn't catch a cold for a period.  You talk now about his great hands.  What makes a receiver get better at that?  How did you teach that?
COACH DANTONIO:  I go back to what I said earlier:  When you watch practice and you watch them over and over at practice, summer camp, there was no lack of ability.  When it came to the games there was inconsistency, and I think some guys get nervous out there.
They're not used to that pressure the first time out, and you have to play through that a little bit.  I think that that's what happened.
You know, even in 2012, if we remember, he got better and better s the season progressed.  He was doing very well I think towards the end of 2012.
But things happen.  Collectively as a group I think Coach Samuel's has done a great job with those guys.  That's a confident‑type issue, I believe.  If you have those skills.
And we saw the skills that he had as redshirt freshman, a true freshman.  As a true freshman he did things on the scout field we thought that this guy could really be a unique playmaker for us.
Then as a redshirt freshman he played defensive back, and next year he was playing wide out.

Q.  Back to my question on parents, there are a lot of coaches that recruit the kid and almost sees the parents as a nuisance.  Since you came here you've talked about it.  You interview the parents and include them in the process.  How much is your success that gets heralded for developing guys the fact that you interview and recruit the family as well.  There are guys you backed away from because of family.
COACH DANTONIO:  Like I said, they're part of the process here.  Who's their biggest advocate?  Usually it's the parents, grandparents, an uncle.  Usually somebody in their family has pushed them forward and has been the keeper of the keys that they trust and depend on.
We just want that person in our environment with them.  We want them there so that they can be supportive, so when there is a problem ‑ and there is going to naturally be problems throughout this process ‑ that the parents or the individual is going to be involved in helping to solve the problem.
I think that's communication.  So we just try and make sure we're open and communicating with people.  It's not a perfect scenario.  It's not perfect.  There are breakdowns just like there are breakdowns in everything.
But we're going to at least extend ourselves and try and embrace that relationship and allow it to grow stronger.  Hopefully when they walk out of here that's a stronger relationship than when started, that they grow with their families as they grow here as a football player.

Q.  Quick two‑parter here:  Could you talk a little bit more about Demetrious Cox.  And then the second question isabout your ‑ and I don't know if there is a policy‑ when it comes to in‑state players committed somewhere else taking visits here, if you have a policy as far as if a guy is in state that he's committed somewhere else that you don't let him do officials here?
COACH DANTONIO:  Demetrious Cox is a guy that came here from Jeannette, PA, and he was one of the more highly recruited players in the state of Pennsylvania.  Could have really went anywhere he wanted to go.
He made a decision to come here for a number of reasons.  He was a multi‑dimensional player in high school.  Played quarterback and possibly wide receiver.  He's extremely quick.  He's athletic.  Great ball skills.
First year he redshirted, even though we traveling him to every game.  We almost took the redshirt off him mid‑year, but we did not.
Last year he was a redshirt freshman and played a lot on special teams and a little bit at safety, more in a backup role.
This year he's a guy that's become our nickelback.  He can play either safety.  He can play corner.  He is a guy that probably bench presses almost 400 points.  He has a black belt in Karate, so extremely balanced.
Great ball skills.  He runs very well.  I just think he's just scratching the tip of the iceberg really.  I think he's got a lot of the ability.  He's a great tackler, but he's a great personal.  I think he so much wants to please and do well that sometimes that holds him back.
I think sometimes the player has to just let it go a little bit and be able to shrug off the problems if there are, but he's about being at task.  I think that's his nature, and I just think he's going to get better and better and better.
Just like anything, the more you play, the better you get.  Right now he's playing a lot of football for us.  Got a great relationship with Coach Barnett.
And the recruiting, yeah, I'm trying to think of who you're talking about, if it's happened here.  My take on players, Hey, if you're going to visit here, you tell the people that you're interested in visiting you don't take a visit here if you're committed to someplace else unless you've opened up your recruiting again.
That's pretty much how I've tried to handle it.  That's pretty much what we've done.

Q.  When you first game here, I don't remember you redshirting too many people.  Maybe I'm wrong.  You needed them to play.  You got some good players that are never going to see the field.  How important is that in building that you've been able to redshirt some players and go three deep in some positions?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think it's critical.  Really, if you look at our path, we've redshirted a lot of players throughout the process.  If you look at this class here, too Taiwan is the only player of that entire four year class.  The reverse them were redshirted.
All of our seniors this year with the exception of him have been redshirted.
The class that falls behind Taiwan's, I think it's 21 of those players were redshirted.  There are some outstanding players like there like Lawrence Thomas, Trae Waynes, Shilique Calhoun, Joel Heath, Connor Cook, et cetera.  I can just keep on going.  Aaron Burbridge.  Great players.
So if you can redshirt them and allow them to transition naturally, I think their grades are probably going to be a little bit better; they're going to graduate on time at the mid‑year of their senior year usually because a lot curriculums are five‑year curriculums now.
They just seem to have it all if they're able to redshirt.  They have a bit more growth and knowledge of what they're supposed to do as a redshirt freshman.  More strength, farther ahead academically, more socially dept at handling all the issues.
So that's a good thing.  Now, we're playing freshman this year.  As I said, Montae Nicholson is playing.  Sometimes it's about opportunities.  That's about athletic opportunity.  Brian Allen is playing.  So it's about opportunity.  Chris Frey is playing.
Those three guys are probably playing the most along with Malik McDowell.  So there's four.  There is opportunity, and there is obviously a lot of talent there, too.  We're going to always play the best guys.  I don't care who plays, you just got to be the best guy when you come.
All four of those guys are doing an outstanding job in the in the classroom as of right now with two weeks left to go in school.

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