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MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY FOOTBALL MEDIA CONFERENCE
September 8, 2015
East Lansing, Michigan
COACH DANTONIO: Morning, basically coming off last week's win versus Western, we have a great opportunity in front of us. Game day will be here. It's everything that you think about when you want to come to play at a place like this and very exciting for all Spartan fans and Spartan Nation in general. 27-3 right now in their last 30 games at Michigan State, so looking forward to this opportunity.
Clinton Jones, 19-1-1 in his time here. Second pick overall in the draft, in the NFL draft, National Championship, Big Ten Championships, so we're very, very excited about him being inducted into the College Hall of Fame and also having his name put up in our Ring of Honor in the stadium. So this will be a special time for him.
Big football games have occurred here in the past. I guess this is one of the biggest ones in terms of nationally ranked teams, I guess, but more importantly for us, we played in big games. Looking forward to the opportunity.
Q. You have discussed wanting to get reps for a back-up quarterback and Damion was the one that got them and not Tyler. I'm curious, is that a reflection of a change or is that more of a schematic getting him into a certain package?
COACH DANTONIO: That was a schematic thing relative to the package. Both those guys have performed well in practice. Pretty much week to week who would be the number two guy probably. I've been very impressed with Tyler O'Connor, and played throughout summer camp. Coming in this past game he might have been number two in that respect. But Damion also does some very special things and we wanted to get him involved in the package.
Q. Coach, seems kind of like a battle of two powers. Your own defense held Western, 23 rushes, 18 yards. Oregon rushed for nearly 500 yards this past week. Can you talk about that match-up?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, Oregon does a lot of good things T they're going to pass it and run it. They're going to create a lot of problems systematically with formations and motions and things of that nature. I think Adams is a guy that can take a bad play certainly and make it a good one, so some of the rush yards come off the scramble, things of that nature, much like they did with Mariota.
If you look at our game last year, the x-factor in that game was Marcus Mariota. He made things happen. I mean, they've got great players that surround him, but he made things happen in terms of getting out of sack situations and those type of things from a defensive standpoint, our defense.
So we've got to lineup and play. There are runs, there are passes, there are all these different adjustments, but they create a lot of different problems. They're an excellent football team. They're extremely well coached. I would say cutting edge in terms of what they do offensively. There is the whole component of having to get lined up and play within 15 seconds or so or less.
So there is that combination of things, and they have the different speeds just like everybody else. But I think it's helped that we've played there last year. I think it's helped us also that we've played teams like Baylor and Indiana and other teams that are fast tempo as well.
So everybody's doing it in college football right now, so we should be used to that. But there is still that conditioning aspect of it and that aspect of being able to get lined up play with your knees bent, focused, change personnel, subs and things of that nature and it's a challenge.
Q. Darien and R.J. mentioned yesterday the Baylor prep going into the bowl game and how you're going to switch that up. Is that going to be a plan this week then? Is that sort of your prep that you're going to do anytime you play a tempo team like this?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, we live and learn. I guess that is the best way to put it. We live and learn. We're always going to critique what we do and try to make it better. We had the opportunity to play Oregon last year. We did some things coming into that. We played into that situation by playing some other teams like Indiana. I think the other teams that we played in our conference in Northwestern and things of that nature that do the same type of things, so we had that advantage coming to the Oregon game. The Oregon game we had that advantage and that opportunity and experience to go to the Baylor game.
Now it's just we're systematically trying to get better at what we do in every aspect of our program and that's one of them. So we'll practice and trying to be cutting edge in terms of how we practice in terms of what we're trying to do. I think we did that in the Baylor game. Still needed to play better, obviously defensively, but we came out on the back end and did okay. So that's what we'll try to do. We'll try to improve what we've done, but we've used a lot of different components of doing that the way we practiced.
Q. Coach, two part question here: One, Vernon Adams, do you see similarities to Russell Wilson? And two, you mentioned Oregon being cutting edge. What is it about Oregon that made them so cutting edge? There are other teams that do what the Ducks do, but no one has done it with the success and consistency they have.
COACH DANTONIO: First question, yeah, I do see the similarities between Vernon and Russell Wilson to some extent. But we haven't played him yet and we've got one game on him other than watching him when he was at Eastern Washington and things of that nature. So you see some of that. But we'll have to see when we play him. Russell Wilson was outstanding and has had an outstanding career, obviously.
Second question in terms of what makes Oregon cutting edge? I think that they're always looking to critique their program, number one. They have surrounded their program with great players. They have a great running back in Freeman, additional running backs, they have great skill players. So they're taking the skill level in that program, a very high skill level, and then they're doing things that everybody else is doing and I think they may be the leader in doing those things.
Obviously I've seen switch routes where they go like this. I've never seen a switch route where they go like that and then put my arms the other way and gone like that again. Okay, so I've never seen that. So that's just one aspect of it. It was in a two-minute situation, but you saw it, and it was unusual.
Q. You mentioned Marcus Mariota being an x-factor the last time you guys played. Where does Connor fit into that in this game in terms of his ability to be an x-factor for you guys against Oregon? And kind of talk about what he's done in big games for you guys now that he's a senior?
COACH DANTONIO: He is an x-factor. I think if he goes, we go. That is the nature of the quarterback position. He has the ability to throw it. There is no question about that. He has the ability to run it. He's got to get out there and do that sometimes. So, big games like this, I think you take advantage of both ends of that spectrum. But it's his decision making. It's his arm strength. It's his calls at the line of scrimmage. It's his leadership value in the huddle, those types of things. All those things come to -- become higher, higher thoughts, become very paramount, I think in everything that you're trying to do this week. So every quarterback is the x-factor guy, I think, for their football team.
Then as far as when you look at him and I saw a stat. I saw stat out there that we're 4-1 versus Top 5 football teams right now in the ones that we've played. I think he's been a part of four of those games. So he's been in big games. And he's come out and has been the MVP of some of those big games, and he's had big games himself in all of those games.
So I think that there's an added significance to that that he has performed very well in those situations, so we're looking for great games.
Q. A few of the players have talked about in looking to the Oregon and Ohio State game specifically, even when they're working in the off-season, in winter and summer and those things that they keep in their mind when they want to drive and push a little bit further. How have you seen those type of things motivate this team? And a veteran team, they still have the balance of not getting too worked up or letting it get out of hand before the game anyway?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, it is a fine line in preparation, but I don't think you get ready on Friday night or Saturday morning. You know? I think you have to build your momentum throughout the week so that at kickoff, you're ready to go. So I think our players know the score.
I said opening up the press conference we've lost three games out of the last 30, and we know the teams we've lost to. Our MO was to try to reach higher, and to do that, right now, it runs through Oregon. I also think that if you look at last year's football team, if we win that football game you're talking beyond. And you just keep trying to move your program forward and reach a little bit higher. So that's what we're trying to do.
I think we'll be very motivated for the game, as will they, because this is a stepping stone game. It's not a conference game, but it's a big, national game, and I think we all understand that. That's why game day's here. That's why people talk about it. It's a big game. It has ramifications that go beyond this game later on down the line.
Q. Just wanted to clarify, you compared Adam to Russell Wilson and not Mariota. What makes him Russell Wilson like?
COACH DANTONIO: I think it's his running ability is a little different. Mariota has great running ability, but he's a different type of runner. It's a little bit more quick body. Mariota is tremendous with the ball, riding different handoffs and faking things, I think. Adams is as well, but Mariota, long strider, speed guy, make you miss.
What I saw Russell Wilson do is improvise very effectively when he played us. You see him do that on a weekly basis, really. I think that's what you see Adams do. He can improvise. His stature is more like Russell Wilson's. His quick body is powerful. He looks powerful.
Q. When you reunited your offense a little bit in the past couple years to start producing more points and be a Top 10 offense, was Oregon a team you studied and looked at?
COACH DANTONIO: We always look at the things being done against us and things being done across the country and critique it like we do anything else. Try to use our players and say this guy can do this, this guy can do that. So we tried to just sort of move forward.
Q. Was there anything you think you picked up from that in particularly?
COACH DANTONIO: I wouldn't want to say right now what it is, but there are certain things that we've done that simulate what they do. I think you have to look internally.
Q. What do you remember about the last time Oregon was here with Amp and the scoop and score, after what happened to him the year before?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I remember going into that football game all summer long we took it very slow with Amp, and he really wasn't tackling until probably two weeks earlier. He had been out the entire time. He was elected captain for the second time, so he was a two-time captain, and he was very excited about playing.
It was a night game, and I think they were on the 22-yard line, it was 2nd and 8. I think it was. And they scoop and score. But it was a great moment for him individually and for this program. It was a little bit of a coming home party, very exciting. We had a good football team back then too.
Q. RJ Williamson against Oregon last year had a rough audience of break downs in the back, and obviously in the Cotton Bowl where he has the interception. What have you seen from him and the evolution of his game from that point, and what does he still need to do?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, Oregon presents a lot of problems for you. There are different defenses that you play relative to the call that comes in, obviously. So much of it is alignment. He was misaligned on one play. This is a game of inches, and he was that far away from making the play and he didn't make it, so a lot of that is experience. A lot of that is getting lined up at a fast pace, rapid pace and making sure that you're on track in terms of knowing exactly what you're doing exactly at the right time so that you're in a position to make the play.
He would have made the play if he had lined up correctly on the one, and that is really the only one I can really think of right now.
But things happen out there. It's a fast game. When you're out there and you're under the lights, it's like that. It's a very fast game, and people are moving quickly and a lot of quick adjustments have to be made. So he's done a tremendous job for us. He knows our defense inside out.
Just got to lineup and play, but there are adjustments relative to the defense that called. They caught us in the zone pressure. He's a middle field safety. Lined up outside the hash, couldn't make it.
Q. Two one-part questions. I don't want to confuse you. You talk about the speed of Oregon, there was a time that was somewhat unique, but isn't that how football has changed? If you watched Ohio State last night, that wasn't very smash mouth. Is that how you changed your approach? You have to play fast and be prepared to play fast?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, you've got to play fast, but everything goes in cycles. So, you know playing a two-back set against a team that doesn't have a two-back set it becomes a little bit unique how you stop that and being able to simulate that when you don't have those type of players sometimes. It becomes a little bit unique.
So everything's always going full cycle, but you're exactly right. You need to have the element of wide receivers running sweeps, which we do, they do, everybody does. Getting the ball in your playmakers' hands, and I always talk about, you can't always think about plays. You have to think about players. You have to constantly try to figure out a way to get the ball to your players, and I think Oregon does a tremendous job of that.
It's a two-minute situation. They're going to run the ball. You better be ready for them to run the ball in a two-minute situation. Because they're going to lineup with 14 seconds to go and run a simple zone play. But they get the ball in Royce Freeman's hands and he can make a 20-yard gain like that. So I think all these things are generalities that you speak about relative to college football.
But I think you're right. There are a lot of different sets, lot of things going on. Single-wing-type football. More people in the gun than under the center certainly. Riding fakes and misdirections, all the different things, levels, all the different things, slants, diagonal slants, it's all there.
Q. The other thing is the buzz we all feel on a big game day. How much do the coaches feel that? We know you don't tailgate.
COACH DANTONIO: I don't tailgate. You won't see me out there this week.
Q. So are coaches --
COACH DANTONIO: Bring the chips.
Q. Are coaches so tunnel visioned? How do you feel the buzz is different than any other game on a game like this?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think every football game there is a lot of pressure on coaches to get prepared and they don't want to waste any time. They sort of immerse themselves in that bubble. That's coaching. That's college coaching or coaching at any level, really.
I think coaches understand good games. I was just as nervous last week as I am for this week. There is no difference. I would say it's probably been the same as an assistant coach too. So it's just the nature of it. I think we all understand though when you're playing a championship game or you're playing in a game that is for the conference championship or a big game that's leading to it, or a big out of conference game, there is a little bit more to it. Little bit more preparation, little bit more studies, off-season studies and things of that nature, and you hope to do your best.
I think the biggest thing I've always asked of our players and our coaches is do your very best, and I can handle that. Do your best and do it with confidence, and that's how we've always approached it.
Q. People talk about Oregon. Certainly they talk about the offense. But your offense nine straight games of 30-plus points, and certainly that is part of the evolution, reach higher and everything else. You lost some key offensive skill guys. Do you feel like you have the weapons still this year to match up an offense like Oregon?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I think we do. I do. There is always new guys coming. There's always somebody that doesn't have a name yet that nine weeks from now will be a big-time player, and that is the nature of it. We've got young players and we've got guys who have been waiting their time. So I do think we have those type of players in the program.
If you look across the board, I think our tailback situation is extremely healthy right now. I think our wide receiver situation is strong and getting stronger and our tight end situation is extremely strong. I think our quarterback situation maybe as good as there is in the country, to be honest with you. Got one guy that's certainly won a lot of football games at the height, playing at the height of his game in the country. And I think we have two other guys that are extremely, extremely good football players.
Q. So just a follow-up to that. The theory is you don't want to get into a shootout with a team like Oregon. Sounds like you guys aren't afraid of getting into a shootout with anybody?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, sometimes you've got to do what you've got to do. Bottom line at the end of the game is do you win or do you lose? So whether we win 10-9 or 40-39 really makes no difference. They're all going to count one, pretty much like I said last weekend. But you've got to play this as a team game. We can't just put our defense out there and say, okay, day one, and the offense lost. That's why we've always tried to collectively say together, what are we going to do? We've got to offset each other. Special teams has to play better than we did last week on a kickoff, for example, that's a must. So a lot of time spent in that area.
Q. The BYU game came down to a Hail Mary at the end. How often do you guys practice for that sort of scenario?
COACH DANTONIO: Every week. There is a period where you're going to review what you do, how you do it, and I think most people do that.
Q. Do most teams run similar types of plays on those situations or are there subtle differences between?
COACH DANTONIO: I think there are subtle differences. But on the last play of the game, think they're going to get it. There is going to be a tip guy and a trail guy and those type of things. You're going to throw it up there and hope for the best.
Q. Big weekend planned for you guys, obviously. The striping of the stadium for the first time, 200-plus recruits from football, basketball and other sports. Can home-field advantage play a certain role or do you not playing for that as much?
COACH DANTONIO: No, there is a definite home-field advantage for Spartan Stadium. We need people to come and do their thing because it is loud. I mean, Spartan Stadium, I got to the stadium last year out there and it's a loud stadium. The game progressed and my reaction was this is no louder than Spartan Stadium.
I mean, Spartan Stadium from me to you, I could be screaming at you and you can't hear me, so it's loud. It's extremely loud down there, and those are great opportunities to affect a no-huddle offense.
Q. Along those lines, you mentioned the Top 5 games that you've played. What does it mean to play one here in front of this fan base?
COACH DANTONIO: I think it's exciting. It's exciting for everybody and you hope to have more. So if we win, we'll have more top 5 games. But I think it's exciting. It's something I saw out there that we played well in big games. There are the expectations. There are no givens. It's a great challenge for us. They come ready to play. But I think it's an exciting opportunity for us.
Q. Derian talked yesterday about the play or he came on the blitz and kind of the play that flipped the game. That was a big motivator for him. What have you seen from him in terms of trying to drop weight and become more of a mobile player and just a better player this year?
COACH DANTONIO: You're talking about Derian?
Q. Darien Harris?
COACH DANTONIO: I think Derian is in his fifth-year. He's been elected captain. With that comes an added responsibility in terms of how you play and perform on the field as well. So he's got tremendous speed. We clocked him under 4.5, and he needs to play like a 4.5 player.
So sometimes you're trying to do everything right and it slows you down a little bit. You've got to be a reactionary player out there, especially at the starting linebacker position. The skilled positions and the perimeter positions, you've got to react.
So I think he's right on the money in terms of what he's got to do. He understands what he has to do. These are opportunities, and these are things he'll talk about with his children at some point in time. Games like this, opportunities like this, that's what this is about. That's exciting for people. I remember when.
Q. On the depth chart you talked about Reschke a little bit. Talk about how he's been able to do that in a relatively short amount of time from the middle to the outside?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, Jon played there in the past. Jon Reschke played there in the past, but last year he was alternating at both. Then he went down with the shoulder. And he's been in that linebacker room now, this is his third year. He's from a great program in Brother Rice. They did a nice job as well, and they really put them in there, put them out.
But he's got the ability to play Mike linebacker in and our money linebacker. So he's been able to do it based on reps, and he's making plays. He's active in the box, and he can run and do the things he needs to do.
Q. Winning games, scoring 10 points or winning them scoring by 20 points, how long have you had the luxury of being able to fall back when you felt comfortable in either one of those type of games?
COACH DANTONIO: How long have we had the luxury?
Q. How long have you felt comfortable playing in either of those again?
COACH DANTONIO: I would probably say we felt like that since mid-season of '13 that we could outscore people. We struggled a little bit early, you guys know that. But since then I think we've had enough fire power to be able to do those type of things, and defensively we've been pretty solid. We have had our moments. So it goes back and forth. Like I said, we've had our moments, but at the end of the game, we won.
Q. Some of your former players at Columbus talked about having a special practice period dedicated to a big opponent all year long. Have you done anything special like that with Oregon long before you started this week's preparation?
COACH DANTONIO: No, because I guess yes and no. Because some of the things we do see from them we see from other people, so there is that. But we haven't said this is Oregon, this is an Oregon period, not until this week. We have other things that are more pressing, and we'll win the first game.
Q. Would you say now is Khari Willis a guy who might get on the field with the defense this week?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, we've lost a couple players for whatever reason, and Khari Willis possibly, Josh Butler has been impressive. We have to make decisions on our red-shirt players. David Dowell, Grayson Miller, those four guys really come to my mind in terms of we make decisions to play them now or do we wait. We just don't want to play a guy and then not play him fully on all special teams.
It's not so much is he going to play on defense, but they've got to be active in all his special teams. So that's a tough call, but we may need to make that call and make decisions. We need to be sure we make that decision, so we're thinking about it.
Q. After the game, you said you thought maybe some of the defensive play calls were somewhat conservative. Can you just talk about the operation? That's kind of a difference now with Harlan calling the plays. What was that like, if you could give us some generalities of meeting with Collin after the first game that he called?
COACH DANTONIO: I wouldn't say that we were conservative. I don't know if I said that or not. But who knows what I say sometimes. My wife tells me you said that.
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I did say that. I think you've got first game in we're trying to protect certain players. Darian Hicks wasn't back yet because he had just started practicing on Monday, those type of things, so we didn't play him very much. Playing a red-shirt freshman out there. First time Jermaine Edmondson had played a lot. So we're trying to protect those guys with calls, I think.
And I think the only statement I made was I don't know if you can do that, you've just got to let it go and call it. After the game, it's different. When you're calling the game you're probably very tired at the end of the game, even more so. Because decision making under pressure play-in, and play-out.
I thought he did a great job. At the end of the day you've got to make the plays. At the end of the day they had a couple plays and broken plays we lost contain or they found a guy in the seam or we didn't reroute the seam, but it's all married up to this is the reason why it didn't succeed.
It wasn't like, well, got that one wrong. These are the reasons it didn't succeed for this player or that situation. It's like a puzzle, it all has to fit together.
Q. It seems the first week of college football season is in the books now, and it seems the outside world has to anoint somebody a champion are or anoint somebody as no good. How do you keep those conversations from trickling into your locker room? You guys have done such a good job over the past few years of making sure you peak toward the end of the season. But with a game like this, do you have to accelerate that progress at all?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I think the way we talk around here, these are building steps. The most important thing is what we do in November, because that's going to lead to championships as long as we build. So there is a premium we put on how we think.
Our players need to understand this is the second game of the season. Last year I think it was the second game of the season, if I remember, and we lost it. All of a sudden, we're 8-1, I think. We're 8-1 playing Ohio State and all the buzz was back.
So the main focus is this is a step, keep taking the correct steps as you move towards your end game. You get evaluated as a program at the end of the season. Preseason rankings really have to do with what happened last year.
If you look at college football this last weekend I would say there were some crazy things that happened out there. Crazy games, crazy situations, everybody playing not as good as this or this team's playing better than that. There are a lot of scenarios taking place.
I think the main focus we have to have is take care of ourselves and worry about the next step. Continue to focus on the present. Use this as building steps. Great opportunity, great experience, part of the experience of being here. Very exciting for our fans, going to play hard, going to do this, going to do that. Could lead to things later on.
But the main emphasis right now is don't get too far ahead of yourself. Win or lose in this game, it's not an end-game. The end game starts farther down the line. I think that's our main focus.
Q. Bigger the games, the longer the press conferences.
COACH DANTONIO: It would seem so.
Q. You were fairly outspoken that LJ Scott was most ready to play among your running backs in the second half the other night. Is it your desire that one of these guys takes the gauntlet and is the hot back of the season? Are you comfortable running two or even three most of the year?
COACH DANTONIO: I'm comfortable running guys that are productive. Inevitably who gets hot in the game probably gets more of the carries. For a freshman, really, all three of these guys, there is a red-shirt freshman, a true freshman, and a guy who is a red-shirt sophomore. So none of these guys have had the opportunity to cut it loose and be themselves yet. They've got to feel confident and loose to the point where they are running like they can run. We're going to see who that is, and we really have four, because I know what one other one can do. So not afraid to play him either.
But I think that where it's at right now is the running back situation is healthy, and it should be very, very good, and that's exciting. With that being said, Le'Veon Bell will be our honorary captain. Clinton Jones will walk out there in the Ring of Honor. Le'Veon was teammates with our guys in 2012. He'll be up for the football game, and we'll have him talk to our football team and walk out.
I think it will be fitting to have Clinton Jones and Le'Veon Bell walk out of that stadium possibly together, and that will be exciting for all of us.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports