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MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY FOOTBALL MEDIA CONFERENCE
September 15, 2015
East Lansing, Michigan
COACH MARK DANTONIO
COACH DANTONIO: First of all, great game this last weekend. Really a program win I think when you look at the nature of Oregon's program, where we're headed.
But I want to thank first of all our students for coming out, the fans. It was a tremendous environment. Our game day management and operations people did an outstanding job just in terms of all the things that go into putting on a football game like this.
I think what we got to all realize, though, is this the first home game, step one. We've got 10 more games to go. We got to keep pushing forward. That would be to our players and everybody else involved in the program.
Have an opportunity to play Air Force as they come into Spartan Stadium. First time an academy has come to Spartan Stadium, from what I understand. Have a lot of respect for Coach Calhoun and what they've accomplished there. 10 wins last season.
When you look at them offensively and defensively, really what you see is highly motivated people that are quick-bodied, that are playing the game extremely hard, tough. Very difficult to prepare for. You have to shift gears from going from an offense like Oregon to an offense like Air Force. A lot of different scenarios there involved with option football.
Defensively very impressive. A lot of 3-4 type personnel and settings. But they're an attacking-type defense. Weston Steelhammer is a safety, excellent safety, Jim Thorpe Award watch list.
I'll take some questions and we'll go from there. But been very impressed with Air Force and their program for quite a while, have always watched them from afar.
Q. The academies recruit considerably different, not necessarily getting skilled players. Because of the type of young men they recruit, future heroes, it's a different type of player, more mature maybe. How do you approach a team like that where you have a different kind of person on the other side of the ball?
COACH DANTONIO: I think first of all you have to recognize just what you're saying. Highly motivated people. When you read their personal backgrounds, on quite a few, especially guys that are juniors and seniors, it says, Completed survival training July of 2013 or June of 2013. When you're doing things like that, you're used to being in situations that are highly competitive.
That's what you see. I think they're athletic on defense. I think they're quick-bodied on defense. I see skill on the defensive side of the ball. I see it on the offensive side of the ball. Same type of skill level in terms of cutting people. You got to stay up on your feet. They present a lot of problems in terms of, I guess, discipline, who has who on the options, things of that nature, all these types of things.
You have to break them down and divide them. A whole different way of practicing against them. Really we started practicing against them last spring. It's a tough game, a tough draw for Michigan State. This is something we've not experienced here. We've played option football here before, but not to this level. They present other problems with the no-huddle offense. Also using different normal power and things of that nature, combining those aspects as well.
Difficult team to prepare for. Very well-coached. Ron Burton comes from there, our defensive line coach, for 11 years. Richard Bell who was my defensive coordinator at South Carolina when I played there. A long time defensive coordinator there, retired. You can see his footprint on their defense as well. An impressive program. Won a lot of football games. I think they play at a very high level.
Q. The runningback situation, it seems kind of getting narrowed to Madre and LJ. You like to go with the hot back. Going into the game, do you have a plan to start with on who is going to get certain series and go from there?
COACH DANTONIO: I ask our coaches how we're going to play the players. I listen to them. They spend the time with them in the meetings. They spend time with them watching practices. It's a pretty fluid situation because I think we do have four. Any one of those four could become the guy.
But this last week I thought both those guys played pretty well. They both had significant amount of carries. It's just hard to split carries with three backs, quite honestly.
But we'll ride the hot guy, there's no question about that. When I figure out who the hot guy is, I usually say, Get the guy in there, at some point. I think it's a great situation we have right now. All those guys are big, physical, they run hard and are great people.
Q. You brought up the cut blocking. There's been articles that the service academies use it. How concerned are you about injuries? There have been injuries that can occur when that takes place.
COACH DANTONIO: You're always concerned, but that's football. That's why we've worked on these things every other day in summer practice. This past summer, summer camp here, we've had Air Force periods or individual periods dedicated to cut blocking. I don't think there's any question you need to stay on your feet and get off blocks.
They're going to work off back cuts and in-line cutting, which everybody does, even zone teams, et cetera. They do it at a little bit higher level. They'll split you out with their offensive line splits. A whole different dynamic relative to offensive football.
Q. You mentioned Ron Burton. Can you put into perspective how much of an advantage it is to have a guy like Ron or your staff that has seen it?
COACH DANTONIO: Huge advantage. Coach Burton, first of all, he gives us an accurate scouting report on each and every player really if they're juniors or seniors. He was either recruiting guys and had a feel for them or they were playing on the football team when they were younger. That's a tremendous advantage.
Secondly, he's been in that culture. He understands the culture, how they practice, the drills they work on, what has to happen for us to be successful on the defensive side of the ball.
He was there for 11 years. I think he understands the mindset, the tempo that goes with playing there and goes with actually attending there.
Q. You've talked a few times about the crowd Saturday night. The game and the opponent helped dictate that. It was kind of neat to see everyone stay till the bitter end, which was an issue last year. How do you keep the crowd engaged? Your team does seem to feed off that energy.
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I think every football team does, they feed off the crowd. But, you know, winning helps. Winning certainly helps. If you want to be part of something special, then you stay, and you stay till the end. Usually you become a more passionate fan. The more passionate you are, the longer you stay.
I also understand that people have lives. I'm always appreciative of the people that are there and appreciative of the people who stay and be a part of this.
I don't think there's any question that fans get themselves ready for games, as well. I thought our fan base got themselves ready Saturday night for a great football game. It went down to the very end. They saw a great game. They saw a game that probably will stick out in Spartan history for a time anyway.
So to be a part of that, to be a part of a season... The more passionate you are as a fan, the longer you stay probably. So we're building that business continually.
Q. Aaron Burbridge for a couple years talks about that he gets it. Certainly it looks like he's getting it more now. Was he capable of this a year ago behind Tony or are you seeing things that are different now? What is the benefit of what he's doing for the offense?
COACH DANTONIO: Aaron has always been a tremendous football player. He's had some injury problems in the past. Played as a true freshman for us. Had a great freshman year. Sophomore year probably took a little bit of a step back maybe. That would have been '13. But I think he was injured, as I remember, a little bit in that year.
He's always been a guy that has rotated in and I've always thought of him as a starter here and a go-to guy. He's getting the ball thrown to him a little bit more because he's at the X position some. He's able to go around and play any of those positions so we can move him in and out of different formations.
Q. (No microphone.)
COACH DANTONIO: If we're going to have a great year, our seniors have to have their best year. I say it all the time. I think as a senior right now he's having his best year. That's got to happen with a lot of players.
The benefit of him catching balls, he's got a lot of 50/50 catches, he's a great receiver, runs after catch. He's an exciting player to watch. It benefits not only this program but him in general as a football player and his future. He's always had that ability. Coming out of high school, I believe he was the top player in Michigan that year. Outstanding player.
Q. You talked a lot before last season about being the hunted, learning how to play as the hunted. Have your players gotten more accustomed to that?
COACH DANTONIO: I think we played in big games. I think we've played when we've been favored and played when we've been not favored as well.
I've said this before. I think the chemistry creates the culture here of energy. Our seniors have done a great job here of looking at things and being mature in terms of how they approach things.
Coaches can talk all they want. If your seniors recognize a situation they're in and can basically relay that to the rest of their football team, I think good things sort of happen.
We've taken a mature outlook. We understand the bottom can fall out at whatever you're doing at any point in time. That's the way football is. You look across the country and you see that happening. We need to guard against those things and play to our utmost ability. That's all I care about. Play as hard as you can play, play the best you can play, come prepared. If you do that, things usually work out. If you don't, things usually don't. We just always want to be thought of as a program that's overachieving from within.
Regardless of what standard of player you are, or status that you have, you need to continue to try to go beyond that.
Q. A lot was made of the recruiting event last week. From your perspective, what was it like for you? Was it different for you with so many guys around? What was the routine like for you?
COACH DANTONIO: We've had other really big games here. We've had a lot of recruits on campus in the past. Curtis Blackwell, Ryan Manalac. That staff has done an excellent job in getting guys here.
It was extremely organized. Met a lot of guys. Knew a lot of guys already because recruiting has become so accelerated we've seen these guys on campus over the last six, seven months a lot. Some guys have been there 20 times.
It was great. Sort of a receiving line there early before the game. Probably before anybody got there, saw a lot of the guys, a lot of the recruits. We had some official visits on campus.
I think the brand is strong right now. People want to come to Michigan State, be a part of this. That's exciting.
Q. Speaking of players individually, Malik McDowell, what have you seen from him since a year ago, the leap he made?
COACH DANTONIO: I think he's growing up. I think he's growing up. I think he's still scratching the surface because he has tremendous ability. But you've seen him play two games and play very well in two games.
He's growing up as a football player. That's transferring to him as a person, too. That happens. When you're a freshman, you're just trying to find your way, just trying to figure it out both football-wise, off the field, academically. As you get older, you start to grow, stretch and develop. I see that.
It goes beyond football, too, because you start to grow into an adult a little bit. I'm not just talking about him, I'm talking about our entire group of young people. You start to mature and understand this is what you have to do to be successful.
He's had two very, very good football games.
Q. You played eight or nine DBs. Was that just a calculated risk you took because you needed to have people fresh or is that an indication of how close those players are?
COACH DANTONIO: We've got good players. We've got good players. Darian Hicks has started for us. He was playing as a two. Cox is playing as a one. Obviously Copeland was playing as well. Jermaine Edmondson is a guy that was on the fringe. R.J. Calhoun on the fringe, playing well. Those guys had the opportunity to get in there because of the reps, the numbers. But we feel very confident they know what to do, can play fast, they've got good ball skills, they can run and play quick.
It was a necessity, but it was also something we didn't hesitate to do because they've been in the program, they know, they're functional. They know what to do, how to do it, and can do it at a fast rate.
Q. The offense didn't finish that game with the three-and-outs. They've had some good numbers and plays, but for whatever reason they weren't able to answer. Conversely, what does it mean to that defense that they were able to put a stop and get some of that swagger back?
COACH DANTONIO: I think for the defense, going in and getting it done at the end is a confidence booster, finishing the game in that fashion is very positive. I thought Coach Barnett, Coach Tressel made a great call on the blitz. It came clean, sacked him, made a fourth-and-17 which is a difficult situation for them.
When you have success, your confidence grows. Not just as a player, but as a coach as well. I think that's important to recognize. So there's proof, there's proof. That's positive.
As far as our offense, you know, took a five-yard loss on the one first play, that last drive, the drive before the last drive, put us behind the ball a little bit, eight ball a little bit. I made the decision to throw it because we wanted to play to win the football game at that point. Getting a first down is going to win the game.
But we didn't hit it for whatever reason. A little low throw, drop on a 50/50 catch, however you want to look at it. Ball sails on one. Did enough to score 31 points, doing enough to make it happen.
You always want to close it out. There is no perfect game. You're always talking about what you could do differently and make it a little bit better. But they win the football game at the end.
I thought they answered the bell time after time in the game offensively when something went down with the defense.
Q. You talked about Aaron Burbridge. Behind him, there's a few drops here and there. When you look at the depth chart, you have Felton Davis. What could he possibly bring?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I think that Felton is very close to playing. Didn't put him in the game last week. But I think he needs to play. I think he needs to play because we're going to graduate seniors. So we need an experienced guy coming back that's played some football for us that will help our depth. I also think he has talent. He's a big receiver. Got good speed, good hands, he knows our offense. He's learned our offense. Doesn't have to be followed around by a coach. He's functional.
We're pushing to do that. Didn't happen on Saturday night. I thought it probably would, but it didn't. I'm not going to push the envelope. Our coaches know who needs to get it done at this point in time. I want them to feel comfortable with it.
He's on the depth chart because he works with our number one and two offense. So he's in the mix. When it's time for him to play, he'll play. He's not working on the scout team anymore. That's why he's on the depth chart. But I do think he's going to play.
Q. You mentioned Craig Evans taking a step forward. What were you most pleased with Saturday night?
COACH DANTONIO: I think Craig took a big step forward. He was quick-bodied on the field. I don't care what position you play, you got to be quick-bodied. He moved his feet. He looked motivated. As I said, one of the best things we did in the game on Saturday is our defensive front built a wall, and our linebackers had the correct fits most of the time. Roy is an excellent back, they run the football very well. You got to beat us type things, where we knew where the fits were, we were firm. I think our defensive line did a tremendous job. I think Craig went in there and play very, very well. That was great to see because we have very high expectations for him.
Again, another aspect of growth. He's a guy that we had great thoughts when we recruited him. That needs to transfer to the field. He's a redshirt freshman.
Q. Are you leaning toward a redshirt now for Delton Williams? Would a position switch be possible in his future?
COACH DANTONIO: I don't know. I just know when the time comes, Delton will play. But I'm not going to play him just to play him and take his redshirt year. He's capable of playing. We could put him on special teams. I don't want to do that. If he's going to play, he's going to play at tailback right now. I don't think that a position switch is something we could experiment right now with.
I do think he's a good football player just in general. I think he's a good football player. He could play defense, he could play offense. So I don't know. But we haven't really thought in that direction.
We've sort of thought in terms of, Okay, you're going to play when you're going to play. You have to pass these other guys up, and those guys have had two good games. When you look at it, they've played well.
Q. Bullough says grandpa Henry tells him players were tougher in the day. Did he overachieve this far?
COACH DANTONIO: I think all the Bulloughs are overachievers. That's the biggest compliment I can give to any of our players. They come to work every day, practice like they play, they prepare off the field. They are students of the game. They're going to play the game as hard as they can, never back down. He's right on line with the rest of us right there, which is a huge compliment.
Q. Ron Burton. First of all, talk about what he's brought to your defensive line since he came over from Air Force. Having the experience of defending that in practice, the option, how important is that?
COACH DANTONIO: Coach Burton is a high-energy guy. Done a great job with our defensive line. We've built depth through recruiting. He's a very good recruiter. He's also a hands-on guy with our defensive line. If you really look at it, the three years that he's been here are three of the most successful years we've had. We've lost three football games in three years.
He's been tremendous for us, for this football program.
Q. (No microphone.)
COACH DANTONIO: I addressed that. He brings the experience of having been there 11 years. He understands their mindset, who they are as people, how they practice, their different dynamics offensively.
Q. Is this a pain to play these guys or is this fun for you?
COACH DANTONIO: Option football?
Q. Playing an offense like this.
COACH DANTONIO: They have great players. I'm telling you, what they do, they do extremely well. Their fullback, No. 3, is an outstanding player. He's going to run through you. They've got guys that can get to the edge. They may have lost their quarterback, so they'll deal with that, but they'll have somebody who has played before in that situation.
I think their offensive line is experienced. What they do from a formation standpoint, the variations of option football is textbook. It's where people go to learn about option football. They go to Navy, they go to Georgia Tech, they go to Air Force.
High school coaches all across the country who run this type of offense, that's where they go, that's where they go to find out exactly how it's done at the highest level. So we're going to play against that.
So, yeah, it's fun.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports