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September 22, 2015

Mark Dantonio

East Lansing, Michigan

MARK DANTONIO: Looking forward to the challenge that Central Michigan brings to campus here on Saturday. Coach Bonamego I think has done an outstanding job since being named there in the spring and obviously has worked through some hardships there. But there's a Spartan player there with Morris Watts being there and also with Archie Collins there. Greg Colby's their defensive coordinator who was with us as a defensive line coach when I was here in the past. Reed Schuitema is there as an operations guy. Gino Guidugli played quarterback for us at Cincinnati. So a lot of different people are there that crossed over with our staff at some point in time. When you look at Central right now I think you see -- first of all, I think their quarterback, Cooper Rush from Lansing Catholic, has got great poise, does a great job. He's getting 70 percent of his passes, he's thrown for nearly a thousand yards in three games, 420 this past week. Tight end McCord, No. 89, is their leading receiver, so they get the ball to him, they get the ball to the backs, screen, things of that nature, and he'll go up top as well. But been impressed with what they've been able to do. They had opportunities to win all three games. They won two right now, but opportunities to win both against Okie State and against Syracuse, they played a Power Five team. On the defensive side of the ball, the defensive tackles I feel are two good players, Jabari Dean and Palmer. Also feel like Frazier, their safety's a good player and he shows up a lot on special teams as well. So I'll take some questions right now. If there are challenges, we need to continue to focus on the moment in terms of where we're at as a program right now and move from there.

Q. Quick question about Damion Terry. You've used him in all three games in very specific same schematic areas. Teams have talked about when he's in the game, even Oregon talked about they were pretty sure it was a run, they were calling run, run, run. Are you concerned that he can get pigeonholed? Would you like to see him use some other areas so people aren't running right at him when he's in the game, Mark?
MARK DANTONIO: I think we put him in for specific reasons right now, but he's certainly been a quarterback for us and he's done a lot of things for us. He just needs some game experience. I think Tyler O'Connor same thing; he hasn't played since last year. Hopefully we were hoping to get them that experience this past weekend, but just the way the game flowed at the end there. But very, very capable, so I'm not concerned about it, no, because we'll execute what we call his options.

Q. Cooper Rush's completion percentage is way up. How much of a challenge will he be for the secondary?
MARK DANTONIO: I think he's a challenge for our entire football team. You've got to get a pass rush on him. He's poised, he's big, he's almost 230 pounds. He ran the ball effectively at Lansing Catholic, that's what they did. But a lot of underneath throws. He will throw it up as well, but obviously a great quarterback completing those numbers. He's a great challenge for us. I think the biggest thing is he's a poised quarterback, he has experience. He played some as a redshirt freshman, he started a couple games. He started down at U of M here a couple years ago as a redshirt freshman. I think he grew immensely last year, you saw that growth, and I think he's taken the next step in his progression.

Q. Mark, what's RJ bringing so far to this team? Obviously he's been a leader for a long time, making more plays this year.

Q. Yeah, RJ Williamson.
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, he's a big play guy. He has been a big play guy for us for a number of years. He's got a knack for picking off the ball, he's had runs for touchdowns here, obviously the big scoop last week. So he's been a big play guy for us and he's a guy that understands all the different basic necessities in the back end. He's played both safety positions, he's played a nickel back, he's even played out of corner a little bit in practice as a true freshman. So I think he has a great understanding and he's sort of a leader back there. Not sort of, he's a leader back there and he's a senior. As I said earlier, our seniors have got to continue to have great years to be successful. Every senior class has had a great year these last couple years and he's continued on with that.

Q. The injuries to Vayante and Ed on the defense. Is this a stretch of depth or is it tested as the depth for you guys the last couple years?
MARK DANTONIO: I don't really look back at the last couple years to say what did we have. I think I did see an article that said we haven't had many. But we lost Ed early on in the process, a good player. I think our linebackers have picked up the slack there. Losing Vayante, another guy that was just beginning to play as a redshirt freshman, hadn't played good on the field. Another good player, but we've got other players that are fully capable. We've got some young players that we've got to take a look at to see what we do, but in terms of playing them or not playing them, some freshmen. But we've got good players in the program and we've got guys that played a lot of football back for us. So my feeling is that we've got depth on this football team and that won't be an excuse not to play well.

Q. The other RJ, RJ Shelton, has been overshadowed a little bit in the game he had with Burbridge doing what he did. Shelton had maybe one of the better games of his career as a receiver. The last week or two maybe there's a couple of passes that were tough ones to make but he didn't quite hold down. Did you see him at another level in preparation for that game?
MARK DANTONIO: No, RJ's been a very, very good player for us really all four years. He's transitioned himself from a running back in high school to a wide receiver. I think he's got great ball skills. We're going to miss some, but there's never been any concern. I think he's a breakout wide receiver. He could have a game just like Burbridge had. He's a big play type of guy and he's had big plays for us since stepping on campus.

Q. Darian Hicks, is he still feeling the effects of missing (indiscernible) and how much can he kind of plug that hole at cornerback now?
MARK DANTONIO: I think he's working back into the rotation. He's only been playing football -- we're going into our fourth game, so really he's been playing for three weeks, really been practicing for three weeks, so I think he's doing well. He had a couple plays in this past game but I think that we need to play him more. He needs to roll in more and he'll probably be more of a factor here this week and in the upcoming weeks. He's been solid.

Q. Talk a little bit more on the depth of linebackers. When you lost Ed Davis, you knew that was a pretty important guy. You have Reschke and Frey I think kind of complementing each other, almost filling in that hole with two guys. Can you just talk about those guys? And Shane Jones in his a little bit of action last week when Riley went out, he's been playing pretty well also.
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, Shane's in his fourth year playing for us so he's a good player. He understands what to do. He'll have to -- he'll start for us this week with Riley Bullough's situation, so that will be a good move for him, that will be a very exciting time for him. He's a contact guy, he's a downhill player, he understands our defense and can make the needed adjustments. Reschke possibly could move in there as well, but we'll probably start in that other direction. Chris Frey's been a solid player for us, a very good player as well and he shows up across the board. He could play either of the outside backer positions. So I think we've got depth playing, you know. Andrew Dowell played 49 plays so that was tremendous for him to have that experience even though Darian was down a little bit with an injury, but it was good to have him out there and get his experiences because he'll only get better. Those are six guys we're talking about right there. I feel good about our linebacker position.

Q. This is the second in-state program you've faced this year where for them this is an enormous deal because of the region and whatnot. Do you prefer that as opposed to say like a Bowling Green or somebody outside? Do you like the in-state and the dynamics it brings?
MARK DANTONIO: I think it brings -- I think we have knowledge of the players a little bit obviously because we've recruited those guys and things of that nature as well. But I think from a fan perspective -- I really don't care who we play, to answer your question. I just line 'em up hopefully. But from a fan perspective, I think Central Michigan, Western fans would prefer to come to Michigan State. They're going to come more. This is important to them as well. Players from those particular programs get excited about the opportunity to play here because it is in-state, because you're competing against people you know. Same with us, we're competing against people we know, our players know, they physically know them. So I think it's good, you know, when games are a little bit more interesting and more personal, it's good for college football. So I would imagine that this would be the way to go and these things are decided well in advance. Ready to go.

Q. Coach, I wanted to ask you about the No. 2 ranking. Putting that into perspective when you consider the Rose Bowl team didn't get ranked until I guess November and even the Cotton Bowl in March. Where this team's at, do you think it's the second-best team in the country?
MARK DANTONIO: What I've said to our football team, which is what I believe, is that these early-season rankings are based on what you have done. What we've done this year is we beat an Oregon team that played for the national championship last year, and what we did last year, we beat a Baylor team, and the only two teams we lost to were in that championship game. And the year before we beat a very good Ohio State team that was 2nd ranked and we beat a Stanford team that was 4th ranked. Even if you go back to 2012 and 2011, TCU and Georgia. So when you look at who we played in that group of five or six or seven teams up there, we played with the best and we've won some games. Right now we're 3-0. I don't think we've played our best football yet, but we've played -- I guess if you really want to look at it, I think, I believe -- I believe that Oregon won 13 or 14 games last year, is that correct? And Air Force won 10 and Western won 8. So I don't know if anybody's played teams that have won that many games. But we need to focus on the moment. With that being said, we need to focus on the moment, but I think that our past has given us a little bit of a footprint in college football right now. So people know who Michigan State is based on our past and right now we're doing the job. There are no perfect games out there, just look across the country. But we've gotten the job done and we're 3-0, so I don't really worry myself about it. But if I'm sort of driving down the road and saying why is this happening, this is probably why it's happening. And I do remind our players that we were 8-1 going into our ninth, our tenth game in 2013 before we finally cracked the Top 25. So it's a hard climb up, it's a quick drop down, but we are where we're at. This should pay dividends later on as long as we continue to do our job and focus on the moment and that's what we're trying to do. Just focus on the moment, do your job, don't be entitled, take the work ethic that we've had in the past and use that to our advantage. But with that said, Central comes in here ready to go and they have a good football team.

Q. You've got Grayson Miller up to 2 on the safety line and you mentioned Sunday that you don't want to -- you want to sort of take the shirt off different guys. Have you made a decision on anyone else new this week?
MARK DANTONIO: No, not yet because it will depend on practice this week. Grayson is there as the No. 2, which just means that we're working with him. Was he a 2 or is he a 3? Depends how he practices, but he gets work in there at the No. 2 safety as does Jalen Watts-Jackson, as does Matt Morrissey and Khari Willis gets some reps in there as free safety as well. So we're trying to work those guys and trying to figure it out from there. Depends on how they adjust to every single game week, how they play within that week and if we think they're ready. But they're working with us on the defensive end or they're working with us in Felt Davis' case on the offensive end, so they're on the depth chart because of that. Grayson played on special teams last week and did a nice job. So he'll try to just expand his opportunities to see exactly where he fits.

Q. Coach, Bonamego obviously had his off-season cancer scare and whatnot. I was just wondering if you happened to reach out with him having had a health scare yourself and if guys have had any conversations about that.
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, we were up at Boyne Mountain, Harbor Springs this summer for a retreat. They had their retreat on the same weekend, sort of a family-type retreat, staff retreat. So I did see him up there and I saw our guys, the guys that I mentioned up there. I have empathy for what he's gone through obviously and he's gone through a tough road and he's been a soldier.

Q. Is there anything long term on Montez Sweat?
MARK DANTONIO: Not long term. It's just been at this (inaudible) point in time.

Q. I know you talked about Burbridge the last couple weeks, but he came with so many expectations. As we watched him the last few weeks, is it kind of like this is the guy we always kind of knew was there and it's just now finally coming out? Is that kind of the feeling with him?
MARK DANTONIO: Maybe. With me, I thought Aaron Burbridge has been an outstanding player for four years. We have a lot of wide receivers. He's played in and out, got hurt a little bit one year. He had an outstanding freshman season. He was really thought to be coming into the 2013 season, he was going to be the premier receiver. Other guys picked up. Bennie Fowler had an outstanding senior season as well as Lippett and Mumphery played extremely well. But Aaron Burbridge and Macgarrett Kings were also on the team, they had big plays if you go back and look at the season. Last year, same type of thing. We had guys, so they're also sharing those responsibilities. He played a little bit more Z so he's an adaptable guy, he can play around any position that we want him to really in our wide receiver sets. So he's just getting the ball. He's just had the ball thrown to him a little bit more, but he's had outstanding ability from day one and has been a tremendous player for us really from the day he walked in this place. He's been with the upper classmen from day one and maybe took about a week (inaudible), but other than that he's been with us. Great hands, great vision, great body control, good run after catch, great speed.

Q. You've gotten a lot of attention for how you played against the big boys, but it's how you've played against the so-called little boys that's been part of the staple of this program. I believe it's 31-1 against unranked opponents. How significant is that to you?
MARK DANTONIO: Who did we lose to?

Q. Notre Dame. They weren't ranked at the time.
MARK DANTONIO: I think it's significant that we line up and play, we don't take anybody for granted and we come to play. That's what's significant to me about that stat. That we get ourselves ready to go, we take the attitude that everybody -- we take the attitude of respect toward everybody we play and we get ourselves ready to go. We take care of business. That's the most I can say about that. Everybody's got a shot. We've played a lot of good football teams that aren't ranked.

Q. You were getting ready to jump on the stat about the only non Power Five or Notre Dame team that you lost to there. If you could talk about --
MARK DANTONIO: Well, I just didn't know.

Q. Okay. Yeah, 2011, Notre Dame. If you could talk about the Central Michigan, what that loss does or how much of a reminder it served, and I guess the second part, is Delton Williams getting any closer to warming up in the bullpen?
MARK DANTONIO: First question, yeah, I remember that date pretty vividly in 2009, so we brought it up. We talked about it a little bit in terms of what went down in that scenario. The Delton Williams situation, we're just not going to play him until he takes significant reps. I feel like that's -- unless something changes this week, that's the way I would put it. Just don't want to waste a year on him if that's what he wants to do in that kind of situation. He's got to carry the football. I just don't know if there's enough carries to split three ways. We tried to a little bit with Gerald this last weekend, but we're talking about he had nine plays and maybe three or four carries. I just think that's tough when you do that. So he's a good football player, he's a good running back, just where it's at right now. Doesn't mean it won't be different two weeks from now, or a week or even this weekend.

Q. Obviously you've had a lot of talent in your secondary. How would you assess the development of the secondary?
MARK DANTONIO: I think everything in college football goes in cycles, so guys are leaving and guys -- and the next guy's up and they have talent. But to go from the point of being nervous about being in the game and just don't want to mess it up to the point where I want to make plays, that's experience and that's development. That's experience maybe more than anything. We've got guys, we've got guys that can run fast, play the ball in the deep part of the field. We need to tackle. There's no such thing I guess as a perfect tackling defensive football team, but we need to continue to tackle and tackle I think better than we have. So that's my -- that's on our agenda, we work at it daily. But I think that's happening all over the country. Guys are in space and you know you've got to get them down.

Q. Have they made that progression from just being excited to be there versus making the plays?
MARK DANTONIO: Time will tell. I think some of our guys certainly have, but other guys are still in that process, I guess. I think that's normal throughout college football because you're always turning over.

Q. It seems like 15 top putting teams away maybe as early as the ones in the previous two years. Is that a concern?
MARK DANTONIO: Have we ever put them away, really?

Q. I guess maybe not the offense finishing out the way they have in the past couple years. Is that a concern?
MARK DANTONIO: The offense not finishing out?

Q. Yeah.
MARK DANTONIO: Well, we would certainly like to have gotten fourth-and-one and finished the game there, and the week before we would have liked to have gotten -- run the ball for a couple yards there and not make it as close, but I thought that our offense has done a good job. We've scored points, we have not turned the ball over. There's ebbs and flows of every football game. Defensive teams know when you're just trying to run it, if you're trying to take the air out of the ball, so it becomes a little bit more difficult to run the football because you've got a 10-point lead, there's four minutes to go, those type of things. The week before against Oregon, we had a bad down so I said throw it and just try and do it that other way. But we've got to have the ability to run the ball and be balanced and that's who we've been, that's who we will be. We have good running back and a good offensive line, but it takes a lot of different pieces. Fullbacks, tight ends, play selections, structures as I said the other day on the conference call. It takes a lot of different pieces to be able to run the football. So we'll try to get that all in order and every week's a test. Every single week we play is a test, a test for our players and everything that we're doing. Tackling, running the ball, catching the ball, it's always a test.

Q. Nonconference game of this season, is that added incentive to try to get some of the younger guys more playing time before Big Ten play kicks off?
MARK DANTONIO: We just want to win, we just want to win, and then when it becomes comfortable we'll try to get guys in. Last week it was 35-7, like I said, and they were prepared to go to the next step and they ran the option five straight times without a guy on the pitch and that's alarming when you coach on the sideline. So they scored, so it became 35-14 and it is what it is. We're going to play to win. Obviously we want to play as many players as we can play because we want to get our guys experience, but we're not going to get experience at the expense of making a game closer than it already is.

Q. I want to know what your memories are of working with Morris Watson. Any chance you would coach that long?
MARK DANTONIO: Morris is a great guy, outstanding coach. When I first came here in 1995 as an assistant, he was the offensive coordinator at LSU at the time. He's got a wealth of knowledge as a college football coach. He's coached in the USFL, I believe, as well. But an outstanding play caller and he's been at it for a while, there's no question. But when you watch them right now, they have it all. The dynamics of their offense, they have it all and it's very well put together, very structured. I think he's doing a great job in terms of play calling, asking their guys to do what they do well and to execute, and they are executing on the offensive side of the ball, there's no question.

Q. What are your expectations for the crowd for a No. 2 ranked team who's ranked consistently in the Top 5? You weren't afraid to call out and ask for a large crowd at the spring game. Do you have any thoughts on the fact that there's not a sellout for this weekend and going forward?
MARK DANTONIO: I always appreciate the people who come. I thought we had a great crowd last week, I think it was packed. So I also understand that there's a lot of people out there that have other things to do, quite honestly. So I understand those things. I think we'll have a great crowd this weekend. As I said earlier, I think Central will bring people. I think there's just a lot of interest in terms of what's going on on game day. And it's a noon game, some of that leads to that on a college campus, I think. I think that's sort of a natural thing, they like to sleep in a little bit, I guess. I'm not concerned about the crowd, I'm concerned about how we play.

Q. I guess I was taught to play football the wrong way, but now that you've seen the tape, is there anything you could tell Riley Bullough to do differently on that play and do you think --
MARK DANTONIO: I don't know if he could do anything differently but I know it wasn't intentional, but I do think it was a helmet-to-helmet thing. I think there's seven times that that happened throughout the weekend in a Big Ten game or maybe a MAC game. I think Wisconsin may have two people out. So, like I said, I talked to the people involved in it, we got a ruling on the field, looked at it in the press box. I have to let the people who make those decisions make those decisions. We have to just deal with it. Doesn't mean I'm happy about it, but we have to just deal with it and move forward.

Q. In the bigger picture, has football sometimes gone too far on the head thing or is that dangerous territory?
MARK DANTONIO: I think that's dangerous territory. I think you err on the side of safety and you're putting it in everybody's mind, especially when it's that hit, which not intentional, maybe a little bit in question if you're head coach on the sideline or coach on the sideline, but you're putting it in everybody's mind that, hey, we are making a focus on this and just don't do it to the best of your ability. If you get called for it, we've got to deal with it. I've always found if somebody steps out, somebody else steps in. It gives that other person experience, that person will be better for it, and all parties involved will be better for it.

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