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MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY FOOTBALL MEDIA CONFERENCE
September 29, 2015
East Lansing, Michigan
COACH DANTONIO: Big Ten season starts this weekend. It's an exciting opportunity. Sort of a new season in itself. It sort of all starts here, so things get moving all over the conference today.
Want to first of all, congratulate our '65-'66 team coming back, being honored at half-time, being honored this weekend. And then also note that this is the 25th reunion for our 1990 Big Ten championship team. So '65-'66, obviously National Championship team.
When you look at our football team right now, we need to continue to try to play our best football as we move forward. Obviously things don't always go perfectly. I think we've had a tough out-of-conference schedule, as I've mentioned before. And I don't think it was -- when we play at Western Michigan, that's a huge game over there. And we play Oregon coming back, huge game. Air Force comes in, option football. Big game for Central Michigan coming over here because it's in-state. We are looking forward to the out-of-conference schedule.
Purdue has provided some great, great match-ups in past years. We've played them six times since I've been here. You can go back and look at every one of those games, and very exciting games. Known Darrell Hazell a long time. Got an Ohio State connection, much like I do, although we were not there at the same time, so I know what his basic philosophy is, good football coach and will have his guys ready to play.
So I'll take some questions.
Q. With so much that's gone well, being 4-0, are you disappointed you haven't had any opportunities because the games have been closer and you'd like to give some reps for your backup quarterbacks?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I am. Almost three of those four games, we were right there ready to do that, and then, you know, somebody would make a play and it just would get a little bit dicey, so we stayed with our guys.
That's the nature of it, and as I said, I think all four of those football teams can do great things. They have guys and you know, yeah, I would agree.
Q. It's the 100th Homecoming. Can you talk about that and what Homecoming means in general?
COACH DANTONIO: One hundred, and I've only been around for nine. Yeah, I think that's significant.
We talk in terms of Michigan State football and tradition and tradition around this country, Michigan State is one of those places that has a great tradition. So to be to be a part of this 100th Homecoming, it is special. This university has been on the map a long time. With that comes a lot of things that have been around for a long, long time. This will be one of them.
And then as far as the second question, Homecoming in general, I look forward to it. I don't get to see many of our players. I do look forward to seeing our players when they come back. Some of them comeback every now and then, periodically, but for me, that's what Homecoming is. It's our players coming back. I think in a large university like this, I'm sure every segment of the university has people coming back and it's special for me.
For me, it's our football family coming back together, so I'll look forward to seeing some of those guys, if I can. It will be tough.
Q. Last year they played you tough especially in the first half and did some things offensively and it looked like that program might be on the verge of turning a corner after struggling. What do you see on film; where have they struggled?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, first of all, just like everything, you always can't look at the score and say, it wasn't -- the scores indicate one thing. The game itself indicates other things. Games always have been close. They have been competitive. I think Purdue, they have got guys. Everybody's got guys.
Last season, I thought that we were 31-17 at one point; we picked a punt, didn't go well, the score is 31-24, from maybe going in one direction to another direction.
But if you look at the history of the games, they have always been close games and we expect those things, for whatever reason we play each other very, very well and there's been a tradition in there that. Even before I was the head coach, when I was an assistant and go back to the '95, '96 or the '97 game, the '98 games, they were all extremely close games. If you remember back then, that's when Drew Brees was playing then and things like that.
Q. Do you have any special guests that might be coming back to talk with the team or any special plans?
COACH DANTONIO: We have not yet named our honorary captain. We are seeing if the guy can come back. No, other than that, no. Our former players will be back that can come.
Q. How close is Darian Hicks right now to getting himself in that starting lineup? And you mentioned Montae maybe moving to the safety; is that the practice plan this week?
COACH DANTONIO: Those guys can play around different positions, so we are going to see how that works out. But I would agree that Darian Hicks is in a situation to start. See what kind of practices he has this week, but I thought he played well the second half.
Q. There is no injury update; right?
COACH DANTONIO: No. No injury update. Amazing how young people, how fast they heal. Go ahead.
Q. Is anyone threatening to --
COACH DANTONIO: No. There's been no season-ending injuries other than the two we've done.
Q. So we just show up and see who is going to play; right?
COACH DANTONIO: This is Tuesday. We'll see what happens by Friday or Saturday. Usually we'll make those announcements prior to the game, if they are not able to play in the game, that's when we'll make them.
Q. Everyone makes so much of the National Championship race, but in the old days it was still about the Big Ten. Is it still a big deal to you?
COACH DANTONIO: It's a really big deal to me. We coach in the Big Ten so that's what I'm concerned about. I think coaches basically put themselves in a bubble. I don't care what conference you're in, you sort of submerge yourself in that conference. You really don't know too much what's going on in other conferences, other than what you may read time to time or as it gets near the end of the season. I just think that's the norm.
When I was at Cincinnati, I couldn't have told you what was going on in the Big Ten. I was concerned with what was going on in the Big East. I think that's just the norm for me. It's all about what we do now. It's the start of something special. It's the start of something special every year when we get to the Big Ten Conference and that's the way it should be.
Great conference, great crowds. A lot of media exposure. Great questions being asked every week. (Laughter). You know, I'm just immersed in all this.
Q. This could be the third time in a row you've faced Purdue with a new quarterback. I'm just curious how different is it having to do that each time and not being able to build off what you had the year before?
COACH DANTONIO: A little bit different but I think that happens in college football. I think their quarterback, David Blough, I think he's a red-shirt freshman. He went in there and threw for 340 yards this last week. Has the ability to get out of the pocket a little bit and scramble and move. They ran some quarterback draws with him. I'm sure they can do some other things with him. They will spread out a little bit, as well. Looks like a good athlete and that's the decision they have made to go, and I thought he played well last week.
Q. I guess a two-parter question. You mentioned the fake punt. We later learned from Brian Allen that that was an accidental call. Can you tell us why you called it after the game rather than just say it was a mix up and could you talk about Brian Allen? We haven't heard much about him in the season?
COACH DANTONIO: Probably the problem with the fake is he didn't know it was a fake. So there was no mistake. That was a fake. He didn't know (Laughter). There's always another side of the story but I'll talk to Brian about it.
Brian is a very good player and he remains healthy -- there's always things that can improve in a football game, and I think that his play will improve as he gets older. He's still basically a true sophomore, but he can be a dominant player for us.
Q. Can you just talk about Shilique Calhoun, how he's kind of made that adjustment and has a game like he did last week and is able to produce like that?
COACH DANTONIO: I think Shilique Calhoun first of all is a very unselfish player, very unselfish person. Whenever he is interviewed he looks to give credit to other people. He's extremely quick off the ball and has great hand movement. He's a big guy. People think of him as -- he came here at 215; he's almost 6-5, 260. He has a knack for playing on the edge and things like that, but he can be a collision guy, too.
So sometimes he needs to -- he's gap-oriented where takes you maybe out of a pass rush. Everybody thinks because you have sacks that you're a great defensive end. It's always the other things that you do, as well. I think he's a complete player in a lot of respects.
He had a big game last week. That's exciting because we enter the Big Ten season and he'll be ready to go. But he provides leadership for our football team, as well, and I'm very excited he's back with us obviously but I think he's an unselfish player.
Q. Talk about what Connor did last week in spreading the ball around to a number of different guys, and a lot of the guys outside of the receiving group. And talk about what the backup tight ends between Lyles and Lang have provided?
COACH DANTONIO: I'll answer the second part of that first. First of all, all three of those tight ends are all playing equally. They are all playing about 31, 32 snaps a game. We all have certain situations that they are probably better at and they are used in all the situations.
I think Josiah is the guy that's getting most of the catches for touchdowns, etc., but Lyles and Paul both have that ability. You can really go five-deep there because I think we have two other tight ends in Sokol and Chmura that are good players, as well, or will be.
Connor does a nice job, did a nice job with that Saturday and took what was given to him. Obviously he's hit Burbridge a lot prior to but he's spread it around this past week and that was good to see. I think we have other guys that can make plays and the more people that are making plays, the better it is for everybody.
We only had eight different series this past weekend, so we were limited offensively in the number of plays. I think we had 56 plays, I believe, which is as few as we've had. But we scored every series in the first half and then in the fourth quarter, two series, as well.
We need to be able to obviously make more plays and distribute it more. I think Connor does a great job. A little short on his passing numbers probably this week but I think it was based on the number of plays we had and the nature of the situation of the game, we were able to run the ball in that fourth quarter and things of that nature.
Q. From you guys on the offensive line and shifting around, how important has Jack Allen been?
COACH DANTONIO: I think Jack Allen can play every position up on the offensive line. I think he can pop out the tackle. His stature, maybe not a 6-5, 6-6 guy, but he's athletic enough and has enough power and enough snap and explosiveness to be able to play out there.
He's obviously a leader on our football team, very strong personality. Extremely tough. He's been playing for four years, playing a lot and been sort of a starting center probably for three or four years now.
So a lot of calls, a lot of different things that he does up there. He was an All-American last year. So he's obviously an important part of our football team, not just on the field but as a person, as well. I think he's done an outstanding job.
Q. Did what Holmes did change the dynamic of the running back competition last week? And the number of short kickoffs and swift kicks, is that a reaction to early kickoff returns?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, maybe a little bit of that, but the wind was blowing down on the field and we were going to kick off and all of a sudden the wind shifted into our face, like literally on that moment, so we squibbed it. Sometimes deep kicks don't necessarily go deep at times, too. So there's a little bit of that, so I think we are just trying to basically build a resumÃ© as much as anything I think.
Gerald Holmes I did think put himself a little bit more into that regroup category. Thought he had a good game, caught the ball well, had a couple big plays and you have to look at that and say, hey, maybe he deserves more opportunities. It's just hard to get those opportunities if you're rotating three backs.
Delton Williams is available, as well. I think if you look at our guys, all three of those guys did good things in the game. So it's tough to rep three of them but he certainly deserves that distinction to be in the hunt there, and so I could have bolded him today, too. I just didn't think you guys could handle it.
Q. How difficult is it to make a decision on a red-shirt like Willis?
COACH DANTONIO: Tough.
Q. Did you make that decision on Friday or is it ever the day of the game or during the game because of circumstances?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, he was repping at No. 2, as a No. 2 for pretty much most of the week and he's had good practices. Got a feeling about him as a person. I knew he would show up on special teams. Just didn't want to play him in four or five snaps and things of that nature and then make the decision on Saturday based on circumstances, let's go.
I think he's a good player. But it is hard because I want our guys to graduate. So when you play for four years straight, actually you're going to school for three and a half, then there's an added significance there. You don't have that extra year. A lot of our guys graduated mid year or they graduate the spring of their fourth year.
So that means you've got to really overload yourself in the summers to be able to do that if you're going to graduate in three and a half, which can be done, and he's an excellent student. But that always enters into my mind. Plus I start thinking, '16, '17, '18, I guess he won't be here in '19. So I start looking at those things, and we've had some guys who took the red-shirt off of and then that year comes and we regret that.
I'm always trying to do what's best for the program and also what's best for that individual. We take the red-shirt off him, he's got to play, just like Felton Davis. Every game, I'm saying: Hey, Terry Samuel, get Felton -- get him in the game, get him going, got to throw to him. Took the red-shirt off him. He's good enough, let's go. That's a part of it, too.
So right now I'm pushing Andrew Dowell in the same respect and saying, only played seven plays this past week on defense. He needs to play more. Obviously LJ Scott is playing a lot -- because if he's a 2 and I'm telling him, hey, get yourself ready, that shirt may come off and that's what happened. And I'm glad we did it because I think he's ready.
Q. You mentioned Connor spreading the ball around a little bit more. Is that something you worked on and pushed him to do a little bit more this season?
COACH DANTONIO: The last part of that?
Q. Something you worked with him to do more of this year?
COACH DANTONIO: I think a good quarterback spreads it around and goes to the reads that he has within his specific play. I always think they have -- obviously No. 1 read based on coverage, two, three, that type of thing.
There's also that confidence factor where you know this guy is going to make a play, too. It's sort of a Catch 22 there a little bit. He's done a nice job with that, and we've got guys, Monty Maderis should be playing soon. I think he's about ready to go. Like I said, Felton Davis; Coop has been in there some. Arnett has been in there some. So we've got guys and he needs to work through that.
Q. When Connor is just one win away from passing Kirk Cousins as the winningest quarterback in the school's history, is this something you could have envisioned him coming off the bench?
COACH DANTONIO: I think it's something we envision in the program that everybody should always chase, chase those things that we've accomplished already and go farther. We've had great success here in the last three years. Really he's done it in two years and four games. So he's had great success.
We had a couple years when Kirk was the quarterback that we were -- 2009 was a tougher year. We won six games. But I think that speaks to not just the quarterback but to the entire program. That's a monumental figure I guess or accomplishment because those things just aren't going to happen all the time. They should, though.
Q. Coaches continually talk about being balanced, but one thing Coach Hazell's done is they are exactly balanced. I don't remember if it's 189 for some reason, NO. 6 in my head, passes to rushes. How different is it when you know they are 50/50?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think they want to run the football and control the clock. I think that's what coaches basically want to do. They want to take the time and end the game. To do that, you've got to be able to run the football, and you have to be able to commit to the run to be able to do that.
So you've got to find a way. So that's his background. As I said, that's his background and that's what he's going to do. They are certainly going to take shots and throw the ball down the field, as well. But I think they want balance.
I think coaches, that's what we are always talking about and every time I talk about what are the keys to victory here, I'm always saying, hey, we've got to run the football, got to protect our quarterback, got to get explosive plays, we've got to stay balanced. I don't think I've ever said, hey, we have to throw the ball 50 times and throw for 400 yards. The equation is stay balanced and make them play both ends of the stick.
Q. You mentioned red shirts. A couple weeks ago you were talking about gradually working guys in. Any chance we'll see true freshmen corners or have you made the decision that you have enough quarterback depth?
COACH DANTONIO: There's always a chance. It will be based on practice this week.
Q. In talking to John Bonamego this week, he has cited this program as a blueprint for what he wants to do at Central Michigan. When you hear other coaches talk about the blueprint of Michigan State football, how does that change the perception since you took the job to hear that?
COACH DANTONIO: Any new coach coming into any program looks to another program and says, we want to be like them. So honored that he would say that about our program.
But we did the same thing when we came here. We said, okay, we need to be like this particular program and try to emulate some of the things and some of the people that they were recruiting or some of the things that they were able to do, and I think every program want to be built for the long haul. I don't think everybody is looking to say, okay, let's win now and get out of here. Hopefully people won't do that.
But honored for him to have said that, and looked at central when they came out, and you can see -- I don't want to talk about Coach Enos, but you can see the people that he recruited. They had a good-looking football team. They had a good-looking football team physically.
Q. Looks like Cooper stepped in well on Saturday. Is he starting to flash more consistency now?
COACH DANTONIO: Coop has been very solid throughout the year so far. Really, can consider him a starter because he plays in there just as much as everybody else, because LT jumps inside, plays defensive tackle, and Coop moves into the defensive end position. Played a lot of football, we rotate our defensive line. We're going to keep it fresh and he's a very good player.
Q. I wanted to ask you about "your day in the life" last week. How did that go? Did you have fun doing it, would be one question --
COACH DANTONIO: No. Not as much fun has I have doing this, certainly. (Laughter).
Q. I also wanted to ask you, they had the all-access show, and people looked at that as a recruiting tool. Was that any sort of inspiration and would you do a show like that, a whole camp show if you had an opportunity at some point?
COACH DANTONIO: HBO actually asked us to do that this season, do a Hard Knocks this season. But I sort of passed on that because I didn't really want to put ourselves in that situation.
I think it's a good show. I've watched it and I think it's well done. But we just passed on it right now because I want our players to concentrate on what we have to do here and not on a camera. I want us to be us and I just didn't feel like at this point in time that that was something that we should do.
Maybe in the future, but I just didn't feel like that was something that we should do right now. But our success that we've had here recently warranted that opportunity, but that's what we decided to do because basically we get enough press.
It was hard for me because you're sort of trying to do your job. If it was good for you guys, it was good for me.
Q. The Big Ten is one conference where the fullback position seems very much alive and well. Can you talk a little bit about its importance to your team, and is it hard to recruit to that position now right out of high school?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I think the fullback is a little bit of a lot of art in college football right now, but everything cycles through. And so when people have to start out now, begin to play with the fullback in the backfield, they have to defend that extra piece from a blocking perspective; and all the different things that you can do with him; and out of the backfield, I think that he becomes a guy that people have to deal with and they have to practice and things of that nature.
From a recruiting perspective, I think most of the times, you take linebackers or guys that have played both sides of the ball in high school, linebacker, fullback, you're recruiting to be a linebacker rather than recruiting to be a fullback maybe more often than not. But he's got some ball skills. He's got toughness, size. He obviously needs to understand schematically things but that's what we've done. We've had some guys that were good linebackers that have been outstanding fullbacks for us.
We're going to use the fullback, not all the time obviously, you guys watch our games but we'll use him at times. If we can't stop the offense with a fullback, we'll use him more often than not.
But you're right. I think people are going back to that and they have something similar to that in their offense.
Q. My sense is the fan base here, to win consistently at this level is a fairly new thing and they don't know quite how to enjoy it week-to-week like during the rise. Is it more fun, the building you had, the rise, the exhilaration of 2013, or do you enjoy this where there aren't the small victories that you got in the initial ride?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I enjoy seeing our players play well to the best of their abilities and for us to function as a team.
So every single game, like I said the other night, that's not going to happen. You hope that it happens more often than not and that you win the game and the end of the deal, the end result needs to be hey, you win the game and you be happy with that and take all those other things and put them over here and try and improve.
I think it's human nature to be looking to say, okay, here they are, here they are, when are they going to fall, when is that shoe going to fall. And I would just encourage people to stay with us and hang with it and have fun to doing it and get ready to play Purdue. Come excited and ready to go.
But I understand that everybody is a coach out there. A lot of armchair coaches out there. You guys don't have anything that holds your hands up right here, but a lot of arm chair coaches out there and everybody's got the answers. But on the day of the game, just understand that everybody is playing against somebody, and somebody else has a plan, too.
And so there's two plans in motion there, whoever executes the best usually wins, and you're not going to win every single play. But you've got to win more often than not to win a game and you can't make the big mistakes.
If you look at our game this past weekend, we didn't make a lot of big mistakes. Had two plays, one pass play and another pass play that really went 40 yards. Other than that, they were 3rd and 10 or third and eight and they would get nine. So we would start again.
But bottom line is, we give up ten points. Because of that, because of the longevity of the drives, we didn't get as many opportunities on offense, so we didn't score as many points. But that happens, too.
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