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MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY FOOTBALL MEDIA CONFERENCE
October 6, 2015
East Lansing, Michigan
COACH DANTONIO: Opportunity to go to Rutgers Saturday night for a prime-time game. So we're excited to go away. Gotta go back and forth home and away. So we played four straight home games.
So looking forward to going with the opportunity to go to 6-0. I think it will be a good football game. They have an outstanding special teams group. They've got the guy that's run back three touchdowns in Grant, number 1. I think the quarterback is playing well, Laviano. They really have three tailbacks -- number 8, Hicks and Martin, No. 7. They've been extremely productive. They'll get James back a little bit. Big wide receiver and I think it's Agudosi. And then defensively they'll fly around and hit people.
Q. Is this a good time for the team to get back on the road, maybe get away from home and just kind of rally? ...
COACH DANTONIO: You know you're going to play away games as part of college football. So I think that change is always a little bit good. If you've been playing away for a while it's good to come home. If it's the opposite way it's also good to go away, I think.
So it changes the landscape a little bit, and I think change is good. It keeps you fresh. It keeps you moving in the right direction.
Q. Obviously with the M*A*S*H* unit that the offensive line became in the second half, isn't it fair to say that that had a significant impact on how the game's called from an offensive play calling? They rolled Conner out more because you couldn't put him back there necessarily in a five-step drop?
COACH DANTONIO: I think we managed the game with the situation that was dictated to us in the game, and I do think it changed play calling, plus the score at that point in time sort of mandated, and the weather and those type of things as well.
It was raining pretty good, windy those type of things. Cleared a little bit in the fourth quarter. But the game had changed by the time the fourth quarter rolled around as well.
I think all those things had something to do with that. John asked me, okay, give me your offensive line depth and there's just so many different ways we can go with that. I just said list it like this.
But that's a positive as well because we have probably one, two, probably three guys that can play multiple positions across the offensive line and they have experience doing it.
So we'll see how this week shakes out in terms of who is playing the best and who should play what position. And then we'll make that decision probably Friday night, announce it Saturday at game time.
Q. Speaking of the offensive line, Mark, I'm wondering the last time in your career you had a center either playing for you at left tackle or going against that at this level of football?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I've never had our center go out to play left tackle.
Q. Someone that size.
COACH DANTONIO: Especially someone that size. But Jack's an exceptional player. He's an extremely athletic, powerful guy, with a very high level of knowledge and experience relative to the offensive line play.
So if you watch him play in the game there was no issue. So he can go out there and play, I don't think that's a question because he is so quick and athletic, and he does have long arms. But what would be his strength if he's playing left tackle may be different from what's Kodi Kieler's or Jack Conklin's strength as a player. So we'll see.
Q. Coach, you have three true freshmen in the second string of the secondary.
COACH DANTONIO: You sound nervous.
Q. No. Do you have -- does that speak to the injuries that the team has sustained or have they just performed like that in practice?
COACH DANTONIO: Josh Butler has performed very well. We've not taken the redshirt off of him yet. But he's probably right there trying to hold it. We'll see what happens. But he's played very well in practice, and I think he's a good player.
We've played Khari Willis on special teams and then he also played the entire second half, I think, of the Central Michigan game at our nickel back. And he's a very good tackler, good ball skills. He's a quick, explosive type guy.
And Grayson Miller is another guy that played this past week. He's been playing in special teams for probably three weeks.
Both of those guys have been working at the No. 2 position, really No. 3 and 5, I guess, or I guess 4 and 5, the fourth safety, the fifth safety, probably since the start of the season. So they're good players. Very good -- good ball skills. They can run. They're explosive. They tackle well. What they don't have is game experience. The only way you get that is by playing.
So, no, I'm not nervous at all. I think we actually have six safeties. Still we lose RJ and we lose leadership and he's a very good player, but he's had a lot of big plays for us but we have six safeties and be functional. And I always look at players, can they be functional? Can you put a guy in there, can he function? It doesn't mean he's going to succeed all the time, but does he know the defense and can he function and make plays for you and fit in the scheme and the puzzle? And I think all six of those guys can already. That would include Matt Morrissey and Jalen Watts-Jackson, who are playing a lot on special teams as well.
Q. One of your players said the other day, Darien Harris, that we don't have backups at Michigan State. We're all expected to start. You haven't had a lot of injuries in your last two magical seasons like this. Is this part of a test of a mettle of the team and something you're talking about, overcoming diversity?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, a little bit. But I also think the more guys you play the stronger you get as a football team, and you see that across the country, you see guys playing, and that makes you more experienced, that gives you more diversity, in terms of players that you can play, more depth, and it's just inevitable. At some point in time Darqueze got a start because Chris L. Rucker went down and on and on it goes.
That's how you get your feet wet. You become more productive. You get used to playing in a big-time environment. And they've all been recruited here with the idea that they have the ability to play at this level. And so that's what we do. We put them in there and try not to put them in there before they're ready. But sometimes you're putting them in there a little bit early. But you also have a certain amount of confidence in those guys.
Now, there is something to say, hey, they were number two, they're not as good as your All-American guy, but they can get there. I.e., Dennis Finley is playing very well. I think he'll be an outstanding player for us.
And that was his first time playing, really. So sometimes the problems create opportunities, I guess, is what I'm trying to say. And those opportunities pay forward.
Q. Do you get the feeling about this team, maybe not frustration, but in a sense that they feel that they're due for kind of a decisive victory?
COACH DANTONIO: Bottom line is you win. The bottom line is you need to win. I don't feel frustration. I felt there was no frustration in that locker room after the game. Guys were excited to play.
It's tough to win games. It is tough to win. I don't care who you play. And people spend 80-plus hours as coaches every week to develop a plan with what they have.
Players spend 20 hours on mandated, I guess, and then they spend countless hours away from it by themselves trying to figure out how to do things to the best of their ability.
So everybody's got a plan coming in. Everybody's going to be able to recruit a certain level of player. There's parity in college football. All you have to do is look around. And so when we win, that's a good thing. That's a positive thing. There's no frustration.
The frustration may come when a play happens in a game that you're not successful at or a series. But at the end of the deal, if you win, I don't care how you get there, we played well before and not won. So bottom line is do you win.
Q. On the Rutgers staff, there's one guy, Mitch Browning, who was at Kansas with you in the early '90s, same defensive staff. Any other connection there, and what's your relationship with him?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, Mitch is a friend of mine. Mitch was a graduate assistant at Ohio State, previous to my being there. He's coached at Mid-American Conference, Kent State, and was at Kansas for a long time. We were on the defensive staff together. He was the linebacker and I was the secondary coach. He went to Minnesota where he was on the staff there with Mark Snyder, Dave Warner and Tim Allen were there with him.
We all know Mitch. He's an excellent coach. And he'll have his guys ready to go. Offensive line guy.
Q. You have Shilique and other guys from Jersey and other guys coming in, how important is that area, and what does it do for you to actually play there, have a game there?
COACH DANTONIO: I think it gives us exposure back East. I think that's the intent of having Rutgers and Maryland in the Big Ten was to give everybody exposure. We've got a lot of alumni on the East Coast.
I think that our Michigan State was very well represented last year at the Maryland game, and I'm sure that will be the case this weekend as well. And then New Jersey's a very active recruiting area.
They've got good high school football in that state. We're going to go over there and recruit. And we're going to always draw somebody out of there. And we've gotten great players out of there.
COACH DANTONIO: Mike Tressel/Mike Snyder. We've got two guys, one in north, one in south.
Q. You might not know until Friday night how the offensive line is going to shake out. How do you prepare for a whole week getting those guys ready in different spots? Does that change your practice week?
COACH DANTONIO: Coach Staten does an outstanding job, and he's always taught the whole-part-whole theory. So all those guys are in the same meeting room.
They all need to know what the other guy is doing. Many of the techniques are similar, to some extent. Guys have had opportunities. I mean, Donavon Clark, he's played right tackle, right guard. He's played left tackle in the past. So we have quite a bit of diversity, I guess, and age and experience with our senior group. So I think that gives us an advantage.
And what we'll do is we'll look and see what's the best way to go about it based on the other guys and fit the pieces around that puzzle. Is it better to have David Beedle at guard or is it better to have so and so at guard. How does Benny McGowan figure in this? Brandon Clemons played last week too. He's a fifth-year senior. We have quite a different number of ways we can go with this. And then there's possible other guys we'll be playing as well.
Q. Ask you about the New Jersey connection to Shilique. I know you talked about him dozens of times, what he's meant to this team. Anything he's done coming back this year that surprised you, things that he's added to the team that you didn't expect?
COACH DANTONIO: I've said it before. I think he's a very unselfish player, unselfish person. Every time he's had an opportunity to speak to the media he talks about the other players. He talks about the coaches. And he sort of shuns, although he's a big presence, he sort of shuns the media, I think, a little bit other than interviewing people.
But I think that that's a value, him being here, that's a value. And then him being here passing on the NFL is also a value, shows you, A, the degree is important to people, wants his degree, will have it at the end of the semester. You can get both dreams at the same time. You can get your degree and go to the NFL. And obviously he's a great football player. So he means so much to us on the field as well.
Q. You've just spoken to how you can fill in with people, perhaps not ideally, but people that you can trust in a functional role with an injury. Isn't that part of the perspective along with the fact that you are 5-0, even if the point differential hasn't been ideal in everybody's eyes, is that not in fact part of the perspective that must be maintained that if games don't go as you planned them going this season, yet that the bar has been raised, that a program here is sustaining that it's enduring?
COACH DANTONIO: I think you're right. The bottom line is that every time you line up the play, you're trying to win that particular play or situation. But at the end of the game you're trying to say, okay, who won the game. And that's how you're ultimately measured. There's been a lot of football games that have been close games here in the past.
Quite honestly, I remember 2013, where there was a lot of doubt created early in the season. And that doubt changed as the season went forward. But there was a lot of doubt at this point in time in that season. Nobody predicted we'd be 13-1. The same could be said for last year.
So you just play the games. You line them up and play them. You can't promise people that you're going to win. You can't promise people that you'll lose or cover the spread. What you can do is promise people that you're going to play the very best you can, you can prepare, you can play with effort and toughness, and that is so important that you have energy and effort and toughness to every football game, because usually things work out.
We have good players, and we should be right there. And so the challenge is to go 6-0 before you can do anything beyond that. That's the challenge. And hopefully our players understand that. We talk a lot about that, but there's going to be adversity.
There's no smooth road ahead for anybody. There's always adversity. There's always an injury. There's always something that doesn't go right. There's always a young player playing that something doesn't go right for, and you have to pick up the pieces.
And some things are things that you can't -- that you have no ability to change. Other things you can change. So we concentrate on the things we can change and control, which is not that many sometimes. But I know that all of our players are working hard and I believe in our players.
We dropped a punt. Okay. So the challenge is to go back in there, punt again. And he did. He punted well. So it's no different than missing a tackle.
The game is played between the lines, and it's extremely difficult to play this game at this level. So that's all. We just keep going. I know that there's times of frustration for everybody but we just keep going.
Q. Maybe there's some teams in some different years you have to worry yourself more about looking ahead to big games that are a week ahead. Is it just the makeup of this team, or a couple classes where that's not a big worry for you and your staff when you know you've got big rivalry games still coming up?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, you know, you've always got games coming that you look forward to. They're always -- there's opportunities. But I think what we've tried to do is concentrate and focus on the present.
I probably have said that a lot this year. We didn't focus on the present. I think our guys have done a good job with that. And if you want to reach your goals, then you have to go the hard way, and the hard way is you have to play each play in every game and there are no givens. That's all I can say, there are no givens in this game. Just like in life, there are no givens.
Q. Kind of strangely haven't even left the state yet here we are in week six, but I believe you haven't lost a road Big Ten game since 2012. What's the secret, and how much does that speak to your overall success in this program?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think we're 17-3 right now since 2010 on the road. But who is counting. (Laughter). I just think we try and change things up. We try and stay fresh and we try to go together. It's not easy going on the road. There's no question about that. We've had tough games, very difficult games. But our senior class has always led. And we bring our emotion with us, and we have to feed ourselves.
We don't have a crowd there and that type of thing. So we have to feed off each other, and we've just tried to maintain. So I don't really have an answer for you as to why. But I would say players make plays and we've made plays on the road and we've made plays at home. But just keep on riding.
Q. Seeing Rutgers' quarterback completion percentage. Can you talk about their offensive personality going into this game, what they're doing well?
COACH DANTONIO: I think Laviano is completing 73 percent of his passes. He's a guy that's going to run out of the pocket when pressed and he'll get on the edge and play-action, move 'em. He's got a big target, No. 13, whose name I can't pronounce totally. I won't try.
But 6'6", 220, throw the ball up to him. They've got, I think, a tailback situation that is very solid. They're going to do a nice job up front with the offensive line in putting them in situations on the perimeter and force you to tackle. I think they're a well-coached football team and they do what they do and they'll have a great plan for us.
I will go back and say special teams is key, very key, in this game. So we need to play well there.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports