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October 13, 2015

Mark Dantonio

East Lansing, Michigan

THE MODERATOR: We have head Coach Mark Dantonio here with us. We will have opening comments, and then we will take questions.

COACH DANTONIO: Thanks, guys. One thing before we get started, I wanted to recognize one thing that last weekend, because we did not have a press conference on Sunday night. I want to thank the Embassy Suites Hotel in Piscataway, New Jersey, the New Jersey Highway Patrol and the Rutgers police and also Academy buses, as well for helping deliver us safely to where we were going that evening.

I thought it was appropriate right now to lead with that. With that being said, big game this weekend, obviously, very, very impressed with UM in terms of what they've been doing on the field and playing outstanding defense, special teams, offensively as well. Obviously a big game, ninth game running here, so looking forward to the challenge, and I'll take some questions.

Q. Coach, I just want to get this out of the way. Your name has come up this -- Steve Spurrier's retirement at South Carolina, of course you played there --
COACH DANTONIO: First question, huh?

Q. Yeah, first question. Just get it out of the way. Can you talk about that --
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, Coach Spurrier has had an outstanding career there; it's my alma mater, and we're here to talk about Michigan.

Q. Coach, so much has been made about this rivalry over the years. I know you like to downplay that stuff unless it has to come out. This game being the first time that you are going up against Harbaugh, you've heard that talk throughout the bowl game from last year all the way until now. How much more with you having the record that you have makes this game mean that much more to your guys, this year particularly?
COACH DANTONIO: I think these games are played one at a time. I got tremendous amount of respect for Coach Harbaugh, what he's accomplished in his career, and what he's accomplishing now, but these games are played one at a time. All I can tell you is every play -- every single play of every single game means something; it has its own life, I guess is what I would try and say, and as long as you keep it in that perspective, you've got a chance to win that one particular play.

To go beyond that or think beyond that or before that really serves no purpose right now for me. We've hung our hat on things, we're going to always try and do the best of our ability in everything that we do. This will be no exception.

Q. Mark, I'm sure you don't like the circumstance that has made you guys a bit of an underdog in this game because of injuries and whatnot, but is there something motivationalwise there, even though you're undefeated, you're an underdog in this game?
COACH DANTONIO: No, I don't -- I think you're only underdogs if you think you're underdogs, first of all, so it's what you think about things; it's not what, quite frankly, you write about things. It's what you think.

I will say Michigan is playing outstanding football right now, and we heed to play better at certain points and times, but we are undefeated, we've found a way to win football games; that's the bottom line. And every game -- again, every game is different as we move forward, and we're going to be excited to go down, and looking forward to the challenge and opportunity.

In regard to, I guess, injuries and things of that nature, you always have a plan; if so and so goes down, there is always a plan in place.

That's why you work your 2s, that's why you recruit other players, those type of things. So, I've said it all along, when things happen like this or like that, it should make your football team stronger in the long run, and that's what we are always looking toward. Do we gain something from a loss? Yeah, we do, same thing. Whether it's a player -- losing a player or losing a football game, you have to gain something, and you have to also gain from winning. We just deal with it. There is nothing you can do at certain times. You just deal with it.

Q. Lost in all the talk is against Purdue, you ran for almost 300 yards with a makeshift offensive line and almost 500 yards of offense with Connor throwing for 357 last week, so lost in all of that has it been the success of the offense not necessarily putting up outrageous numbers but doing exactly what they've been asked to do?
COACH DANTONIO: Yes, and our games from what I've -- I guess I know a little bit about 'em, but our games have gone in sections. We play very well, and then something happens; then we have to respond. So we've had to respond to adversity every single game. Hopefully that pays off in the long run. Like I said, we're still -- we're 6-0 right now, so we need to be excited about that opportunity -- those things and move forward. But we've played well, but then something happens, and then we've been ahead, and then something happens, and they catch up, or whatever the case.

So we have not played perfect football games, but we have the ability to do that. What we have to do is go down there and play well. We have to play well. They're not making a lot of mistakes. I don't feel like they're making a lot of mistakes. Everybody makes some, there is no perfect football game out there, and sometimes mistakes get magnified when you lose or mistakes get magnified when you are expected to win by a bigger score.

So you've just got to figure it out and play. Get ready to play. Come confident and get ready to play.

Q. Mark, what are they doing, especially defensively, that's allowed them to have these shutouts, when you look at the film, and are you surprised it's happened this quickly for them?
COACH DANTONIO: I think what they're doing defensively, I think they're playing a lot of tight man coverage, middle field safety. I think they're tackling well, pressuring the quarterback, stopping the run. When you stop the run, you put -- you create another dimension, put them in long-yardage situations behind the chains and, you know, good things usually happen.

They're getting turnovers as well. Then on the offensive side of the ball, you know, they're taking the clock, they're winning the time of possession, they're establishing a running game. You look at their players, a lot of the players are the same players that have been there, so they've done a good job of recruiting in the past, and they're playing well.

But with all that being said, there is no perfect game out there. The second question? Because you guys always ask me two or three questions, so I always forget the second question.

Q. Are you surprised they have come together so quickly?
COACH DANTONIO: Am I surprised? I think every football team that goes out there, I don't care where they're at, they expect to win. So the expectations are high at Michigan State, the expectations are high down the road, and I think that's the way it is. That's probably the way it's always been, so I don't think there is any -- I don't think there is any difference there.

Q. I was wondering if you could expound on their running game, the formations they put in, kind of the scheme they run is a little bit different, old school.
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, it's old school, if you want to say that, or like I tend to say, things go in cycles, and you always see things cycled back through, and then it becomes very, very prominent. They give the ball to the fullback sometimes, they're moving their tight end around in all different types of formations, two tight end formations, they've used four different tight ends, they've used four or five different running backs, I believe, two different fullbacks.

They get an assortment of wide receivers in there, so they're doing a lot of good things, and they're difficult to prepare for, so they have their own dimension that is difficult to prepare for, and I think they're playing -- they're playing good football, so it will be a challenge.

Q. The key to stopping that --
COACH DANTONIO: Stop the run.

Q. Gap sound?
COACH DANTONIO: I think you've got to make plays. You can't just be "gap sound" you've got to make plays and you gotta win your battle, your little intensity -- your little war in there, battle in there. You've gotta win that and then you've got to make plays, get off blocks, gotta get off blocks, have to leverage the football, have to leverage the football, and you have to tackle in space, because they're going to keep pounding the wall until something breaks, and then you've got to be able to tackle.

Q. Mark, what about Jake Rudock? You obviously have seen him before. Does that benefit you at all this week, and does he look different than he did when he was a player at Iowa?
COACH DANTONIO: Trying to think. You know, we did not play Iowa last year, so we've got to go back to '13 on that, but I would say that, you know, he's comfortable in the offense that he's in right now. He's getting -- obviously early on maybe not so much, but they're asking him to do things -- he's a fifth year senior, so when you're a fifth year senior you're played a lot of football, I think you can adapt to a different system.

So the learning curve is not so great as when you are a freshman and learning things for the first time. You've been coached at a college level, so you're adapting, and that learning curve is much smaller, and it's more accelerated, and you can see him doing that. I think he throws -- he's thrown the ball out there, shooting it out there on quick choke routes and things of that nature, so I think he's been productive.

Q. Coach, how important is the turnover ratio going to be this game and has that been emphasized at practice?
COACH DANTONIO: We haven't practiced yet this week but turnovers are probably -- to me is one of the most crucial things in a football game, so it's emphasized every single day, ball security and get the ball.

Q. Mark, what you saw from your passing game last week, despite the offensive line that was -- Connor getting rid of the ball quickly, taking the hit, some of the big catches that were made in key situations, how promising was that for you and how much were you waiting to see that in a key moment from that group that's got a lot of veterans?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, you know, I've said all along we have great ability to throw the football. Connor Cook does a great job. He's been in big games before, he's excelled in big games before. I thought he created in the game last Saturday night.

He went to a variety of wide receivers, you know, DeAnthony Arnett caught two big plays. If you look at R.J. Shelton, the plays he made, big plays. Macgarrett Kings, big plays, 50/50 catches, and obviously Aaron Burbridge, nine catches for almost 150 yards, so big plays, and then he throws to the tight ends as well as this past week, and Paul Lang with two big catches. So everybody sorta was involved, and he spread that ball around, 27 completions I think is what he had, so he spread the ball around and was very effective. He also was able to run the ball, on the one quarterback run that was called, so made very few mistakes, made the one mistake, probably, and that it, and even if you look on the film, the guy was breaking open, and the defensive back made a great play on it.

Q. (No microphone.)

Q. That was a situational thing? Could he still come out there and just talk about special teams going into a game like this.
COACH DANTONIO: You know, if you look at one aspect of who we are as a football team right now that's got to be cleaned up is special teams. If you look at a aspect, I should say, not just one, because everybody's got more than one, but this -- historically in the last nine years we have not played like this on special teams. We've had too many things happen, working very hard to clean those things up, but it's the nature of the game so things happen, we continually say things happen in special teams, and we've got -- usually, if you have a quiet special teams day, you've done a pretty good job usually, but that's not been the case.

So can't drop the football, can't have a bad snap, can't allow people to come through on field goal block, so all those type of things. Gotta do better in certain different areas, so we will address those things and challenge our players.

Q. Mark, so often in in-state rivalries, one is up while the other is down, it's kind of a see-saw. Do you believe that both Michigan and Michigan State can be really good at the same time and what does it take to sustain that for two in-state rivals?
COACH DANTONIO: What are you asking, can we co exist?

Q. Yes.
COACH DANTONIO: Well, families do that all the time in Michigan, so I guess we can do it. But I think -- you know, all I can tell you is this is one game of the week, one game of the year. It's a very meaningful game, but you still have to win your other football games to be successful. So I think both teams can have good football teams, if that's what you're asking. It's been done before, and both teams have gone to, you know, big bowls in the past, at the same time, and things of that nature so, yeah, it can happen. We can co exist.

Q. Coach, I wanted to ask you about -- I guess Shilique said he missed a gap the other night, and I think that's the second game in a row that you've had an end that hasn't filled a gap. Is that a scheme issue or have teams found something there? What's happened with the ends in those long runs that have been popped out of there?
COACH DANTONIO: I think the term "gap sound" can be somewhat overused, sort of a term that gets thrown out there among people.

Football talk, football speak. There are different situations that create your responsibility in those gaps and so, you know, he misread one thing, and the ball creased it. We got cracked or shielded, and a corner doesn't replace. Still shouldn't have gone for what it went. I thought Hicks did a nice job running it down, make a touchdown-saving tackle, but we can't -- you can't have mistakes like that. You've got to overcome -- let's put it this way, you've got to overcome mistakes like that, which we were able to do, but you don't like to see them happen.

No, I don't think that's a history with our defensive ends or anything like that, but there is a lot of different things going on out there and people making -- it's a reactionary position, all of our positions -- especially on defense they're reactionary positions that you have to react to certain schemes and things that you see, and you have to fit it up properly, and if you don't or if there is a tackle missed or something like that happens, bad things can happen. That was a bad thing that happened.

Q. Can you speak about L.J.'s progress and how he's handled the work load, and how you think he will handle this environment?
COACH DANTONIO: Oh, I think L.J. will be fine. I think this is why he came to a place like Michigan State. He's played on a big stage already, you know, in the Oregon game on a real big stage, things of that nature, and every game here is a big stage. So I think he's handled that situation -- he will be ready to go. What will be interesting, it will his first game -- guys want to know, hey, what's it like? Well, I can't really tell you, you gotta experience it firsthand.

Q. Is there a chance Jack Allen won't play?
COACH DANTONIO: Always a chance.

Q. You don't want to update his status?
COACH DANTONIO: No, we don't talk about injuries. There is a chance he will play; there is always a chance. It's life.

Q. How much enjoyment do you get out of this week once you get through the press conference?
COACH DANTONIO: Once I get through the press conference? (Laughter.)

Q. There is more energy around the building, I'm sure --
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, yeah, there is, there is. You know, for me, personally, and probably a lot of people, a lot of players there are certain games that you measure, I've said this before, that you measure yourself against because you measure yourself against the past. You sorta keep track. You sorta keep track of what's your record against these particular teams as you move through it whether it's when you play someplace or whether it's where you coached that particular year, and it doesn't have to be the Michigan/Michigan State game it could be a different game at a different university, you tend to keep track of them.

Not to say that the other games aren't important but you just sort of put a little bit more emphasis on this so, yeah, it's exciting. There are different things going o that kinda stuff.

Q. Another injury question, Mark, just to clarify. At the end of the game Hartbarger and Cronin were replaced. Was that not injury related?
COACH DANTONIO: That would be talking about injuries.

Q. Kind of --
COACH DANTONIO: Wouldn't be fair to those guys.

Q. Was it performance related? (Laughter.)
COACH DANTONIO: Throwing me a curveball? We're going to allow our players to compete this week, and those that are able to play will play. How's that?

Q. Since 2011 when these fifth year seniors signed on, I believe you won in every Big Ten stadium except for Michigan's stadium, so I'm wondering about the 2012 game, if there is motivation or any talk about having lost that game, because I believe that's the only opportunity that a lot of these guys have had to play in that stadium.
COACH DANTONIO: No, haven't talked about that but, again, this is Monday. Really haven't talked about that. I don't really -- retribution is not the reason we play in these games. That's not -- that's not what it's about. We're looking forward -- we're always looking forward. As I said earlier, we want to learn from our past things where we didn't do so well, want to move forward and learn from the ones we did do well in. I think we have won a lot of football games, I don't think they're dwelling on that one, 2-point deal.

What we need to do is be focused on the present, understand what they do and do well, stop what they do and do well, play to our best abilities, play with great effort, come with an attitude, just like they will.

Q. Mark, due to one reason or another you've obviously had to have some offensive linemen show some adaptability. Can you talk about the job that they have done in filling gaps and changing roles throughout the games and throughout the course of the season?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, and I probably have talked a lot about that recently, but Mark Staten has done an excellent job, you know, getting our guys ready, whole, part, whole, our guys are in that room, submersed in that offensive line room, as many offensive lines are across the country, and, you know, a guard will learn how to play tackle, a tackle will learn how to play guard; we will move people around to play center. We have four different people that have played center, so we've been able to adapt.

We've got guys that can move in and out of different positions, and we've tried to square it away during games when we've had to do it, or coming into the next game, but there is no question that there -- that there are a lot of "if" or "or" type things on the depth chart, but until you practice throughout the week you really don't know where you're at. As our schedule goes, today will be our first practice this week.

Q. Mark, halfway through the season, I'm curious in you've gotten closer to understanding the identity of this football team, especially with the close wins and the way that they played down the stretch?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, you get closer. I think games like this coming upstart to define you and games throughout the rest of the season. You're only halfway through, but I think what you know about Michigan State right now is that we will hang in there and we will hang tough and we will play through some pain, and that we will play through some adversity and that we've come out on the other end, and that's the positive. Are we perfect? No. Do we have some playmakers? Yes. That's what you know, halfway through.

Q. Mark, you mentioned the big stage a couple minutes ago. What does having played in the glare of the Oregon game and having come from behind in the Big Ten road game do for you psychologically?
COACH DANTONIO: I think just what I just said, you know, I think it helps prepare for adversity. If you're winning every game by a lopsided score, then maybe you're not quite as ready to play a close game. So we have had to play some close games, where we have had to get out fourth downs, on the fourth down stop. We've had to do things at the end of the game offensively to win, to close it out. Probably the biggest thing we have done is close out games. I think you've -- again, you've got to look for reasons why you're successful and you also have to look for reasons to build on, too, and I would say that's one of the things we have been able to do is handle adversity. And I think it should give us confidence in tough games, tough environments and tough situations.

Q. Mark, now that you've taken the redshirt off Delton, what will you see from him in the running back mix going forward?
COACH DANTONIO: I think you will see him in the mix on special teams and, you know, we'll see him in the mix as a running back as well. Depends on how he plays and how he's practicing, how much we will see him, but that decision was made based on the situation in the game and everything that was going on. I thought it was the right decision to make.

Q. I think you're sitting at 99 career wins as a head coach right now does getting 100 a milestone you reflect on? What does that mean to you?
COACH DANTONIO: No, I really didn't know that, no. Getting one, getting one means something this week. That's all.

THE MODERATOR: Appreciate it, Coach.

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