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MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY FOOTBALL MEDIA CONFERENCE
October 26, 2015
East Lansing, Michigan
MARK DANTONIO: Just to recap the game, again, I thought pretty much what we had said Friday or Saturday evening; I thought great performance by Connor Cook, outstanding job by our wide receivers catching the ball, a lot of tight throws, tight windows to throw the ball into. Got some pressure, used a lot of different offensive linemen again this week. David Beedle played 40 plays, Brandon Clemons in there. I thought our running backs played hard but probably missed a couple creases a couple times which they could have made additional yards.
Fourth quarter was big offensively when you really look at it, and again, offensively, zero turnovers, which is huge. We had, I guess, maybe the one turnover on the fumbled snap maybe, but that's a big positive.
And then defensively, you know, as always, IU games seem to be very fast paced early on and things happen early on and then we sort of recover a little bit and play better down the stretch, and that's exactly what happened defensively for us this week, as well.
But I thought we ran very well. Not too many times did we get caught with their fast substitution offense, so that was positive, and I thought we tackled pretty well. We shut them down the second half.
It's definitely a challenge.
Special teams played well, and we're looking forward to the next challenge.
Q. How does the way Connor Cook is playing perhaps change the way you game plan or call an offense when you have the luxury of having somebody who's hitting those tight windows and doing what he's doing as a senior?
MARK DANTONIO: Well, I went into the game and said to our football team, we're going to be who we are. I always say what are the keys to victory, and I said offensively we've got to be who we are. We've got to be balanced. We're not the type of people who are going to throw the ball 50 times a game, and then I come out of the game and saw we threw the ball 52 times maybe and a couple sacks and a couple different things going on.
So we did throw it more, but we had 96 plays or 98 plays.
I don't know that we game plan specifically to say he's going to do more. Our quarterbacks have always done a lot here. They've always been asked to do a lot. But the productivity that we're getting from our quarterback position obviously is great, but it still to me means who are we playing against, who are the match-ups, what do we have to do to win the football game, and I've always felt like we've got to be balanced. We have good running backs, and we've got to be able to take clock.
But obviously it's a big, big component that he's able to play as well as he is.
Q. Prior to about the midway point of 2013, your offenses have been what they are, and then somewhere roughly around the midpoint, they opened up a little bit more, in all of '14. This year it's gone back a little bit to the past. You made it clear yesterday that ultimately it's your decision, but do you still need to stay committed to the run but open up a little bit more like you did in 2014 with this offense?
MARK DANTONIO: I think that we need to continue just the same thing I just answered there. We need to be balanced as a football team. We need to have the ability to run the football, otherwise you're going to get different coverages that are safer to play from a coverage perspective. But if you can run the football and you can make them bring an extra person into the box, then things get easier to throw the football.
And so you see that over and over. You see that with teams across the country. They force you into man-to-man coverage things that are -- or they pull that back in the box to play that extra gap that you create in different ways, and things start to happen better on the pass side of things, in the passing game.
I think you see that happen. So I don't think that we're going to sit there and say, 1st down, 2nd down, 3rd down we're going to throw it all the time. I'm disappointed if we're not balanced because I think we need to be balanced. As impressive as anything is the lack of interceptions and lack of fumbles, and again, the windows that we're throwing the ball into are extremely tight, and our wide receivers are winning their individual battles to get the football, and the ball is right on the money and on time, and I think that's what you're seeing.
Q. You mentioned the running backs, looking at them maybe missing some cuts here and there. With Madre coming back soon, you'll have four guys now. Is there something to be said for letting a guy go for a while to gain some sort of rhythm and maybe those things come as the game goes? How do you guys approach that?
MARK DANTONIO: I think we let all of our running backs, we try and give them a rhythm, whether it's within a series or within a particular quarter, and then as the game progresses, whoever has got that rhythm and whoever is playing the best, you end up seeing that guy take on more carries, but I think this past week we were pretty balanced. Certain guys do certain things a little bit better at certain times and in those certain situations they're going to get the reps, so a guy is a better pass protector, better pass receiver, guy is a little bit better runner, guy is young, doesn't understand some things as well as other guys, it all gets flipped around in there and tossed around, and then inevitably they all can do it all, but inevitably choices are made. So choices get made as the game progresses.
I don't think that's a bad thing. We've always done that here. We've always -- there's been times, believe me, when Bell was a true freshman I said, he needs to be in the game; get him in. As the season wore on, it became more Larry Caper and Edwin Baker in that first year.
The next year not necessarily the same situation.
It just depends on who's got the hot hand and who's breaking tackles, who's running through tackles and who's got the vision.
Q. In addition to the obvious healing and everything, is this a chance to recharge the battery for the players and coaches, too?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, I think it is. We have not had any bye -- we've been going since August, so we've had no bye, no downtime, and I just think that after eight games, we've done what we needed to do. It's not perfect, but we are 8-0 right now, so we've done what we need to do. We need to heal up. We need to sort of get fresh. We need to look forward. We don't need to look forward to a grind, we need to look forward to the next opportunities and the next challenge. It's not like our guys won't be working. They'll be working a couple hours a day. But I think that the pounding and the hitting is going to be nonexistent this week. We're going to make it into next week without a guy getting a shoulder or something of that nature, hopefully, unless they drop it on their foot or something, weight on their foot, which has happened.
Q. Talking about balance, with Jack Allen, when he comes back, you'll have the offensive line fully intact, first time since the second game against Oregon. How much of that is getting balanced, and then just moving forward, how important will that be to have the depth you have now on the offensive line? Will you use that more than you would have earlier in the year because those younger guys have gotten reps?
MARK DANTONIO: I think that'll be up to Coach Staten as the game progresses. Every game is a little bit different. Are guys tired? Are they having some missed assignments? What's going on in there? But it gives us a lot of different ways to go about things, and I think that's a positive. Guys won't be stressing when they go in for the first time. A redshirt freshman won't be stressed out when he goes in there for the first time. He'll have had that luxury of having game experience.
So all those things are positive, and like I say -- I don't think I've ever come in here and complained about our issues injury-wise, I've just always said in the end it should make us a better football team overall. It should allow players to move forward and be more comfortable with game experience.
I can't really answer that, although I'll just say that we've got more depth there than I thought we probably did.
Q. Can you update us on the status of Drake Martinez?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, Drake is -- I don't like to talk about injuries, but he's progressing and he should be able to go very soon. He's been sort of hampered. He's been out.
Q. And just to follow up on that, I don't think we're going to have another availability with you until next Tuesday, so could you talk a little bit about Nebraska; they've had these five losses by 13 points. It's strikingly similar to 2012. How dangerous of an opponent is this for you?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, really haven't watched them too much other than on TV a little bit. I have great respect for Mike Riley, as a football coach and as a person. Understand how difficult it is to play at Nebraska and the traditions that they have, the environment that they play in, and the players that they have.
So with that being said, you know, we expect a great football game. They've been just like you said, right on the verge basically of just like we were in 2012. We could have probably won 10 games that year.
But that's where they're at, and we have to go over and we have to play extremely well to be able to come away with a win. It'll be a challenge. They all are going to be challenges. I will say that.
Q. You talked about how much you ask the quarterback position to do. How complex is it, what you ask Connor Cook or quarterbacks before him in terms of them making some calls and checks at the line versus a quarterback in a spread offense that's looking over when they see something different. How much more asking the quarterback to play the entire position are you doing here and similar to the NFL than a lot of other places?
MARK DANTONIO: Well, I can't answer to what other people are doing. I can say that a quarterback for us is about decision making. It's about varying the snap count. It's about changing up the play at the line of scrimmage. It's about proper read or the reads that he has as he goes through his progression every single play. There's sometimes he makes the exact right reads, there's other times he doesn't. I mean, that's the nature of the position. But the quarterback position is clearly about choices as much as anything. His arm strength and all the things that he has physically are outstanding and gives him a shot, but if he's not making the right decisions, things have a tendency to break down.
I think he's done a great job with it, and he's got a lot of, I guess, latitude I guess you'd say to make changes at the line of scrimmage and to go about things as he sees fit, and I think that's the value of having an experienced quarterback.
Our coach is going to say, oh, no, why did he do that; of course they are. That's all a good job. As I say to Coach Warner, are you going to run the ball here on 3rd and 5, and then it rips for seven yards, and I'm like, "good call."
But I think the same thing holds true for the quarterback. He's in a decision-making position, and there's a lot of confidence in him. There's also a lot on his shoulders to make those decisions, but he's very at ease with that, and that's what's making him, I think, so dynamic back there. He's got a lot of confidence.
Q. When did you come up with this bye week plan? Is it mostly related to the injuries or at the two-third mark is it always good to step away for a while?
MARK DANTONIO: Well, we've always chosen to recruit. I think everybody recruits a little bit. We've always given them a little bit more time off. I think we've always given them a Sunday off, actually, but we always also have practiced during the week, sort of mid-week. So made that decision last Tuesday. Was going to practice and then I sort of started looking at it and saying, you know what, what's the value of one practice where you're going to be working -- what's the value of it relative to what's the value to be gained if we didn't get anybody hurt, and we just made sure that we were working to condition them and to get their strength level as high as we can going into November, which if you have three really solid lifts as opposed to maintenance lifts, I think that you're going to gain some strength back. Not that we're a weak football team, but I think you get more of your maximum strength back, and I think that's what we need for the stretch run in November.
Q. Did you come up with that at the Eagles council and how did the players respond to that?
MARK DANTONIO: No, I didn't. I felt like they'd probably respond pretty well. I didn't think I'd have anybody saying, oh, Coach, we want to practice. But they've earned that by the way that we've been able to work through our schedule, and I just think that's where we're at. We're already playing our young guys, so it's not like we've got to say we've got to work our young guys and get them some experiences. They're playing, and everybody needs to stay fresh. I really believe that you need to be at your peak at games and you can't grind down people. They need to be fresh. They need to be rested, too. Hopefully we're going to get our sleep. I would like for them to go home this weekend if they can, get back home, maybe see a high school game. Hopefully our guys will get out of here for the weekend, too. That's the plan.
Q. For a coach it sounds like it's a fairly normal week, but what is Saturday of bye week like? Do you get some popcorn and watch TV?
MARK DANTONIO: I'm going to have a bye.
Q. Do you second-guess coaches like we all do and watch some games?
MARK DANTONIO: I'm going to watch some games and who knows what else, maybe an odd job or something. I'll obviously be watching Nebraska, but whoever else we're going to play in November, but at the same time I think it's good for us to get away and just sort of get fresh, as well.
Q. Do you look forward to that?
MARK DANTONIO: Absolutely. I've been counting this down.
But again, you know, I think the big thing is we are where we wanted to be at the beginning of the season. We wanted to be 8-0 going into the bye week, and however you shake it out, it's not been easy, there's no question about it, but we are 8-0 going into the bye week, so that's a big goal attained.
Q. Not an injury question but an update from you, please; Montez Sweat, what's his status?
MARK DANTONIO: Right now he is still suspended from the football team.
Q. I know you get wrapped up in your own season, but I was wondering if you happened to notice last Saturday, Pittsburgh wins late and they use a fake punt to keep that drive going. Did you happen to notice that, and I wonder if you had any interesting play calls for that one?
MARK DANTONIO: No, I'd have to give them a call. No, I didn't know that they faked a punt for it. I knew they were winning close and they won close again this week. When you start winning close that's a sign of a good football team and you build confidence like that. You really do. You start to feel like, hey, we can make plays down the stretch; there's pressure on us and we can make plays.
Q. You mentioned going out recruiting this week. How nice it to walk into high schools for all of your coaches with an 8-0 record right now?
MARK DANTONIO: You know, to be able to walk in like that I think is a testament to the culture of our program and to the program right now where we're at and what's been being done, and I think we can sell that. That's one of our main goals that we want to be able to attain when they're here, when a player is here, and we want to win at a high level, and I think we're doing that right now.
Q. I was wondering how you're feeling about things right now. Do you feel any differently about your team after the last couple weeks, getting to where you are now at 8-0, seeing some young guys emerge in the back end on defense, healthier?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, I sort of feel like there's a good buzz in our team. There's a good mixture of older players and young players, so there's the newness of players who haven't played before that are starting to play a little bit, and they bring a little bit of a different excitement. There's the older players now really going into their last month of football, and our seniors saying, okay, I've got four more games to play, and the chips on the table have gotten quite large now. What am I going to be able to do to finish the job, so there's an excitement to that, as well.
I feel good about our football team. Somehow, some way, we've got guys that at times play extremely well and other guys need to play a little bit better, but that's the nature of college football when you look around the country. That's what happens. We sort of lean on each other, and there's a good feeling among our football team. There's a positive attitude, and I'm sure next week when we come back and we start practicing, there's going to be a new conviction, even newer conviction. I guess, I think, there is conviction here, but there's going to be a buzz because we've been off and we're looking forward. We don't have to look behind right now because there's nothing back there that we have to regret, so we can just look forward, and I think that's positive.
Q. In your opening statement you said something about the team ran well. What do you mean by that? On defense?
MARK DANTONIO: On defense. I thought our football team -- you look at the film and you watch our defensive linemen, you see No. 4 and No. 8 sprinting down the field, and 89 and 92 and some of the others, and our linebackers going inside out. We ran to the football very effectively, so if there were completions and there were plays, they were limited plays. I think we had one run which was a gap issue relative to the coverage that we just got caught in, and then over 15 yards and three passes over 20 yards, one of which was a coverage blow, one of which was a pressure where the linebackers didn't pressure so we didn't get enough pressure, and then one fade, one nine, one long ball route that, hey, they made the play.
So I thought we played pretty well, but we ran to the football, and we substituted well, and I think that's what you have to do. So we played a lot of players again. Going against these type of offenses, we play a lot of players.
Q. Do you feel like some of your now reserved defensive backs are improving their ability to run to the ball, also, and if there's one or two areas in the team that you'd like to see improve to get to your usual standard, what would those areas be?
MARK DANTONIO: I think our young players are coming. The more they play, the better they're going to get in the secondary. I think they feel more at ease with themselves. But I thought Montae Nicholson played well, which was great to see. He's sort of been up and down a little bit, so I thought he played well. We played Tyson Smith at corner. Not very much but enough to play him to say, okay, the redshirt is off of him, we're going to start -- he's going to show up in other areas on the field, and in the secondary he's a solid two. I thought Edmondson played well. Arjen Colquhoun played well, Greyson and Kahri. Greyson played well, Kahri probably took a little bit of a step back from the Michigan game but still played very solid. Demetrious Cox, leader back there right now. Got a lot of action his way.
And then in answer to your second question, which I'm finally remembering what the second questions are, I guess, so I think from a defensive -- from a team perspective, what do we want to do better over the course of eight games? We want to play more solid on special teams, and although I thought we played well this past week with the exception of one bad snap, but we've got good players on that team and we're getting more players back that really will show up on that team. Gerald Holmes shows up on all special teams and he's doing an outstanding job at tailback, but he's also doing very, very well as a special teams player. Shows up.
Offensively we want to be able to be balanced and run the football, which I think is there, and we'll get our offensive line back. We're been protecting the quarterback pretty well, got hit too many times I think this last game and the game before, more than usual, but that should shore ourselves up and make our passing game more effective, if that's possible, because we are playing very well there.
And defensively we've been stopping the run. Linebackers play well and we're healthy, and the secondary we're banged up a little bit, but there's a turnover there in terms of who's playing.
I think right now we're trending up.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports