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November 3, 2015

Mark Dantonio

East Lansing, Michigan

COACH DANTONIO: Morning. Coming off a bye week, I thought it was very productive for us. We were able to get a lot of things done. First of all, stayed fresh, had practice on Sunday, brief, and then we'll go today. But I think our football team is ready to go.

Got some things done relative to Nebraska starting early, obviously, and then also recruited this past week. So positive there. Great challenge and opportunity waiting for us at Nebraska. Tremendous tradition there. Went their numerous times. I guess four times when I was between being at Kansas, University of Kansas, I think this is my fifth time going there to play there. I was at the University of Kansas twice going up there and also went there once when I was an assistant here at Michigan State.

So obviously those meetings weren't too good, but I have a great respect for what they do and what their fans bring and how they do it at the University of Nebraska.

Offensively, when you look at Nebraska right now, I think things center around the quarterback situation, so Tommy Armstrong is obviously an effective guy that's been playing for a long time. Throws the ball very effectively. Can run it. I know he's got some injury problems, but we'll see how all that works out.

I was impressed with the quarterback this last week coming out there, fighting and coming out there for the first time. Had some interceptions, but also threw the ball effectively down the field. Running backs, solid situation. Receivers very solid defensively, two big defensive tackles, very impressive. Their safety is outstanding as well. Let me get everybody's name here.

Nate Gerry has been playing for a while there. South Dakota tried to recruit him as well as we went through this. So good football team. Well-coached football team. Mike Riley I've known for quite a while. He's an outstanding coach. I know going through some things as all programs do, but they'll be ready to play. So I'll just take some questions and go from there.

Q. I asked you about Coach Riley. One of the good guys, one of the guys if you go up against in recruiting you don't have to worry about any funny business, all of those things I curious, when you face guys that you like and guys that you know and respect, is it less fun for you as a coach in those situations?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, on game day I'm just about trying to win a football game and doing our business there prior to the game and after the game it's a different situation, I think. But as the game is going on, I think you're trying to concentrate on exactly what you have to do to win a football game. So that's sort of a little bit out of context for me as a coach as we move through it. But when Jim Tressel's standing on the sidelines or the other side of the sideline, it's no different. You try to win and compete.

Q. When you were at Kansas going head-to-head in recruiting with those guys, how many times did you win a player in those years that you were there?
COACH DANTONIO: Head-to-head? Head-to-head. Oh, we weren't going head-to-head too often, I don't think. My wife used to call it the big red machine. Okay, but I can't think of any times when we went head-to-head. I'm sure there were. I'm sure there were. We had some great players at KU at that time. Dana Stubblefield, Gilbert Brown, some really excellent football players. But at that point in time, I can't remember that aspect of it.

Q. How different is the dynamic now in college football than back then for a school that had it rolling for so long, in terms of being able to stockpile recruits? How different is the landscape now?
COACH DANTONIO: I think Coach Osborne developed a culture there. They had a system in place of what they ran at that point in time, option football, G-option football defensively, offensively. They had almost unlimited resources in terms of football players because of the way non-scholarship players were set up. So they had an overabundance of players.

They used to say that you could go in there and they had three different -- almost three different teams working. You'd go to this station and they'd run these type of plays. Then you'd go to this station and run these types. They'd just rotate. They had ones, two and threes rotating. They had scout-teamers for all of them.

Now that may be hearsay, but that's what I heard. So everything was a lot different back then. College football in general, there is a lot of parity now in college football, and things have changed in terms of numbers and things of that nature, in terms of numbers of players and that type of thing. More parity.

Q. You talked about your record in November. I think it was nine straight wins on the road in November. How much do you talk about that with your team, protecting that? How significant is that to you?
COACH DANTONIO: I think it's significant the fact that you've got to win on the road if you're going to compete for championships here. There is no question about that. Also we paint that picture to give ourselves confidence, so we do paint that picture. We do talk about what's gone on here in the past for us, and hopefully that repeats itself in the future. But it will be a great challenge out there.

Q. Obviously winning at Nebraska has never been really easy, and this team has had difficulty with injuries moving from close games and now pressure from people outside. Does that make going and winning in that environment even tougher when it's a team that feels like their back is up against the wall a little bit?
COACH DANTONIO: I think so. They've had injuries, we've had some injuries as well. I think that's the nature of where everybody's at right now. You look across the scope of this conference, and things are happening on every football team that has an impact.

So Nebraska's not an easy place to go play, period. End of story. I think our players understand that. We need to be ready mentally as well as physically, and we need to go there with an edge and take our best game there. That's what we have to do. No question though.

Q. You just talked about how you understand what Nebraska's going through as a program, Mike Riley is going through some things much like you did in 2012, five losses by 13 points. Do you think that -- but you said now you know how to win. Do you think this program needed to go through those close losses in order to learn how to win?
COACH DANTONIO: Tough to say that. You don't ever want to say that. Just we need needed to find the inches. I think we knew how to win, we just didn't find the inches and the next year we found the inches. Hopefully we're still trying to find those as we move forward. That's something that senior leadership brings and players with experience brings and those type of things.

Obviously, when there is change, you start to redevelop your program. When there is change, you're always going to step back before you step forward. There is always going to be that, I don't think without question. That's going to happen. So we went through our problems as we move forward, and it's always going to be challenging.

College football though is very difficult to win. I don't care who we play. It's extremely difficult to win. You can talk to anybody at anyplace and they're going say the same things. Any head coach is going to say the same thing. It's difficult to win, period.

Q. Regardless of who starts under center for Nebraska, they have a great wide receiver in Jordan Westerkamp. Have you talked to the secondary or any special game planning around him whether one player will be assigned to him or is it go through it like any other wideout?
COACH DANTONIO: They've got a collection of wide receivers. I know Riley might be banged up a little bit. Westerkamp is a guy that's been playing quite a while, an expert player, gamer. Stanley Morgan, No. 8, is a true freshman to get the ball to him. They've got four or five guys to make plays for him at the wide receiver position, and they seem to play them all. You certainly have to know where number one is at. There is no question.

Q. Tonight the first college football rankings come out. How important is that to you in the program?
COACH DANTONIO: I'll be watching film. I think the end game is what's important. What happens four and a half weeks or so from now, that is the bottom line. There are a lot of big games that are going to impact those playoff or those four teams or however people are ranked, that's going to impact those as we move forward.

So can't control what happens tonight. Past is behind us. We need to move forward. I'm sure I'll hear about it tomorrow or late tonight. Didn't have that much of an impact on us.

Q. Was the bye week as recuperating health-wise as you hoped it would be?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I think so. We got healthy. Lot of bumps and bruises sort of healed up or fatigue on some players. Certainly the guys that were hurt responded as well, so that's positive. I think that's what we needed to do.

Q. If you ask about health, it doesn't qualify as an injury question, does it? Like is Jack Allen and Madre London, are they healthy?
COACH DANTONIO: I don't think they have a cold or anything like that.

Q. So you can't say?
COACH DANTONIO: I can't say.

Q. Just reading the depth chart, Darian Hicks is not on it. Is it possible that Darian Hicks is looking at a long, long-term absence here?
COACH DANTONIO: We're going to have to see based on how practice goes this week. That's as gray as I can be.

Q. That 2011 trip to Nebraska, can you refresh me on that game? What do you remember about that trip from Michigan State?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, we were flat. That's what I remember. We didn't come out of the very first play out of the kickoff. Larry Capers got hit and had a concussion. We never really responded. We were just sort of flat. It was our first time being there as a program since maybe 1995, '96. Didn't really know what to expect or how to handle it, and I think that showed. I don't think we played our best football that year, certainly, that was the one game.

We learned from that though. We learned from that football game, and when we went back out there in 2013 we played much better. So we have a core group of players from our football team that have been out there in '13, quite a few of them, and they lead the league. We need to understand what we're getting involved with.

Q. In talking about the rankings and winning in November, how difficult is it to keep your players focused just on your own task and not look around the rest of the country and scoreboard watch when you're up that high in the rankings?
COACH DANTONIO: Hopefully that's a sign of maturity. We've been in this situation before. We've had a good football team last year, was on the verge of being in a playoff situation last year. Understand what happened. We went to the Cotton Bowl and that's great. It was a very exciting time for us. But the year before we understand what went on the year before as well. So hopefully our seniors understand that. We talk a lot about it. You better focus on the task at hand. There's no reason to look forward past that.

But you also need to understand we have a great opportunity in front of us. Really we're in control of those opportunities. Nobody else. We're in control of those opportunities. We have people left on our schedule beginning with this weekend that can start to tell the story of Michigan State, so we need to start with that aspect.

I think our players will be very excited to go out there. I think it's a great place to play, fan base, environment, everything that's there for us from an opportunity standpoint. So our players will be focused.

Q. If you guys are able to get the offensive line back and everyone back to the positions they were in the preseason, what kind of boost can that be to the offense and the running attack?
COACH DANTONIO: Our offensive line is experienced. When we're all sitting there all together, we're experienced. They've played together for quite a while. So hopefully that pays dividends. It should pay dividends.

Q. What is the value of winning somewhere before like you did in 2013 there for the first time? As I recall, that may have been the first game that this group of offensive players were kind of needed by the defense and came through.
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I think when you go to a place and you haven't won before, you play poorly and then you respond and go back and play well. I think it just gives you a confidence booster that, hey, we can win in that environment. I think that was one of the last places that we had not won.

But we've taken pride in winning in every stadium in this conference away. It's more difficult when you go away, and we take great pride in going there and understanding that there is a crowd that you have to play in front of that's not necessarily yours. So it's challenging.

Q. After 2011 listening to the guys talk about your own players, it was just weird. The fans there applauded them, thanking you when they got off the bus. They talked about it was almost hard to get jacked up. How do you prepare the guys going into an environment when they've never played like that, even if they go to the next level?
COACH DANTONIO: In 2013, they weren't so kind. So I think it sometimes depends on the score a little bit. So I just think it's a very competitive environment, and it's a college environment, much like we play in out here. Like across the Big Ten, it's just a great college environment to play in and a lot of excitement. A lot of -- it's loud. It's everything you want in college football.

Q. Just wonder what Joel Heath has given you this here year? He's kind of an underrated guy. Even off the field he is quietly a leader and mentor for guys. He seems like he's playing maybe his best football this year.
COACH DANTONIO: I think he is, and we constantly talk about our seniors having their best year. As a senior, you better have your best year at Michigan State if we're going to be greatly successful. I think he's doing that. I think Donavon Clark is another guy doing that. And both those guys are from Cincinnati and quiet individuals.

As they get to be a fifth-year senior, you start to see them assume the leadership responsibility or attitude. They're very at ease in speaking out now and talking to everybody. So they take on a whole different demeanor, just like Blake Treadwell did in 2013. These guys are quiet, reserved individuals. But by the time they get to be a senior and in their last month of football here, really, regular season, they take on a whole different persona in a positive way.

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