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MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY FOOTBALL MEDIA CONFERENCE
November 17, 2015
East Lansing, Michigan
COACH DANTONIO: Game No. 11 for us. When you look at where we're at right now as a football program, this season, 2015, you know, we've got things at least in place in terms to control our own destiny a little bit. That's where we needed to be coming into this football game a long time ago. Not perfect, 9-1, but at least we are in control of our opportunities. Ohio State, you know, National Champions last year, and I think they were the best football team in the nation, and I said that coming into that last game that they played.
I think they have an outstanding group of players, you know, got great offensive players, great skill, I think you guys all know who those players are, great defensive players, special teams are excellent, very well coached, and if you look at Ohio State and look at what they've been able to accomplish since 2012, you know, I think I counted them up, I think they're 48-3, which is an amazing statistic.
I think they get that -- get there because I think they understand who they are, they execute, they don't get too mixed up, they execute, and, you know, they're extremely successful because of those aspects. Fundamental football. Run the ball, exploit you with the pass, make you pay down the field, hit you with the deep ball. Special teams are excellent, as I said, defensively attacking, and if you look at them statistically across the board, you will see that they're very near the top in the Big Ten in almost every statistic.
So it will be a great challenge for us as we go down there. I will take from questions and we will go from there.
Q. Mark, when you look at them offensively, the one thing that seems to be different is pass protection maybe up front; they haven't been as good as they hoped this year. What do you see here in the last year in that area?
COACH DANTONIO: They have four returning starters on their offensive line, pass protection, there is a lot that goes into it, relative to -- not just what's going on up front but, you know, your running back, protecting your running backs, the timing with your offense, with your quarterback, obviously, your routes down the field. You know, they get pressure, I think they get a lot of people, much like we've got, people taking their best shots at 'em.
Sometimes, you know, they're creating different things that maybe they have not seen or of that nature, so -- but, you know, players make plays and, you know, things happen out there.
Q. Mark, have you had a chance to see Connor throw much this week? How are you handling --
COACH DANTONIO: We don't talk about injuries, and today is our first practice.
Q. Are you still at a 9.5 out of 10?
COACH DANTONIO: I'm at a 9.5.
Q. In that case, you've talked about what he's meant to the program and kind of his legacy here. How important is this game for him as kind of a statement of, like, what he can --
COACH DANTONIO: I don't think there is that kind of pressure that needs to be put on Connor Cook. I think he's established himself here as one of the greatest quarterbacks, if not maybe the greatest quarterback, certainly one of them, in the history here.
He's won more games than any other quarterback. He's played on a big stage. He's won a Rose Bowl and been the MVP. He's won a Big Ten Championship game and been the MVP. He's played extremely well across the board throughout his career here, so I don't think it's fair to say this one game will define him.
I think this is another opportunity to establish his legacy. I think he will play well. He's always played well on a big stage, and I think he will have confidence to play well.
It's a team game, so he needs to be -- everybody else needs to be doing their job, as well and he needs to do his as well.
Q. Mark, in last year's game they did a good job of controlling your defensive line, but in talking to them yesterday, a lot of praise for the defensive line, Malik McDowell's name came up a lot. How important is that unit?
COACH DANTONIO: I think this game is usually won -- probably won in a couple of ways, turnovers, obviously any game turnovers are a huge deal, then you gotta win it up front. I think they promote toughness on their football team, defensively, offensively, in all areas, but especially up front. Then I think we do the same here. But I don't think there is any secret that they want to run the football, and we do, too; stay balanced along with that.
And then they need to stop the run and pressure the quarterback, and that's who they are as a defense as well. So the game sort of becomes dependent on those guys up front winning, and there's all different kind of ways to win up front, whether it's -- linebackers are involved and things of that nature, support from the secondary, all these different aspects.
Q. Mark, when you talk about controlling your own destiny with all the craziness that's gone on in college football, do you still feel like that includes every aspect, all the goals, including the playoffs? Is that something you still talk about with your team?
COACH DANTONIO: Absolutely. All the goals are right in front of us. We're playing the No. 2 team in the nation, the defending National Champions, so our goals are in front of us in terms of we at least have an opportunity to control our own situation. That's all you can ask for. Going into the last two weeks of the season, there is basically a week and a half left or a week and four days left in the regular season.
The object is to get to the championship game. So the first goal that we have to accomplish is to win the east. And I know if we win the next two games, we win the east. That's the only things that we can control right now. Then beyond that you take the next step. The next step is to win outright the Big Ten Championship, and then you try and take the next step. So you have to go in order, I think to get to where we want to go.
Q. Mark, looking at the secondary, Hicks back in at corner back and Cox and Nicholson back at safety, was that something you saw last Saturday or did you just want more experience on the field?
COACH DANTONIO: I think we can go a number of different directions there. We will look and see how people practice throughout the week and make the determination on who's going where in the game. I also think that they're a no-huddle offense, so we're going to play our guys. So you're going to see different guys rolling in there.
One of the most important things is that we tackle well and stay fresh and cover and play the ball down the field. So we've got to be able to do those things and do them well in the perimeter, in the secondary.
Q. Coach, we've talked about it before but you're now 5-1 against Top-10 teams. What is it about your team? That's a great record; they get up for these games. Obviously it's a big deal, but what is it about their mentality that gets them to that record?
COACH DANTONIO: I think we can play. I think we have the talent to play with the Top-10 teams in the country, I do. I believe that. I do think our guys get motivated for it, and this is another challenge, but I also think our guys respect who they're playing against, every single time. They respect their opponents, and we prepare very, very hard, for it. But we've got good players. We have to play consistently. I don't think we have yet to put our best game in front of us, play our best game, where we're hitting on all cylinders. We played close to a couple of games to that but we've got to play out best football game this Saturday if we are going to be successful; I truly believe that. But I do think that that's -- I think that we're very, very capable.
Q. Mark, you discussed talking about how you have a little more experience coming you up in the secondary and now of course Ezekiel Elliott, a big home run threat for the Buckeyes and you talked about winning the battle up front. So how big is it for you to try to have the defense force the game plan onto J.T. Barrett's shoulders to try and limit the effectiveness of Elliot and make them throw to try to beat you guys?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, you've got to stop 'em on first down first, first. You've got to make them one-dimensional if you're going to do that, so you've got to control the line of scrimmage, as we said earlier, and, you know, obviously if you can do that you can get them in long yardage situations, usually good things begin to happen, regardless of what team, what quarterback, if you get them into long yardage situations, usually good things happen.
We've got to win up front. We've got to stop the run up front and being able to play the big play-action passes, as well, explosive plays, limit explosive plays.
Q. Mark, I'm curious on your take on intangibles in a big game like this. Ohio State is the defending National Champion. We talked about the big games last year, Oregon and Ohio State and having opportunities this year for redemption; you got one. Have you talked to your team about those types of motivating factors?
COACH DANTONIO: I don't talk to our football team about redemption, you know; I talk to them about getting ready for this year. What's happened in the past has happened in the past. We can't change that, but I always want them looking forward. I think it's important we look forward and be able to accomplish the goals that we're trying to get to. I thought last we're, you know, had we won either one of those games or probably the last one, had we won that game, you know, good things were possible for this football team. I don't think there is any question about that, but -- or even greater things were. But we didn't win, so -- there were reasons why we didn't win.
We need to correct those reasons and be able to move forward, and that's what we're going to try and do. But as far as -- everybody's got a take on how they get themselves ready for a football game. I don't really care how they get themselves ready, but they just need to be ready.
They need to be ready to deliver and they -- deliver some adversity, create it, but also take it to them. We've got to be ready on both ends of the stick to be able to dish it out and take it to them and then keep comin'.
Q. Mark, you've had some instant classics with this team, especially since you've been here and Urban has been there. What's that about? Why do these two teams bring that out in each other?
COACH DANTONIO: I don't know. We got a lot of guys from Ohio on our football team, so that makes it a little bit personal. I don't think it -- I just think they want to play well when they go down to Ohio State. I think they want to play well. So it's not going down there in any kind of disrespect; they just want to play well. They want to measure up to their family and friends, because that's where they're from, and I don't care if you're from another state, when you play that particular state -- when we play Georgia, you know, with Darqueze Dennard and a couple of other guys, Keith Mumphery, that was a very important game for them to play well in, so it's just a matter of fact.
Maybe it's that, maybe it's that I'm from there, maybe it's the fact that we have a lot of coaches from there, that we've coached there, or that I've coached there. So there are some different dynamics there wrapped up that speaks to preparation. Speaks to the amount of preparation that we're going to put forth in terms of off-season studies and things of that nature, in the hopes of playing well.
Q. These have been memorable games for you, haven't they?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, they're big games, they're big games, because, you know, because I think that they've -- that they were an established program, for quite some time they've been an established program, so you've got to get yourself ready to play.
Q. Coach, how similar are these teams from a year ago in terms of when we are looking at X's and O's and schemes. Is the blueprint very similar when you look at this year's game compared to last year?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I hope not. Okay? So -- but I think we're -- you know, we've got some different personnel in there, they've had some injuries that have created some different things that they have had to go through. We have had some injuries that we have had to deal with as well. So there is that part of it. As far as who they are, in terms of what concepts they use, they do a great job in terms of keeping it fresh, a great job keeping it fresh.
What you see this year is not necessarily what you will see next year, and we need to do the same on our end, and we have tried to do the same on our end. You know, the first game in 2012 was very low scoring. Then the championship game was -- rocked back and so forth. Then last year was a high-scoring game, so we have had three different type of games play out there, so we will see what this one brings.
Q. Mark, is it fair to say in recruiting that when you first got here, the idea of getting a guy with an Ohio State offer was kind of farfetched, and now that's something that is attainable for you? Obviously you have guys with Ohio State offers, and also, just following up on that, how big is it when you play in a state that is so important for your recruiting?
COACH DANTONIO: I think the first question is you've got to recruit players. You've got to recruit the best players. Usually the best teams are on the best players, or have an opportunity to get them. So I think we have put ourselves in the hunt for some of those players, and I think recruiting is about so many different aspects, relationships and opportunity to play, you know, maybe relatives of some sort live here, there, wherever, those type of things. There are so many different aspects of recruiting that creates, you know, why a player goes to a particular school.
As far as playing in that state, I think that speaks to the young player, probably. I think the recruiting is pretty accelerated, so things have naturally sort of occurred so winning and losing in a particular stadium -- I don't know how much that has to do with it. I think it's more about some of the other things, to be honest with you, but it's not going to hurt, let's put it that way.
Q. Elliot has 15 straight 100-yard gains and no one has been able to slow him down. How come no one has been able to even slow him down?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, they've got a good offensive line, they've got other dynamic players that take pressure off of him, so you can't get one-dimensional just on him. They want to run the football, so they're going to feed the guy, and he's a downhill runner, an extremely powerful runner, and probably one of the best tailbacks in the country, and his nobody's add up to that. Not just his numbers but his blocking, his receiving. He's a very, very good football player.
You could put him on the kickoff team -- you could put him probably at any position, any skilled position, you know, front seven-type -- I mean, linebacker, you could put him in a lot of different positions because he's a physical player. He brings the physicality to the running back position, no question.
Q. I guess we don't have to worry about like Nebraska, fans being too nice, because they are not very nice there; they have rocked our news car when we've been there, just trying to park, but I'm wondering if a hostile environment brings out the best in competitors?
COACH DANTONIO: I think we enjoy playing in packed houses away from home. That's part of the college football experience. You need to learn how to play well away, which, you know, we were one -- you had to bring that up, but we were one game away from being perfect in that area this year, so gotta play well away. I think we have been able to do that, and this is another example of this opportunity, of an opportunity.
Q. Kind of on that same note, no losses is a good loss, but can you say after two weeks since that Nebraska game that your team may be refocused or was able to re galvanize itself after having that happen?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, young people are resilient, you know. I think they are able to move on a little faster than coaches.
The one thing about that particular loss that was a positive, it wasn't a loss within the division, and we play the people -- you know, we play Ohio State moving forward, and we won -- I thought the Maryland game was a huge situation for us, because it put us in a situation where we would at least be in control of what's going on; we weren't going to have to have anybody else's help.
Q. Mark, we talked a little about winning up front and Malik is a guy who really didn't have a huge role in that game last year, but has really kind of proven to a bit of a difference maker on the inside this year. Can he be that kind of guy in a game like this that flips things for you?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, Malik McDowell needs to be a difference maker in every game he's playing. He's to that level of play right now, he played very well last game. We will get our front seven, Joel Heath will be back so our front seven will be healthy, and that will be a big aspect of the game. We've got to play well up there.
Last year I thought we did not win at the line of scrimmage, so we've got to be able to do that, and it goes back and forth, but when you look at the final day, a lot of it was patience by J.T. Barrett. But great running ability, some different things that -- some different things where we got caught structurally, because there is always structural issues that go along with blocking and tackling, those types of things, too, trying to rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul-type of things, you know, with your coverage or whatever the case. So we've got to be able to play, I don't think there is any question about that; we've got to be able to play and play functionally and fundamentally well.
Q. A follow-up to that: Last year's game, do you partly chalk that up to Barrett had the a phenomenal game, and their offense was clicking, or did you learn some things defensively that you will be able to use going forward?
COACH DANTONIO: I think you're always learning. You know, there was some physical errors, some mental errors and then some structural errors. I think that's the nature when you don't succeed, or in every game whether you're successful not or not, things don't go perfectly. But we gave up some deep plays, we had an opportunity to go up 28-14, with three minutes left in the half. Called for a holding call, takes us back. We missed the field goal. Next play, big play, 71-yard touchdown. We did not have any net for that young man, so we missed the tackle, but I think structurally we were hurt on that play.
Prior to that, it's third and 22, throw the ball over our head on a perfect pass, perfect execution, Devon Smith, but I don't care, it's third and 22, you can't get beat over the top, so gotta make the play on that one. Then they hit us down the seam in cover one, to go up 28-21. So we go three and out, and they get the ball back, and so it goes from 28-14 to 28-21 them, in a matter of three minutes.
And you walk in the locker room sort of just like, what happened? I think that took the wind out of our sails a little bit, even though we tried not to, and then we gotta make 'em punt.
Credit them. I think their quarterback ran very effectively. I think he was very patient with his running. I think he's a very patient runner, and he's a physical runner. So they made plays, but they made plays throughout, even after our games. They continued to make plays throughout the season, and that's why they ended up National Champions, but I do think some of the things can be prevented, but we've got to make the play. That's easy to sit up here and say that, but you've gotta to make plays. Then you gotta give them a chance to make the plays, and you are not always going to be perfect on the calls you make, but you've gotta give them a change to make the plays as well sometimes.
Not that we didn't; I'm not saying that, but I'm just saying that, you know, it's a chess match. They've got good coaches, they've got great coaches; they've got great players. I like to think that we have great coaches and great players as well, but you're not always going to guess right or anticipate correctly. You've got to make plays, too. Gotta respond. When adversity hits us, we've got to respond.
Q. (No microphone.)
COACH DANTONIO: Not yet.
Q. When you think back to your time here as an assistant and then coordinating down at Ohio State, first of all, do you agree that there has been a relative equality to the rivalry that's grown and secondly, Mark, how surprised are you that frankly that has happened?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, when I was here before we had great games against Ohio State, you know, '98 we went down and won, but also if you remember back in '99, they came here and we won, it was a big defensive game and we won that football game. In '97 they blocked a punt, I believe, or something happened, they won, going away. Back up here, it would have been 2008, I believe, they came up here and we had a good football team, and Pryor ran down the field, and I couldn't believe how fast he was. He just was going by me. But, you know, didn't play well in that game, but we both came into the game with big records.
So we have had some big games with them, some games that were very anticipated games. People were excited about the opportunities and things that lay ahead. So we've got to measure up, there is no question.
Q. As a follow-up to that, we're so conditioned in this region to think Michigan and Ohio State, Michigan and Ohio State and for good reason --
COACH DANTONIO: Not really. (Laughter.)
Q. Seriously in this region, whether you would agree with it or not, that's been the norm now for 46 years.
COACH DANTONIO: Uh-huh.
Q. Is there an equality here, which I guess you just answered.
COACH DANTONIO: In terms of us versus Ohio State? We're competing. We're competing every single week and we look forward to every game on our schedule and there are some very big games on our schedule, and we get ready for 'em. I think when you go to the end of the year, next week's game is a very important game, too, because it's the end of the year. So everything gets ramped up even more because these games have more meaning at the end of the year, as well as the OSU/Michigan game; they just have more meaning because it's the end of the year. The win and the loss are determining factors in where you go, what bowl games do you go to, do you win the east or not. Those type of things get entered into it, so that's as big as anything. If we were playing the fifth game, we would be past that and we would be moving on to something else here, but this is our 11th game of the season and, you know, this is -- it's all coming down the funnel.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, Coach.
COACH DANTONIO: Thanks, guys.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports