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November 24, 2015

Mark Dantonio

East Lansing, Michigan

COACH DANTONIO: First and foremost, just want to acknowledge and let everyone know at the University of Michigan and Chad Carr's family that we're deeply sorrowed by his passing on Monday. It's tragic when those type of things happen, and just wanted to reach out.

Also want to congratulate Sarah Kovan who was with our soccer team. She's just become a Rhodes Scholar and selected as a Rhodes Scholar this week, so want to congratulate her.

Big program win last week, obviously. Gives us double digit wins, I think, for the fifth time here since 2010, so that's exciting. Our seniors last game will be a big, big part of this game. Got a large group of seniors and guys that we win one more football game, they tie the all-time record for the most wins going back, I think, to the class last year and the class before it, actually. So added significance there.

Then, obviously, our goal is to win the east. That is the first primary object of this football game, beat Penn State, win the East. Penn State has a good football team. Very impressed with their defense. 44 sacks, leads the Big Ten Conference, physical, very physical front, physical linebackers, thumpers. Secondary plays well. I think they have an outstanding quarterback in Hackenberg. Very talented freshman running back, Barkley, and skilled players that surround them. So I'll take some questions and we'll go from there.

Q. Last year after Senior Day, Kurtis Drummond said everyone talks about players leaving, but he said it hit him when he hugged you with his family before the game that you'd become such a big part of his life that he wasn't going to see you every day. And he got emotional and said it was like leaving a father. I'm just curious, you see these kids on the football field and people see your interaction, but how difficult is Senior Day? Because football is a very small part of the impact you have on their lives.
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, Senior Day is not too bad for me. A tough day for me is the last practice at bowl game, at the bowl game. Because we'll have another month together and some practices, but that last bowl practice is when it hits me that these guys are gone. And it's so abrupt because guys are graduating and they're leaving. Guys are going to work out on their own and they're leaving. You don't see them. All of a sudden, there is just sort of a void. You don't see them. It's sort of very rapid. It's just like sort of a cutoff.

But I appreciate what he says. I always say our goals are about the relationships with our players and that stands as our goal as people. It's a people-driven job, people driven.

Q. Going off that, you just mentioned how these seniors, if they win on Saturday have a chance to tie the winningest classes of all time. Is it extra special for these guys, players like Connor and Shilique who have played such a big role these past few years that they get to have their Senior Day at home, where this program has been so dominant for the better part of the last half decade?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I think it's exciting when they have it at home, it's also emotional. We have to take the emotional aspect out of it because we need to be ready to play this football game. So that's very, very critical to, I think us playing in this game. You've got to make sure that things are, as much as we can make it the same, you need to concentrate on the football game. It is an emotional aspect of it. I think it's exciting. Should have a great crowd. It's an exciting day. A chance to win a championship against a very good quality football team. Penn State, Michigan State, we've had great games in the past, and that type of thing.

It started back with Coach Paterno and Coach Perles when Penn State entered the Big Ten Conference, I believe, and they started playing that game at the end of the season. So there is a little history there to that. So it should be an exciting moment.

Q. I think you said yesterday Connor is day-to-day. As far as Damion and Tyler O'Connor go, do you look at expanding a package for them? It's obviously a just in case kind of thing. Did they pretty much do what they can do last Saturday?
COACH DANTONIO: No, they run the same package. I don't want to talk about football, but we don't create packages for guys. They're in our system. They need to grow within our system. It's not like these guys only run these plays. They need to grow within our system.

I think our game plan last week was a little more predicated on weather as much as anything else.

Q. We've talked in the past about coming off a big win and what you have to do to get them back focused quickly. It seems that's something they've done really well on their own through the last few years. What is the key to making this team dial back so quickly?
COACH DANTONIO: When you come and you first get here, you sort of get rocked in one game and you have to respond. This is a process. And I say it all the time, everybody sees the product, but they don't see the process that goes into what we're trying to become or what we have become. But maturity, senior leadership, maybe having games where we didn't respond early in the time here. Now the big point of emphasis is after a big game, how do you handle it? Whether it's something bad or whether it's something good, but after you've done something, how do you handle it? How do you handle success? How do you handle adversity?

And I think that's the message we try to send our guys not just about football, but about everything they're trying to do. Hopefully that's getting through. But no more critical time than this game. There is no more critical time than this game. We need to be ready to play, and I think we will.

Q. I wondered if you noticed at the basketball game last night there was a new cheer called the Geiger? Did you see that?
COACH DANTONIO: I heard that was going to happen. I was in meetings and stuff, so I didn't see it. But I heard it might happen. Somebody told me that.

Q. Your two arch rivals, you never led for a second and won both games, and two guys became instant heros that were otherwise not. What's that say about what you've preached for years here about seizing the moment?
COACH DANTONIO: I think you've got to play until the last play of the game. We've played certainly for that play this last week. We just keep playing. The game is not ever over until it's done. At the end of the day we can go through all the scenarios, but there is a win on this side and there is a loss on this side one way or the other.

Same thing could be said. We didn't finish the Nebraska game. You know, it's right there, we could have won it, but we did not. So there are good things that happen at the end of the game and then bad. But we found a way to win. I think it speaks to the foundation of the program, really, in terms of what I said earlier to some people. We know how to win. We understand how to win. Now you have to do that, but we do understand what it takes to win. We understand how to play until the end of the game.

Q. Off of that, I'm curious, I know the situation is different, but do you remember back in 2010 the preparation going into that Penn State game where you eventually clinched the first Big Ten title? I know you have more games that you'd have to play this year? Do you remember your message and how has that changed to what you'll tell the guys going into this week?
COACH DANTONIO: I think we need to keep our message in house a little bit. I do remember that message and that feeling and what we were going through on the way to that game. I also remember going up there in 2008 and not getting it done. That might be as big a message as anything, but we'll keep this year's message sort of locked in.

Q. You mentioned before when maybe you didn't win some of those close games that you win now and play to the end and the process, what do you think is the biggest difference between now and then when you guys look like at the end of the game you're going to pull it out seemingly every time where in the past that wasn't the case? What changed? What is the difference?
COACH DANTONIO: First of all, you've got to go back pretty far before we say what haven't we? How many years ago are we talking now when you want to use the same old Spartans type of thing because that's not in existence. Hasn't been in existence for a long time. So we've won games back in 2010 at the last play. How many games have we won around here on the last play of the game? 7?

So that's happened for quite a while. I think that's a product of our environment. That's the players, the belief system with our players, our seniors and our play makers. Our guys don't give up on each other, but we make plays. 20-whatever, we kicked a field goal with 3 seconds and beat Wisconsin. We were down by 10 with two minutes to go or something. In 2008 we beat Purdue, I believe. Blocked a field goal at the end of the game.

So this has been going on for quite a while. It's part of the culture here hopefully. Hopefully. It needs to stay part of the culture.

Q. It could have been interpreted Saturday that maybe one unintended dividend you got with having two quarterbacks play that weren't accustomed to starting games, that already they were getting some significant acid tests in terms of preparation for down the road. I know you have to be concerned, Mark, with this season. But could you talk about that particular aspect of their performance, and even more specifically, how do Terry and O'Connor compare in terms of their skill sets?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, first of all, I've said it all along whether you're talking about the offensive line, talking about our secondary. When guys play on game day and they get game experience, they grow. They grow as players. There is probably no place they grow more than at quarterback with the pressures of being at quarterback in a setting on the road in a tight game, in a game that had so much meaning behind it. So that makes our program stronger.

Same thing happens on the offensive line on the secondary in various places on the football team. So it should increase our value, I think. As far as their skill set, they're very similar in a lot of ways yet different. So that's for other people to figure out and not for me to lay out. But they're both very good quarterbacks. They both have a huge upside. They both have experience in big games now, not just in this game, but they both played in the Maryland game as well. So they're two games in, and that's a big positive for those guys, and that will carry through to the 2016 season, there is no question and the remainder of the 2015 season in terms of just preparation.

When you go to practice and you don't think you're going to play, practice sort of becomes mundane a little bit. You go to practice and you know that you're going to be playing, that there is a possibility, a real possibility that they're going to stick you in there and you're going to be playing meaningful game minutes, it takes on a whole different twist in terms of preparation off the field, preparation on your own, preparation in the classroom, those type of things, more meaningful.

Q. I wanted to ask you about Kings. Obviously, he botched the punt the other day, big mistake. The camera kind of caught you having an interaction. Just wondering what you said to him there? At moments like that, I guess how important is it to put your arm around a kid? Also, how has he responded in general this year and played?
COACH DANTONIO: First of all, Macgarrett Kings has been a big play maker here for four years. Really for three years. You go back to the 2013 season, he's made a lot of plays here. Secondly, he's a competitive guy and he's fearless. Third, I was more upset when he caught the ball on the 4-yard line than I was after he missed the punt. He was trying to make a play, it was very windy out there, he should have let it go. But how many punts has he caught for us? Very difficult times.

If you've ever lined up underneath the punt, you'll understand how difficult it is. So it's very difficult art to be able to master. So what I said to him off the field is don't worry about it. Let's go. Don't get down on yourself. I was ready to put him back in. That was about the extent of it. Let's get on with it.

Q. I remember at the Final Four rally when Izzo brought you out and talked about double National Championships. I'm not asking you to look ahead. I know you've got to beat Penn State. But one team's No. 3, one team's No. 6. What's that mean with all the conversations you and Tom have had about both teams being this highly touted?
COACH DANTONIO: I think we're to a point where both teams can go into any game and have the opportunity to win. I've always felt that, but both teams have an opportunity to lineup and be competitive, doesn't mean we're going to win, but you have a legitimate shot to win that football game. The game is inches. It's throw, rebound, tip pass, whatever it is. So Spartans will, I guess.

Q. (No microphone)?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, we have. We have. I think you have to dream big. I think you have to dream big as players and you also have to dream big as a coach. When I first came here in November of 2006, I talked about these moments. That these moments were possible here. It's exciting to see those things happen.

But there are so many different people that have created that road to those moments. Our players our past players, our past coaches, our coaches currently, our administration, there are so many different people that are part of this, it's hard to even go through them all. But this is what we hope for certainly.

I still maintain, when I came here, you looked across Munn Field and you saw championships. I looked across there, but when I watched our basketball practices and I watched how they came down to every single game at the end of the game and how they played it out and how they would win at the buzzer or how they'd come back or the different things that I saw when I was here before, Mateen Cleaves, some of those guys, Charlie Bell, O. Peterson, those guys, Flintstones, and I saw how they won games down the stretch, there was a message there. When I walked over and watched basketball practice and saw the competitiveness on the basketball court and the communication that's taken place on the basketball court between the players, you know, you see championship effort and you see championship communication, trust, and those type of things. It's something that you want to emulate.

Q. When you make the decision O'Connor this week, are there degrees in which he has to be of certain health and he'll play regardless or he's available but you may use other guys and use him if needed? How do you go into that decision?
COACH DANTONIO: I think there is a possibility for all those certainly. We'll see how it all shakes out. It's sort of hard to say when we're sitting because Tuesday, not practice, don't know. So I would assume that things are moving forward. It's hard to assess those things until you get to game day. It really is. Because it hinges on very small things, I think.

Q. Coming into the season, a lot was expected of this offensive line and the injuries they dealt with and whatnot. They've been mostly healthy the last couple weeks but really came together last week. Did you see any indications that that sort of breakout performance almost dominating when the run game was coming from those guys?
COACH DANTONIO: I think the offensive line, first of all, has to play together. When they're not playing together for a certain amount of time, they get a little rusty. That's No. 1. Number 2, and I keep saying this over and over, it's not just the offensive line protecting the quarterback. The quarterback has to make the right protection calls at times, has to get the ball out, receivers have to get loose.

So there are a lot of determining factors in terms of pass protection. Same thing with running the football. Running back has to find the crease. There are tight ends involved, and blocking Paul Lang is having his best season as a Spartan right now. We always have to say seniors have to have their best years. I think he's having one of those years.

There are fullbacks, Trevon Pendleton the plays that he's made. So there is a lot to it, their structure. There is a lot to running the football as well. We've always had a good offensive line here this year, but I just think that we've been banged up with injuries. Now right now we're pretty healthy, and there is some cohesiveness to it. Not that there hasn't been before, but they're playing more together. They're getting reps together, practice reps and things like that. That's what I'm trying to say.

Q. Will you watch the rankings tonight with interest, and also, do you think the Big Ten strength is such now that the Big Ten champion, whoever it is, is definitely in the playoff or definitely should be in the playoffs?
COACH DANTONIO: I think that first of all, I'll be at meetings and somebody will walk down and say this is where we're at. That's what I think will happen. Because I'm going to concentrate on what we can do. The best thing that we can do right now is focus on Penn State. Then everything else to me sort of works out. Just do what you do, and good things happen. That's usually been the best way that I've tried to approach things and let other people do their job.

Q. Your philosophy when you got here on the offensive line is get five guys and stick with them. To his credit, Coach Staten convinced you to go more of a hockey approach which has worked. Used to be ride the hot hand with running back, ask and now you're seeing changes where you went with LJ. I'm just curious, how important is it for a staff to not be rigid and to evolve like you guys have with running backs philosophy and offensive line?
COACH DANTONIO: I think you have to be flexible with people. You have to look at different ways to do different things, certainly. And you always have to have new wrinkles in what you're doing. I thought Gerald played very, very well. Got to the last series, and based on LJ's series before that, I just felt like he was hot. So that's what we went with.

We had good running backs. I mean, Williams played in there. We played four running backs this last weekend, so that's a good problem to have. They're all physical. They all sort of play off -- they all have a little something different than the other guy does, but they all sort of play off each other. They're all close to each other as people.

Q. Mentioned this class has a chance to have the wins record, and it's a class that you got right after winning that first championship. I'm just wondering if there is any correlation there? I know the recruiting process goes back further than that. But is there a correlation to where the program was getting to at that point and then getting, I guess, a better recruiting class?
COACH DANTONIO: When we come in and have our freshmen come in and really look forward in our first days of August practice, what do our freshmen look like? That is the exciting thing. You know your sophomores and the other guys. But you sort of wonder, hey, what do these new freshmen look like? I remember in 2011 when we were going through that Harlon Barnett set, we'll have four, five, six or seven pro players in this class, and that's what it's shaping up to be. High draft choices, and that's what it's shaping up to be.

So we had high expectations for those guys from day one. Don't get into all the rankings and all that kind of stuff, because people grow and develop. Between 18 and 22, there is a huge difference in who they come as and who they leave as in terms of physical development, mental development, all those things, confidence, injuries, those type of things. So we've had some guys. These guys are good players as their record indicates.

Q. Is the team doing anything special for Thanksgiving? I know players don't often get a chance to go home.
COACH DANTONIO: We give our players a chance to go home, the ones living near here. We give them 24 hours off for practice in the world. They'll get off for 24, and then we'll get back Friday afternoon, early afternoon. So a lot of the players take people home with them. Guys that live farther away, coaches have people over as well, so we make sure everybody has some place to go. I think they sort of want to get away from us, so we don't have an organized team meal. But we do what we do on Friday when they get back.

Q. Coach, I want to ask you about your safeties. Montae, Demetrious they've been back there together. Can you talk about your growth? Is your safety play on par with where it's been in past years yet?
COACH DANTONIO: First of all, we've got Damion Terry and Delton Williams of Erie, Pennsylvania. We've got Demetrious Cox from Jeannette. We've got Montae Nicholson from Pittsburgh, Gateway High School, and Paul Lang from Mount Lebanon. Brandon Clemons is from over that way in Eastern PA there. So we've got some guys that this is a big game for them. This is an important game. This is their game to measure up. This is the game that is their Ohio State game or Michigan game if they're from that State, the State of Pennsylvania, the great State of Pennsylvania.

So that's going to be very exciting for them. As far as where they're at as football players, I think they're talented players that could have gone anywhere in the country, pretty much, as players.

Both of them have shock, explosive players with great ball skills. One is a sophomore, one's a red-shirt junior. One is a true sophomore, and one's a red-shirt junior. I think they're developing into very, very good players for us. I think we're strong. We obviously started Khari Willis and Grayson Miller at the Michigan game, and they're very good players as well, but they're freshmen. Matt Morrissey rounds that out. So we have six safeties that have game experience.

But I think those two guys have ball skills, are sudden, are explosive, and should continue to get better and better and better. I'll let them know when they get on my bus. They're not on the bus yet.

Q. Obviously replacing Ed Davis this season was going to be a tall task. But are you surprised how well Jon's done that, and what growth have you seen from him this season?
COACH DANTONIO: That's a good question. Jon Reschke, we knew was a great football player. We knew he'd play a lot for us this year. Been banged up injury-wise a little bit. When Ed went out, he became the immediate guy here. Chris Frey and Jon has certainly developed into a play maker for us. But he figured on playing a lot this year, probably more in either the Mike linebacker in and out for Riley or the money going in and out for Ed. But he's developed into, I think, a very, very good football player.

Q. Just following up on that with Ed Davis, is there any update on that in terms of his intentions and the likelihood of him possibly getting a sixth year?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, Ed intends to come back for a sixth year, and I think he qualifies for that. Brandon Clemons intended to come back for a sixth year, and he qualifies for that. I believe Damon Knox plans to come back for a sixth year, and I think he qualifies for that.

Though Ed and Damon will go out for Senior Day to get double recognition, I guess. But their intentions, I think are to come back, and they're good players and that strengthens our football team.

That's the plan, anyway. But obviously you have to submit all the paperwork and they have to graduate as well.

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