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MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY FOOTBALL MEDIA CONFERENCE
December 1, 2015
East Lansing, Michigan
THE MODERATOR: We have Coach Dantonio joining us. We will have an opening statement, then take questions.
COACH DANTONIO: Thanks, John. Excited about this opportunity. These are things we work on all year long, really, from the beginning of February all the way through pretty much, like I said the other day.
So everything we do, recruiting, everything points in this direction to be able to play for a Big Ten Championship with the hope that leads us to other things, great things down the line.
I think Iowa has an outstanding football team, obviously 12-0, very, very impressed with their quarterback, and I think C.J. Beathard makes plays, makes good decisions, obviously hasn't thrown any interceptions, hasn't thrown one since really the Northwestern game, middle of the season, good offense, very good offensive line, very well-coached football team. VandeBerg, the wide receiver impressive, makes a lot of big catches for them, very impressive with their tight end, as well. Defensively, Desmond King, right here from Detroit, still can't believe he got away, but anyway, is an outstanding player, eight interceptions, kick returner, punt returner, has been a very good player for them.
Jordan Lomax, Josey Jewell, good players, good defensive line, firm, Kirk Ferentz has done an outstanding job there in his time, 17 years. He's built a culture there, he's built a program, he's build a legacy there, and it will be a great challenge for us to be able to play and be successful, but we're looking forward to that and I'll take some questions.
Q. Mark, you talk so much about how games are won in the trenches, and Iowa, one of their strengths every single year is the offensive line. How has the prep kinda been with Shilique, L.T. and the guys on the "D" line to go up against what is one of Iowa's biggest strengths?
COACH DANTONIO: First of all, Tuesday is our first practice day, so our guys are off on Monday, and they haven't been in, so we will meet with them today for the first time. We finished up just like we always do. We finished up Penn State on Sunday and critiqued ourselves, first and foremost. I think the match-up is a good match-up for us, but we are going to have to play square and be in our gap, and we can't be playing sideways against Iowa, because they'll split you. Very good running backs, LeShun Daniels and 33, I can't pronounce his last name right now, but very good running backs, very talented.
Q. Mark, you mentioned Desmond King. He seems like a lot of guys you had over the years, overlooked recruit, becomes a good player. I wonder what your evaluation was of him and how close you were to offering him?
COACH DANTONIO: We were close to offering Desmond, and I can't remember whether we had him in camp or not, but he had an outstanding senior year, and at that time we were sort of filled up in the secondary, but he had an outstanding senior camp, and he was right there. He was one of those guys we had to make a decision on as a junior, coming out of his junior year.
Q. (No microphone.)
COACH DANTONIO: Great cover guy, great tackler, great ball skills, very confident, leadership skills, punt returner, kick returner. You can tell he has football leadership skills on the field, and he's been a main stay on the back end for Phil Parker, graduate of Michigan State, defensive coordinator.
Q. Mark, you alluded to it, looking at the Penn State tape with the guys. Talking to the players after the game, they all kinda said, we know what we have to get better at, we know we have to improve. How nice is that to hear this late in the season that these guys still don't feel they have played their best football?
COACH DANTONIO: We have asked our guys to reach higher. As simple as that sounds, we needed to do things that we didn't get done last year. We beat the two teams that played in the championship game last year. We've moved forward. But I think there are still things out there for our football team to accomplish. We've got the East Division Title but I think our players want more. They want it all.
So they understand what they have to do to get that and what they have to do against Iowa. We have had great games versus Iowa. We've got a seven-year book on those guys, they've got a seven-yearbook on us. We haven't played these last two years, but they are who they are; we are who we are, I think we both know that, and I think we both come to play. We've had extremely tough, physical games, very competitive games with the University of Iowa throughout that time.
But I think our players understand what they have to do. They can't play sideways in this football game.
Q. Mark, you've always been very verbal and open about what the goals are. Why do you think that's important to do? You mentioned it a couple of times today, reaching higher. Why do you think it's important to be so verbal about it?
COACH DANTONIO: I just think people need to know what direction we're going in, there is no secrets here. We built this program to a point where those are our goals now. Initially our goals were to do other things but these -- this is where we're at now. This is why we've come here. We recruited to these goals, and the fact that we've reached to this point we've reached here, we're at this point, gives credibility to what we talk about here.
So that's what we do. We paint a picture for our players, and I think every coach in America probably does that, they paint pictures for their players and their programs and then they try to color them in, I guess.
Q. How much of an advantage is it, you've been there to Lucas Oil. You've been in this game, you've been there, it's kind of a went-there-done-that for your guys. I remember the first year you went, you mentioned it was a big stage for them, one they haven't been on. How much of an advantage is that?
COACH DANTONIO: I think it's an advantage for us internally. I don't know versus them and all that, but for us, having players that have gone there in '11, and some of them sat in the stands, because you are only allowed so many players on the field. Some of them were on the sidelines, did not play, but they experienced the game, and then going there in '13, a lot of guys played in that game and being successful there. This is the third time in five years that we have been able to go and play for a championship. So I think that -- that can't hurt us. That can only help us.
Our players can talk to the other people and give them that experience, what the stadium is like, what's this like, what's the climate like, the atmosphere like. It's a sell-out. It should be very exciting for them. "Game Day" is there again, so this will be the fourth time we play on "Game Day" I guess, or had "Game Day" there, so that will be exciting as well.
Q. Coach, I wanted to talk about the Iowa defense. Obviously you've got a different defensive philosophy but you played zone and seen plenty of zone. What does Iowa do so well that they are able to continue to play this style of defense when we have seen more defenses moving toward the man pressure stuff that you do?
COACH DANTONIO: I think they're two gap people up front, which makes it difficult to run. Their linebackers are thumpers, they play downhill. Their secondary is very technique oriented; they play very disciplined. And, you know, you may get something here, but they'll take away something else over there. They're just -- they're extremely disciplined. They run, they fit, they fit the gaps correctly, and they tackle well in space, you know, they don't give up a lot of big plays and those type of things, so they have just been very consistent over the years.
I think that my feeling is if you have a system and you critique your system, which they do every year, I'm sure, you try and change it and tweak it to make it better, as you go forward, and over the course of time your players -- you become a product of your system. You become a product of your environment.
This is what you do, this is how you do it, and they understand how to do that, and they play fast doing it. I think they're -- sometimes it doesn't make it perfect, because you wish you had certain components probably -- I'm speaking of our defense or whatever, our offense, whatever, you have certain things that are missing, but it's easier and better to play fast than it is to change up everything and start from scratch, especially if you've been successful.
Q. I don't want to cost coaches any money, I know you watch a ton of film, but do you believe this game and games of this magnitude are more about the X's and the O's or more about the old fashion and desire and determination and guts?
COACH DANTONIO: I think it's about both. How is that answer? Okay? But I think it's about the emotion you bring and the execution that you bring to the field of what's being -- of what you're being coached to do.
You certainly have to have a knowledge of what they do and understand how what you do fits into that piece of puzzle, but it's how you do it. It's who makes the least amount of mistakes, who makes the big plays, or lack thereof, and, you know, who is able to pressure the quarterback into making mistakes, those type of things.
I just think it's a -- it's a football game. I think championship games or games on a big stage, you know, usually they're pretty evenly matched, and the people that make the least amount of mistakes win, whether that's missed tackles, whatever the, big plays.
Q. Mark, when we talk about this game talk about physical play, toughness, it's kind of Big Ten staple, but do you see with all the success the perception of the Big Ten changing nationally? Do you hear it and see it in recruits, stuff like that?
COACH DANTONIO: I don't know, I've always come in here and said the Big Ten has tremendous coaches and concepts being taught, and they have outstanding players who play in this conference, student-athletes, and the differences between these conferences are inches, and they're about match-ups, particular teams versus teams, the different match-ups they have. So you don't see too much of it, you see a little bit of it, the cross-section of playing at the beginning of the year and then you see bowl games.
Everybody's assumptions are based on bowl games and the first couple; after that you're playing within your conference. But I think there is great parity in college football, I've said this before, and I think on any given day, you know, another team can be as good as that particular team they're playing and win. You've seen that across the country this year.
Q. Your secondary, I know Darian Hicks is back healthy, Montae Nicholson has worked himself back in there. What has been the difference with this unit the last few weeks that they have been able to be so cohesive?
COACH DANTONIO: I think that we're playing fast, we understand what to do, we have good skill back there playing confidently and, again, things hang by inches, by threads, a misstep here or misstep there can cost you, especially in the back end, or a missed play on a deep ball, whatever the case, missed tackle, and I just think we're having less and less of that. So I think Arjen Colquhoun is playing very, very well, and all four of those guys back there have made plays in these last three weeks that indicate we have a cohesive unit right now.
Q. Quick follow-up. I know R.J. was dressed for Senior Day last week. R.J. Williamson, is he still --
COACH DANTONIO: R.J. is close to playing. Like I said, we haven't practiced this week but he is in pads, he is practicing. To what extent he's able to do what, we're a little bit -- remains to be seen. I would say he is unlikely to play unless all of the sudden something amazing happened, but I would think we would hold him out of precaution, but he would be able to play in the next game. He would be able to play in our bowl game, our first bowl game. (Laughter.)
Q. You mentioned the experience of going down to Indianapolis in the past, and Lucas Oil is probably a different venue than most college teams play in. Are there specific things that you remember from your first two trips there that help you in planning and getting to this type of environment?
COACH DANTONIO: No, it's the same field. It's inside; we have played inside before. So you walk in there, and you have the feel that, okay, we're here. You see -- you roll up on it in your bus, coming from the airport or wherever, and you see Lucas Oil and you know that this is one of the things that you shoot for. You shoot at the beginning of year, you shoot for that game. That's all you can control is getting into that game.
When you see -- when you roll up in the bus and you see that, you have a good feeling about it. You get excited. It's exciting to play and that's it is way I hope our players approach this. No stress, a little bit of pressure but play through it, have fun.
Q. Mark, you have had so many guys step in for injuries or whatever reason this year. How much do you -- I guess not know what's going to happen as much as you prepare guys to play, to be replacements. How much are you crossing your fingers on Saturday and --
COACH DANTONIO: Everybody has injuries across the board, you know, people are having issues with personnel, and it's a long season. You know, this is our 13th game, so we've been at it since August.
We've gone August -- you know how many months there have been, okay? So it's that time of year. Everybody is getting banged up and stuff like that. So it's important we get to the game and be as healthy as we can be, which, you know, we are. We are as healthy right now as we can possibly be.
Q. Mark, I know you've already talked about the perception of the Big Ten, but do you see any scenario where the winner of this game does not get into the college football playoff? Does the Big Ten or anybody have to do any lobbying for the team that wins this game?
COACH DANTONIO: I would not think so, I don't see any way -- I think the Big Ten is in. I mean, 4th and 15th last week. You know, a 12-0 team and a one-loss team, so whoever wins this football game is going to get an extra bump, so I would think they're in. My perception. Which probably doesn't count.
Q. Mark, Gerald Holmes started out the year as the number three guy, obviously injuries happened, opportunity happened, but what is he doing different now on the field that he wasn't doing back in September?
COACH DANTONIO: Game experience, game experience and just -- he's making plays, he's running hard, he's breaking tackles, as I say, he's a "hot back" he gets hot and he goes, but any one of those guys can become the hot back. Madre was out with an injury, so now he's back. Saw him run the other day; he looked good just in his few reps. L.J. has been pretty consistent throughout, Delton has had some opportunities in there, but I think Gerald Holmes has made the best of his opportunities.
I tell our players all the time I really don't care who plays. I care about how we treat them and all the other things that go along with that, but getting on the field, that's their job. We'll play the best player, whether he's a freshman or a fifth year senior, we will play the best player. We want to win, and when we get to the game, we want to put our best players on the field; he's done the job.
Q. (No microphone.)
COACH DANTONIO: More confident. I think he's -- you know, he's -- remember now, he hasn't played -- Jeremy Langford took most of the reps last year, so he's a guy that is learning how to feel his way, and his vision -- I think his vision is getting better.
He runs with power, and he runs behind his pads, there is no doubt about that. He's catching the ball much better, he understands pass protections, he's a young player, a redshirt sophomore. He's a younger player that's learning and progressing rapidly.
Q. Mark, all the success you've had, I imagine you believe that it was possible, but is there a moment or a game where it dawned on you that it can happen? Was there either a victory or something that happened that you realized --
COACH DANTONIO: This year?
Q. No, no, since you've been here, that you realized this is possible? Is there a game or moment or anything that happened that you realized this will work?
COACH DANTONIO: I've never had any doubts. To be quite honest with you, even since 2007 we went into every game and we felt like we could win. We lost in double overtime to Iowa that year. I really never had any doubts. I've never said, oh, didn't expect to win that one. That's just the way we've been here. We've had some great players come through here in the past nine years, and everybody has done their part in bringing this program forward, so there's never been -- I'm not point to go 2010 and saying that's the breakout year, because we had some great wins in 2007, Penn State game, you know, the -- and on it goes, 2008.
So you can reflect back, we had big games in every season that made a statement for that particular season, so I've never really looked at it like that. I guess when we won the Rose Bowl, went to the Rose Bowl, at this point in time that's been the pinnacle. I think being ranked in the Top-5 the last two years is something that we can point to, but every team has had that moment where you said, okay, good things are happening and we can move forward.
Q. Curious, you often talk about how your teams progress and play better toward the end of the season. How has this year's version of your team different or similar to other teams that have kind of started to crescendo toward the end of the season?
COACH DANTONIO: I think we have a good feel for each other. We're a confident football team. I think we're playing our best football down the stretch. That would compare with 2013. Which is what happened that year. I think it's always important to be playing your best football at the end not at the beginning. You're sort of defining yourself at the end of every season, so that's what we have tried to do. We slipped up obviously one game but credit the people we were playing, too. We've been pretty good in November.
Q. Coach, I wanted to ask you about Macgarrett King, against Iowa and the scheme. He is a guy that seems to be able to get loose. Can you talk about MacGarrett against Iowa and maybe just his career in total?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, MacGarrett King has had an outstanding career, four-year player for us, played as a true freshman. He's always been in the mix. He has the ability to make big plays. I know he's had a huge play against Iowa in '13, so, you know, he's -- I really don't -- he's been a playmaker for us every year, so he's had a great career here.
Q. Mark, college is very cognizant of this Spartan athletic brand, and I'm watching "Sports Center" last night and there is Draymond Green on talking about Michigan State football, basketball and volleyball, and five minutes later there is Connor Cook on "Sports Center." How important is that brand to you, because football has played a big role in that?
COACH DANTONIO: I think for me, personally, you know, when Michigan State is out there, whether it's basketball, whether it's football, whether it's academics, or anything, obviously it's a positive, because that's what we represent, so no different than anybody else. But I try and just -- for me, I just go to work and try to win a football game, that's what I'm trying to do. Every week I'm told to come over here and have a press conference, so today I put on a tie and came over.
But I'm just workin' it, we're just working. But I've always thought that Michigan State had a brand. Right now, you know, it's certainly talked about often relative to what's going on here athletically, and with our University in general and everything else, so it's very positive. But I've always thought we had a great name out there. We're a world-class university, in all respects, not just athletically.
Q. You talked about how you didn't view 2010 as the break-out year because you guys accomplished things before then in your mind. A lot of people when they look at Iowa are looking at this as sort of their break-out year. What have you seen from them in the last few seasons that might have made you think that this type of season was possible for them?
COACH DANTONIO: They've always been a great football team, very consistent. They've always been extremely competitive and I've talked about it before, you know, to me, success is -- success is not -- success, to me, is -- if you have success and then you dip, and then you're able to drive back up to success, that's -- those are the things that amaze me.
They've never really been down, they just went a little bit to -- you know, whatever. They just weren't 12-0. But when I was at Ohio State in the early 2000s and through the 2000s, they were a dominant football team in this conference. In 2010, 2011 -- I can't remember my own records, let alone everybody else's records. I just can tell you that every time you lineup against Iowa, you know you're going to play a great football team. You know you're going to play people that will do it consistently. They're going to play with toughness, things laid out. They are going to know what they're doing, they're going to be very well coached, and they're going to give their players a chance to win.
They've got a great fan backing. Every time we've gone out there the place is packed. I'm sure that there will be a lot of Iowa fans at the stadium, so great program. That's how I've always viewed them. I can't tell you what their -- what their record was three years ago, nor can I tell you many people's, just ours. But that's sorta how we work it. Great program, though.
Q. You say Michigan State has always had a brand. What was that brand in your mind when you came here in 2007 and how has it changed in the last nine years?
COACH DANTONIO: You know, I just didn't -- again, I hate to say it but I'm sort of -- I live in a bubble. I really don't know too much what's going on except I invest myself in the program that we're in. When I was at Youngstown State, I couldn't have told you who was going to the Rose Bowl, I really couldn't, because I was immersed in the OBC, all right? But, for me, I was at the University of Cincinnati, there was a coaching change and I was like, oh, Michigan State has a coaching opening, and I sorta sat back there and kept working. As it always does, as things happen, change went like that. I went from coaching a football game at UC on Saturday to becoming the head football coach on Monday here.
So there really wasn't a time to reflect on Michigan State's brand at that time, I just knew what I knew, based on my past history here, that this was a great institution, had great academics, you could recruit here, they had a tradition past, championship past from the 60s, they were a solid football team, well respected, that you could walk in any home in America and have credibility walking in the door with a Spartan on. You could get your foot in the door with any recruit, and you could at least get some "talk time."
What you did with that was up to you. From there we just started building our program, and it is what it is today.
Q. I was curious when you are going up against a team similar style that you guys have, is there a comfort in knowing their style or is there a concern because you know how difficult that style is to play?
COACH DANTONIO: Probably a little of both. You feel like -- you feel like you've played against them before and they are who they are, but you also know with that comes challenge, great challenge.
We're somewhat the same because of maybe some of the belief system. We both have a fullback but we use him differently at times, or those type of things. Both a 4-3 defense, but we're different. So there's things like that that we're different in, but we are the same in certain areas.
They will be a great challenge, I promise you. They're a very, very good football team.
Q. On Iowa's defense you were talking earlier about Phil Parker and what he's done. When you look at that defense, do you still say, well, there's Norm Parker's defense? Is it still basically the same thing --
COACH DANTONIO: I think they've tweaked things. I think -- I think first of all that he was involved in the creation of that because he had been there for so long, Phil Parker, especially on the perimeter. And then also I think that obviously there's tweaks. There are things that you want to do once you become the man in control, there's things that you want to change and you want to critique and try and tweak and make better, so I think he's done those things, but I think the overall who they are remains pretty constant.
Q. (No microphone.)
COACH DANTONIO: Nope.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, Coach.
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