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January 15, 2016

Mark Dantonio

East Lansing, Michigan

COACH DANTONIO: Basically, guys, we thought we haven't had a press conference in a while. We wanted to run through certain things and answer questions relative to the subject we're going to talk about and go through the process. Obviously want to introduce our new guys, and that's probably the biggest point of emphasis for having this press conference today, and then also just basically talk about the program, in general, where it's at right now.

With that being said, I thought Bruce just addressed the Cotton Bowl. To conclude that, we had a staff meeting, sort of a closure meeting on that a week ago past Monday, and, you know, we watched the film as a staff and went through different things. Tremendous experience for our football team going down there, first-time opportunity to do something like this, and we learned from those opportunities. While you look at the football game, I thought we played competitively in the first half, third quarter sort of hit us and, you know, things started happening.

So we've got to be able to regain our composure and make plays toward the end of the second half. Bottom line, I don't think we ever really got on track really other than that one drive, the end of the first half, offensively. Not enough explosive plays down the field. I think we had two truly explosive plays in the game. Defensively played pretty well against the run, gave up a couple of big plays versus the pass, and as I said going into that football game, we had to be who we are. You can't change and be somebody we're not in 26 days.

So you have to, I think, emphasize who we are, do what we do and do it best and bring what we have to the table. With that being said, we needed to be at our best on that given night, and I don't think we played our best, but I congratulate Alabama and what they were able to accomplish and also their National Championship, and I will take questions based on the Cotton Bowl, and we will do the next subject, where we're at.

Q. You can't change who you are, that said, looking back was there anything you would do different game planwise if you had a chance?
COACH DANTONIO: I think from an offensive standpoint we need to get the ball on the perimeter more often and find different ways to be able to do that. You know, the quarterback has to create a little bit more. You saw that in the championship game, and for whatever reason we didn't get that, but that's not a knock on Connor Cook; he's played tremendous, but I think you have to get out of trouble. They have a good football team; you guys can see that, and very, very good up front.

So we didn't displace them up front enough, to give our running backs creases, so consequently I think we've gotta get on the edge and get out there a little bit, and we were unable to do that. So they were able to play pretty much -- they were able to protect their back end and play well up front. Linebackers made plays, et cetera. I would say that's the thing we have to do.

Other than that, the big play of the game may be -- two big plays, because we're competitive in the game. Punt returns certainly, gotta cover better. Punter coverage, again, gotta look at structure a little bit there, in terms of what we do, because when you got a guy that can hit it 55 yards, that's going to happen. When the ball is coming back at you at a fast speed, you know, you gotta come under control and make it, missed a couple of tackles on that one.

Then that first drive in the third quarter. We had two hands to the face called. Not going to complain about the officiating, but, you know, it's objective, at best.

That's 30 yards down the field, and one of 'em was a third down, in a third down situation. You go back and look at third down in the first half, third -- I think it was third and eight. Maybe if we stopped them there with six minutes to go, soft coverage, don't get home on the blitz, got two-on-one on the linebacker, linebacker is slow to get there, and we don't make it, we don't create a problem for the quarterback.

And I could go on, as my wife tells me. "Let it go! Just let it go!"

Q. Mark, the only thing offensively you had success with was when you went uptempo, and obviously Connor threw the interception, but after the game Alabama talked about that was of great concern to them. You guys never went back to it, including in the fourth quarter, running, down 30. I'm curious why you didn't go back to it?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think we did that initially in the game and then we didn't go back to it basically because I told Coach Warner, "Hey, we need to slow it down a little bit," because at that time we weren't playing defensively well either. We went three times in the third quarter three and out, and when you flip it like that, if you're going -- and we went fast-paced in the third quarter one time, maybe twice, but we went three and out. That's only good if you're making plays.

So consequently, we needed to slow the game down and try and get ourselves back in the game and then have a drive and then move from there. That last touchdown I feel like it's on me. I sorta -- you know, that last touchdown, I feel like we should have went for it on 4th and one on the 20, and I lost my composure, so we didn't go in that direction.

I thought we did some good things in the game, very competitive game in the first half, but you've got to play consistently throughout the game.

Great experience for us, a place we hadn't been, and a place we hope to go in the future. There were only four teams that got to that moment in this country and we were one of those football teams, and I think we deserved to be there, so that was a positive for us and we gotta build on it. I think Alabama, after the fact, after I hear the way they approached the game as opposed to the way we approached the game -- we know how to win bowl games. That's what we've done.

We've not been in that environment. We've not been in that media type environment. We spent two hours on the bus going back and forth, two different times, for media day. There and back, half hour, half hour, go back to the hotel, meetings, there and back, half hour, half hour, you know, the luncheon, day before the game was a two-hour ordeal, back and forth. We had an eight o'clock picture, and then we had pictures at some point in time. So, again, back and forth, and I think we got a little outta sorts.

We were going to have to be at our best, as I said earlier, and for whatever reason, we were not, and you have to take that into context in the whole thing. That being said, Alabama has a tremendous football team, and they certainly deserved the opportunity to go play in that National Championship game. Not whining about it, just stating where we were at.

Q. Coach, I have a scheme question as far as when Alabama moved Ridley into the slot. I know Cox had great coverage on the first 50-yarder, but that's probably something you will see a lot when you stay in a 4-3 personnel against three wide. Is that something to adjust, or could that have been played any differently by your safety?
COACH DANTONIO: Two things. One, we tracked everything imaginable, so he was in the slot 38 times during the season. Okay? So we knew exactly how many times he went into the slot, how many times they threw to him, and how many big plays were there with that. With that being said, we knew that when they drag the ball, or they play-action it to the Heisman Trophy winner that has 2000 yards rushing, you're in a "Catch 22" situation, you're in a little bit of a dilemma because you've got to get your backer into the box. But when he was in the slot, we had a game plan where we would go to specific different things, one of which was blitz 'em. They give us the middle of the field coverage, they give us the rerouter on No. 2, on Ridley.

But they started doing that more often than not initially in the game. Eight out of the first 16 plays they went to Ridley, or they -- no, they were quick screens. First three or four plays they put the ball in Ridley's hands. So they made us soft on the edges a little bit. We were just in situations where I felt like we were blitzing too much. We had to stop doing that because we were doing it too much, too often, at least that's my semblance of it is. When I go back and research the whole game seven and a half times, a half, okay, he was in the slot during our games. Okay?

So great coverage on the first one, there are some people out there that think maybe the ball came out on the first one, maybe it did, maybe it didn't. They ruled it a catch, but he made a great catch, great throw. On the second one, no pressure, the defensive end counters inside, gets pushed past the other defensive end, which is not good, quarterback moves to his right, and he finds the guy going way from our safety, again, no reroute, no restart by our secondary, by our outside backer, Joe Bachie. Okay? So those things happen because of the run/pass conflict, but that's what they've done throughout the season, and that's what -- we had different ways to double them and thins of that nature, but that was on the third down situation and that particular play was first down.

So there's a lot to be said for the thinking on that. We thought that over and over and that was a big part of what we were going to have to do to be able to stop the explosive play from Alabama on the passing game to Ridley.

Q. You mentioned being out of sorts, losing your composure at times during the game --
COACH DANTONIO: I had a headache after the game.

Q. Was the moment more overwhelming than you anticipated and if so what would you do differently next year if you get back there, or in the future?
COACH DANTONIO: I think -- I don't know, you know, from my perspective I felt a little out of sorts. I don't know if that's lack of composure, just out of sorts. I thought we went into the game and I thought our football team was confident we would play. We needed to have some things happen early in the process. We crossed the 50 a couple of times the first half, I think three. On the first series, first drive, we crossed the 50 that we had, I believe. I think Davis made a catch, maybe that was the second drive. But then we've got to finish the drive and do something with it, Michael Geiger didn't take a snap in that game. Put that in perspective.

There were just things that we have to be able to do against great defense, and they're a great defense. They've got good players. We've gotta make plays and a lot of it falls, you know, to leadership, to myself, to play calling, to the quarterback, to our seniors, it all falls to those guys and somehow, some way we have to find a way.

We found a way 12 times this year, but against that -- on that night, specific night against that specific football team, we did not.

We played pretty well defensively, but I think we've got to pressure the quarterback better. So then you've got some different things happening like forced the fumble on the sack, we forced a fumble instead of coming up with the ball it gets kicked out-of-bounds. Guy drops a punt, a defender is supposed to stop on a fair catch right in front of him, and it would be right in his hands, but he runs by him. Again, it's the inches, and then there are things that happened that quite frankly you just can't expect sometimes, it's just the way the football goes again.

You go back and look at the whole big picture and you say Alabama was ready to play that football game. They played very well, they have good players and, you know, quarterback is 25 out of 30, you know, so they played well.

Q. Mark, I'm getting Twitter responses why are you making us relive this from fans, so I will advance the story line --
COACH DANTONIO: My wife would say, don't tweet it out, but this is part of the deal, because we didn't talk about it before, and I think you've got to have closure, so I've got to have some closure, too. I think you guys have to have it, too.

Q. They're talking to us, why are we --
COACH DANTONIO: I don't understand why they're tweeting it.

Q. I'll advance the story line. You've got eight early enrollees. That's a lot. And the advantage of having them and some big names in that in the recruiting world, and the advantage of having them here early and what that does for their prospects of contributing early?
COACH DANTONIO: Next segment, okay? We've got eight guys coming in, seven scholarshipped guys coming in. They're extremely highly recruited guys, and we expect for them to have an immediate impact on our football team, with their opportunities to transition now. Academically they're going to transition, socially transition and then footballwise they're going to be able to transition. With that is going to come some bumps in the road, problems they're going to have to navigate through, but at the end of the day they're going to be much farther ahead than a normal freshman when they come in in July. When you look at it, you've got two wide receivers coming in here, Donnie Corley, Cam Chambers, both guys tremendously gifted players, highly-recruited players, guys that we expect to step on the field immediately for us.

They will be in the thick of it, from day one. From day one. And we will build our offense around these guys as their time here increases over the course of years. I can speak to each of these guys. I saw 'em both play in camp. Snatch the ball out of the air, great eye-hand coordination, big, physical, tough, both guys compete, you know, Donnie Corley plays defensive back and corner as well. We played him in camp, and he will be a guy that can play on both sides of the ball. Gotta play wide receiver first to learn that position, but I think he can transition over to corner and we can play him situationally, and we plan to do that.

Cam Chambers is a guy that plays the X, Donnie will start at Z, and Cam is a big-bodied wide receiver, great speed another guy that snatches the ball out of the air, and both these guys have very high expectations and they played in the highest level at the U.S. Army game and competed at the highest level and have done very, very well.

They both come from great programs in King High School and then Cam comes from New Jersey as well. So both high schools outstanding -- Timber Creek -- outstanding players, very well coached players and parents brought them along and have gotten them ready for this situation.

Linebacker, Joe Bachie comes in from.

Brookpark, which is Berea, Ohio, Cleveland suburb. Joe is a linebacker, very physical guy, performed very well in camp. All these guys ran extremely well, gifted athletically in camp, big numbers in camp. Joe showed great flexibility, ran 4.5 something, long jumped very well, as did the other two wide-outs, and he is All-Conference in basketball in a great basketball conference there, obviously All-Conference and All-State in football. You guys can see what he's done.

He played tailback for them, was a punt returner for them, shortstop in baseball, so we've got an all-around athlete, and he will enter the position at the "Mike" position and that's a position that takes time to learn, but this opportunity this spring will give him a lot of advantages to sort of move forward pretty quickly.

Thiyo Lukusa, from Traverse City West, then DePaul Catholic. Outstanding offensive lineman player. We got to know Thiyo when he was a ninth grader. We offered him a scholarship between ninth and tenth grade, I believe, very athletic, big, physical guy, when I've watched him do things in camp, when I have watched him do things on the basketball court, great feet. All of these guys are outstanding students, but great feet and, again offensive line is not something you learn over night. You've got to be able to take that and build on things. But, again, having him here for the spring will give him a tremendous advantage, probably could play tackle athletically, probably could play guard athletically, certainly at the pool and do things like that, can really run, is an outstanding athlete, will be a great player as well.

Kenny Lyke, safety, played a lot of offense this year, will bone you up, okay? He is a hitter, will get underneath his pads, will strike with great ball skills, plays offensive receiver and tail back as well this year. They used him a lot offensively, but a big hitter, can really run, all these guys have great size for their respective positions. They tower over Coach Dantonio, all right, but another guy with, I think, a great upside and will bring immediate opportunities at safety in our secondary, great ball skills, hitter, we offered a long time ago.

Messiah deWeaver, quarterback, from Dayton Wayne High School, decided to commit early in the process to us and has maintained that commitment throughout. Outstanding leader, took Dayton Wayne High School in his senior year to the State Championship game to the finals of this big school's State Championship game in Ohio, outstanding performer, has a gift, was in camp, great touch on the ball, can throw you open, great strength, velocity on the ball, these receivers will have an opportunities to catch from him already, probably this week. But, again, great quarterback and a lot of things going on. You've got to not only play the game but you have to develop your leadership as a person, so having him here for an additional semester early on gives him an outstanding advantage to compete. And we expect all these guys to compete immediately in this process. I think he will do an outstanding job as well. Great numbers, great size, strength, great student as well. 4.0 student. All these guys are outstanding people.

Mufi Hunt, Salt Lake City, signed with us last year, came off his mission with a knee injury so rather than restart that, he's in rehab with his knee injury so he will enroll now. You've gained about 25? I think 25 pounds since we've offered him, so he's about 250 pounds already, and he's just starting. So very athletic defensive end. Explosive, big bodied guy, played basketball, power forward in high school as well. One of the top players in the west, top players in Utah, highly-recruited guys as well, and he will have an opportunity to start, get healthy and transition, again, a lot of this is about transition.

The most we have ever had before was three come in early. Brad Robinson, I don't know if Brad is in here, long snapper, and he's entered as well, and he's a very outstanding long snapper, so we're excited to have him here and he will earn his way and with Taybor Pepper there's an opportunity and he's ranked, I think, No 20 in the nation by Rubio's as one of the top long snappers in the country, so he will have an opportunity to get involved very, very quickly.

That's our guys. Very exciting, and seven of them are scholarship guys, one of them here, and you have a core of your class already here so they could start to identify themselves in this class and build a rapport with each other, and I'm sure you guys will have an opportunity to meet and talk with them a little bit. Questions?

Q. Mark, since we've moved on from the Cotton Bowl, two questions. In 2013, halfway through you did alter the offense and you guys became that second half one of the best offense in the country.
2014, same thing, you were No. 6 in the country. This year back to the mid-60s, I know you said you can't change in 28 days, but do you have to look at philosophically your offense to more of what you do in '13 and all of '14?

COACH DANTONIO: I think you have to look at everything you do and critique it and look at what other people are doing and always advance and always critique what you've got and move forward as a football team. We look at things A to Z. Our offensive coaches will watch every single snap of what our defensive coaches saw this year, every single game that our defensive coaches saw they will watch, so we're going to make sure we look at everything.

Then you have to use your personnel and you have to at some point in time you have to also stay balanced and you have to do what you do.

We're a tailback-oriented offense. We use our wide receivers. We had the wide receiver of the year in the Big Ten Conference who caught 80 balls in 1200 yards, okay? Lost a couple of guys from the year before, a little thin, probably didn't play as much wide-outs as we did the year before and now we have a new cycle of wide-outs that will come in, have two other guys that are committed they're excellent as well, and I expect all four of these guys, especially these two guys to get involved very, very quickly.

But Jeremy Langford, a speed guy, had a lot of eye-poppin' big plays. We didn't have that. We had the Le'Veon Bell-type runner, downhill runner, breaking tackles, and I thought all three of those guys had their moments and did an outstanding job, but we did not have that "edge" guy. How can these guys become "edge" guys? We're going to wait and see. I think they can. I think Madre London showed some areas of that. The other guys were downhill, make you miss in the hole, vertical guys.

But Langford was a guy that could do a little bit of both, and I think he was extremely -- first of all he was experienced, he had three years before he was -- he was three and a half years in before he started his break out and you see what he's done with the Bears. So our players this year, we had a redshirt freshman, a true freshman, and a redshirt sophomore that did not play a snap. Keep in mind not one of those guys I don't think took a snap the year before, so we were extremely inexperienced at the tailback position.

But with that being said, I thought we gained experience and all three of those guys had big moments, big moments that led to help us win 12 football games. Got to get involved in the edge. There are certain things that we have to do that we were able to do in the past and there are other things that we have to improve on, but that's the nature of everything, that's the same nature of our defense.

Q. Secondly, transfers, are you expecting any, Mark?
COACH DANTONIO: Transfers, with Jack Conklin going out, I will say this, senior class as it is, we want to always look toward -- we've never taken a graduate transfer, but in this day and time maybe we need a graduate transfer, so I'm putting that out there so you can tweet that out. (Laughter.) With Jack Conklin going out, maybe there is a graduate player who is an excellent player wants to come here and play. But, advertising is good.

Q. How about guys transferring from here, leaving?
COACH DANTONIO: I guess there is always that possibility as we move through this. I think players want to play and, you know, I think there is possibilities of that but we'll see, nobody has walked in and said they're transferring but you never know. I will probably be the last one to find out, I will probably read it on Twitter.

Q. Mark, you talked about expecting young guys to play and Messiah to have an opportunity to compete. The reality of your offense and how long it takes to master that and you saw with Burbridge who was a highly touted guy, what's realistic for those guys, and if they do work their way in do you have to tailor the offense to them early on?
COACH DANTONIO: They have an advantage because they come now, first of all so everything that they see and we implement -- first of all they will have an advantage of six or seven months of conditioning and weight training, working, you know, on their mentality of just being in college. Secondly they have spring practice and all the time leading up to spring practice and all the time after spring practice to be able to learn things conceptually, so when they get to summer camp they're going to be seeing this for the second time. We had freshmen play here. Burbridge played a lot, probably our go-to guy as a freshman in 2012, okay? Magarret Kings played some as a true freshman, Keshawn Martin had a big year as a true freshman, I think, in 2008. I played all four years. B.J. Cunningham played as a redshirt freshman. Tony as a redshirt freshman. We've have had guys come and play early, but the difference is we have always had guys -- the cycle is turning. If you look at who was playing for us in 2013, you got four guys I think they're playing in the NFL, or slotted to play in the NFL. So that cycle is turning, and now it's an opportunity for young players to come in, due to -- we recruited two wide receivers the year before. They will be in the mix: Darrell Stewart and Felton Davis.

The year before that who did we recruit? I don't think we took one. Year before that we took two guys, R.J. Shelton, was a tailback, and we were trying to take Trey Kilgore at that point in time, as a guy that could maybe learn the position and move from quarterback, but we really hadn't recruited those guys. So that opportunity right now is real. I think they have that caliber of ability, and, so, they're going to have every opportunity to get involved. They've done that. Those things have been talked about from day one in the recruiting process.

Q. Mark, you talked about this being the most players you have had come in early. Do you think we're going to reach a point around the country where this becomes more of the norm for high school kids coming in or does it only work in certain circumstances?
COACH DANTONIO: I have always tried to leave it up to their players. They've got to have a certain amount of maturity to be able to do this, they're not easing into this situation, they're coming in and some things are hitting them right in the face, you know, school! Social issues, how to handle themselves away from home, being home sick, competing at a level where everybody is their size and their speed, okay, those type of things.

So they've got to adjust, but I think it gives them an opportunity here. Again, we have only had three do it at once, one other time we had one, Tyriq Thompson came last year. Other programs have done it more often, so I think it's up to a particular individual and really their family and what I've tried to say is the more mature and the more disciplined a person is the better chance that they have at succeeding at this.

Q. Mark, what is Montez Sweat's status with the program?
COACH DANTONIO: Right now he's in limbo, L-I-M-B-O.

Q. (Away from mic.)
COACH DANTONIO: Fell apart, fell apart.

Q. Coach, I wonder if you could reflect just on your approach to today. Not many coaches would want to come in here open up to answering questions about the 38-0 loss and the closer part. Is this something you learned from the last time you lost to Alabama because clearly after that your program took a big step forward.
COACH DANTONIO: No, I mean, we're here today because these guys, we want to get to them, so closure on 2016, that's a part of it. I always believed, and I said this before, you gotta take the good with the bad. People talk about us a lot, very positive. We end up No. 6, but that's going to wash away. The bottom line is we went to the Final Four; that's the bottom line. So things happen, things happen. That game was much more competitive than 10, so, you know, you've got to move on.

You know, the other aspect I wanted to talk about is our outgoing seniors. We have 5 guys playing in the Senior Bowl, one in the East/West Game, probably five or six guys invited to the Combine. Conklin goes out, sort of a "Catch 22" situation. Wish him well, but also look at that and, you know, you wish he stays, but that's part of it. You've got to stay for the right reasons; you've got to leave for the right reasons.

He's been a tremendous player here, tremendous ambassador for our program, and we will always being indebted to him for that, and we wish him the best, but we need to move on and obviously we've got to find players at that position as well. So we've got a lot of guys involved in this press conference.

Q. You mentioned Messiah jumping in and getting into things in spring, so I will ask the first quarterback competition question of 2016. With all four of those guys trying to replace Connor, how much do you expect from each of those and how do you expect it to play out once you get going?
COACH DANTONIO: I think it plays out as you give people opportunities, and you see what they do with their opportunities. Certainly Tyler O'Connor and Damion Terry have played in some games and played in a big game this year, down in Columbus, which we won, played significantly in that game. Other than that, they haven't had significant reps, so you base that on practice.

I think who becomes the guy here will be based on who plays well in games, and certainly you have performances leading up to the game. The work has been impressive, looking forward to seeing Messiah compete, and I think it will be interesting to watch. But certainly those other guys have a big head start in terms of -- you know, the other two guys, Terry and O'Connor because of their knowledge and what they've been through, you know, but they've got to be able to deliver, and that's the bottom line.

THE MODERATOR: Thanks a lot, Coach.

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