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MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY FOOTBALL MEDIA CONFERENCE
September 13, 2016
East Lansing, Michigan
MARK DANTONIO: Good afternoon, guys. First of all, very excited about going down to South Bend to play in this game. It's a rivalry game for us. Been involved in this football game probably since '97 as an assistant coach, and there's been some great games with Notre Dame.
I think it all goes back to the '66 game certainly and even maybe before that. So it's been a traditional-type rivalry and we've embraced that as we have so many of our other rivalries. I think when you look at them right now, a good football team, very well-coached football team. Offensively, quarterback makes it happen, two quarterbacks actually make it happen for them, but they've chosen to go in one direction there.
I think Kizer gives you that guy that can stay in the pocket and be a traditional type passer, but at the same time can create. And you get a quarterback like that doing those type of things, very dangerous. Has good rhythm to his throws, gets out of trouble, big, physical-type guy, offensive line does a nice job, receivers catch the ball well, tailbacks run it effectively. Lot of different things that you see defensively on that side of the ball.
They return three starters. You know, they've been hit with some injuries a little bit, but at the same time, I think very good players and they'll move them around and create different fronts and pretty varying in a lot of different things coverage-wise and things of that nature. So I'll take some questions and go from there.
Q. Dave Warner has been open about something he learned from the Alabama game going on the attack with the perimeter more with stout defenses. Is this game more predicated on your team going on the attack than what Notre Dame does?
MARK DANTONIO: Well, I think as an offense we have to take advantage of the things that we see relative to weaknesses or things that we can exploit. That's what everybody does. At the same time, we've got to press the issue. I don't think there is any question about that and do what we do.
Do what we do has been win the possession time, not turn it over, win the turnover battle, convert on third down, be effectively running the football. All those things.
But there's a combination of things involved in being successful there, and again it will be a great challenge, I'm sure they'll be ready to play and it should be a great football game.
Q. Obviously you get Davis back. Talking about whether he's ready. But he's been practicing for a little bit now. Are you seeing what you needed to see from him in terms of getting back, and how far is he from contributing again?
MARK DANTONIO: I think the question and I mentioned in there on the Talk Back show, is Ed at 90%, 95%? Is he at a 100% or 3%, whatever he is? Where is he relative to the other guys that are playing?
We've got deep linebacking situation, linebacker situation, we've got good players. Do I expect him to play, I expect him to play. How much he plays will be determined by how much he comes yet this week, and I know we're only four days away or so. But we need to see him today and Tuesdays practice because last Tuesday's practice, as opposed to this Tuesday's practices is a week removed. So too early to tell, I guess, is the thing I would say.
Q. How did you guys spend your bye week?
MARK DANTONIO: Practicing. You know. We've had one game, I guess, I've been reminded by one of our coaches we've had one game in six weeks since coming here on August 5 once we play. So hopefully practice makes perfect.
Q. Any particular point of emphasis you had there? Was it all Notre Dame specific?
MARK DANTONIO: Well, we're not going to sit there and say it's all everything. We're going to work on ourselves. We're going to work on what we do. But we're getting ready for our next moment. So that's the challenge all the time. The biggest thing for us was to make sure that we came out of last week as if we had played a game. That to me was very important but yet stay healthy.
In other words, maintain your conditioning level that we had after getting ready for four weeks for our first football game. So to do that, we had to push our guys and that's what we did.
Q. Last time Michigan State played Notre Dame, your current group of seniors were just freshmen. So have you had them speak to the younger guys who have never played against the Irish and never played in South Bend to discuss how big of a rivalry this is is how much this game means?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, we've talked about that a little bit, and we'll talk about that more this week with our upperclassmen and seniors that were there. They'll give them a feeling of what the place is about, and our coaching staff has pretty much stayed intact, so we understand that as well.
At the end of the day, you get on the field and everything sort of I think dissipates and goes away and you start playing football. And that's the way it's always been. That's the way it will be again I'm sure. Good football team down there to play, great challenge for us, and we've got to live up and measure up to that challenge.
Q. You saw in their first game, Notre Dame struggled against a two-quarterback approach. One's more mobile and one that's more of a pocket passer. Is that something you're looking to exploit?
MARK DANTONIO: We've got to do everything we can to exploit all avenues relative to playing them. So we've watched the film carefully.
Q. Looking back to that 2013 game, there was no secret that Brian went deep on you guys down the side?
MARK DANTONIO: 20 times.
Q. Counted them up. How do you coach up the defensive backs at that point? Is it anything different when you start to see that in the game or is it something that you guys kind of know the scheme you play?
MARK DANTONIO: From my perspective, we made plays. You know, flags came out a little bit, but from my perspective, we made plays on the ball. Sometimes those are bang-bang type situations where you're trying to -- everybody's trying to do the right thing, so not looking backwards. But at the same time, regardless of what happens, you need to move on and play the next play. I think that's the most important thing.
I think we did do a good job of that. We held them to 17 points, I think it was 17. That was a positive. So we need to continue to play like we do. We need to be who we are too. We can't let somebody take us out of who we are.
Q. You guys the last couple years had a lot of success in these big games on the national stage. How much is that a step for your younger players to get that first one and learn how to do that in that environment?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, I think that's a good point. We need to be prepared for that. These are areas of growth for our young players or moments of growth, I guess I would say where you play in this type of game. You move past that. Now you're ready to play in these games more often. So that will be something for our young players and the players who have not played in such a game.
Most of our guys, are starters and a lot of guys have played to that level of game because we played in big games these last number of years as well, since '13. But I do think for our young players that haven't played, maybe our freshmen would be the ones, you know, our red-shirt freshmen, that is something that they'll have to get over that hurdle. But like I said, once the game starts, they're through that moment and they've got to rise up from there.
Q. You talked a little about the 1966 game that ended in a tie. I'm curious, as a coach, are you grateful to be coaching in an era where you do have overtime? Can you imagine what it would be like to have to choose whether to settle for a tie?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, I'm glad the overtime rule is in effect. No question.
Q. Do you remember what it was like? I guess you were an assistant before they made that change. Was it something that was welcomed among coaches?
MARK DANTONIO: How long has it been? I'm not even sure.
Q. Mid 90's?
MARK DANTONIO: I don't even remember that, actually.
Q. Two quick questions. Are you old enough to have watched the 10-10 tie?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, yeah.
Q. You were a kid then. Do you remember it?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, I do remember it.
Q. Where were you, what were you doing?
MARK DANTONIO: I was 10.
Q. And you watched the game?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, I think I did, as far as I know. I think I did.
Q. But you weren't a Spartan then, right?
MARK DANTONIO: No, I wasn't a Spartan then. I was 10. I was just a happy kid and didn't have all these pressures on me.
Q. More recently, do you think, there are a lot of big games in this series, but do you think Little Giants in recent history changed the nature of this rivalry at all?
MARK DANTONIO: That's tough for me to say. I thought it was a great football game. First of all, when you go back and relive that game a little bit, it was a great football game. It went back and forth throughout the entire game, and there were a lot of things that happened in that football game, great plays, both sides of the ball, both teams. I just think it was great.
I guess it was another ending, another moment that went in our direction. I think that was exciting. I can't say that. That's why you guys do what you do.
Q. What do you still have to learn about your football team? Do you think you'll find out a lot about that this week?
MARK DANTONIO: I think we have to learn a lot about our football team. I don't think there is any question about that. We've only played one game. As I said, we've been working for six weeks, one game. You don't know a lot about it. You know there is going to be growth. You have some people that are going to fail, some people are going to be successful in this game. I mean, that's the nature of it. That's what football is.
But you've got to be able to get back up in either case and play the next play, and then you also have to move forward and learn to adapt and handle those situations. So that's a part of the game experience, and we're going to get that. I think we have a good football team. I think we've got players so that remains to be seen.
That's why every year when people say so and so's preseason number this, number that, at the end of the season, it sort of all Bears out. That's why we play these games and at the end of the year we look and say, well, we were this. But we're looking forward to this opportunity. Again, we've waited. I don't think there is anybody in our program that wanted to sit last weekend. So I anticipate our guys being ready to go, enthusiastic, and it will be fun to go down there. There will be 10, 15,000 Spartan fans there as well. Always has been, that makes it exciting as well.
Q. How have you used that '66 team as an example of a standard that's been set here in the past?
MARK DANTONIO: I think the way we've used it is really just to connect to that era of football. That's 50 years ago, but it connects us. Once you've been some place, and once a program has been to a certain place, I guess, in history, then it can always return to that place. So that's what I feel. It can always cycle back. So nothing more than getting to know the players who have played there, the Bubba's and Gene Washington's, and Clinton Jones and these guys.
But the game has changed. It's different players, different people, different coaches. So that's about the extent of it. But I think you can always look back and relate to it and say that you are part of it because you met the people that played in it, so you are part of it. But that's probably the extent of it.
Q. You talk about your players and how anxious they are to play in this game against Notre Dame. After week one you've played two freshmen. You said you weren't going to play anybody until they were ready to play. They've had a week of practice. Have any of them impressed you enough to get a shot at getting on the field?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, yeah, they have. So we'll see if they do. It's a long week yet, and they have to be able to handle the game plan. We can't put guys in the game just to put them in there. But I do think with that question being answered, I do think there are some guys that may end up getting the opportunity to play some just because I think players need to grow. I think that's a big part of college football.
We don't have guys, we don't pick up guys on rosters and say, okay, the guy has played five years for this team, let's bring him in. It's not the NFL where you have a guy for nine years playing for you. We have young players that need to grow as they move forward. And the only way they grow is by giving them experiences. So we'll try to do that.
At the same time, we've got a lot of other players that need to play as well, red-shirt freshmen that need to play as well. So they need to gain that type of experience too. Or a sophomore in his first few games.
So we've got depth on this football team. So it's very difficult to even pick who the travelers are, really. We've got some good players we'll have to leave back here. But that's what happens when you've been successful for a while. That's a natural occurrence.
Q. You and Brian Kelly share a path at the University of Cincinnati. Brian actually followed you. But how did your time at UC shape you as a coach and what you've been wanting to do and bring here to Michigan State? And how do you think it's shaped Brian?
MARK DANTONIO: For me, that was my first head coaching job. I left Ohio State as defensive coordinator and I went there. So there were a lot of things that I was doing for the first time in those three years to build a program. And we had to get a staff together and many of those people on that staff are still with us. So that was a beginning for me and how it shaped us as a program. I think we brought a lot of what we started to do at Cincinnati at UC here with us, and I think we brought a program with us and a foundation with us when we came here of who we were. We knew who we were. We knew each other, and we all came together. I think that proved to be a faster acceleration for this program.
As far as Coach Kelly, as far as Brian, he had been a head coach. I think he knew what he wanted and so he was -- I can't really speak to that. He was being successful on his end, but I think he already knew. He had been a head coach for years before, so I think his program, what he wanted and what he expected was a little bit more in place, maybe.
Q. When you look at Tyler going into Notre Dame, Kirk and Connor, neither one of them got the win at Notre Dame. What kind of things does he have to mentally prepare himself for down there that is different than Ohio State or does that get him mentally ready for this kind of game?
MARK DANTONIO: Actually, what I remember is Kirk playing in 2009 and almost engineering a Joe Montana type drive down the field, as I remember. And he was getting heavily criticized. And I said something about him not being Willie off the pickle boat, and all of a sudden, I got a case of pickles.
So I think he had success down there. And I think Connor Cook had success down there as well. And we had an opportunity to win that football game in the last minutes as well. But we didn't win it. Neither one of them.
So things happen, but in both cases, both of those quarterbacks really grew from their experience down there playing in that football game. And that's all I can ever ask is you go in, compete, do your very best, compete, expect to win, play to win, and grow from it. And that's the thing I was talking about earlier. You need to grow from your experiences, and I think both those guys really did grow after their performances down there. And I thought their performances were solid.
Q. The rivalry goes back to 1897. I know you're not old enough to remember that. Would you call this, rather than a bitter rivalry, more of a respectful rivalry?
MARK DANTONIO: I'll let you know after this weekend, I guess. But I think there are things that happened in this rivalry that led to the emergence of Michigan State being a major football player in the country. And that's because people got together, whether it was John Hannah and people at Notre Dame got together and they made it happen. So from that point of view, I think there will always be a respect from the people of Michigan State in place because of that aspect, I would think.
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, I think that our defensive line is going to have to come to play. Going to have to pressure the quarterback. Going to have to stop the run, do those type of things. Obviously, Malik will be a catalyst involved in helping to do that. All of our players, every single one of our players will have their hands full when we go down there, that's the nature of this and they'll have to play to a high level.
MARK DANTONIO: I don't think we ever stop growing. I don't think we ever stop. We're always ready to take that next step, and that's what you have to do as a competitor, be prepared to do that. So he's still a relatively young player. When you look at it, he's going into his third year. He's not coming out of his third year.
We've got 12 or 13 games here, 12 games or 13 games to go. So you're a different player. All of our players will be different players at the end of this year than they were early on. But he's got an enormous amount of ability, and I expect him to play very well down there and play with a lot of effort.
Q. I don't know if you were recruiting Saturday, but on your day off, did you see the Central Michigan finish?
MARK DANTONIO: I did.
Q. What were your thoughts?
MARK DANTONIO: Great touch, took the rush, great throw, but really alert play by the receiver, shooting it back as he threw back. Amazing play. I found out later about all the other extenuating circumstances, which is disappointing. But things happen.
MARK DANTONIO: I did not watch it live. I watched another game.
Q. Talk a little bit about what you saw on tape from the offensive line, and is six about the number you expect or do you think you can go deeper in this game and do you need to go deeper with a bigger defensive front?
MARK DANTONIO: That remains to be seen whether we've got to go deeper or not. We want to play as many guys as we can that are game ready. So we'll see.
As far as our offensive line, I thought they played well this last game, and we'll need to play well again. We'll need to protect the quarterback and run the football. That starts up front. It always does.
Q. After seeing that first game, your impressions of special teams? I know Mike missed his only attempt, but a new snapper, and overall, what did you see from that first group from that first game?
MARK DANTONIO: We're two weeks in arrears on that one. But as I remember, we kicked the ball out of bounds in the first kickoff, which wasn't good. After that, we played pretty well. That punt, we punted extremely well. Got two inside the 10, 58-yarder, kickoff return, we missed two seams which could have went to the house. Punt return, we missed one seam that could have went to the house. Missed a field goal. Does that about cover it? I thought we played hard. We had a lot of people playing.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports