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October 25, 2016

Mark Dantonio

East Lansing, Michigan

MARK DANTONIO: Obviously, guys, big football game for us, rivalry game. I think the history of this football game really goes back to every coach who's ever probably coached here. It's a great setting, great for the state of Michigan and also I think for college football in general. We'll look forward to the challenge there that comes with it.

I think Coach Harbaugh has done a tremendous job there, obviously. Probably truly one of the best coaches maybe that have come through, whether it's college coaching or in the NFL in past years, obviously very well established, and he's got things going down there. They've been very, very impressively offensively, defensively and special teams.

You look at their special teams, obviously you've got to look at Peppers, what he's capable of doing back there, so he's always a threat. Look at defense, I think they have 10 seniors of the 11 as starters, so Jourdan Lewis back in the back end, I guess Peppers at the linebacker position, and then Chris Wormley and Taco Charlton probably at the front four are probably their headline guys.

You look at them on offense, again, another veteran football team with a quarterback who's in his fifth year, I believe, also Darboh and Chesson who are seniors and very productive players along with Butt. They use an assortment of running backs, and the offensive line is established.

Good football team.

With all that that's going on, also want to mention Drew Sharp and offer my condolence again to his family and his friends. He was quite the guy. I don't think there's any question about that. He always brought something to the table. I always thought -- as I said last week, I always thought that he had a different -- he always had a little bit different line of questioning with you. I thought he was genuinely a good person when you got to sit down and talk with him, and he was always -- always had a little smile for you and a little joke for you on the side. I appreciate him being here, and this is the first time in 10 years that I've been here that he would not have been here for this press conference. Again, our deepest sympathy to his family and friends.

I know there's probably a ton of questions, so let's get to it.

Q. The fourth quarter has been obviously a point of concern over the last six games, including the Notre Dame game. You've given up at least two touchdowns, 14 points. As you look at that element, is it a factor of just a lack of depth, guys wearing down? How do you specifically address the fourth quarter?
MARK DANTONIO: I think the fourth quarter usually things get in a rush a little bit, offensively and defensively a little bit, so it's a little bit more chaotic, a little bit more pressure, and we've got to have the ability of finish. I would not say it's a question of getting run down. I mean, certainly in certain games we've got different guys playing maybe in the fourth quarter because of some injuries and such, but I'm not going to sit there and say, hey, we're running down in the fourth quarter. I think it's the ability to be able to finish.

What we have been able to do really in the last number of years is -- and it's exactly what I told our football team: We've won those fourth quarters. We've won the games at the end of the game. We've closed games out, and you can even go back and look at Indiana last year and the score just gets flipped in the fourth quarter. That's what we have to return to. We have to make plays down the stretch and on offense and defense, and that's all a part of this.

I think we recognize that fact, and we keep pushing it.

Q. In the interest of fairness to Dave, people have -- fans and others have complained when Tready was here and Roche and him, the consistent has been you. How much of this offense is Mark Dantonio directed and how much is directed by an offensive coordinator under Mark Dantonio?
MARK DANTONIO: When I became a head coach I had certain things that I wanted to make sure that we could do as an offense, so that was when I became a head football coach. I brought that mentality here. That mentality was a toughness mentality that we had to run the ball to be efficient, we had to be able to run the ball to be effective.

If you look at Michigan right now, same thing. Got to run the ball to be effective, got to be able to pass the ball, hit big plays, play action, things of that nature. And that's really core of what I believe in: Don't turn it over, run the football. I want guys that are here that can be 1,000-yard rushers and go on and play in the NFL at tailback, and you can look and say, hey, Le'Veon Bell and Jeremy Langford are those guys, and they've done that along with Edwin Baker and such and go on, Javon Ringer and those type of things.

You also want pro-style quarterbacks that can create and make things happen. I think that's been established that we can do that. Certainly I can go through the names there.

And the wide receiver position, you want big-play guys. That's been established, as well. Got to protect the quarterback and run the ball up front.

When you look at our football team, what's happened in the past offensively is in 2014 we set general records in terms of offense productivity, but we've won the turnover margin, and what's happening right now is we're not winning the turnover margin. We're not turning it over that greatly, but we're not getting turnovers in three and four. I can't remember -- there's one game where we've got three turnovers plus, and that's the Notre Dame game, and I think that's a formula for success.

So you've got to look at both ends of the stick. You've got to look at all angles of a football team to say, okay, how many points are they going to score.

Productivity is lacking on offense, but you look around the country, and what they're doing with RPO's and run-pass conflict type things, we're doing those type of plays, as well. We've had the top two wide receivers over the year in the Big Ten Conference the last two years, so I can't all of a sudden think, well, you know what, maybe our offensive coordinator just isn't calling plays to go down the field. That's not the case.

It's about execution. It's about production, and it's about timing in terms of when you call these plays at times or things of that nature.

I'm going to allow our coaches to coach. I'm going to have great faith in our coaches, and I'm going to have a great deal of loyalty for our coaches because I know what's going on on the inside, and I know how hard our coaches work.

But in terms of Mark Dantonio, hey, I'm a defensive guy. I'm a defensive back coach, secondary coach, coordinator. I'm a defensive coach. I have never coached offense, not one year.

What I know offensively has been -- is because of what's gone against us, and I go in and I say, hey, we need to do these things, we need to do these things, we need to create this thing, we need to create that thing, and they take those things and they implement those things and they create them.

At certain times I'm going to spend even more time being in a quarterbacks' meeting and these different things, and being in an offensive line meeting room, but you know, I'm more of the math teacher who turned principal, going into the history class and say, oh, I know a little bit about history. I can tell you about this. And that's basically how I've tried to do this year, and it's been -- up until this point, it's been very, very productive.

I know it's frustrating. I can understand that. But you've got to identify the problem and then try and solve the problem, and that's what we're trying to do, and we're working very tirelessly doing that.

With that comes young players sometimes, redshirt freshmen playing quarterback, he's going to make some mistakes. He's going to also make some plays. You know, he's the catalyst of that when he's playing in that position.

I know that's a long answer, but hopefully that solves other people's questions.

Q. Is Brian your starting quarterback at this point, or are we still looking at a game-time decision there?
MARK DANTONIO: It's probably a game-time decision based on how the week goes in terms of whether it's his play, others' play, or quite frankly some injury situations.

Q. You mentioned how a lot of young guys are being counted on. I think some of the things -- Montae told us last week that maybe people were getting comfortable and Chris Frey said we've got to get the young guys into the film room and understand the importance of their role. When you've got a lot of new guys in there, the whole culture of this program, is it tougher for them to try and get? Is it coming slower, them understanding that at this point do you think?
MARK DANTONIO: You know, first of all, our young players are working harder than they've ever worked in their football life, period. That's been started from the time they walked onto campus.

So they're not going to have the same deal of responsibility, whether it's off the field or on the field as a fifth-year senior who understands more and has been through more.

To characterize that our young guys got to work and watch more film, they're watching as much as they can, and just to put on a tape and watch guys run up and down the field, there's an art to watching film. They're much better suited to watch film with their coach and to watch film in meeting times. We have meeting time, we have film time. We're in a 20-hour workweek, and there is something that they can get from other players certainly, and they do watch some film.

But I think it's a little bit overstated in terms of that's the only thing that's going on. There's a larger deal of responsibility with our young players when they play because there's more on their plate. They're transitioning, and remember, a lot of these guys, especially really young players, they were in high school last year playing against a different level of athlete in a different system, one in which they were experienced and well-versed in, their high school system. Now they're held to a higher level of responsibility, and that's natural.

But we just need to play better collectively. Don't point the finger, point the thumb, and get on with it, and that's what we're going to do, and we're going to be strong as we go.

Q. Since Drew isn't here to ask this, I'll ask it for him.

Q. No, one part. You, by design, your program, has thrived on the us-against-the-world mentality. Nobody outside of your locker room thinks you can win this game. Is that your chip this week?
MARK DANTONIO: Well, I don't know if that's our chip, but that's been done before. I think we've been in that position before. What matters, just like if we were 7-0 right now, what matters is how you play on the game field. How you play on the field, what breaks go your way, what doesn't, what happens on the field, and you've got to be ready at game time to do your very, very best, and that's my challenge to our football team. Be strong, look adversity in the face, and get yourself ready to go. Be mentally strong and line up and play hard. That's the challenge.

That's the first thing you have to do before you can be successful. To me the chip is always internal. It's how you handle problems. That's the chip. How do you handle problems? People doubting you, how do you handle that? How do you handle a problem? But we're faced with problems every single day. I've said this over and over, and you've got to be able to take care of them. You've got to be able to move forward.

Q. In your opening statement you mentioned Coach Harbaugh. As you game plan for this team, what makes him such a good coach?
MARK DANTONIO: Oh, I think he looks at everything. I think he keeps you off base, what he's doing in terms of offensive football and things of that nature. I think he's going to be extremely hands-on with his football team. You can see him touching many different facets of his football team. You can tell that.

But the guy is going to definitely keep you off base, I guess, or on your toes, I guess, in terms of you're going to have to cover everything. You're going to have to be responsible for all different things. If they run this, then you've got to play the play action off of that. They run this, you've got to play the tricks off of that. There's always going to be certain tricks. There's always going to be different personnel in different places, so you've got to be alert to those things, and then you've got to defend them.

They've got some playmakers. They've got some guys, just like the tailback position, he sees a guy who can make a play, he's going to give him an opportunity to make a play. They're going to put him in there. I think they used four tailbacks maybe the last game, four or five maybe, so they may not play all the time, but they're going to be in there a little bit here, a little bit there, and you're going to start to notice them.

He's had success wherever he's been, so I think that's what basically you can look at that and say -- and put your stamp on that.

Q. Because this is such a rivalry game, does that kind of get played up more or less because you guys are going through the stretch you are right new? Do you use it as greater motivation, look, we can really turn our season around with this win?
MARK DANTONIO: You know, ever since I've come here, I've never shied away from this football game. I've never said this is not an important game. I've never said, hey, we'll get to it when we get to it. I've always maintained our focus needs to be on that game a little bit more than usual, and that's never going to change.

The reality of it is when we've won, you feel good about it, great about it, great about it. When you've lost, I don't care if you lose by two points, you don't feel as good. When you've been up by 11 with seven minutes to go and you lose, you don't feel very good. That's just the nature of it, and you put a lot of preparation into it, just like you do into every football game. Every football game there's a tremendous amount of preparation into it.

This one maybe just is a little bit more because it's in state and it's a rivalry game and because it means so much more maybe to not just our fans but maybe to the players who have played in it in the past and the overall general feeling that we have for each other, that sense of love. (Laughter.)

Q. You often talk about --
MARK DANTONIO: Or lack thereof.

Q. You often talk about the importance of letting the lion out of the cage at kickoff. Is there a lion in the cage right now that can come out and play with passion without the kind of penalties that get you beat?
MARK DANTONIO: That's something everybody has got to answer for themselves. You know, that's what you have to answer. You know, we speak about those things, just sort of give it a symbol for it, being symbolic. But the bottom line is how we play at game time and then how we play on the first play and then how we're playing on the last play, and it's tough. It's not easy. You know, this is a man's game. I've said this many times. You're going in and you're playing inside, your defensive tackles, your offensive tackles, your linebackers, it's a physical game. It's a physical game. So you've got to be able to maintain that physicality in this type of football game especially because that's who they are, that's who we've tried to be, and so when two people meet like that, it becomes a very physical football game.

I think it was a very physical football game last year.

Q. With the way the season has gone thus far, how critical and important is it for the senior class to -- I know both you and Tom Izzo have talked about leaving a footprint. How big is this game in terms of leaving a footprint for them?
MARK DANTONIO: Well, I think every game like this is a big -- every time we go out to play, we have an opportunity. We have an opportunity to be successful or to play our very best, and that's all we can ask. I don't think our seniors have lost yet, the guys that are four-year seniors. They've won three straight, so I'm sure in the back of their mind, that's something that they look forward to to try and accomplish. But again, you know, sitting and talking about it, it's sort of meaningless; you've got to do it, and this is the challenge.

Q. You've not faced a defense like this since Alabama in the Cotton Bowl. I don't know if you agree with that; that's my assessment. I'm curious, I've heard Dave talk about over the years what he learned from playing that Alabama defense. What have you learned in playing that defense without being too specific because of game plan, but things maybe you can look at to do differently?
MARK DANTONIO: Well, I don't think that they're like Alabama structurally. Their success level is like Alabama's right now, so you have to look to see what you can do, and you know, operate within your system because you can't -- like I said last week, you just can't change a whole system and say, hey, we're going to call all these new plays. That doesn't exist. You have to use what you have and look to take advantage of some of the things that they do, and then your players have to beat their players, whether it's in coverage or whether it's running the football or yards after contact or whatever the case.

They've been tough to run the ball on, and they were rough to run the ball on last year they were, as well. So we need to be able to run the football with some effectiveness and throw it, and productivity, again, which they've been difficult to score against -- they've got a good defense. They've got a good football team. The challenge is there, there's no question about that.

Can we win? Yeah, we can win. I firmly believe that. I know none of you do, but that's why I'm coaching.

Q. When you look at your secondary from the beginning of the season to now, early on to me they looked like they were a fairly confident group. How much of it is just confidence -- how much of the pass rush and the lack thereof sort of perforated through everything and how much of that group is just a confidence issue because they're back there too long?
MARK DANTONIO: Well, it's a team game, so you've got to provide pressure. Ball comes out quick or you get the quarterback off his point, you know, off his dime back there, his completion percentage is going to go down if you get him moving in the pocket. It's about pass rush, it's about pressure, it's about pass coverage type pressure, allows better coverage -- excuse me, tight coverage allows better pressure to happen. So it's all -- again, it's all-inclusive.

I do think guys got to maintain their confidence level. They've got to be able to do that. We've had some guys get injured back there. This past week not -- as crazy as it sounds, not one of our captains, elected captains on our football team was playing after midway through the second quarter, so that's very uncommon.

But you know, you've got other guys playing. You've got young guys getting opportunities, and we've got some very good young players, but they're young. They've got to just grow up fast.

Q. What has been the fourth quarter thing that isn't happening now that has that happened in the past? In other words, what has been the problem with this team not making the plays that your program has historically made in the fourth quarter?
MARK DANTONIO: I think just closing. Just closing. Whether it's a guy getting a turnover or it's a guy getting a big sack or a guy making a big play with the ball in his hands, whether it's running, catching or throwing, it's closure. But things can change very, very quickly in college football. We've all seen that happen. We just need to play confidently and play one play at a time, and really truly focus on each moment.

First moment is practice today, focus on that.

Q. You mentioned the captains not being on the field, obviously, at the end of that game. What do you say to Riley after a game like that, and is that just a case of a guy trying to do too much, a senior seeing things slip away?
MARK DANTONIO: Well, I talked to him at halftime and asked him if he's okay. Obviously the helmet-to-helmet hits are just -- I saw the Penn State guy get thrown out when he was trying to make an interception. I mean, they're just -- I don't know what to tell a guy sometimes. A guy is trying to make a play. I don't think he tried to hit the guy and intentionally be thrown out of the game. That's craziness. I don't think people are doing that.

But they called it, and so we've got to deal with it. The reality of the situation, it would have been 3rd and 17 as opposed to 1st and 10 at the 45, and they go down and score a touchdown on that particular series.

He had three personal fouls in the first quarter, had an out-of-bounds, a hands-to-the-face on a rush, and then he had that third one, so that's very uncommon. But I can't just stop it. I'll complain, but the complaining really doesn't seem to do much good, so I'm best to keep my composure and try and continue on.

Q. You've spent a decade or so changing the in-state perspective of these two programs and this rivalry a little bit, and you've talked the past couple years about selling results. Is this game more important maybe this year to make sure you can keep selling those results and things don't erode with all the change you've made in the past decade?
MARK DANTONIO: That's a good question. Really hadn't thought about that one. I guess the main focus is let's see where we're at at the end of this football game. I still think that have we won our share, certainly, and that we've tried to represent ourselves in this rivalry and to measure up, and that was the first thing that I said we had to do when I came here is we had to measure up. That didn't mean win; we had to measure up. And I think we've done that.

There's been a lot of players that have come through here with a lot of success in this particular rivalry, and there will be futures, future success or failure in this game. The bottom line is to come ready to play. I think that's the most important thing. Come ready to play, understand the gravity of the situation and the intensity that's going to need to be -- everybody needs to have to be able to be successful. I'm sure that they come here with the same intensity because it's intense on that end, too.

Q. Throughout your tenure here at Michigan State when this team has hit adversity, whether it was no Max at the Rose Bowl, down 20 at the Cotton Bowl or even last year no Cook at Ohio State or the last 10 seconds at Michigan, they were able to overcome it. What is it about this team that they struggle with overcoming that adversity?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, it's sort of interesting you bring that up because all those things occurred in the fourth quarter. So I believe confidence has a lot to do with things. If you start and you get over the hump in one thing, in one game you'll get it, the next game you're a little bit more confident, the next game you're a little bit more confident, and things just sort of start to roll, and you sort of become a little bit of a team of destiny in some regards. I think that's happened to us before. We've done that. Why it doesn't happen, why it does happen, you know, tough to figure out. That's why they play the games, and that's why it's a game.

There's an emotional element to everything that we do. Our jobs, sport, everything that we do, there's an emotional element that's in play, and part of that emotional element is confidence, and part of it is being able to stay the course. All these different intangibles that you bring forward, competitive nature, all these different things, that's all a part of it. It's all wrapped up into it.

But we've just got to get it. You know, I guess when you have it, you know it, and when you don't have it, you recognize it, and you've got to recognize the problem and get it changed, and usually what happens is some individual changes that by his play on the field at some point in time.

Q. Last week for a pretty good chunk of that second half, your secondary during a nickel was two sophomores, a redshirt freshman and two true freshmen. Is there a chance this week we're going to see a lot more of that, or are some of those other guys like Nicholson and Cox going to be back, or what are you expecting there?
MARK DANTONIO: Well, we're going to see where we're at as we go through this. But we're going to play to win. We're going to play our best players, put players on the field that can run and tackle, run and tackle, and know what they're doing. I don't have an answer for you there. It's a little bit up in the air.

I think we have a very good group of freshmen, but they're freshmen, so we'll see how it all plays out this week in practice, and we'll see. I think that's why we probably didn't -- really didn't do a depth chart this week. In all honesty, I told Ben, I said, hey, just put Spartan there. Just put Spartan, Spartan, Spartan, Spartan, because somebody is going to be out there with a green helmet on.

Q. You've talked in recent weeks how you're paid to respond to adversity and not just stand out there and lead the bandwagon when it's going well. How tough has this been? This is uncharted territory, five straight losses, rare criticism of the program; how difficult has this been on you to stand strong?
MARK DANTONIO: Well, it's not easy, but you get a lot of -- you've got a lot of people that are supporting you in a lot of different ways, President Simon, Mark Hollis, Tom Izzo, so many other people extremely supportive, and I appreciate that very, very much. But the competitive nature of you as a person needs to come out, and that's -- for me that's what happens with me. Do I have my moments where I go home and lay in bed and say, huh, three true freshmen in the secondary and a sophomore and a redshirt freshman, okay, yeah, I've got some moments like that, okay. Or does your mind constantly sort of run on the program and exactly what's going on in terms of who's playing, who's not playing, who we're playing, how do they look, what are we going to do, all these different things and all these different factors, let's not forget recruiting, let's not forget academics here, let's not forget social issues here, so it's just a big churning -- it's just a big wheel moving, okay.

But my belief is that -- I guess in all honesty, when things go down, it's best that you have somebody steady at the top, and that's what I'm going to be. That's who I am. That's what I'm going to be, and that's the way we're going to deal with it.

Q. Realizing that your focus has got to be on the season, nonetheless, when you're playing all these freshmen and your value from the fifth-year senior has been immense here in this program construction, and knowing that down the line this is costly, how do you assess that in terms of the long-term arc?
MARK DANTONIO: Well, another good question. You know, I really have to deal in the present. We have to deal in the present. I can't sit there and look, okay, and say, well, that guy is not going to be playing for us in 2021. I have to deal in the present. I think it would be 2020, okay. So we have to deal in the present and what allows us to win right now, and then usually when you're coaching, when you start playing your true freshmen, you're actually coaching those guys. You've got them in the film meeting. They're getting reps at practice. They're much more involved, so their ability to progress as a football player becomes much, much greater as opposed to playing on the scout team and playing somebody else's defense and lifting on Friday mornings and not having pressure on them and not having that sense of responsibility thrown at them right now.

There's a give and a take with this. A freshman playing right now will be a much better player next year than a redshirt freshman usually because he's got the benefit of this season, and then also a spring and then also another fall camp. So it should pay dividends and not be the other way around, although at the end of the day, your fifth year from now, you might be saying I wish I had so-and-so here, but you just have to keep rolling with it.

Q. You being a secondary coach, what do you like about Jourdan Lewis's game, and then also Jabrill, how hard is it to prepare for him given that he's coming at you from all over the place?
MARK DANTONIO: You know, I think first of all, Jourdan is a great cover guy. I think he's extremely confident. He brings a sense of toughness to the table, as well, very, very competitive. He's got good ball skills, can run cover, very balanced when he presses.

Jabrill Peppers is an outstanding return guy, very aggressive. They use him on offense in multiple different areas and different places, and I'm sure he'll have at the minimum -- if I say five, Coach Harbaugh may put him in in six different ways, so I'll say two. (Laughter.)

But he's going to be in there whether he's at quarterback, tailback, wide receiver, wherever he's at, we've got to know where he's at when he's in the football game on offense, but he's a playmaker and he's an aggressive playmaker on defense that they're going to use as a blitzer, and he's got coverage skills and things of that nature. He's just an outstanding football player.

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