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September 19, 2017

Mark Dantonio

East Lansing, Michigan

COACH DANTONIO: Coming off the bye week, excited for the opportunities coming Saturday night. Excited FOX is here to represent us on FOX, I guess, national TV. So a great opportunity for our football team and our players. We have a lot of young players that have not experience that had, so it should be exciting for them.

Want to recognize Kirk Gibson, he'll be our honorary captain, as well, this weekend. It will be great to have him involved with our football team in that regard. And I'll take some questions. I think that's the best way right now. We've had a week off.

Q. The wide-outs have by all accounts been pretty impressive for a group that's had 14 catches. Lewerke has had a good start. For Brian and those guys, has this become a real telling -- a first, telling test or new chapter in their play-making ability?
COACH DANTONIO: I think our football team, you know, we're just taking things one step at a time as we go. You know, the first two steps have been completed. Now it's a third step. Obviously you have a national game. It's a little bit more intensity around it, I guess. I can't really say that from an internal perspective because I think that's how we've been in every football game. But we just keep taking steps. Next week it's going to be another challenge.

So I think we'll evaluate our situation at the end of the season in that regard, the wide receivers. Been impressed thus far. Like I said earlier on, we only had 14 catches coming back, but we knew we'd have more than 14 after the first game.

You know, when you're young, provides opportunity, but I do think our guys are good players and they will have opportunity to make plays.

Q. You look at the red zone offense, seven of eight in touchdowns, that's obviously a point of emphasis for you guys. What has been working well inside the red zone with Brian in the offense?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, really, we'd be eight great with the exception of that fumble. We've played well in the red zone and we've produced, and I think last year, that's one of the things maybe we didn't do as well. Even if you look back to the Penn State game, four times inside the ten in the last -- in the first half last year; six times inside the 20 against Michigan last year. You know, we had to kick field goals.

This year we're scoring. I think it's execution. I think it's a mindset. Not just from your coaching staff but your players. It was a big point of emphasis. Right now we're getting that done, again, step-by-step process in terms of we've got to continue to do that to be successful.

I would like to see our guy kick a field goal at one point, but it's not all bad either. He'll have his opportunities.

Q. Talk about the unique challenge that their quarterback, Wimbush, presents. He's run the ball pretty well but through the first three games has had success throwing the ball, as well. Talk about the challenge and being a duel-threat guy?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, you know, Brandon Wimbush is a guy that can create. I don't think there's any question that he can create.

When you look at a quarterback, I've said it all along: You've got to be able to create with your mind, with your throwing motion, your mechanics, your release, or with your feet. You saw what he could do this last week, a lot of plays broke down and he created even a shovel pass. The shovel pass hung up and he runs for 70 yards.

So he's a dynamic athlete. He obviously has a good style of leadership. You could see that they follow him. Even though I think he's a red-shirt sophomore, he's a relatively young player in that regard.

Obviously you've got to control the guy. You can't allow a quarterback to run for 205 yards. That's not a good equation to win.

Q. You just mentioned your red zone this year; you would be 8-for-8 if not for the fumble and Notre Dame is perfect, 15-for-15. Anything you've noticed that's made them that successful this year?
COACH DANTONIO: Again, it goes back to what they are doing in terms of we're talking touchdowns, we're talking field goals, those type of things. But I think the quarterback has created -- and also a number of good running backs, but Adams is special, as well. He's been able to break tackles and get in the end zone. But I think Wimbush has created a number of times to accomplish that; made plays.

Q. Do you see Notre Dame as more committed to the run than maybe past times you've played them or is it personnel for this group?
COACH DANTONIO: I think they take shots down the field. You know, you are going to see them go up top. That's not going to stop. They are going to want to pass the ball, as well. They want to stay balanced like everybody and they want to see their players grow in that aspect, as well.

So I think it's all down and distance and situation, where the game is at in terms of the score and quarter and those type of things. I think all those things will predicate whether they run or they throw. I do think a lot of times he'll drop back to throw and he creates; he takes off with the ball. You can't negate that fact.

Q. You have three rivals on your schedule that are kind of personal: Michigan and Ohio State maybe for other reasons. Why is this one personal? Why is Notre Dame and this game special to you?
COACH DANTONIO: You know, I think back in the day, way back in the day, you know, I grew up, and there were three channels -- I don't want to advertise for them I guess. But three channels, and the Notre Dame game, Notre Dame Football was always on on Sunday and I'd watch it.

I think that that -- so you grew up a little bit seeing Notre Dame, you see Michigan State back in the '66 game. I watched that game as a young person. Just got involved in that respect. And then when I came here as an assistant coach, we played them in '97, '98, '99, 2000. They were always very good games.

And so then when I came back, you know, I think they were the fourth game on our schedule and here we go. So they have been good games, great games, and they are always going to be packed houses and they are always going to be nationally-televised, and there's always going to be a little something that goes with that game.

So you know, just made it a rivalry, I guess. It's one of those things.

Q. You mentioned your history watching Notre Dame play. Have you given any thought with the four on, two off, this being potentially the last game you'll coach in the rivalry --
COACH DANTONIO: I did give that a little thought. Don't count me out, though. What is it 2022? '26? (Laughter) Well, yeah, count me out. I'd be 70, okay.

Yeah, I have thought about that. This is the last one for awhile, but just sort of in passing.

Q. Was there any moments, obviously there are a lot of big plays and games, but is there any one that sticks out, is it little Giants or is there anything --
COACH DANTONIO: Maybe -- a lot of things happened in that -- what was that, seven years yesterday? That one sticks out.

That prompted some questions, I see.

Q. Talking about Brian Kelly, a guy you've coached against quite a bit, followed you at Cincinnati obviously. But he's kind of garnered a lot of heat and pressure down there. What's it like to go through that when fans are upset and you go through a rough season --
COACH DANTONIO: Really? You're going to ask me that?

Q. Well, I don't mean like for you, but to see a guy you know and the challenges he's dealing with down there at Notre Dame.
COACH DANTONIO: I think every football coach in America at a major college deals with pressure. I don't think there's any question that that's happening; that that happens. You know, it's what have you done for me lately. That's the world we are living in. I don't think that that's just sports or athletics.

You know, it's challenging. It's challenging when you're the head of the program, when you're trying to control everything but things are out of your control. I think being a head football coach and you think everything is under your control; I can tell you that a lot of it's not. Blocking, tackling, leverage, all these different things, just in the game of football, so it's difficult, and you have to answer for those questions and so it becomes difficult.

I have a lot of respect for Brian Kelly and the success that he's had, and the position that he holds currently at Notre Dame, and the position that I hold currently, and I say that just because status quo. I have a lot of respect for head coaches across this country because it's a tough job.

But it's a fun job. You get to interact with young people. You get to do things your way. You get to set precedent and make an impact in your community on and off the field, and all those things are good things to do. You really are sort of living the dream, but sometimes there's nightmares, I guess.

Q. When you look at Notre Dame's offensive line going up your defensive line, pretty key match up there in terms of what they are trying to do with running the ball right now. On your side with defensive ends and tackles, what do those guys have to do to help stop that?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, they are a big inside zone team or zone team, so they are staying flat. We've got to continue to do what we've done against the other teams. We've got to play square and win up front and not get turned sideways, and then we've got to tackle well.

I think a lot of the plays that you've seen are a result of missed tackles. You know, somebody is going to have an opportunity to tackle a guy, but if you run through tackles and you become your own blocker in some regards, good things happen or negative things happen for the defense. We have to tackle well in the perimeter and leverage it and play square up front and win at the point of attack.

Q. What have you learned about your team through two weeks that you didn't know three weeks ago? And then what are you still curious about that you might learn Saturday or the following couple Saturdays?
COACH DANTONIO: You know what I've learned about our football team is that we'll compete. We're a very excitable group. We have fun. We have a lot of fun. They enjoy practice. They enjoy playing. They enjoy getting ready for a football game.

They sort of like their place right now. I think they like their place. We have to continue to just sort of take a step-by-step process here as we go through this and each challenge, every week brings a new challenge, and that's the way it's going to be the entire year. Every week will bring a new challenge and we have to be able to handle those challenges and take the good with the bad.

Q. You talked about your defensive line but now I want to talk about your offensive line, especially the way they like to get pressure up the middle to make your runners go east or west. You've seen then on film; what's your assessment of their defensive line?
COACH DANTONIO: Active. Big. They are going to try to control the c-gap. I think any time in a run defense and we try to run the football; if you can control the C-gap and you can control the nose tackle position, the zero, A-gap type things, that's when it's the toughest to run the football.

They want to put a big guy, 690 pounds (sic), 6-3 1/2 half over the tight end, if he's to the field or something like that, you know, that's a big guy. You've got to get movement and you've got to win that. You've got to win that individual battle.

So they are active. Their linebackers play downhill. They are playing well defensively. I think for all the things that you hear about the big plays, because that's what I guess sells tickets, they are playing well defensively I think and they are playing well on the front seven. You don't see a lot of people running the ball very effectively against them and they have not given up a lot of points. So it's tough.

Q. Tranquill at the rover spot does a lot of different things, not the biggest guy in the world but does a lot athletically. Can you talk about him?
COACH DANTONIO: Did he play as a true freshman? He's played as a long time. He's played in the secondary and so he's an athletic guy and has that type of speed. He's gotten big so he's played what we call the star linebacker here. So it's a guy that is an adjuster, plays out in space a lot, but he'll have to come in the box in certain formations. He's active and he's tough just like his brother. He's a tough guy and plays with high energy and tries to make plays.

Q. You mentioned in the opening statements about a young team in the national spotlight, getting those guys that kind of exposure and that kind of experience. How does coming out of a bye week help you prepare for that versus if it was a quicker turnaround?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, we're ahead in terms of our preparation. I think that's one of the things. I think we are ahead in that preparation.

Now as game time approaches, they catch up. But I do think that we are ahead so that we can -- so as a younger football team, we can sort of sit there and say, okay, here, this is what we have to do.

So they understand their challenge. They have looked at that challenge for a week and a half now, this being Tuesday, or a little over a week, plus. So I just think that they are looking forward to this opportunity, this moment. They have had a couple weeks to do this.

Again, what I've tried to do is say, if I had our season up in sort of phases and this sort of second phase, last non-conference game, and so here we are. Let's see if we can go 3-0.

Q. Most teams or athletes might use a bye week for rest or relaxation, but some of your guys went down to Houston. How does that make you feel as a coach?
COACH DANTONIO: I'm very proud of our football team. I've always been very proud of our football team. Do we always do everything right? No, as evidenced by some of the things that have gone on.

But it's usually the 95 percent / 5 percent rule in that regard: 95 percent of our guys are going to do what's right in this community and what's right for other people. And I ask our players all the time, try and be a light for others.

You know, ten guys went down to Houston and they did some great things. Other people went home and saw their high school play or spent time with people back home. You know, we had Lancing Promise we're involved in. So we'll bring in a people from an elementary school to practice today, from the entire elementary school, I think maybe the fourth, fifth and sixth graders or something of that nature. So they will again have an opportunity to spend some time and make a difference in people's lives. I think that's what we're all called to do. Our guys do a great job with that, not just our football team but our entire athletic department, and we'll keep doing that.

Q. Going off what Matt said, for a lot of your young players, this is going to be their only opportunity to play against Notre Dame. How do you go about expressing the importance of this to them? Do you treat it like any other game or tell them about the finality and how this will be their only shot?
COACH DANTONIO: No, this is just another game in that regard. This the next challenge. There are going to be other big challenges that they are going to be able to look forward to throughout their football careers playing here, and that's the kind of place Michigan State is. That's the kind of place Notre Dame is. You're always going to have a big game, the next big game. There's no finality in that.

I just think that we just need to embrace the rivalry, embrace what's going on, and have fun. You know, as much as anything, I want our guys, when they leave that -- when they enter that stadium, that they look around and they understand that this is a life moment. Every opportunity to play in Spartan Stadium is a life moment, enjoy it, play as hard as you can and play with great toughness and execute.

Q. It's only two games, but you've been with this group since the spring, so it's kind of been a long time. I don't know if you've ever had a younger team.
COACH DANTONIO: No, I don't think they have.

Q. Do you feel that they are kind of growing up?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, young teams are nice, because as you get into it, you have -- let's say that we play ten freshmen. Those ten freshmen are going to be very near sophomores with a lot of experience at the end of this year, but yet still have three years to play.

I go back to 2010, our entire second unit on defense were freshmen, but that team, inevitably, grew up fast in '10 and '11, stepped back in '12 but had a big year in '13. I think it's good in that respect. If we had an older team, I'd be talking about that, but that's good, too.

You sort of embrace what you have. But I like our guys: The way they carry themselves; the way they compete every day; the way they come to practice, and how they have handled their business thus far.

Q. Kind of revisiting with Kirk Gibson, he was your contemporary as a player. What did you know about him then and how much did you know his football success at that point?
COACH DANTONIO: You know, not a lot, because I think in the late 70s, I was playing down south and he was up here. So there was sort of -- I didn't know what was going on up here.

But I think I've learned about him over the course of time just as an athlete and baseball manager, certainly and as I got to know him personally. But I don't think there's any question that as a Major League Baseball player, everybody knew who he was; and the success that he had and the things that he was able to accomplish in that regard, and I knew that he had played football and was a great player at Michigan State. But that was a little bit after he was already going on.

I knew that he was successful. I knew that that was the case and he was an outstanding player here at wide receiver and that type of thing and a big-play guy, but I learned a little bit more as I came in.

Q. This is a major game as far as a bunch of recruits that are coming in, and I'm curious, for those that can't, do you encourage them to get on TV and watch the atmosphere and look at it? Because under the lights, it can be pretty impressive. Do you use the television as much?
COACH DANTONIO: You know, yeah, we're always talking to the people that we're allowed to talk to right now, and talking to them about that, you know, if you can't be here; but to be honest with you, a lot of them weren't (ph) going to be here.

Another sort of -- it just sort of shows the environment. It will show in detail here, our game environment. It should be a great opportunity for our young people to watch Michigan State. Thanks. Go Green.

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