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MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY FOOTBALL MEDIA CONFERENCE
October 3, 2017
East Lansing, Michigan
COACH DANTONIO: First off, I want to reach out to people in Vegas and express our deepest sympathy and prayers, as the entire country goes through this. Very tragic, tragic thing that we all endured yesterday.
Beyond that, big win versus Iowa. So now we get ready for another big emotional game, big rivalry game. So we have to maintain our emotion throughout the week and bring that to Saturday, as well and not have a setback in that area. Big rivalry game, as well. Everybody understands that. I looked, and I think you have a tendency to keep track of numbers on things like that, and I've always said that, and I think this would be my 17th season currently here at Michigan State with six as an assistant and now 11 as a head coach. This will be the 17th time playing against the people down the road there; so tend to measure that.
Offensively, do a lot of different things. Think they are very well-coached. Present a lot of different formations, use a lot of different people, personnel, etc. Had great success there obviously. Good football team. Very good football team this year, as well.
Defensively, again, same type of thing. A lot of different defensive formations and adjustments, get on you, and obviously defensively, they are doing very, very well in the country ratings. I think they are No. 1 in sacks, Winovich leads the Big Ten in sacks, No. 1 sacks in the country, No. 1 in total defense, No. 1 against the rush, and I'm not sure, maybe points, as well. But very, very good players. Playing very fast.
Special teams, solid, and will be a great challenge for us as we're going down there, and we're looking forward to the opportunity.
I'll take questions.
Q. How concerned are you about the running game, and obviously the winner of this game traditionally is the one that can run it.
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, obviously very concerned. You want to try and make things work. You want to stay balanced. I think that's what we want to do and most football teams, and especially down the road, you want to stay balanced, as well. Got to get our things going, our tailbacks going, our running game going a little bit better.
But like I said on the call on Sunday night, you know, the running game at every level is predicated on so many different things. Everything has to work in sync, and offensive line is playing -- if four out of the five guys are getting the job done, you know, that's not going to be good because you need the fifth. If the fullback or tight end is not in sync with it, that's a problem. If the running back is not seeing or have the vision on a cutback or something like that, that's a problem. So there's a lot of different reasons for things occurring and not going as planned.
The main focus is, though, that we have done it before. We need to continue to just find ways and do it. Iowa has been a difficult team to run against, traditionally, and again, you saw that -- you saw that on Saturday night. But you know, it all worked out and we won the football game, so that's the bottom line. I'm concerned about it, no doubt.
Q. Speaking of concerns, kickoffs, not getting them into the end zone, how big of a deal is that and do you eventually have to look to another kicker with so many on the roster?
COACH DANTONIO: Asking me tough questions today. You know, I want to have faith in our kicker, but he's got to get the ball up and he's got to have a greater -- a little bit better hang time. That is a concern, as well, but as long as we keep on covering. Some of the problems have been in coverage, as well: So a systematic approach in terms of what we are doing; sometimes they hit a counter on us and sometimes not.
But you've got to find ways. We've got to have a better kickoff, better hang time, probably better hang time rather than so much into the end zone; a little bit better hang time, but we'll work towards it. We have a couple of guys working there, too, but I'd like to keep No. 8 in there, Brett in there.
Q. When you look at how many young guys you have that have yet to play in this rivalry, is there a way to teach them that, and how do you, I guess, mimic the intensity that they are going to see both on their first road game down in Ann Arbor, and also with the hitting?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think that's the exciting thing, really. I think you get to go into a different environment. We've played four games at home, and now you get to go on the road. Get a lot of Spartans down there, as well. It's a great venue. It's fun to play down there at times. Sometimes it's not, okay. But it goes both ways, I'm sure.
In this type of game, I think for young players, I think they get a sense of what's going on probably after the first or second snap. They will figure it out. You can talk about it and try and educate them about it, but at the end of the day, you have to experience some things to really feel it. But I think they will feel it after a couple plays and they will settle in.
So it will be important for them to do that. I think they are looking forward to it.
Q. A little bit along those lines, Brian got to play some in that game last year obviously before he got hurt. How much does that help him going into a game like this to kind of know what it feels like already and not have to worry about that?
COACH DANTONIO: I think when you're a quarterback, any college football team, especially at this level, every play that you have is going to help you. So every play that he's had this season, every play that he has had lat season; the experience in that game last season certainly helps him, and he can draw some strength from those things, and especially some experience.
Q. There's a certain amount of apprehension from both schools about playing this game at night for the first time. Does that change anything for you?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, not really. I mean, we've been playing some games at night in the past, but it's tough to wait around all day. But you know, just -- they tell you where to show up, you show up and play. That's got to be our mo.
I'm excited to watch our guys play this weekend.
Q. They are going to start John O'Korn at quarterback. How much are you able to know about him? Do you go all the way back to Houston to see what he does and what does he do well?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think you look at him more in terms of what he has done recently. I think he played well, very well, against Purdue. Threw for 300 yards, in, what, a little more than three quarters. I thought he had a positive showing.
You look at what he's done throughout the season and any time he's played and the spring game and those type of things. You draw at everything, all the information that you have, you just try and figure it out.
Q. Thinking back to the first time you beat these guys, after the year you had made all those comments after the loss, do you remember what that felt like, the sense of satisfaction, to do that in 2008? Can you put that into words?
COACH DANTONIO: Tough to put that into words. You know, just you had an opportunity to go down there. It was as much -- that particular game was as much about responding after we got beat, pretty decisively by Ohio State, very decisively by Ohio State, if you remember, those that were here. And it was about showing up and playing at a higher level, playing at the level we needed to play to be successful in this conference.
So it was a little bit about that. It was a little about going down there. I think we had not won down there since '68, I believe, as I remember, when I look back, maybe.
So to do something that had not been done in almost 50 years was a good feeling for our football team. That team ended up winning nine games that year and sort of sent us on an ascent. Following year, fell back a little bit, but then we won a Big 10 Championship.
A lot of those guys in that year, they sort of built the foundation of what was to come.
Q. You stole half my question, but it's been ten years since the little brother comment and your reaction. How do you think that's changed the dynamic of this series?
COACH DANTONIO: It really hasn't changed it for me. It's really sort of still the same as far as how I've always approached it ever since I was an assistant here. I guess that's a rallying cry for some, but I am who I am and I just react the way I react sometimes.
We get ready to play; they have got a good football team. Have a great amount of respect for what they have accomplished down there. Always have had that. My goal when I came here was to make that a rivalry. I think it's a rivalry. We'll leave it at that.
Q. A lot of coaches follow the every-game-is-the-same kind of mantra, and we-treat-every-game-the-same, but you certainly don't make any bones about what this game means to you and the school everything and else. Do you think that special feeling that you have about it is part of the reason you've been so successful in this rivalry?
COACH DANTONIO: No, I think that's all coach talk, personally. I think coaches know what game is important. They understand. They can stand up here and say, well, this is just another football game, but it's not.
We play in a Championship Game; it's not just another football game. You play in a rivalry game; it's not just another football game. It means more. It means more for your fans. It means more to the players on your team from instate or from that particular rivalry position, however -- whatever rivalry game it is. It just means more.
And I think it's great for college football. I think it's what makes college football in a lot of ways. I think people anticipate these games, look towards the schedule and probably look at the season, and as they are getting their season tickets and say, Oh, we have that particular game, whatever it is, wherever you're at, at home this particular time.
So I think that's pretty traditional across this country, and that's how we've approached it here. Doesn't mean that anybody else has to approach anything in this type of way but that's how we've approached it here.
Q. Kind of following up on that, you're talking about the rivalry and the magnitude of that; now this being your first road game, how does that factor in, knowing you're going there with the rivalry and on the road for the first time with a young crew?
COACH DANTONIO: You know, I've always things as being half-full, not empty. It's a road game, but it's in the State of Michigan. So is it really a road game? I don't know.
It's the best road game we can have because it's in the State of Michigan and we're going to have a lot of Spartans there. Only driving about 59 miles, I think, so that's not all bad, either, so we keep a pretty standard approach to it in terms of how we travel this weekend and in terms of what we're able to accomplish here on Friday.
So I don't know if it has -- certainly on the road, but I don't know; it could be worse. Let's just put it that way.
Q. Were you surprised that Jim yesterday said that Speight would be out and announced O'Korn would start? Those are things that coaches like to try to keep to themselves and keep until game time.
COACH DANTONIO: I think he took a pretty significant hit on the film. So I didn't know if he would play or not. But you know, I just listen. I try not to react to things. I just know who is playing now, O'Korn, but I sort of anticipated that. I thought O'Korn played well in the game, as well.
Q. Does it change your prep? Would you have had to prepare for both if he had not announced it? Does it make it easier to focus on the one guy?
COACH DANTONIO: I don't know if that changes who they are offensively or what they are going to call. I think they are sort of similar in a lot of ways.
But you go back and look at things and try and dissect to see -- but I didn't see their offense really change. He has experience. I think he's been in the system long enough that he probably is well versed in everything that they do. And he's operated very successfully.
Q. You named Jalen Watts-Jackson the man, the legend, after this game a couple years ago; and Bobby Morris I think turned 52 this week and people still talk about his run in 1984. Isn't that what this game kind of does; if you perform in this game, you're almost a household name?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I think that games like this, you know, does do that for certain individuals when they are able to make a play in the game; T.J. Duckett or whatever game it is, and it goes on the other side of things, probably, too. But remember that's what these games give you. They give you a little bit of a legacy. That's, again, why rivalry games I think are so good for college football.
All good? Beautiful, get out of here -- okay.
Q. You touched on Brian and the things he's going to have to do. With his legs, how do you, I guess, keep him healthy, first of all, when he's running as much as he did -- does, and secondly, when defenses try and maybe spy on him, what does that open up for him?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think that first of all, his ability to create a positive. We have to be smart with that. He has to be smart with it. I don't think there's any question that when you are that, you take some hits.
But also, I think when you're sitting back in the pocket and you cannot create with your legs, you're going to take more hits. I mean, again, I look at it as half-full, not half-empty. He's got to protect himself, and the officials have to protect him in certain situations probably, as well, and that gets done.
I think it's a positive, and it should be -- it's something that helps us. I don't think it hinders us.
Q. For a rivalry game, obviously you'd want to go in undefeated and No. 1 in the country or whatever, but for a rivalry game, do you almost like the idea of the underdog; they won last year, so there's that element, too? People thought you guys would be down there year; so there's that element. Do you like the setting that you've got going into this game?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, again, I've never really thought of those type of things. You've got cards and you play with the cards we've been dealt. We're 3-1 right now. I can't change that. I wish we were 4-0 and I wish we were sitting there walking in the game nationally-ranked and all that type of thing.
But you've got to earn that reputation, especially after last year. You've got to climb back up that ladder, and that's our intent. That's where our mindset is, and again it's a road game. It's a rivalry game. I don't think we need to factor in and say, okay, we're the underdog and all that kind of stuff. We have motivation. They have motivation. Should be a great football game.
Q. What did you see in your front seven defensively against Iowa, specifically the physicality, that you might have liked to see going into this game against Michigan?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I thought we tackled well. I thought we stayed square. We kept an edge. Again, if you're not getting reached or scooped; we maintain pressure on a double-team. Played very well up front. Our linebackers ran well and tackled well, which we knew we were going to have to do going into that game. If you're going to play well defensively in any game, you have to tackle well. You have to play the ball well in the deep part of the field and match them up and protect the quarterback.
That's our mindset as we go into any football game, but I thought we played extremely well up front and we won at the line of scrimmage, which you have to be able to do.
Q. You guys are both Top-5 in defense overall, total defense, both Top-5 nationally and I think passing efficiently defense, both really good against the run. Do you see a lot of similarities?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, there's some similarities and then obviously there's some differences. The type of defense that they run relative to us. But there are some similarities, and that's a positive thing right now for us, because they played well last year. We needed to play better; so that's a positive.
Again, we've got to climb back that ladder -- climb up that ladder, and I think we're doing that. But we're one-third through the season right now. So Game 5 is coming, so we need to take that next step.
Q. Forgive me if I don't see this in the notes. Do you have an honorary captain yet?
COACH DANTONIO: No, we do not.
Q. You have to pick it yet?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, we may not pick one.
Q. There have been targeting calls in this game before, with the ferocity both teams are going to play with. Do you have to remind your guys to just play on that line and not over it, and how difficult is that when sometimes the definition of it changes based on the playing of the ball carrier?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I don't think anybody is going out there with the intent to hurt anybody. I've never seen that, especially recently. But there are hits that get called that, you know, I don't know -- sometimes, we're talking about split-second decisions and body changes and body movements coming into a football play and it's difficult.
I think our guys need to play the game aggressively; their's certainly will. But sometimes these things are going to happen. I think if there is some intent to take somebody out, it's going to get called.
But I think the officials are doing the very best they can. But I'm not going to sit there and say, don't play hard to our guys. They understand the rules and we continually talk about that and emphasize how to tackle and those type of things, but sometimes things are going to possibly happen, and hopefully it's prevented.
Q. A lot of talk about Gerald on Media Day and his leadership and what he did to rally the guys in the off-season. I know the numbers are not exactly there on the field right now, but has that continued with him, and what have you seen from him and what does he bring to your team?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, Gerald Holmes has done a great job I think in the leadership capacity.
Again, I treat all those guys like they are starting tailbacks. Like we've heard before, the numbers are not really there yet, but it can happen at any point in time and that's what we look for.
But he's done a great job just with our football team. Just being consistent as much as anything with his message.
Everybody good, guys? All right. Go Green.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports