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MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY FOOTBALL MEDIA CONFERENCE
October 17, 2017
East Lansing, Michigan
MARK DANTONIO: Just following up on the Minnesota game, I thought we had a pretty workmanlike approach in that football game as we went through it. Came out of it 3-1. We're 3-0 in the Big Ten. A lot of positive things. There are also things we need to correct as we talked about on Sunday night.
IU comes here 3-3. They've played three outstanding opponents that they have lost to in Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan. They've been up against it a little bit. Been very impressed with how they play the game. They play hard. They come get you on defense. I think they tackle effectively on offense. They give you a variety of problems. Got some very good pass catchers, receivers.
Found a guy in the runningbacks, the freshman, Peyton Ramsey as the quarterback. Known Doug Ramsey, his father, for years, probably since 1995. So I know what kind of background he comes from, what type of person he is, player he is.
Coach Allen has done a tremendous job with the program. It will be a challenge for us coming up here.
So I'll take some questions.
Q. Obviously 5-1 is the most important thing in the world. In some of the games, it seems as if it's been a struggle down the stretch to close them out. I'm sure you're concerned about it. How do you address it? Is it just the fact of having such a young team?
MARK DANTONIO: I think things speed up a little bit on you at the end of a game. You got to get off the field or make a first down, whatever you got to do. You're going to make some mistakes probably.
I think as much as anything, it's the competition you play against. We play against good football teams that are well-coached. Nobody quits. What you saw at Minnesota last week 23-6 score. All of a sudden they get one, we get one, it's 30-10, whatever it is, 30-13. You feel like the game is pretty much over. We're on the field for four plays defensively, sitting on the sideline, not ready mentally to come back in and play.
But we were able to grab it at the end, persevere through it. Somehow somebody got it done. If you look at the week before, grind it out there, too. Didn't want to grind it out. Some of it was maybe some things we couldn't control. Some of it was things we could control.
Even the week before that, the Iowa game, we're playing good football teams that are well-coached. They've got players that play through till the end of the game.
We are where we're at. We're at the top right now.
Q. When you look at their quarterback situation, do you prepare for both, especially after last week? How much do you adjust for each different guy?
MARK DANTONIO: I think they're different. It seems like they've gone in that direction with Peyton right now. But I think Lagow is a very good quarterback, as well, can put the ball up. So you have to prepare for either/or. You also have to have a mindset of, Okay, this guy is going to play, this is the direction we're going to take most of our preparation.
Q. Kenny Willekes, I've asked you about him in the past, now time to review film, he really has strung together some good games. Talk about his progress. No one guy stands out, it takes a team effort.
MARK DANTONIO: Well, there's a reason he's playing. Everybody says, Well, you got a walk-on guy playing a defensive end. There's a reason behind it. He's a good player. He plays with a great deal of enthusiasm and toughness, and he's relentless. You've seen that in the last couple of games, the season thus far.
That's contagious. That type of play affects everybody. When people see people playing that hard, it's infectious a little bit. That's been a positive for us.
As a group defensively, I think we are playing extremely hard. We need to play a little better at times, but we're playing hard.
Q. With five wins now, I'm sure maybe your goals have changed, people's expectations have, too. No fun not playing in a bowl game last year. Any significance to this sixth win?
MARK DANTONIO: Well, you got to win six to go. That's my assumption. Really I've always just approached it one game at a time. Even last year, even when we were coming down the stretch, I felt like we could win our last football game. That's the approach we've always taken here. There's not a game that we've gone into that says, We're going to lose that one. Conversely, we don't go into a game saying, You can check that one off, it's a win. It just doesn't happen. There's too much parity in college football. There's too many people coaching extremely hard, working the entire week getting ready, players and coaches. It's difficult.
But right now to be sitting here 5-1 with an opportunity to win six is goal number one. That's challenge number one, goal number one. We'll just try and take it step by step.
Q. LJ Scott has fumble issues. Seemed to be different the other night. More energy, acceleration? What was that about?
MARK DANTONIO: Well, I think it was a point of emphasis for us certainly to try to get our tailbacks running. I thought Madre had a good game, as well. Connor Heyward on kickoff returns, saw what he can do. Did not play Gerald.
I think we have talent at that position. We got him going. I think we did a nice job some of the things we did conceptually, got him into certain areas to the second level where he could use his skill set, both those guys could use their skill sets.
Again, when things start to happen, I think it just becomes that there's enthusiasm with it, there's repetition, things just naturally start to occur. I guess we got on a run. No pun intended.
Q. Obviously a lot of football left to play, but why would you say one of the biggest reason this team has gotten back into contention quickly and what does that say about the program you built?
MARK DANTONIO: It speaks to tradition that we have here. 2015 was not, Oh, hey, they won a championship in 2015. Wonder how they did that? We had won others. Won a lot of football games here. The expectations and the foundation was to win football games, go to bowl games. We had double-digit wins here five times. Those are the expectations. When we didn't succeed in doing that last year, there was pain in that.
I think everybody looked at themselves, every coach, head coach included, especially me, but every player I think also did that. Every incoming player did that. I think they made a commitment to saying, Okay, we're going to do what we have to do, give of ourselves a little bit more, whatever we got to do, however you shake it out. But there was just a little bit more grit. That's what we did. That's our approach right now.
There are no givens in this game. Last year, like I said, we were ahead in every football game at one point in time, had opportunities to win certainly more than we won. This game is about the inches that you find. We've always been able to find the inches here to be able to climb back in there and win a football game. Maybe this year we're finding those inches again.
But you got to make plays down the stretch. Even if you give up some, you still have to make a play down the stretch. We've been able to make them.
Q. Passing game, Trishton Jackson was dressed and available. I don't think he played. Update?
MARK DANTONIO: We don't talk about injuries right now. He has to get himself back.
Q. Nothing long term then?
MARK DANTONIO: No.
Q. The passing game, knock on wood, it might not actually rain this weekend. Are you looking forward to conditions conducive to being a little bit more balanced, getting the passing game going a little bit more?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, the bottom line was we ran for 270 some yards. When you're able to do that, that's a positive. Probably didn't have as many third-and-longs as we had in other situations. Even on third-and-long, we ran the football because we had a belief system in place that that was going to work.
I think it was more about what we were -- it was the way the game was being played out. Just kept pounding the rock.
Q. Since Keshawn Martin, you've been sort of searching for that return game to be dynamic. Seems like you're on the cusp of it now with a few different guys. Can you assess where you are at which position and how close you feel you are?
MARK DANTONIO: Keshawn Martin is one of the greatest, I think. He was tremendous as a punt returner, kick returner for us. I'm not ready to bring into that realm yet, okay?
But I thought we got some good production from Connor Heyward last week. We'll see if that continues. We're hopeful that it will. I thought guys made their blocks, too. We got on people.
Q. (No microphone.)
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, but they're young. There are some young players, so... Got to see how it shakes out. We have talent there, though.
Q. So many of your best defensive units here have been predicated on stopping the run. Last year not as good as that. Numerically looks like you're better. How do you feel viscerally about how much you've improved in that area?
MARK DANTONIO: Well, we've improved greatly. Last year, Naquan was not playing. He was redshirted, Naquan Jones. Mike Panasiuk was a true freshman. Raekwon was a redshirt photograph. Kyonta Stallworth was a redshirt freshman. We had young players. We lost some players coming into the season, which further hampered us. We had to bring a couple graduate transfers in.
It was a situation where we were down a little bit. We had some injuries at that position, as well. A lot of things happened, especially at our linebacker position last your. We lost all three linebackers at one point in time. They're so involved and instrumental in stopping the run.
A lot of different reasons for this, but I think we've gone back and reaffirmed who we are a little bit, looked at what we've done, done some things differently. I think moving Coach Snyder to defensive ends and having Coach Burton work with the defensive tackles gives us a better coach/player relationship. It's about 10-1 rather than 20-1. There's more carryover there, especially because the RPO's that we see nowadays and everything. I think the defensive ends have to play a little bit differently at times.
There's a lot of reasons there behind it. Again, I go back to the bottom line is I think everybody has made a little bit more commitment in terms of what has to happen, technique sound, bigger, stronger, faster. It's tough when you play as a true freshman, it just is hard, or a very young player. I think they're growing up. They're having success, they feel that. They understand this is what you have to do to win at that position in these different situations.
But we're halfway through the season. It will be interesting to see how it all shakes out at the end of the season. Do we continue to do what we have done, which we have. At this point we have stopped the run.
Q. Josiah has been pretty good all year. Saturday was the first time he got beat. How has he responded?
MARK DANTONIO: I think things caught up with us a little bit in the fourth quarter. Again, like I said, I really don't know the reason other than maybe they thought the game was over, which it wasn't. Hit the one dig on them. Was well-thrown, caught on the run, bobbled. It was difficult relative to the coverage we were in, difficult for him to get down and under on it.
He's had a great season thus far. He needs to reaffirm his situation. I have a lot of confidence in him. He's a very good player. The one thing I know about Josiah is he is a competitor. He will come back this week ready to play and compete.
Q. When you came into this year, you talked about that growth between game one and the middle of the season. Is it on the pace you expected? Farther ahead? Did you really know with how many young players you were going to be playing how much development and growth there could be?
MARK DANTONIO: No, I don't think you ever know. I mean, let's face it, it's a game, you have young people, you don't know how people are going to handle things, a big crowd, a big TV game, maybe people get hurt. There's a lot of things you have to deal with.
But I do think we've just sort of tried to parallel things. It's like a graph. You come in like this, you got to get some experience, maybe you dip a little bit in that graph, then you sort of start to hit the curve, go like this. You gain confidence, grow as a person, start to experience good plays. You get more and more confident. Everybody just sort of sorts going like that.
I think that's where our football team is a little bit. I don't think we've peaked yet. I think we're a football team that's still growing. There may be some dips in there as we go, but we are so young, we're not physically dominant yet with certain guys because they're still young. They're going to grow. We're talking years now. We're not talking in the next two weeks. Their experience is going to grow, as well.
I think we've not peaked, even this season. We haven't played our best football game yet. That's the beautiful thing about this. We haven't hit on all cylinders yet. We played very well defensively in games, had a couple games where we played pretty well offensively, as well, special teams been in and out a little bit, but we've not hit on all cylinders yet. We're still waiting for that.
That's a good feeling for the coach, especially when our guys come to practice every day, they work extremely hard, and they're doing it with a smile on their face and they see the success they're having. That's a positive feeling. We just need to hold onto that and keep building. That's what we'll do.
Q. From where you came from last year, you talked about respect since the day you walked on campus, even last year. To this point, how satisfying is it to see this program get back up off the mat, be back in the top 20, have a respect level again?
MARK DANTONIO: That's probably the biggest thing that you're excited about. I don't think there's a person out there who has gone through a difficult time in their life, whether it's business, athletics, whatever it is, that doesn't enjoy sort of rising back up. I just think that's human nature. When you've been knocked down, you have that ability to keep pushing through things and get back up.
As a program, as an administration, I think we all feel like that. But my satisfaction level is 80% because we're 4-1. We're not there yet. We're halfway through the season. I'm not really ready to sit there and say, Okay, we've done this and done that. There's a lot of football left to play. We need to understand I think as a program we're only as good, and you guys know this better than anyone, we really are only as good as our last play or our last game. We need to grind it out every single day. That's the message to our players.
As I talk to them, you want me to ease up or press down? We're going to keep pressing.
Q. I know you hate to talk about yourself, but talking to some of your older players, they have all commented that you're as demanding as ever, but you have seemed to have made a more conscientious effort of making more jokes. Talk about that side of you. The fans don't get to go into practice and see that.
MARK DANTONIO: I think the thing is, they're laughing at my jokes now, so they're understanding them a little bit better. I don't think they laughed at them before as much.
You get to a point when you have a tough season like that, you say, Hey, I'm going to do the best I can. I'm going to do the best I can for our players and this program. That's collectively as a group. That's what I've asked everybody to do. That's what's happened.
But it's fun to win. I just sort of said, Hey, I'm going to do what I do, let's go, love our players, appreciate what they've done. That's what we've done.
I don't know that I've changed that much. I probably still got a little bit of orneriness in me, snap a little bit. But I laugh about it, too.
Q. Coach Allen is very respected as a defensive mind. For years people knew Indiana as offense. How have you seen that defense progress?
MARK DANTONIO: They have come miles, miles, since he's come there. That's not a knock on anybody else. That's just what he's brought. I think they play extremely hard. They believe in themselves. They're making plays. They have some guys that are play-makers on their defense.
They give you a lot of different looks, a lot of different pressures. They're going to get up on you and play you. They have skill in the back end, which you have to have to have any good defense. I think they're coming.
I think he's done an outstanding job with their football team and their program, and they're competing at a national level. That's what you see.
Q. Morgan Ellison is having a good year for a true freshman. Talk about your experiences with him, what he is as a player.
MARK DANTONIO: I keep getting on Coach Tressel about it. He had a broken leg maybe his sophomore year, then a broken leg the other year, the next year maybe, the other leg. He was a little bit of an unknown. Did well in camps. Played his senior year.
They've inserted him much like they have Peyton Ramsey. He's doing the job. He's a physical runningback, 220 or so. Again, he'll be a challenge for us.
Q. They didn't exactly get an easy start to Big Ten play, Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, now you guys. Is that a fine line to walk for a team where playing the best can get you up each week or demoralize you when you're 0-3 all of a sudden?
MARK DANTONIO: I think that's this conference really. If you look at who we played, we played Notre Dame, Iowa, Michigan before Minnesota. I think it's the conference. Everybody's competitive. There's great football in this conference. I keep saying it, very, very good coaching in this conference, excellent football players who play at a high level and expect to win. Everybody that you play expects to win.
It's just competitive. They have played three tough teams coming in. It doesn't get any easier really as you go through it.
Thanks, guys. Go Green.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports