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MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY FOOTBALL MEDIA CONFERENCE
October 31, 2017
East Lansing, Michigan
MARK DANTONIO: Morning. Basically after last weekend's game, we're eight games into this, four games left, one month. Opportunities are still in front of us. As I said on Friday, I think that's exciting for our entire football program, for the Spartan fan base.
Got the right kind of mindset as we head into this game. Difficult challenge coming up. Penn State has an excellent football team, as we all know. Quarterback is outstanding. He buys time in the pocket. He's a very active runner, as well. McSorley, I think he's the epitome of an RPO type quarterback, give you run-pass options, can move in the pocket to throw downfield deep.
Outstanding tight end, pass catching tight end, good skill on the outside. Barkley, at the runningback position, obviously he's their leading rusher and their leading receiver. He's a feature guy. Has two touchdowns on kickoff returns. Outstanding player in all respects. One of our nation's finest.
On the defensive side of the ball, active defense. They're going to move around. Cabinda, linebacker, No. 40. Marcus Allen, No. 2, Grant Haley, outstanding. All guys that play very effectively. They move and blitz a lot, give you negative-yardage plays.
Special teams, outstanding punt returner, also kick returner, as well. Got our work cut out for us. To be in this position at this point in time is exciting for the program. Our guys will be ready to play.
I'll take questions.
Q. When you look at Saquon Barkley, to me he looks like a bigger Gale Sayers for this generation. Certainly has that skill set as a runner, receiver, returner. Do you agree with that assessment?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, that's a very good analogy for those of us that remember Gale Sayers. Big, electrifying guy, great tackles. Laterally, very quick, cutback runner, spin runner. Effective player, great player.
Q. A few years ago, 2015, you went through something like Penn State is going through. 39-38 loss to Nebraska in the middle of a run. Getting a team focused the week after something like an emotional loss, what did you do that week? What is the trick? Next week you took care of Maryland rather easily.
MARK DANTONIO: I don't know. The way we've done things here is we just move on past whatever the problem is. Whatever the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat is, we just try to move past that.
As I remember back then, it was a tough loss. We sort of regathered ourselves. We still had control of what we had to do, much like this loss. We had control at this point in time, knew what we had to do, knew it was going to be challenging, but still just pushed through it. We knew we were going to have to play Maryland, Ohio State, Penn State, at the time.
Our guys just came to play. Just like this last weekend, I think we played hard, we continued to compete and play hard. That's all I can ever ask of our football team. What I will say is we must do that again. That's the focus. What are we going to do next? That's always been my focus here. What's going to happen next?
I cannot change what's happened in the past. What my mindset has been is let's get ready for the next challenge, whatever that challenge is, on or off the field. That's what we've tried to do.
Q. Coming out of that game, talked a little bit about the mix-ups in the assignments, what they did at Northwestern. Gesicki brings a different look. How do you focus on him in the pass game?
MARK DANTONIO: He's a big target. He's a big, long guy. We've played against big tight ends in the past. He's a mismatch guy. The thing that I think he does, he's a vertical threat. He's a definite vertical threat, as well. He's going to call what we call seven-up, where they run a corner route, snap it up, deep routes.
They found him last year. The game, we were right there. I think it was 12-10. They hit a double move maybe on a corner blitz, then the next series I think they hit him with a seven-up type route probably 40 yards down the field.
He's difficult in that capacity, but we're going to have to defend him. The thing that happens in this football game, I think McSorley does an outstanding job of extending the plays in the pocket, then launching the football. When you look at him, it's five-second count. We have to be able to get pressure, get him on the ground, things of that nature. If it's a normal quarterback passing situation where he's not extending a play, the ball comes out a lot quicker. He extends the play and launches it deep sometimes.
Q. Big game and the Spartans are the underdog. Your program has been able to win a lot of these big games in 11 years when you weren't expected to win. How much stock to you put in that not just for you but your program has risen to the challenge and been able to shock the world?
MARK DANTONIO: I think it's important that we all play or best game when our best game is demanded of us. We get ourselves ready for that. I'm constantly asking our players if they're ready to play. Have you done everything that you can possibly throughout the week to get yourself ready to play? Emotionally, physically, mentally as well.
Again, I go back to what I said. As long as they're doing that, that's everybody, everybody in our program has to bring value. You can't stand around and watch in practice. You have to bring value. I just think we sort of feed off each other. We've seen the results. Be positive at times or enough times that we could have a positive vibe about what we got to do.
I don't think there's any mistake this is another challenge. They have a good football team. But I think it's exciting to play at home. We'll get up.
Q. (No microphone.)
MARK DANTONIO: I don't know if I take personal pride. I think the program, your program gains respect with that. I think 'pride' might be a little strong.
Q. Do you ever notice the week-to-week momentum or lack thereof that shows up at all?
MARK DANTONIO: I worry about it. I worry about it because, you know, how many times can you get up every single game. You have to get up. We only have 12 of them guaranteed, so you have to. But I worry about it. I think we're young enough where every game's a new experience for a lot of our guys. I think that's a positive. I think our guys enjoy playing, which I think that's a big thing as well. You got to enjoy going out and competing and playing.
Q. Can you gauge when an opponent is feeling it, coming off a big loss like Penn State has?
MARK DANTONIO: I can't really gauge it till the game. I think it's like catching lightning, I guess, in a bottle. You could have a guy give a great talk pregame, you could be all excited in pregame. You go out in the game, something negative happens, everybody goes south. You could just be like this, something happens, sparks everybody.
I think it's sort of random. I think you know when you have it. I think you know when you have momentum and you know when you're fighting momentum.
Q. Are you and the Rock best buddies?
MARK DANTONIO: My girls told me, he tweeted at me. Not that I didn't see that. Yeah, hit him back today. Who knows? I don't know whose phone that was. Hopefully G'Ma Logan didn't have a problem. It was not my phone. I don't bring my phones to the press conferences.
Q. We talked a lot about the running game the last few weeks. You're talking about how it's not just one thing, there's a lot going on to be successful. As you watched the last few weeks, have you pinpointed any of those certain spots or is it different things each time?
MARK DANTONIO: I think it's a lot of things, as football is. Just like when you're throwing the football, there's protection issues, there's throwing issues, there's route issues. Sometimes they have the right coverage for you.
The same thing I think happens in running the football. We need to run more effectively with our tailbacks. I think that's the most important thing. I think we've been running it a little bit with our quarterbacks and wide receivers, those type of things. I think with our runningbacks, we need to be more effective.
I don't think I'm telling you guys anything you don't know. That's what we intend to do. That's what we were going to hang our hat on coming into this football season. So there's a lot of reasons for that. The people you're playing against are pretty good, there's youth, mistakes happening, there's technicalities or fundamentals. Usually it comes down to fundamentals, and usually it's one little thing here, two little things here out of five or six. But we'll keep working at it. At some point in time, it will respond.
Q. You talk about you have to run, you can't just throw all the time. Are there times where you get to a point where you say, Maybe we need to throw more early to loosen up that?
MARK DANTONIO: We did that last week. We threw down the field the first series. We ran a little bit, as well. But we threw initially. I don't know. I think coming into the season, how do you not turn around and hand the ball to your tailbacks 20 times a game with the tailbacks we have. I think you have to do that collectively or individually. If somebody gets the hot hand, you got to hand it to them.
Then you got to start to play the down-and-distance as the game progresses. You start playing situations in the game which can dictate pass or run. But we've always prided ourselves on having a thousand yard rushers here, had great tailbacks here.
The reality of the situation is that every tailback we've had here has gone on to play in the NFL. That's not a statement just to that individual, but I think every one of them that has been a featured guy here for 10 years. That's not a statement to just the individual, that's a statement to the guys who are blocking for him, that's a statement to the structure and the concepts that were being used.
That's what we would want to do because that gives us an opportunity to stay balanced. Like I said, things change as the game progresses. Our intentions are there.
Q. Last week three more fumbles. At this point in the season, is there anything more you can think of to do to clean that up?
MARK DANTONIO: I assure you, it's being stressed and it's a point of emphasis and a point of frustration. But the ball's going to come out. Penn State is the best in the conference at takeaways right now. That traditionally has been our job or our role when we've won championships.
Again, it's a game-to-game thing. What we have to do now is assess every game and go into that game and say, Did we win the turnover margin, did we not?
But I don't have an answer for you. I can just tell you that it's on everybody's mind. We've got to hold onto the football. Collectively we're working at it with drills and everything else, so...
Q. I already told you I thought the play calling was excellent Saturday. I was talking to someone from Northwestern last night, they were surprised at the pitch you had so much success with against Minnesota, you didn't use it. They were concerned about you using that. In looking to improve the running game, were you a little bit surprised you didn't use that?
MARK DANTONIO: We did use it a number of times, but we didn't get to the edge. It wasn't as successful as we wanted it to be. So, you know, consequently we didn't use it as much. We tend to stay with what's going good. That was a big play for us in the Minnesota game, as well as a little bit in the Michigan game.
Q. Is there anything in particular you've seen with Cody the last couple weeks to allow him to really take off, nice story to all of a sudden looking like a potential number one receiver?
MARK DANTONIO: I think everybody is always on a different timetable, I guess, as they mature as a player within the program. He's a quick learner. He's got skill set. He's made the 50/50 catches, that's what he's really done. He's made catches with guys hanging on him, big plays.
When you see that, you tend to give guys more opportunities. He played 73 plays in the game on Saturday, which is far more than he's played. He was at the point of attack where he had the ball thrown to him more often. Basically that's what we've seen throughout practice to some extent, to a large extent, and then as the games have progressed, he's made plays, I think beginning probably with the Minnesota game maybe. He started to sort of take off.
But like I said before, I think we've had different guys all have their big games periodically. It's not like he's the one guy that's getting the ball thrown to him. We've got others.
Q. In the past couple weeks, Barkley has impacted the games early. How much more do you have to game plan for him versus a typical Big Ten runningback? Are you planning on doing anything early defense or special teams wise to limiting what he's able to look at or do?
MARK DANTONIO: Well, I think they're going to get him the ball. I don't think there's any way you can prevent them from getting him the ball. Maybe on kickoffs you could a little bit. They're going to get him the ball when they want.
He's a great runningback. We played other great runningbacks. We played him before. I think this is our third year playing against him. So I think we understand who he is and what he represents, how difficult it is to defend him and everything like that. He's a great player. You want to win a football game, you have to shut down great players.
Q. Offensive line, noticed Beedle bounced between two positions. What did you see from him right and left, with Jarvis? Kind of assess where Tyler Higby is right now in the rotation.
MARK DANTONIO: I think all three of those guys are sort of in the mix in terms of playing. Who cares who plays. I don't care. We roll those guys in there by series, a lot of times as the series begins. I think Beedle was in on our longer series, Tyler was in on some shorter series. That's just the way it went down. I don't think there's any lack of confidence in Tyler Higby, or David Beedle or Kevin Jarvis.
They continue to learn. With every snap, they're learning something. I think the thing that we got to understand or I ask our players to understand is that every single game that we play, there's a new game plan, there's a foundation. It's new defenses, new personnel. Things that Penn State does on defense is different than what Northwestern did on defense. Things change. It's the collective learning process as you get ready for the next game. That was last week, this week we have to do this, make this call, do this type of thing. I think the intricacies of that, then the fundamentals.
Offensive line play is exact. If you don't have your weight on the right foot, correct foot, if your hand placement is wrong, you're not going to win. Then there's the aspect of you got to win, you got to beat the guy in front of you. You have to do a board drill. You basically have to get their guy off the rock, if I can use that word. Just trying to throw it out there in case he's watching (laughter).
Q. Lighten it up a little bit. In honor of the holiday, you must have trick or treated as a kid.
MARK DANTONIO: Actually, I took a picture of Coach Staten today. He's dressed up as the Big Bad Wolf, full costume.
Q. Did you have a favorite when you were a kid?
MARK DANTONIO: I don't know. I can't remember that far back actually.
Q. You can't remember anything you were?
MARK DANTONIO: No, I really can't. I could guess.
Q. Go ahead.
MARK DANTONIO: I probably was a cowboy or something. Gun low. My gun low.
Q. (No microphone.)
MARK DANTONIO: No, I'm not going. I'll be working.
Q. Barkley, are there similarities with Justin Jackson? Who have you been using to simulate those guys?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, there are some similarities. I think they're both cutback runners. They got great vision. Catch the ball extremely well. They're used on flares, run-after-catch type things. They run wheel routes down the field. They'll run tailback chutes down the middle of the field.
Justin Jackson, as I said last week, is a very, very productive player. I think Barkley is equally as productive and probably more productive if you give him another year. They've both had tremendous careers. They're active players, very active.
As far as who will be used, variety of people. Stick Connor Heyward in there a little bit. We put Andre Welch. Austin Andrews in that position, tailback in high school. T.J. Harrell in that position a little bit because he's been a tailback in high school, 10.7 hundred-meter guy. Guys in there working it.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports