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MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY FOOTBALL MEDIA CONFERENCE
November 7, 2017
East Lansing, Michigan
COACH DANTONIO: Okay. I'd say great challenge, challenge for our football team. I think the biggest challenge right now is just continue to handle success as we go forward. Got a great opportunity as we go.
History of the game with Ohio State in the last six years has been one that has great meaning I think for a lot of different -- throughout the season for us, even last year had a lot of meaning for us and had an opportunity to go down the stretch there.
But pretty much as I said, great challenge waits for us down in Ohio. We have 26 players from the State of Ohio. Ten of them start for us. It's exciting for them to go down and play in front of really, as close to their hometown probably as they can get, and I'm sure they will be motivated for that.
Where we're at right now is pretty much where we wanted to be, in control of our own situation, our destiny, I guess. We at least can control some things. That's where you want to be in November. We'll see where it all shakes out and challenges wait. So I'll just take some questions.
Q. With the play of Hunter continuing to make big plays, I don't know if there's room to move him up the depth chart is that a guy you want to see get more touches or in your term, has he earned it?
COACH DANTONIO: Really, we pretty much play six guys, and so I really don't care who Coach Daniel puts in there. We'll rotate guys in. There will be other guys that have opportunities, as well, and really the bottom line is how you catch the ball and what you do and how is your blocking and different things.
You know, Hunter has made the best of it. He's made some big plays for us and he's becoming a reliable receiver. I'm sure that those things will continue to improve with time, time on the field.
Q. At the start of season you talked about last year, not being able to get it done in winning time and this year, all your Big Ten wins are by eight points or less. Is there anything you can put your finger as being the difference why you're so successful in late-game those situations?
COACH DANTONIO: I just think we've grown. We've taken -- I think one of the reasons, when you look back at last year and you critique last year and go back through it as a football team and the experiences and everything, you just try and do a little bit better.
But I've always said it's been the inches. You've got to find the inches in every football game and to do that, you've got to look for them in every respect and we've looked for those throughout last season in terms of critiquing it and all those type of things. I think that's what you do. That's what every football team does.
We had injuries last year, as I said. We played young players, again, last year. You know, so we had some different things going on. We had three different quarterbacks playing last year at times. So there were a lot of different things, a lot of challenges that we were going through and we lost some close games.
We started out fast in the Notre Dame game and finished there and all of a sudden things started to unravel a little bit. I still think we kept our competitive edge as evidenced by Ohio State's game last year. We stayed competitive but we just didn't get it done. So this season, we're finding a couple inches and they make all the difference.
Q. You've had success there playing in Columbus. What's unique about playing there and what are the challenges that your young team faces, and what can you draw on from the successes you've had?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, first of all, Ohio State is a very talented team so it's going to be a great challenge for us to go down there. Very well-coached, and I'm sure they will be ready to go.
Michigan State has always, even before I came here, has always recruited the State of Ohio. I think when players go back, just like when we're in Michigan playing down the road there a little bit, there's a little bit extra incentive maybe for your preparation, and I think preparation is always key.
I don't really know the reason beyond that. I just think that we've had good football teams here. We've won three Big Ten Championships. I guess we've been in three of the championship games.
So we've established ourselves as a pretty good team so we've been able to compete. The competitive level at that height, when you're competing for championships, you're playing against a good football team and we've eked some out, I guess, I don't know. I don't know the reason for it. You can find the reasons when you look on the film but I don't know, you know, what constitutes it continuing. Just got to play it game-to-game.
Q. Obviously we talk a lot what the Michigan rivalry means to the Michigan players, but with so many Ohio kids that have done this before, what is it that's different? Is it that's where they grew up and part of it they feel like they need to prove something to the Ohio State team? What is it with the dynamic of so many Ohio kids going back and playing at home?
COACH DANTONIO: I think that's it; you go back. Everybody from your hometown knows you're coming and knows you're playing, and you just get yourself a little bit more ready. I don't know, I don't think that's any different than playing up here in this state or going back and playing from wherever -- going down to play Georgia when Darqueze Dennard was playing for us and Keith Mumphery, very excited to go play against Georgia in the Outback Bowl. I just think that's a natural thing.
Q. Swagger is kind of a tough word because it sounds negative, but do you think your team is developing a healthy swagger?
COACH DANTONIO: I think we are becoming a confident football team. As I said the other day to our football team, I think we've got 598 snaps on defense and maybe 690-some, I can't remember the number, on offense.
A lot of our young players now are more experienced players and they have some success and they have won on the field. I'm talking about winning their individual battles on the field. They have lost some, too, and they understand it's okay to lose some on the field, but they have got an opportunity to win some. I think that breeds confidence in them and they are able to play a little bit more sure of themselves.
So this is a step-by-step process with all players, especially young players, and I think they are coming into their own a little bit. You can see that with our quarterback and our wide receivers. You can see our wide receivers have grown just in the course of nine games.
So we're playing better. I still don't think we played our best game yet. I don't think we've peaked yet, so we'll continue to try and do that as we go. But we're playing with a competitive edge, I would say.
Q. Looking back to the game here a couple years ago when J.T. Barrett was a freshman, can you chart his growth and development as a quarterback, and as a second component, is there any reason why the road team keeps winning in this series?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I don't know about the second question, why, why that plays into it. I can tell you about 2014, we punted and they punted once, I think it was on the last series, so we couldn't stop them. There was a lot of third and twos, third and threes. He threw the ball very effectively and he was a freshman at the time, and that's been four years ago.
He's had an outstanding career and he's been very, very successful and he's won a lot of football games. It usually starts with how do you defend him and all the different things he brings to the table. So we're going to try and do that and get ourselves focused for it.
Q. Mufi Hill-Hunt and Kyonta Stallworth both got a chance to play on Saturday. What did you think about their performance and their kind of evaluation throughout the season?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, we moved Mufi back from tight end back to the defensive line, so we didn't really expect him to play but he did. You know, I think he's got the athletic ability to play in there. He's a red-shirt freshman and I think he's got to play better. He's got to get better. He's got to learn a little bit more what to do at the defensive tackle position. He went in there and gave us some snaps.
Kyonta played very well. I think he had four tackles and maybe two assists, had 20-plus plays. But Kyonta was an outstanding defensive lineman in high school, offensive and defensive lineman in high school, he made the transition to defensive line and we've sort of been waiting for him to come on.
So he's a little bit more advanced maybe in terms of the expectations at that point just because he hasn't bounced around as much.
Mufi has been a defensive end, tight end. Now he's a defensive tackle. He's close to 6-5, 280. He's very athletic. He needs to just learn it.
Q. LJ was one of your bigger gets out of Ohio. Can you talk about what it was like recruiting him and snagging him out of the grasp of Ohio State?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, LJ is a very good player out of Ohio, out of Hubbard, Ohio. I think he had a lot of opportunities to go pretty much where he wanted to go. He made the decision early on, and really, I think it was the summer or late spring, possibly, of his junior year, you know, before his senior year.
It was pretty nondescript recruiting process. He never wavered. He stayed with it and he was very casual about the whole process. But I think he was a big get from Ohio, and I think he's been an outstanding player for us and we look for more great things from him.
Q. They come out of a blowout loss and you guys get a big win against a Top-10 team. Yet somehow you're a 16-point underdog.
COACH DANTONIO: It's gone to 16, huh.
Q. Can you believe that? What's your reaction to that? I know it doesn't mean much, per se, but are you getting the respect you deserve?
COACH DANTONIO: Oh, I don't worry about that. Shoot, I saw where Graham had an article about the playoffs in the paper. I was like, wow, we've come a ways.
I really think that that's for other people. I watch film and I watch our players. I know we need to get better and we need to do some things better on the field. And I also watch film to see how people are playing, and we devise a plan to try and attack those things and be confident and make sure we play hard, and that's what we'll try and do.
But I didn't know the spread. But there you go. We'll just have to roll the dice.
Q. Urban yesterday talked about how they are throwing the ball more than they used to traditionally in the past and he hasn't watched much film with you guys, but same with you guys, it used to be 70/30 and it's not that way now. Does it make this year this a little bit unique from the games you've coached against them in the past, what you guys have been doing offensively late, and same for them?
COACH DANTONIO: We're going to find that out, what happens. I'm not sure what will happen.
Q. Talking about the points spread and the playoffs and so forth. Is there any advantage with a young team to have them going into a game maybe feeling a little bit like they have nothing to lose, or do you want them embracing the pressure a little bit more?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, we have a lot to lose. We're in control right now. So we do have a lot to lose and we want to stay in control.
So that's how we'll play the game. I can't -- some of the questions I can't really answer. I'm just going to, like I said, we're going to line up, go play. We're excited that we have this opportunity.
I think that's the biggest thing right now. We're excited we have this opportunity, but we've worked for this opportunity and we've channelled everything to get to November, knowing that last week was going to be a challenge, this week and then the following two weeks.
So you know, every game I think as you go through November, every single game you play becomes bigger. It becomes bigger. This is a big game this week. I understand that. Next week will be an even bigger game and then the last week.
Q. It seems like the last few weeks, you guys have been, I guess loose, even with the growing pressure; the growing expectations and things ahead of you. How has that been with this team in terms of the mentality and mindset over the course of -- since fall camp? Has it been that way pretty much since spring even, that these guys are loose?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I would say. I really would say that. I would say that every day we come -- we have a young team. We have what did we say, 53 players that are freshmen or red-shirt freshmen. Half of our football team is young. 78 players; we only have nine or 11 seniors on the team, I think.
Everybody is excited about the next thing. We've got a number of players who have not gone to a Bowl game because we missed one year and we have a young freshman and a true freshman. So everybody is excited about the next thing. I think that's good for people. Sometimes it does keep us loose.
You know, we're just going to go. We've gotten off a plane, took a bus, and we still -- I don't think that had any effect on us winning or losing at Northwestern. We sat for three and a half hours this last week. I don't think that had any effect on us. When we went up to Minnesota, we had to sit for a half hour, had no effect on us.
We've really not allowed things to get into our head too much. We've just said, we've got to make these plays and this is what we've got to do, and usually there's some good and there's some bad. We certainly haven't played flawlessly. There's a lot of things we've got to correct and be able to move forward on.
I think that somebody said we're playing with house money. I don't know. So we'll just keep going.
Q. Last week, you played a pretty dynamic backfield, and McSorley, Barkley, and you have kind of the same matchup with Barrett and Dobbins. Do you see those similarities, and given what happened last week, does that give you more confident in your defensive game plan to stop them?
COACH DANTONIO: There's some similarities but there's some differences, as well, major differences, in Ohio State and Penn State. So we've got to look at those and make decisions on how to attack those things.
I think we have a little bit of a history with J.T. Barrett, rather than McSorley. We played McSorley two years and they are both dynamic quarterbacks, but they are different in terms of what they do at times.
Ohio State has an extremely talented football team. When you look at them, they are athletic, extremely athletic across the ball and they use a lot of players on the offensive side of the ball. And the same things applies, whether it's the wide receiver position, quarterback position, the running back position. Athletic offensive line, they have got guys.
Again, go back to what I said. It will be a great challenge for us going down there.
Q. Piggybacking off what you were talking about a minute ago with every situation they responded, how much more, given the youth of this team, do you trust them now, how they have come out of the gate each week than you did four or five weeks ago?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, we've always played hard. I've never, ever thought, hey, we don't play hard as a football team. But we didn't execute maybe as well as we're executing now. But I think that comes with experience.
We have a talent level, a certain talent level. We need to get better in certain areas and we need to always increase. What I've always tried to tell our players is you have to, have to, over achieve here, you have to. And so we go about doing that every single day.
That's our mindset when we go out to practice. Our practices have been very, very good. Our film study I think is very good. The attention to detail has been good.
We're not doing everything flawlessly, like I said, but I do think that, you know, we have the right mind-set moving forward.
Q. You talked earlier in previous I didn't see press conferences about how fertile a recruiting ground it is in Ohio. But your time at Ohio State, the time at Cincinnati, the relationship with Jim Tressel going back, how essential was all of that and your familiarity there in the early stages of building it here?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think it was critical. But it's not just my time at Ohio State and U.C. I've been a graduate assistant at Ohio State for Old Bruce. I coached at the University of Akron. I got my Masters and was a GA at Ohio-U. When I was at Michigan State for six years with Nick Saban and then Bobby for one, you know, I recruited Dayton, Cincinnati, Columbus and everything in between up to Toledo.
So when I was in Akron and then in Youngstown State for five years, I recruited the Cleveland area and the Akron area. So I knew, I knew Ohio, and I knew where the good players were in the programs. Not just the good players, but I knew the programs and the leagues and knew to be able to differentiate between this level of play and that level of play and who they are competing against.
We have great relationships with the high school coaches. But Michigan State has always had that with the State of Ohio, even going back to George Perles and beyond. If you look at the '88 team, there were a lot of players from Ohio on that team.
I just think that state has a large population base. They play good football. High school coaches coach very well. And so there's an abundance of high school players that can play at this level, more than most states.
Michigan is divided up between two schools, and you know, it definitely gets a little bit more difficult. In Ohio, it's got Ohio State and everybody else can sort of come in and they have some equal footing based on maybe the success they have had or maybe based on their relationships. Long answer.
Q. With that background in Ohio, at one point in your career, it had to be your dream to be the Ohio State football coach, wasn't it?
COACH DANTONIO: I was just trying to make it, man. I was just trying to take -- I was defensive coordinator. I was happy where I was at and then went to U.C. and started as head coach. I also had aspirations to maybe come here some day.
Q. How far is Zanesville from Columbus?
COACH DANTONIO: About 55 miles.
Q. So what's it like walking into that Horseshoe and coaching not only where your roots are, but where you spent time and helped a National Championship? What's it like going there?
COACH DANTONIO: It's sort of exciting, I guess I'd say, usually. Sometimes you get a beatdown and it's not too exciting.
Up there when I was at U.C., we had been up there a couple times, and certainly when I've been here, we've been there. But you know, it's the same. A little bit the same for me as it probably would be a player. It's an opportunity to go back.
Q. 56 and 257 attempts for Brian in the last two games, I think that's more than any other guy since you've been here.
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah. And he scrambled some, too.
Q. Do you feel comfortable asking that of him on a regular basis and what has he shown you that he's capable of taking on such a heavy load at this stage of his career?
COACH DANTONIO: I think every game dictates that situation. There's been other times we haven't thrown that much. The game itself dictates how much we're going to throw based on how well we're doing other things or what the situation is with the game or really what the sticks say, what the down and distance says.
Am I comfortable throwing that many times? As long as we don't have a lot of interceptions, yeah, I would be comfortable, as long as we have a lot of completions. But it's normally not good, I don't think, if you have to throw it that many times. But we were successful, we won the football game and everybody's happy.
Q. More important than football, you and I are men who have lost our fathers but we were older in life. Can't imagine the devastation for Josh. How is he doing personally?
COACH DANTONIO: Josh, hanging in there. I talked with him this morning. He's coming back today, this evening, and then he'll be here for a couple days to get things squared away and then he'll go back down, the funeral is on Saturday. So he'll miss the game.
It's been difficult. He is basically -- he is the person that's sort of in charge, you know, going through the funeral home and doing the did I know things that has to be done. Which you can imagine at that age, 20 years old, how difficult that must be.
I know he appreciates the outpouring of support from people across Spartan Nation. But he's okay. He's doing okay. I think it's a day-to-day thing for him, and obviously very, very difficult situation and our prayers are with him.
Q. Jim Tressel loved you but he said he had to basically kick you out of the nest; that you are ready to be a head coach and he had to push you a little bit. When you look at all of your ties to Ohio State, is there also a part of going home, mom still there, being there, when you play at Ohio State?
COACH DANTONIO: We have a lot of relatives there, both my wife and myself. Certainly from down the road there, from 55 miles away from Zanesville, so we have a lot of people there. My high school coach still comes up to games and things like that. Coach Appleby, excited to see that, watch that game.
It is a little bit like going home. But I'm not going there in red, scarlet. There is a difference. I don't know if I answered that question right.
Q. When is the last time you talked to Jim Tressel, and obviously, he loves Ohio State, but when you go into Horseshoe, do you think he has a little smile on his face?
COACH DANTONIO: I talk to him quite often, especially during the football season. I talked to him this last week before our Penn State game. We take every now and then, just sort of catch up and talk about football or whatever the case.
He has a calming effect on me. So I just look for that when I call him. I just look for the little calming effect. Probably call him again this week.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports