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MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY FOOTBALL MEDIA CONFERENCE
November 14, 2017
East Lansing, Michigan
COACH DANTONIO: First of all, need to refocus our football team. I think that's first, paramount to our success as we go forward.
Really, the bottom line is what are you going to do next? Whether we win or lose a football game or how it shakes out, we're responsible for the next phase of the program. Get ready for Maryland.
Last home game for the football season. So the last opportunity for Spartan fans this year. Senior day, always a great day for our seniors. It's a small senior class, but some guys that really have been involved with some great years. Damion Terry, going back to the Rose Bowl, along with Shane Jones. They were freshmen then. Damion Terry, the things he's been able to accomplish in the Ohio State win and playing a little bit against Penn State.
And certainly Brian Allen, Chris Frey, Gerald Holmes, Demetrius Cooper, guys that have played a lot of football for us. Those are the guys that have played the most for us this year.
When you look at Maryland right now, 4-6 football team, but I think they're an improving football team. They're No. 2 in the conference in turnover margin. Special teams is very, very active. They play very well on special teams. Punt return, guys are going to take shots, take chances. They're going to try to come after you, try to block punts.
Kickoff return is very, very good. It's well -- got two outstanding running backs. Got a wide receiver that leads the Big Ten in receiving yards and catches, DJ Moore. Taivon Jacobs as well is a guy that's been very active as of late. Defensively, I mean, I think two outstanding running backs as well.
Defensively, aggressive. Again, turnovers. Carter, middle linebacker, is the guy, but they play hard. They play extremely hard. I think they're a well-coached football team and they're very good conceptually and schematically. It will be a challenge as we move forward.
Q. Maryland, how do you game plan for a fifth-string guy, a guy that's a transfer? Not a whole lot there to do that. How difficult is that?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, it's difficult. I don't know, is their fourth guy going to play? They've had quarterback problems. They've had some guys get hurt this season. It's been a testament to their program really in terms of how they continue to compete.
But I think you look at high school film on him a little bit. You look a little bit at what he's done already. And then you get ready. But, again, you're going to have to adjust. I think the biggest thing that we have to do as a football program defensively and offensively every single week, regardless of where you're at, you need to adjust to what's coming at you from a game-plan perspective.
And so we'll have to do that. We've seen about everything imaginable. They'll continue to expand on that, I think offensively, and their quarterback will be part of that. Defensively they give you a lot of different looks as well. So we've got to play up to our expectations.
Q. When teams have utilized the tight end this year against Maryland, they've had success. There were some tight ends that were missed last week, just Brian didn't see them. That's just part of being a young quarterback. But do you have to kind of go back because he's so young and say, listen, this is where they're so vulnerable? You have to take a look there?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, again, I think our quarterback and our team in general, we're young. So every experience is a different experience at times. And you've got -- you're going to wish you had some throws back and wish you had some plays back. That's the nature of it. That's the nature of the process.
And I've constantly said, any program across the country, people see the product. They don't see the process. The process is a process of development as we move forward.
And every program is in that. Maryland's in that. But the future looks bright. And I would say that we've had some great moments thus far this season. We're a 7-3 football team. A lot of people -- we're ranked in the top 25. I think rightfully so.
But we're young. And I think the game got away from us last week. And we need to get that back. So we will strain. We'll get ready and we put a premium -- I think I've said this one other time: Sometimes you can't really look at winning and losing all the time. You've got to look and ask yourself, did you play with effort? Did you play with toughness? Did you know what to do?
The ball got out on you. Missed some plays offensively, but did you play hard? Gotta keep asking yourself that question as you go through the moments, because everything that we go through should be a positive -- should be an experience, positive/negative, but it should be an experience that we can all grow from.
Q. Tyson Smith said that you came up to the secondary and asked them if they would like to wear Josh Butler's jersey before the Ohio State game. Can you talk about a little bit about what went into that and what your thinking was in doing something like that?
COACH DANTONIO: Josh was not here this past weekend. He was at the funeral for his father. And I just felt like we needed to remember him in some respect and maybe pay tribute to him and his family and his loss. And so I didn't want to make a big deal about it. We've got to let people know we did that, the opposing team, but I wanted to give our players and his friends an opportunity if they wanted to do that.
And Tyson decided to do that. Some of the things that he had gone through, from what he had gone through in terms of the stroke and everything of that nature. I think it played a part in this. And then his friendship with Josh. And so that's what he did.
Q. I'm wondering if you can ever remember a season in your career where you've been through a six-game stretch with so many emotional ups and downs -- big wins, couple of tough losses obviously?
COACH DANTONIO: I looked at our schedule. Started it was Notre Dame, Iowa, Michigan. And on it goes. And gotta get up for every football game. I think what you're seeing across the country, probably, is maybe a team getting a little bit flat at some point in their schedule, because there's been some head-scratchers, I think, scores around the country in big games.
So everybody's had their moments. And Ohio State played very, very well. They played much better than they played the week before. That's all I can say. I hope that trend continues for the Spartans.
But we've had some tough games coming into the season. They ranked our schedule, I think CBS had our schedule No. 1 in the nation. I don't know where that is now with everything that's gone down. But we played some very good football teams.
In this conference, I continually say this, in this conference that's what you're going to get: You're going to get well-coached football teams. Maryland is no exception to this. Guys that play hard. Guys with talented players. Guys who can beat you deep. Guys who can run the football. Defenses that can run and tackle. And we're facing another one of those this week.
Q. I'm wondering if you've had a chance to assess your team's emotional state right now and what you expect from them in the next two weeks.
COACH DANTONIO: I think young people are resilient. I really do. I think they practiced yesterday, business as usual. Guys were dancing to some music and things of that nature. I feel a little bit ticked off still but they can let it go, irregardless.
They've had their moments in their past where things haven't always gone so well and they get ready to play the next game and be in the next moment. I think young people are basically like that. We need to get up for our football game. I don't know what it was in that game, but we didn't play our best. And we were going to have to play our best against Ohio State to be in the game.
We were going to have to continue to overachieve, as I always say, to be in that football game. And we did not. And then the wave of momentum and everything else, you saw what happened. So I'm trying to get off that moment. So anyway.
Q. You talk about getting something out of every experience in life. For a young team on the road in that kind of environment, a lot of these guys were in that situation for the first time -- big-game, Horseshoe, all that. How much value is there in that for them moving forward just being part of that experience?
COACH DANTONIO: I think there's tremendous value. We're playing for an opportunity. Every game that we play is going to be a bigger game. That's just the nature of it.
So if you take last week, we were playing for really to be in control of who was going to go win the East. Had we won we would have needed to win one of these two games. So they would have been bigger games. We lost the football game. So now this becomes an even bigger game because I think this becomes more of a program game. And you don't want to step back and play negatively after a negative moment. So it becomes an even bigger moment.
I just asked my players one simple thing: Do the very best you can to prepare emotionally, physically, and from a football standpoint. Do the very, very best and bring your best in every single football game.
I do not think we did that last week. That's on everybody to look at themselves and ask themselves: Did I get enough sleep? Did I eat right? Did I watch enough film? What was my mental state when I went to the football game? That's on all of us.
As the head football coach I take the biggest amount of ownership in that respect. But that's what I'll always ask, and if they give us that, it's good enough for me. Just like Northwestern. I thought, hey, we're ready to play, motivated, et cetera. We lost the football game at the end. Made some mistakes in the game but we played hard.
For whatever reason, you know, things happened very quickly in that game and we let the emotions of the game get away from us this past week. But, again, credit Ohio State. They got some guys. They got some guys.
Q. For your 12 seniors, obviously last year's group didn't go out the way they wanted to. How much of that do you think was motivation for them coming back this year, seeing that and saying, hey, we're not going out the same way; we're going to leave on a higher note?
COACH DANTONIO: They talked about that a lot in our senior talks. And when they've had an opportunity to address their team. They've talked a lot about getting back to where we were at. And I think we've taken positive steps towards that. Now we need to finish. We need to finish.
Q. When you look at the senior class, since their arrival, some even came in 2013 and others '14, what stands out to you? Obviously they're a smaller group than past seasons and they had to lead more freshmen and younger players than usual. Just overall what stands out as a whole?
COACH DANTONIO: I think what stands out is that, just with the question that was asked previously, you know, they wanted to make -- they wanted to make it -- to set the record right. They wanted to make it right.
Last year was difficult for everybody. They were thrust into leadership positions, especially the guys who play a ton. And guys in positions of leadership, like Damion is in a position of leadership being a quarterback.
And they wanted to make sure that we took a step back in the right direction, that we returned to a bowl game, that we won the games where we were supposed to win or that we succeeded, that we had success.
And so, like I said, we don't evaluate this season until the end. I've also said that. So we've got two games left. And the next one, believe me, the next one may be the most important.
Q. I was wondering if you could talk about the sophomore class and the development that they kind of made and the way that they've been able to really kind of take mentorship from the senior class, because it seems like the sophomore class has had a lot of people step up that a lot of people on our side didn't expect to this year.
COACH DANTONIO: I think our freshmen group, our redshirt freshmen group and our sophomore group, there's 78 players in that. So that's a large number of players there. And I think they've done a nice job, I think, basically rising to the task, I guess I'd say.
I really can't pick out the specific players right now. Mike Panasiuk's been solid. He's is a true sophomore. Raequan Williams is a redshirt sophomore. They've both been solid. You know, up until this last game, opponents were averaging 87 yards a game. As a matter of fact, up until this last game, we had one run over 15 yards since the Notre Dame game, which is an amazing statistic when you talk about modern day football.
But we'll have our work cut out for us this week with all the counters and misdirection plays that Maryland runs. But I think those two guys -- Kenny Willekes is a sophomore. He's had a big year, sort of come out of nowhere. Joe Bachie is a sophomore. There's a number of defensive players there that are playing well for us.
When you look at the back end, David Dowell is a sophomore. He has five interceptions right now.
So on the offensive side of the ball, I guess, some of our sophomore guys are Tyler Higby and Cole Chewins, guys that are young players, really, in respect to playing the offensive line. Darrell Stewart at wide receiver.
I'm just trying to pull them out of here. I can't really think of too many beyond that. I guess Brian Lewerke is a sophomore, redshirt sophomore.
Q. What have these three younger classes learned from the senior class?
COACH DANTONIO: I think they've learned retribution, I guess. I mean, how to get back, how to climb back up. They came in here with, some of these guys who were sophomores came in following the 2015 season. They were freshmen that year. And so they were, if they were here they were redshirt freshmen that year.
So we were on the pinnacle of success. Big Ten champions, East champions, go to the playoff, all that stuff, all the things we had done prior to that -- 42 of 45 games winning. And then we took a dip.
So they experienced life at a high level and then they experienced life climbing out of a hole. And I think what they've learned from our senior class is that you're going to get it on both ends and you need to be prepared for it and you need to keep working.
It's the same message sent to our entire program. You're going to be measured here on what you do next, regardless of the outcome.
Q. Maryland's 4-6 right now. So they're trying to win out to get to a bowl game. Do you factor that in at all in the game plan that they might abandon some of their tendencies you will see on film, because they're in their part of the season where they have to save -- win out to get to the postseason?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I do factor it. I think we all factor that in exactly where every football team is, including ours right now; we're in the same mindset. But last week you saw them fake a punt against Michigan. They're going to try to do what they can do.
You're going to see different things that maybe you haven't seen throughout the season. Maybe see some other trick plays. But you have to factor, I think, all that in as they've got to win. They have Penn State the following week.
So they have two big games left. They come here. I'm not sure where they play Penn State at. But we do factor that in, absolutely.
Q. Gerald Holmes is one of these guys who has been around here. He's been a part of a lot of wins over Michigan. He's been part of a lot of bowl wins. He's also been such a leader that he leads the off-the-field players-only meetings and stuff like that. What will you miss most about him and how important do you think his leadership was to this turnaround?
COACH DANTONIO: I think Gerald's leadership was very important especially last spring and all the things we were going through. He sort of rallied everybody and got people organized and took a step forward in terms of what he was doing from a leadership standpoint.
He's been solid. He's been unselfish. He's had opportunities. He continues to get opportunities. I think of all three of those tailbacks as starters, I really do. We've got to get them going. I continue to say that. And he's been a great special teams player for us. And he's played a lot of football for us here in the past number of years. So appreciate all that he's done and respect him and his work ethic.
Q. With the final home game for Saturday with 15 seniors with their last home game, you know, it's a big day for them but you get to see their journey from when they first start to when they first end. I just want to know what you want those players, when they graduate and their football careers here are over, what you want them to take away from their experience.
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think that when guys leave college, the number one thing you want them to take with them is their life experiences that they have here.
In Damion's case, going to the Rose Bowl and then playing in the games that he's played in, or there are some of these other guys, Brian Allen, and things that he's done.
But if you're All-Big Ten, that's great. If you're a 3.5 student, that's great. If you've led the team in certain areas, from just a leadership standpoint, organizing people, that's great. If you have done nothing but been a scout teamer, but you've experienced things.
But you hope that they grow from a young person who is 18 and sort of naive when they come into college and they leave a man. That's what you hope for.
You hope that you have relationships with your guys that will last a lifetime, that they always feel good about coming back here and being part of something bigger than themselves.
And I think that's what they've all wanted, or I hope that's what they want. Everybody wants to go play in the NFL. And that's the window dressing to me. That's the over and above.
But football is going to end for all of our guys. For some of them it will end on Saturday or at the bowl game. For others, it's going to end one year playing in Arena ball or in Canada.
For others, they may have an opportunity to play in the NFL. But at some point in time, when you can't catch well enough, run well enough, tackle well enough, play blocks well enough, football ends for you, and you hope after that ends, that they look back at their time here and they say that was the best time of my life. And the experiences and the friendships that they've developed here will last a lifetime. And that's what I hope for all of them.
That's why our number one goal here will always be to help them through their journey and develop relationships at Michigan State, that they'll always be a Spartan forever.
Q. Obviously Maryland's got -- their QB situation has been in flux all year, something you were kind of familiar with last year with injuries and things of that nature. Even though Brian's had his ups and downs this year, how much just him solidifying the position just taken a lot of worry and pressure and everything off your plate where you don't have to --
COACH DANTONIO: I still worry about him. And I'm sure he's still -- he's still coming.
And you never end your journey until your last game. But he's been solid. He's been pretty much, I will say pretty much, 75 percent pretty consistent. There were times he hasn't. I don't think he played his best game, certainly, last week. And we need to have our quarterback to play his best game.
But there's a lot of things that enter into that, pressure and protection and being able to run the ball situationally, what the score is.
So there's so many different dynamics that enter into that. But I think Brian Lewerke has a chance to be an excellent quarterback, one of the better ones we've had here at Michigan State since I've been here, which is a big statement, because we've had some good ones.
Q. Realizing no coach will ever say we need to take them two at a time. These last two, how important is it to -- you're going to a bowl game, but to kind of sprint there and not limp there, you know what I mean?
COACH DANTONIO: I think it's always important that you finish, that you complete a circle and you finish and you finish strong. So that's winning a bowl game, sends you in much like -- the season matters, but what does winning the bowl game in 2012 set up for us?
It set up 2013. 2011, we won, but didn't really set up '12. But it makes the offseason a lot better, I can promise you that.
So the focus here on these next two games is going to be intense, not just from a coaching perspective but from our player perspective, and we need to see -- I guess we need to see the product of that. We need to see wins on the field. We need to see us playing hard.
Again, I'll go back to what I said: Play hard; get yourself ready to go, and things take care of itself usually. Go into a game flat, you're just asking for problems.
So my job is to make sure we're ready to go. We'll be ready to go. I think winning nine games is different from winning seven, if that's the question. There's no question about that. Our goal is to finish out. Our goal is to win 10 football games this season. I think that would be a tremendous thing that we've done.
We've competed for a championship. Now, let's not go backwards. Again, Maryland has a better football team. They've had quarterback issues. They have a better football team than their record would suggest, and I would suggest the same about Rutgers, but we'll worry about this one at a time.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports