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October 2, 2018

Mark Dantonio

East Lansing, Michigan

MARK DANTONIO: First off, homecoming weekend, so the campus will be exciting. Midnight Madness going on so it's always exciting for our fans as well. So a Big-10 weekend for us. Northwestern comes to town, good football team, I think their record sort of underestimates what they are as a football program, what they are as a football team. I think they play very, very well. Always been impressed with Coach Fitzgerald, what he brings to the table. Very good offensive quarterback in Thorson, he's been very good against us. They have lost some players so they're down some players as well, so we'll see how all that shakes out. But defensively when you look at them, Mike Hankwitz has been there forever, the defensive coordinator, he'll know exactly what's going on and to the detail. I was with him at Purdue University as a graduate assistant way back, so I know Coach Hank. Fisher's back, Gaziano's back got some other starters back as well. Got some other starters back as well, got some changes in the back end in the secondary offensively. Talked about their quarterback. Flynn Nagel is a guy that can make plays for them they moved Vault back in, number 4, back into the back field from being a wide receiver, so you got a guy that can really effectively catch the ball as a running back. So it will be another Big-10 challenge for us. Exciting atmosphere last week here and we'll look forward to this moment as well. So I'll take some questions.

Q. Over the last three games you've been outscored 44-7 in the fourth quarter. As you look back on video is there a common denominator and what level of concern do you have about the fourth quarter?
MARK DANTONIO: Well we got to finish. Some of these things, they're all different scenarios, I haven't really looked and said, okay, what's happened and itemized them, to be quite honest with you. But obviously this last week onside kick, trick play, one drive in the fourth quarter, which they were down on the 10 yard line, I think beginning of the fourth quarter. The Arizona State game, that football game sort of, you know the story line on that one. But wig drive in the fourth quarter, not a lot going on other than that. And then the Indiana game they scored, I guess, a field goal maybe 10 points in the fourth. Something of that nature. So, yeah, you know, I guess you create another opportunity for me to go back and look at that again.

Q. When you have a team that loses a key player like Larkin at running back in a situation like that, how do you game plan for that in terms of the body that they have without much tape to go on?
MARK DANTONIO: Well I think Northwestern has a system in place and their system in place -- we have got -- I'm back there looking at 2011, what we did against them, we didn't go back to 2007, but we got a lot of football plays against Northwestern over the course of time. Coach Fitzgerald has been there just as long as I've been here. So there are concepts that they use and they're going to use those particular concepts throughout their season and relative to our football games as well. So just look at those things and they will put people in there to run their system. I imagine we'll see different things that we always see and some new things. But we'll adjust. I think they use their personnel well.

Q. With Clayton Thorson's been successful against you guys the last two years. One, have you seen a reason in particular why he's been able to do that and, two, does it help when you prepare for a quarterback that you have so much game film on, just personally with your team?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, he got some RPO plays, they hit some crossing routes where we blew a coverage or we didn't have it right on or they rubbed us. And I can think of two instances last year where it created pretty big plays for them. So didn't play well in overtime, turned the tight end loose in the flat in man coverage with him, I got him and if he runs the flat, take him. So some of the things are on us. Some of the things are well-designed concepts. And as far as Thorson, what was the second part of the question?

Q. Does it help to have so much film on a guy like that?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, I don't think it hurts, that's for sure. You can see the mistakes we made and you can see how we can rectify those things and I think our players -- we got all of our players predominantly back, so we played against that system in the past, they're a hurry up offense as well so we got to prepare for that. A lot of different things you got to prepare for, you got to tackle well in space, got to be able to pressure the quarterback at some points and then also you got to play the ball in the deep part of the field and they force you to do that's a well.

Q. Do you have honorary captain for homecoming yet or not?
MARK DANTONIO: No, not yet.

Q. Northwestern had Michigan down most of the game, lost a gut wrencher. Is it tougher to play a wounded bear so to speak?
MARK DANTONIO: I think in this conference every single week you're in for a challenge. I don't care who you play, people prepare, they have a plan -- I said over and over it's very tough to win. When you think you have got it in the bag, such as the fourth quarter question, then you're fighting at the end of the fourth quarter to keep it. So just a tough conference, tough conference, good football and everybody expects to win. So I don't know about a wounded bear, I just think everybody comes in thinking that, hey, we're going to compete.

Q. You guys are still number one by a pretty wide margin in rushing defense. What are you seeing that you're doing particularly well up front and are there any similarities I guess to some of the other good run defenses you've had here in the last few years?
MARK DANTONIO: Last year we ended up No. 2, so we'll see if we can do that -- you know I think this, these type of things are made up over the course of the season, so we're going into the heart of our season. So a lot of who we are and relative to run defense will be defined I think over these next four, five weeks. But we're building a wall, we're not getting knocked off the ball, we're tackling well, we're limiting we're leveraging the ball well, those type of things. We're making it difficult. Consequently there's a lot of RPO's, which the quarterback could be handing it, could be pulling it, depending upon what he sees and there's a lot of different things where they're putting the ball on the perimeter where they're considered a pass, but they're really runs. If you look at them, a bubble was really like a run, a perimeter run. So you got to throw all those things in there too.

Q. Le'Veon Bell, how much have you paid attention to his situation and what you think of -- it sounds like he may come back in a couple weeks now, that's what people are saying, but what you think of that whole situation and what advice you would give him.
MARK DANTONIO: You know, I really, I obviously know what's going on to some extent, probably you know more than I do. I have deep respect for the Steelers organization, for Mike Tomlin. I also have a deep respect for Le'Veon. So I think that's something that the two of them need to, would out and really I'm not qualified to talk about it. I like both parties and want to remain like that. How is that? Good answer? Political answer? Yeah, we'll see.

Q. In recruiting you see a lot of quarterbacks sort of similar to La'Darius in terms of run-first guys and maybe don't have the best arm, but with him specifically what is it that you saw in him that you knew that he could be a running back at this level and be able to perform at that position?
MARK DANTONIO: I probably watched more film on him last year personally than any other player that we recruited because it was an ongoing thing. We had to sit there and say, were we going to recruit him as a quarterback, were we going to recruit him as a running back -- we actually offered him as on a linebacker coming out of his junior year -- so I thought he was a very good football player, I knew he could play somewhere and in a lot of ways I looked at him like Le'Veon, because Le'Veon did so much as a high school player and I knew he could play probably outside backer if he didn't play tail back and keep hearing all the different things about him as leader as well. But I just kept watching that film and watching him take the ball on his quarterback, midline options and duck it up inside and make abrupt cuts. I thought, I just kept saying, hey, if he learns how to play at tail back and continue to make those abrupt cuts, staying vertical with his pads low and running through tacklers he'll be an excellent tail back so we decided to take him, or offer him. He decided to come.

Q. Your philosophy, your favorite quote this year has been, hey, run that play that scored the touchdown again and Dave Warner has come under a lot of criticism and several of us, not just me alone, but several of us who cover you for a long time have tried to explain to fans, he has a boss and he does what you want. Would you talk about your involvement in the offensive game plan during the week, please.
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, first of one game day itself I allow our coordinators to make these decisions. Now I'm going to always enter my opinions, maybe after the fact or before the fact, well before the fact, but I'm not going to disrupt play calling. I think if we get the play in fast, that's as important as anything. Give our players time to digest what's being called. It's very difficult. Everybody across the nation is making these decisions in 20 to 30 seconds. Some work, some don't. A lot of that depends on execution, repetition, and then what's the defense being able to do. As far as my involvement in the offense, I'm going to look to say, are we doing these things, are we putting pressure on people on the perimeter, are we, what are we doing inside, what's the basis of what we do. Do we have the concepts covered to be able attack a defense from an offense perspective. Are we covering all the aspects. Do we have a screen game, do we have a perimeter game, do we have an inside run game, how do we throw the ball down the field, how do we attack the football field vertically, how do we attack the football field horizontally, all these different things. And then you got to say okay, what do we rep. Because there's only so many things you can rep and then you got to get things different ready for game. Then I'm always self-scouting and saying, what have we run already and when so and so is in the game what do we run. Then I walk back in and say, do a self-scout on what's it look like on third and long when we get into third and long. Not just what we ran but how did we get into third and long. What's not successful on first down and second down. And so I keep asking the tough questions and then I'm going to walk in and say, we need to run this. I did today. I would like to see this being run. Of course that will be the only one that doesn't work. So I'm involved, but I let our coaches coach. I empower our coaches, I do that with the offense and the defense and our special teams. You have to do that because you can't possibly be an expert on every subject matter. I'm not the expert on the offensive line. I know some, I have a foundation of football. I'm an expert I would say in the secondary in terms of how to play things and you could certainly point the finger back there too sometimes. So I try and learn and listen as much as I can and then I ask tough questions. And I want to see certain things implemented.

Q. In many ways the season is still very young. You have at least eight games left.

Q. Are you still searching for the pulse of your team?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, I think you try and find your identity of every football team and you don't know when that's going to could come. And I talked to our team yesterday about that, what's our identity, we talk about here's the goals we want to accomplish this next month. We've really been in two months of football, one month of camp and one month of four weeks of one Big-Ten game and three out of conference games. So these next four games sort of start to define you a little bit. And then you chase November. You chase championship, you chase bowl games or you chase whatever in November. So these next four weeks are critical weeks, I think, for our football team. We got to get some players back who are hurt, I think we're going to do that, but again, guys such as Tre Person who played last week should be a better player. I thought he played well with the exception of one play. And that's just an example. So I think you're right, we start to develop an identity. If you go back to 2013 those first four games, who were we? After three games who were we. And then we lost to Notre Dame and then I think we started with Iowa, we started developing an identity and coming out in November we were playing our best football. That's what you want to have happen. You want to play your best football through November.

Q. I don't know how many more run plays you have for Matt Coghlin, so just sticking to his kicking ability. 14 straight, one off the program record. He's kind of gone under the radar a little bit. How much have you seen him improve his confidence the last year and you guys as a staff trusting him?
MARK DANTONIO: He's become a more confident kicker over time I think that's what experience does for you. As a red shirt, as a true freshman I was scratching my head a little bit when I was watching him kick down there when Mike Geiger was still kicking. And then as a red shirt freshman he was better, he won the job, had a very good fall and I think he missed, what did he miss? Three or four last year? And now this year he's very, very confident and he understands the pressures involved in it and he's been very good and so I think he understands what needs to happen and he's a competitive guy and he doesn't back away from a challenge, so he's been excellent.

Q. Coaches and players come and go. Fans are forever. Homecoming fans especially. MSU fans can't forget that 49-14 homecoming loss. Do you think about Northwestern as a team that has upset (No microphone.)
MARK DANTONIO: No, I look at Northwestern as a competitor and we have always had great games with them. We have won our share, they have won some. However -- maybe they have won their share, however you want to depict that. I just look at it as another Big-Ten game and the next one's going to be a tough game too and the next one is going to be tough and the next one's going to be tough and that's just the way it is in this conference. Everybody has scholarship players, they're well coached, they're competitive players, competitive people, we'll have the same thing and I think our players will be ready to go. So I'll concern myself with my football team, our football team and get ready to play.

Q. For the Slade brothers on defense, now Jacob has already got a few playing times against Utah State and Zach hasn't seen any playing time, but what do you expect out of them in the future and will they see playing time any time soon?
MARK DANTONIO: I think that Jacob will probably see some playing time as the season continues on because our intent is to play him at least four games, try and hold his red shirt. Very good player. He's strong enough right now, he's physical to be able to play. He understands leverage and he understands technique. He's a very good technician in there. So he has the capability to be able to play. Now Zach probably has to get a little bit stronger, he came off a shoulder surgery in high school, so he is practicing, but he's playing in the defensive end position, he's probably going to be just like his brother and be another 2830 pound, 290 pound guy, but he needs to get a little bit stronger. But both of them will be very good players for us, I think they're tough guys, they play with an edge. So they will be out standing.

Q. I noticed that Dominique Long moved over to corner. I guess what do you see in him that allows him to maybe be both the kind of a hybrid guy?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, he's sort of the fifth safety for us and now the fifth corner. Maybe the sixth corner depend on if we're playing Kalon. Which I think he's another guy that will eventually we will play this year, just trying to -- don't want to play a guy a couple plays and then take a red shirt. But he's a good player as well. But Dom is, he's a six-one plus guy that's got good ball skills, can really run and has great jumping ability, he's a very good tackler, be a good blitzer off the edge and every time we put him out there at corner in a pinch he's performed pretty well, so we're just trying to get him all that will allow him to sort of be both right now, to be that fifth or sixth guy at both positions. He's an excellent special teams player, he played as a true freshman, so he's a skillful player, he just needs game experience.

Q. It's been almost two months, is Josiah Scott back yet?
MARK DANTONIO: No, he is not. I don't like to talk about injuries. I think we talked about that on Sunday a little bit. He's very close.

Q. You are one who likes to compliment your entire staff, not really single anyone out but you even talked in the spring about defensive end was a place that concerned and they have really excelled. Can you talk about the job that's probably flying under the radar that Chuck's done with your defensive ends, please.
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, Coach Bullough has done a great job really since coming. He's very, he's got a lot of enthusiasm, very enthusiastic with our guys, he's attention to detail guy. I think our players appreciate that. He's a toughness guy, he's played here, he understands what playing at Michigan State is all about, so he's instilled that in them as well and he's got some guys that play with an edge there. So they're pretty productive players. But he's done an outstanding job and he's a ball coach. The whole family are ball coaches even the guys who just played and didn't go into coaching, they're still ball coaches even as players. So that's what he brings.

Q. At the start of the season your three receiving core commented each other very well at various skill positions, Felton Davis, Cody White and Stewart. Sowards moving into that starting role for the injured White, what went into that decision and how much do you think the other receivers will still factor in percentage-wise from a play calling standpoint?
MARK DANTONIO: All of our guys, it's concepts and it's reads, so who is ever playing that particular position and gets the read and the quarterback makes the decision to go to where he's got to go, I think that's the factor. So obviously we got certain things where we want to target certain people and we'll continue to do those things and when you get to that level if that's warranted then that happens, otherwise then you're in the system. I think you're in the system. But we lost Cody for a little bit of time here, so we'll wait for to get him back and other people, I think Cam Chambers will be back so he's a guy that I think can play in there a little bit and we'll get our other guys back as well. So just a matter of who is playing this weekend.

Q. I don't want to assume but I'm sure that you've looked at the film last year of the game and Lewerke, he threw for over 400 yards. So what do you expect or hope from him going into in matchup with Northwestern knowing that he was able to be so successful last year?
MARK DANTONIO: He's got a good foundation, every game's different but he played outstanding last year, made some big throws, there were some big catches, but he continues to be the guy that drives this offense so but I think the biggest thing about Brian is that he's got a strong foundation underneath him from last year, even prior to that as a red shirt freshman a little bit he was able to play some and have some success. So confidence is not a problem and experience should not be a problem. So it's now just got to do the things that you have to do game to game on a consistent level to be successful and that's what every quarterback has to do.

Q. Curious about Coach Tressel being on the sideline, I want to say he's been there every game, maybe correct me if I'm wrong and I know in the preseason it was still a discussion, it sounded like maybe you were leaning toward up top. Curious what went into that decision if it was more his preference or your preference, collective thing or?
MARK DANTONIO: I always thought that the defensive coordinators for the most part would be up top guys because the field up top looks like that (Indicating) so the field when you're on the field an eight yard gain is like that (Indicating). But we did move him up there for the second game, he was down on the first game, moved him up the second game, but then with everything going on with our punt we brought him back down. And it's been fine. We got a lot of guys up top, we got different people up top, we -- bottom line is, communication-wise, and I was concerned is calling the defense in the heat of the moment difficult, how difficult that is. That was difficult for me as coordinator, so I just want to make sure that we're doing everything to the best of this football team. But punt is a very, very important play and I want him downstairs for that. He's been our guy that handles that for 15 years. So that's the staple.

Q. Some things you said on Saturday about Brian, just kind of the risk/reward, you seem to be a guy who likes his quarterback to maybe be a little more conservative with his decision making how do you balance that out when he can make those big plays versus maybe some of the mistakes that come along with trying to force something?
MARK DANTONIO: Well I think we're all chasing perfection and that's what I'm doing as a coach, constantly trying to say, okay, what happened and was that a perfect ending to a play. I don't care offense, defense, special teams. So you're always chasing that. I think Brian gives us the best chance or opportunity to have that. To have that perfection at the end of that particular play. There's going to be some inconsistencies, there always are, play calling, head coach decisions, how we tackle, all these different things. So the quarterback, obviously, is not immune to that. I think the quarterback gets more than his share of praise, so does the head coach when we win. And they get more than their share of criticism when things don't go quite as well too. So that might be a route not run at the right depth or that might be a route not run consistently or a defender playing well or whatever it is, so there's a lot of things that he has to go through, a progression of things that he has to go through every single play and that's across the nation every single quarterback. And it's a challenging position, but I think he's doing a very good job and I can handle -- I think as a coach like I said, you can throw five interceptions one game come back the next game and throw zero. And I would say five games that was a loss, that was a win. I wouldn't come back to say, well he's thrown five in two games so that's 2.5 per game and he's not playing very well. I would look at it and then one was good, one was bad. So that's what I've always tried to do, take every game and look at it and say and evaluate that one game opportunity and then move from there. I don't know if I'm answering the question but I think he's done a good job.

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