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MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY FOOTBALL MEDIA CONFERENCE
October 23, 2018
East Lansing, Michigan
MARK DANTONIO: First of all, might as well get things out of the way here in regards to recent comments and et cetera. Every week, I sort of get a goal card. I sit down and make a goal card every week. And on that goal card I try and prioritize what's important in my life, so when I look at it and I go, boom, boom, boom, right down the list, and the first thing I'm going to say about this, I'm not going to have any more comments about the situation. I've made my comments. I'm going to let God take care of my battles. That's number one.
Number two, I'm going to take care of my family. Number three, I'm going to take care of this football program and represent it with class. And number four, I'm going to worry about Purdue and the Xs and Os and the personnel involved in that, and that's it.
So I'll take no other questions about that, and we'll get on with Purdue. Otherwise this will be the shortest conference and you guys all drove up here for nothing. So I'll take questions on Purdue.
Q. Just to start off with Brian Lewerke, his performance, how much that plays into his status for this week? And how much do you see Rocky (indiscernible)?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, you know, first of all, Rocky gets all the reps. He got all the reps last week as well as Theo Day. Brian has got to be able to practice. That's obviously noticeable from last year, last week's performance. But as I said after the game, there's a lot of things that go into this. There's separation by the wide receivers, we're down some wide receivers, we've got to get separation, certain routes. There's conceptual things we've got to deal with. We played against a good defense. There's pressure that moves him out of the pocket or creates pressure for him.
So there's a lot of different things going into this, and I think he can be a very effective quarterback, but I do think he's got to practice. I know he feels better than he did last week, so hopefully that'll happen. He did practice, but he wasn't able to throw down the field. I thought he had velocity in the game. I didn't think that was the problem in the game.
Q. You've told us numerous times you're a defensive coach and you really rely on your offensive guys, so why doesn't Rocky have your confidence when Dave Warner wanted to make the change?
MARK DANTONIO: Well, first of all, my decision was to let Lewerke go one more series, but that series -- and then there was a long drive against our defense. We sort of took the clock. So that was a situation, otherwise he would have been in there with probably about seven minutes to go. He needs to get rid of the ball quicker. When he's had an opportunity to play, he's taken too many sacks. I think he can be a good quarterback, but that's the situation. Get rid of the football.
Q. In that regard, Lewerke's situation kind of took on a different dynamic because it was an arch rival, and as he said, he wanted to play. Could that change this week, not because it isn't important --
MARK DANTONIO: Well, I think all games -- I basically look at it and say, hey, all games -- ultimately there's rivalry games, there's important games on our schedule that you're going to deem more important from a fan standpoint and from our internal well-being, I guess I'd say, standpoint. But at the end of the day, they all do count one, and so we're going to win our football games as we move forward, and we're going to play our best players to give us an opportunity for that.
Again, I'd go back to Lewerke. He's played a lot of football here last year and been very successful, and I think he's got a live arm and I have a lot of confidence in him. Not that I don't have confidence in the other guys, but we're going to play the guys that we think are the best players at a particular point in time. If that changes, then we'll make decisions on that.
Q. Does Justin Layne stand a chance to play more offense? Is that in the works, or do you know?
MARK DANTONIO: He'll play on defense primarily, but he will play some offensive football, as well.
Q. Purdue is coming off of a huge win against Ohio State last weekend; what did you see from them, and how do you prepare for that?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, I think first of all, Purdue started out 0-3 losing three games very, very late in the game, and then now they've gone on a four-game win streak. Playing very, very well right now offensively. Been very impressed with their quarterback. He dishes the ball to the correct people, spreads it around. No. 4 Rondale Moore is an outstanding receiver, freshman, do-it-all kind of guy. Jet sweeps, catching the ball, punt return, kickoff return. Coach Brohm has done a great job there since getting there really last year and sort of turning the program. He's going to run trick plays. He's going to run fake punts, four of them last year, so those type of things.
I think on the defensive side of the ball, they're a 4-3 defense and they play extremely hard, play very well on 3rd and short, which gives you an indication of where they're at, sort of a combined effort there, a lot of good players. And then their tailback is running effectively, as well, Knox.
Very good football team right now, playing hot, so we're going to have our challenges cut out for us there.
Q. Back to Justin Layne a little bit, how tough is that to do that? Some guys have done it here. Tony did it a few years ago, but if you can think back a couple years when he played his first game as a receiver, I know he flipped over kind of out of necessity and Coach Samuel always says he hates when you come around and see his receivers start backpedaling and you take them. But was it always kind of a thought that you wanted him over there? Was that more just kind of needing --
MARK DANTONIO: No, we brought him in as a wide receiver. He was a recruited wide receiver who played defensive back, as well, so he had the benefit of being a wide receiver for the entire month of August and really through the first month of September, I think, as I remember back. And then we sort of flipped him and played him a little bit both ways, and then gradually when we got into it, he became a defensive back.
But he has the background and the foundation to be able to go over there and play, and I think at this point in time, until we get our guys back, all of our guys back, which with the exception of Felton, we should get them all back, I think he needs to play there some. But at the same time we can't take him away from the defensive side of the ball. Their no-huddle offense just depends on how long their drives are and what's going on, and if we can insert him in there, we will, but I think he has the background to do some specific things and help us.
Q. On the flipside of that, the injury situation at cornerback, do you have any updates on Josiah, whether or not he'll be back, and same with Josh Butler, and breaking down what Tre and Shakur, that little back and forth between the two of them, trying to get to that other spot?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, first of all, Josh is very close to being able to play. We'll see how he does this week, and I knew he wanted to play this past weekend. He wanted to get in the game on the sidelines. Josiah will start practicing with the team this week, and while he's gone -- and remember, he has to sit one half. He's close to being the four-game redshirt thing, so we'll see how that goes. He'll probably dress this week and have an opportunity to play this week if we deem that. But we'll see.
But it depends on how he practices here Tuesday and Wednesday, but I think that he's close to being good.
MARK DANTONIO: Those two guys, just felt like after the big play that Tre offered up two hands, got swiped on it, and gave up a big play. Put Shakur in for a couple plays, played pretty well, so we just stayed with him the fourth quarter, but we'll see how practices go this week, but I think both of them have the ability to play out there. They're quick and they've got great ball skills, and that's unfortunate what happened with Tre, but it's a technique issue.
Q. Being 4-3 now, it's not necessarily the season you thought you were going to have. When you look at some of these injuries, will you consider more medical redshirts or taking some and delaying maybe some expectations for next year?
MARK DANTONIO: You know, our goal right now is to finish and finish October, and again, see what November brings. My take on things is, like I keep saying, we're in every football game, we could win every football game. The goal of this program will be always to win, and that will be the priority. So we'll focus on that, and as we get guys injured back, we'll see how that all shakes out and where they're at in the scheme of things. I think the one thing you've got to recognize when you get guys back, are they fully healthy or are they playing hurt, and so you want to play the best players, and so you try to do those things, even at the quarterback position. I thought he had velocity so we went with it. We'll continue to make those decisions.
Q. L.J. Scott, I'm wondering how his return as he gets back into full condition to changes things, and with so many injuries, do you see him even in a greater capacity than you might have in week one?
MARK DANTONIO: Use him at a --
Q. More in the passing game, use him in different ways?
MARK DANTONIO: Well, first of all, he hasn't played football in six weeks, so it's been a while, so he did get in there, and I thought he played pretty well, made some different -- made some cuts on a couple occasions where there were tight holds, and he's got to get back to playing the way he's capable of playing and who he is because he was a very good player for us. That takes time. You can't practice like you play. Games are -- you don't have the advantage of having an August camp and three scrimmages and things like that to get yourself ready. You're sort of trying to get ready on a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and then you're held out, and I think your ability to sustain physically takes a hit a little bit, so you've got to get back into shape. So I think he'll be doing that, and I think we'll see progress.
Q. The other question, the four-game redshirt rule, does that change your approach with a guy like Theo Day? Do you evaluate him differently as in the mix if you were to need another guy other than Brian, and where are those two between he and Rocky in that competition?
MARK DANTONIO: I think Rocky has a bigger foundation, but I think Theo Day is very talented, and if it came to it I think we'd play him in four games. I don't think we'd play him in five or six, I guess five. But we'd play him in four games. As I said before, we're going to play to win, but I think we have a pretty good feel who knows what right now and who can do what right now. We just have to allow it to take shape.
Q. You mentioned Purdue 0-3 to start and then four wins in a row. What changed for their team, whether it's subtle differences or sweeping changes? What do you notice are the differences from the early part of the season to the last few weeks?
MARK DANTONIO: I think that if you listen to Coach Brohm, they've gone on the attack a little bit more and spread things out. I think they have a dynamic guy in No. 4 who's made plays for them, and he's stayed healthy. I think the majority of their receiver situation are running backs who have stayed healthy. And then, you know, the quarterback has done a great job, you know, and they inserted him. They were going back and forth with two quarterbacks and then they finally figured out that this was the guy they were going to go with, and he's done an outstanding job. Very few interceptions, I think two for him, maybe 17 touchdown passes maybe, something like that. So he's been very productive.
You know, we've got our work cut out for us on the defensive side of the ball, there's no question.
Q. When you have a team like Purdue that's obviously playing so much better than they were at the start of the year, do you focus more of your study on the last four games as opposed to the start of the season with just the results being much different for them?
MARK DANTONIO: I think we had the opportunity and the time to look at all of it to some degree and certainly focus on the last four, the last five games, especially when they decided on a quarterback. But you've got to take into account some of the things that happened early in the year, as well. So we try and look at everything relative to the situations involved, whether it be red zone, goal line, 3rd down, all the different situations, personnel groupings.
Q. I know in the past after big games, win or lose, you guys have usually played pretty well. Obviously coming off -- I guess I'm asking more about mindset now. Does it help at all that Purdue is coming in playing the way they are to have these guys focus, or would you anticipate that focus would still be there for these guys regardless of who the opponent might be this week?
MARK DANTONIO: I think our focus needs to be on ourselves and how we're going to play, our attention to detail and our execution, and things that we can come with conceptually both sides of the ball. Purdue has got a great football team. We've got to play to them. In other words, we have to format our plan to what they do. That's always the case every single week, and that's what we'll do. But I always have pointed towards what do we do after, what do we do after any big game, any big moment, win or lose, and tried to point towards that because I think that's a reflection of the next step for us. So that's what we'll do.
Q. Kind of a follow-up to that, two tough home losses sandwiched around a great road win. What is the heartbeat of your team right now, or is that still to be determined?
MARK DANTONIO: Well, you know, it was tough on Sunday, as I said before, when you have a tough situation you've got to get up out of bed. Believe me, there's been a lot of different people around the conference having to experience that, whether it's this year, last year, whatever. That's part of sport. That's part of competition. That's part of athletics. You've got to learn to do that. That's part of the process. That's part of growth. You know, I think our football team has done a good job with that.
I don't think there's been a game where we've come and said, we're not prepared mentally or we're not prepared emotionally. We've come to play emotionally, and what we've got to do is execute. But we're going to play with effort and toughness.
Q. Would you talk to us about the Purdue defense, what you notice about them, and even before Brian's injury, your offense has struggled, and I know you said the quest this year was for more points. What do you see from their defense?
MARK DANTONIO: Again, I think they play them very well, especially on like short yardage situations. From their defense, play a lot of cover one, man coverage, some quarters coverage, zone pressure like a lot of different people, running the front side back or off the edge, that type of thing. That seems to be the thing that everybody is doing right now to try and throw people off on the RPO's and things of that nature.
No. 41, I believe, Markus Bailey, is a guy that makes a lot of plays for them out of Hilliard, Ohio. Pretty stout up front, secondary. I like their corners. It'll be a challenge.
Q. The evolution and development of your offensive line, you've said repeatedly how long it takes to develop linemen. You've got three sophomores and a redshirt freshmen that have been pressed into duty, got injuries along that front, as well. How do you evaluate their development at this point, where is there left to go for this season, and how much do you have to count on for development over the next off-season?
MARK DANTONIO: Well, a couple of those guys have been starting for quite a while. Even if they're sophomores, they've played in the past. I think Blake Bueter is one guy that hasn't played as much, but if you look at Jarvis, if you look at Jordan Reid, they played last year. They've got experience. If you look at Cole Chewins, he's got experience. If you look at Tyler Higby, he's got experience. And Luke Campbell, he's got a great deal of experience, as well.
You know, we've got guys with experience in there. They should be able to function and play well together. They need to do that. You've got to win up front. If I sat there and said, hey, the tailback for Michigan ran the ball for 33 times and we ran it for 14, you know, I can tell you who's going to win the football game. You've got to be productive running the football because otherwise it becomes 2nd and 10 or whatever it is. But that's all a part of it. So we've got to find a way to do that and keep pressing it.
And there are tight ends in other position groups that are involved with that, and then from a running back position, when you hit the second level you've got to be able to run through some tackles. It's just a fact. That's part of it, too. So let's not all say it's one thing. It's a combination of things. Problems always are a combination of things.
Q. No fumble recoveries for the first five games; you get one at Penn State, two last week. Is there anything you notice different, just getting the ball out the last couple games, more focus on it or whatever the case may be?
MARK DANTONIO: I'm sorry, the first part?
Q. You didn't have any fumble recoveries the first five games of the season.
MARK DANTONIO: Well, we keep talking about it. Keep talking about it, sometimes they're going to come in bunches, much like a lot of things. Close to getting a couple more out in the game but didn't happen. But we keep talking about it, and I'm sure offenses keep talking about ball security these days because turnovers have such a huge part to do with winning a football game. We'll continue to keep working it every day in practice and keep stressing it.
Q. You mentioned the tight end group and some of the problems. Where is that group right now in terms of providing some extra production without the receivers in there? I noticed you played Trenton Gillison out of Penn State. Is he a guy that could be an answer there late in the season to get some more production?
MARK DANTONIO: We want to handle him with a four-game type deal, so we've got five left, but I think I anticipate him playing four of the five. Don't want to play the guy four plays. I want to play him significantly if we play him. He could be a very good player. He's young, though, so there's that learning process there.
As far as the tight ends, same thing. Got to be more productive in the pass game. Some of that's their issues, some of that's other issues. And then they've got to be more effective in blocking. Got to win up front. There's no substitute for saying that. That's just the way it is. I don't care where you're at in the game of football, you've got to win in protection or you've got to win in blocking to run the football effectively. So you've got to be able to do that, and we're going to continue working on that. It's not a lack of effort. I don't think it's a lack of toughness. Sometimes you've just got to get the job done.
Q. I was just wondering, obviously Felton goes down, so obviously that caused some shuffling at the receivers. We see different people in different spots on the depth chart. In this offense, how difficult or easy is that for the guys to know multiple different positions, and is that something that maybe only two-, three-, four-year guy can do to be able to master multiple ones whereas younger guys are maybe pigeonholed to a degree?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, that's a little bit of that, but our -- the way our concepts work and everything, our formation groupings, we can put people based on calls in various places. And then there are a couple guys who can play all three positions, which helps.
Q. Athletes who have torn their Achilles say it is the hardest injury to come back from, if at all, and for someone like Felton Davis, so young, have you spoken to him and kind of gotten a sense of where his mind is at after the injury?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, I've obviously talked to Felton, and I mean, I think his mind is in good shape. He's going to have surgery I think this Friday from one of the leading surgeons in the country down in North Carolina, and so he'll bounce back. He's young. Maybe people say that, but there are a lot of people who have come back from those injuries, especially nowadays. I think back in the day they used to be career ending, but I think nowadays people have those and are able to respond positively. But Felton is a positive guy, and he'll work towards it, and he'll be okay. I think he's got a very bright future.
Q. With the four-game redshirt thing, with the potential of a bowl game, how does that factor into things? Do you wait until the last three, or do you think we'll just deal with the bowl game and hold a lot of these guys who maybe played in November out of that game?
MARK DANTONIO: Well, I plan to win, so we'll format that in. I don't plan to lose, so when we get to those points in time, we'll make those decisions.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports