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September 10, 2019

Mark Dantonio

East Lansing, Michigan

COACH MARK DANTONIO: Off to a 2-0 start, so that's exciting. Sort of go into the last game of what we've sort of called phase two for us and phase one, the first phase was our summer camp and phase two is our out-of-conference games.

So looking forward to this. We've had great crowds thus far. Should be a great environment. 4:00 national game on FOX, and they do a great job with things, and then also just a big day for Michigan State in general.

Arizona State comes in 2-0, as well. Herm Edwards, outstanding football coach. He's a football guy, I think he's been around football all his life and every time I've had an opportunity to be around him, I've really enjoyed just sitting and talking with him and everything. He's seen the game change himself as he's gone through time.

When you look at Arizona State, first thing you have to look at is their tailback, Eno Benjamin. Jayden Daniels is a true freshman quarterback who -- very good player. Eno Benjamin, First Team All Conference, Third Team All American, preseason All American pick, 1,600 yards rushing, sort of makes it work.

They have got an outstanding group of receivers. Been impressed with those guys. Defensively, a lot of pressure. A lot of different looks and really, when you look at them, they played very well defensively these last two games, and I would say that there is no one guy that sort of dominates that side of the ball. But they have got a collective group.

I've been impressed with their secondary, as well. They play hard and with emotion. Outstanding punter, and should be a great challenge for us and a great football game, so we are looking forward to that.

Q. Going against this Arizona State defense, they run a similar 3-3-5 to what Tulsa does. How much does that game help you and what's the learning curve for that?
COACH MARK DANTONIO: Well, I think first of all, we're playing three teams with distinct different defenses every game, so there is always a little bit of a learning curve. Even though they are a 3-3-5 team they are different than Tulsa in terms of what they do in the back end coverage-wise, and also what they are doing up front.

I mean, they are a penetrating type of team. They put a lot of people at the point of attack. A lot of different pressures and movement up front, so a little bit like western in that fact. A little bit like Tulsa in the fact that they are built from a 3-3-5 standpoint, but there are similarities, but there's definitely differences in the three teams.

Q. I know last week, you challenged the team and then you have the offensive output you did, even Joe Bachie after the game said he felt relief, like he could breathe easy for once. I know it's early in the week, but do you feel a different sense around this team, like there's that the whole relief that, yeah, now we're going in the right direction with everybody?
COACH MARK DANTONIO: Well, first of all, I think when your quarterback is playing well, good things happened and he's played well both games and he needs to continue to play well.

As far as everybody else, we ran the ball much more effectively and got what we wanted out of that, threw the ball, as well, a lot of production. The penalties -- the zero sacks, no penalties, those are great things, as well. You can point to those things. If those things happen you're going to be productive because you don't put yourself behind the 8-ball.

Ball security, first game, you know, perfect. Second game had two problems but we sort of overcame those on defense. But I just thought we played well.

Now, it becomes consistency and performance much like I said I guess on Sunday night. We have to continue to do that and get better and better and better. I thought our offensive line played well, as well, but they will be challenged this week with a lot of different looks and some pretty good players up front, as well. So it will be interesting to watch and see how the game unfolds.

Q. Confidence was at an all-time high with the players when they came in. Do you address that going into this game with a team like Arizona State and a staff like Herm Edwards, or not?
COACH MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, we've got a confidence level. I think that we've been a confident football team, especially on the defensive side of the ball. You know, went back and forth, obviously had a lot of injuries last year, but big step this past week.

So I do think we're confident, and I think we're excited to play and that's half the battle all the time; the excitement that you bring with you, with your football team. That's a big component I think in every football game, and you know, you can't fake that kind of stuff. You can't -- I don't think you get all rah-rah during the week. That's just the way we've always approached it, but I feel a sense of optimism and that's exciting.

Q. I was curious, I think you probably saw a lot of the same guys, a young defense last year, so you probably saw a good amount of them. How have some of those individual players grown and how has defensively the scheme evolved?
COACH MARK DANTONIO: A little bit more pressure I think this year as it's evolved I think. You know, it's their second year in, so you know, as a staff, so I think that obviously they have evolved a little bit.

As I said, you do see a lot of the same players, but they don't have that big nose tackle, so that's a plus. But they have got, for the most part, a lot of guys back I think, as I count them up here, six starters back, or so, and a lot of guys who have played a lot of football.

It's going to be a challenge for us. There's going to be some bad plays and there's going to be some plays where we have the numbers, as well. You have to make tackles and break plays and execute.

There's no magic to this. I continue to say that. It's blocking, tackling, catching the ball, throwing the ball. Special teams enter into these things. There's a lot of components that make up a football game and that's what's unique about this sport. It's almost like you're playing two or three different sports out there at times because so many different aspects of the game is taking place.

Q. You mentioned how you always break up a season in segments, and this is phase two. It's been since 2015 that you went undefeated in non-conference play. I know the games don't all match-up like that, but do you notice a different feeling from your team and when you escape that unblemished and get to Big Ten play?
COACH MARK DANTONIO: No, I think we are always looking forward. I think we've done a good job of that at all times, whether we've played a big game, you know what do we do next. I think sometimes that's the way that we are always going to be measured, whether you have a problem or whether something good happens, you know, what are you going to do next.

Because people are looking for that response, and we've always tried to make sure that we take a positive attitude in that respect, regardless of what's happened. But we've divided it up like this so we didn't get ahead of ourselves. That's as big as anything. Don't get ahead of yourself. Focus on the moment and chase that moment.

Q. There was less shuffling along the offensive line against Western Michigan. Is that the plan moving forward or does it depend on the game?
COACH MARK DANTONIO: Depends on our game and production and execution. I guess somewhat injuries in terms of does a guy get nicked up or is he tired or those types of things as we move forward.

Q. Can you speak to the job that Brad did, making sure guys got in the right spots and dialed up some stuff that seemed easier for you to execute a little bit?
COACH MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, I think that Coach Salem, I thought after the first game, I mentioned it, I thought the play calling came -- was rapid and there was no lag time in there and plays were getting called in, and just needed to execute them a little bit better. A lot of the same plays, the same things of the just more big plays and more execution. Those type of things. I think he's done a great job. I think our other coaches on offense, as well.

We have good teachers. I think they have good rapport and relationships with our players and we'll go play the best guys. We're just going to keep pushing to try and push our players forward, but he's done a great job.

Q. All the good running backs you've had here, you've always said you're going to ride the hot horse. Clearly, Elijah is the hot horse right now, isn't he?
COACH MARK DANTONIO: He looked like it, yeah.

Q. Is it his job to lose?
COACH MARK DANTONIO: Well, he'll start this football game and he'll have the opportunity to get the majority of carries early and we'll see how it all shakes out. I was impressed with him. I thought he had a burst. I thought he ran through tackles and he had good vision in the hole and good cutting ability. So, I mean, he did the job. I thought he was -- I was impressed.

But I've always said that about -- I've always come into here and said, hey, you know, there's three or four guys, and you know, I was always talking a little bit about Elijah. Hey, once he matures a little bit as a player, not as a person, but as a player, you know he was going to have an opportunity to be special.

Q. You were breathing a little fire and smoke here last week. I'm sure you weren't talking to us. Are you pleased with the way your team responded to that and do you think it had anything to do with the fire they played with?
COACH MARK DANTONIO: Well, if you feel that was fire last week, you should have been at the team meeting I guess, you know, but sometimes you just have to deal with the brutal reality of things, and you know you have to call them as you see them and that's the way I called it.

I felt like, you know, that I do feel like this game belongs to the players. Every game belongs to the players. Coaches set it up and do their very best, but at the end of the day, players make plays. I mean, that's the way it is all over America.

There's got to be good execution but there's got to be a good plan. Obviously there has to be a good plan in place but at the end of that, we want enough around here that, hey, I can recognize that, hey, the plan is in place and now you have to execute or now you have to catch the football or you have to make a tackle or those type of things.

Usually when you shake it all out at the end of the game, you point to something; very few times is it something that's not, you know, either a mental error or a physical error. There are some different things and adjustments and things like that that need to take place, but you hope that you put the -- you hope, as a coach, that you're not over-complicating things; that you do put the game in the players' hands, because I think at the end of the day, players win games for you.

I think that over the course of time here, 12 years, going into 13 now, you can look at it and say, players have won games here. It's the execution that takes place.

That's what coaches I think relish in is the execution of the plan. When they see it executed, that's why they get their -- that's where a top system, and you see it happen and you put it on a clinic film, those are the things that you try and point towards as a coach. Not that coaches aren't responsible, they are. They are ultimately responsible, as well.

But we put the game in the players' hands. I think everybody does that.

Q. Herm talked about his baby-sitter took him to see Jimmy Hendrix at Monterey Pop. What's your best concert experience?
COACH MARK DANTONIO: My best concert experience. Well, I really didn't anticipate answering that question. I've had some good ones. Take my girls to see Shania Twain, when they were this big, got them off of horses and surprised them and took them to see Shania Twain in Cincinnati, was special because of that. Backstage with Kenny Chesney was special.

I missed the Eric church concert. That's one I need to make, because I had another event that night. And then my first concert was the Eagles, so going way back, first concert I ever went to was the Eagles. I haven't seen Springsteen yet, so I'm looking for that one, some day.

Q. Where?
COACH MARK DANTONIO: Columbus, Ohio. That's just off the top of my head.

Q. That's a good list. The second part, though, I kind of wanted you to think back a little bit to maybe like '94. When you decided to come here with Coach Saban, what made this place a spot for you, and then what made it a spot to come back to?
COACH MARK DANTONIO: I first came here in 1994, when we played Michigan State when I was at KU, and I came walking through that stadium, and I saw the fans and I saw the greenery, the trees, red cedar, and the Big Ten football atmosphere. I remember saying to my wife, Becky, "This is Big Ten football. This is unbelievable." And so you could recognize that this was a special place at that time.

Then when I had the opportunity to come in '95 with Coach Saban 95, obviously jumped at that opportunity and so stayed here for six years. Stayed with Bobby, Coach Williams, because of my feeling towards Michigan State, because of our -- raising our girls here in this community because I think it's a great community.

Then obviously went to Ohio State as defensive coordinator, with Coach Tressel was very, very special and I had been a GA at Ohio State and I'm from that state and that was special.

The Cincinnati experience as a head coach, and then when I had the opportunity to come back here, I didn't flinch. I made that decision, and really, there's never been any point where I've even considered another position.

So it's been one of those places that's been unique to myself and my family. Gave my girls an opportunity to grow up and finish their high school and their college careers here which was -- I think was so important sometimes in a coach's life in terms of being able to keep your family in the same environment.

So it's just been one of those places. I mean, I knew that we could have success here because I've seen success in the past, whether from afar, or whether, you know, the '99 season, or even going back to '97 season, we had an opportunity -- we had good players here and we had an opportunity to get good players here, special players.

I think still to this day, Michigan State is a national brand that you can walk in here and entertain anybody in the country who walk in here about Michigan State Spartans. They know who they are. Recruiting has changed a little bit, but you still have that national brand.

Q. When you were watching the film, do you wear sunglasses? Those jerseys a little different to see your guys running around in?
COACH MARK DANTONIO: It was very -- when I walked in the locker room, I said, "Oh, my goodness." I was like, whoo. I knew if they were worn at night, they would take on a different look and when they were all on together as a group, it looked good. And then when they were going down the field, making tackles, collectively, it looked good.

Nike did a great job, and you know, our players liked them and that's what I asked them to look at. In pregame, I said, "Hey, you want to wear these uniforms," to our captains.

"Oh, yeah, Coach. Let's go."

So I was like, "Okay, let's go."

But I liked them at the end of the game, and the bottom line is, how do you play.

Q. I know you're not a guy that looks at yourself throughout the season, but with a win, you would be breaking Duffy's record. Have you had time to reflect?
COACH MARK DANTONIO: I have. I have. What I reflected on was Duffy Daughtery, really. When I look and I'm glad you asked that question, because when I look back and I look, it's a different time. Football back then is a different game. Media is completely different. Probably had two people talking to them on a Tuesday at that time with just the local papers.

But when you look at what he had accomplished, four national championships, you know, Coach of the Year, two-time national coach of the year, coached 29 first-team all Americans; I really believe he was a pioneer in the integration of college football.

If you look back and you really study integration of college football, you know, Michigan State had 20, I believe, got it written down here, had 20 African-Americans playing on the 66 team, 11 starters. In that 10-10 tie, not to be disrespectful of anybody, but Michigan State had 20. Notre Dame had one.

And they talked about USC and their games against Alabama, they had seven African-Americans on that team. So Duffy was ahead of his team. He recruited all across America. Brought players in from the south. Guys like -- you know, when I came here and I walked into what was the Duffy Daughtery center at that time, sort of a little hall of history there, and I was amazed, the 67, you know, draft choices that they had. I think four out of the first eight. I mean, that's unparalleled. I don't think there's ever been a team or there will ever be a team that has four of the top eight players picked. You know, Bubba Smith No. 1. I think Clinton Jones went maybe No. 2. I think George Webster went 4, I think, and then there was Gene Washington at No. 8.

Go back and think about some of the players, Charlie Thornhill, you think about Bob Pesley (ph), you think about Sherm Lewis, Jimmy Raye being the first quarterback to integrate college football and play for a National Championship. You look at Brad Van Pelt playing here.

But he had so many players, so many great players playing here, that really, he was ahead of his time. I mean, the guy's on Time Magazine. I'm not sure if I'm as funny as he is, let's say that right now. But I think that he really was a bigger-than-life type person.

So when I reflect on this, on this next win at some point, plan on it this weekend, but plan on it at some point, it's sort of a milestone but it really allows me to reflect back on history, history of college football, and really, what Duffy Daughtery did for the game of college football and what he did for the country in that respect in a lot of ways.

That's what I remember, and the players that I've met from his teams, you know, love the guy. So when I look at things like that, you know, it's a humbling experience, but you know, we're here now. Honestly, I read Isaiah 41:20, I sort of feel blessed. So that's where I am.

Q. Was there a time early in your tenure here where you knew it was going to work? Like in those '07, '08, '09 years, where you had a feeling this was going to take off?
COACH MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, I sort of felt -- I've never gone into a football game and thought, hey, we can't win this one.

2007, one of the things I was most proud of, I think, I believe, that we didn't lose one player in attrition in that change, I think. Have to go back and look, but I was -- I remember telling Gerry DiNardo that fact, that that's our goal, not to lose one player. We had good players there. Brian Hoyer is playing. How long did Javon Ringer play. We had great players on that football team and we had games that we lost and we lost close and we were really in most of the games.

Then 2008 came and we win nine games. I think you're always going to take a step back when you're building a program a little bit, and 2009 maybe was that year a little bit, but close games. 2010, 2011, we busted out. 2012, outstanding defense. Young players. Took a little step back offensively.

You guys know the history here. Then 2013, sort of regrouped and '13, '14, '15, big years, I think 34-5 maybe in those three years. Dipped in '16 drastically, but leading at half in every one of those football games, so don't really know how to handle that. Had some problems as we go. You know, there's always going to be problems.

Regrouped in '17. '18, last year, was tight. You know, obviously doing some decent things and once -- you know, played better defense than probably offense, need more production, a lot of injuries. And here we come in '19 and we'll see what 19 brings for us.

But I've always felt like we could win here. I've always felt like you're going to have great crowds as evidenced by the last two games and there's a tremendous amount of support here. There's a very proud group of people here that represents Spartan Nation. We're going to get ready to play. We're going to emphasize toughness and effort all the time and knowing what to do, which we have from day one and we're going to try and do this old school, which we have from day one. We bring players who are tough and excited to come.

Q. Did you ever meet Duffy?
COACH MARK DANTONIO: No. I have met his grandson and I have met his wife before she passed at the Duffy Daughtery Awards, and I believe his grandson may be coming this week.

Q. When you walked in the locker room and saw all the neon and talked to the team leaders, what would you have done if they had said no, or not really?
COACH MARK DANTONIO: Well, I asked them before they put them on. That was key, okay, because these things fit tight.

You know, when we went through all this, they had opportunities to look at them far and away before that day. So you know, it was just a change. It's changed from the traditional color, and sometimes that's good.

I thought it was a good change and like I said, it was important that we play well. I thought it was very important that we play well because I know that any time there's change, there's going to be, you know, a group here and a group there and there's going to be talk and there's going to be people saying this or saying that.

So it was important that we play well and I think that's what made those uniforms really look well, look good. Might be wearing them this week, you never know.

Q. You talk about being in the moment, and obviously this moment is an important one for the program, for yourself individually, and a lot of other things. Would it be, I guess, not as received if you don't continue the success? If things kind of come apart, or fall the other way, do you want -- I mean, does it make it more special when you have a successful season in individual milestones?
COACH MARK DANTONIO: First of all, I've never really thought of things that way. I don't go through life like that. I go through life thinking we're going to win and everything that we do is predicated on trying to do the best we can and planning on success.

So I've never really looked at it in that respect and I don't think it's going to go in that respect because we stay positive.

But the most important thing is to be 3-0, and then 4-0, or 3-1, or whatever it is. The most important thing is what's coming up. Long-term, years from now or when this is all done, I'm sure I'll look back and say, that was an interesting week; got a lot of two-part questions.

But for me right now, I'm going to live in the present and I'm going to deal with what we're trying to -- what we can have an effect on and that's the next game and I'm going to stay positive and get our players ready to play and enjoy the experience with our players, and you know, I just enjoy being with them.

We've got a great group of young people. They have got great chemistry. You guys have interviewed them. We have unique individuals and they are fun to be around but they are great people and they get along so well together that it's a blessing and a pleasure to be around them and coached them.

Q. With the success and consistency during your tenure, how have you seen the recruiting atmosphere change here at Michigan State? Is it easier to get some of these guys to come to East Lansing?
COACH MARK DANTONIO: It's always tough. Recruiting is a very competitive situation. I think things have changed, just the demographics have changed in terms of people staying closer to home probably for the most part than most, or you get them on campus, how -- there's such an earlier time of -- recruiting has become accelerated, so people are looking at you as sophomores and juniors and they can't even come on campus officially.

They can come on unofficially but guys from farther away don't have that opportunity to get here as much, and I think usually you've got to get on campus two or three times to at least have a good understanding of what it is about a place. A lot of times you're trying to do that during the season, which you've got, you know, three or four balls up in the air, literally, and you're trying to recruit, as well. So it's very -- it's just a busy time.

You know, you get 16, 17 committed guys right now or so, and so it's just accelerated. But I've always been impressed with the guys that come and we want good people that are good football players and that's what we've tried to do. We continue to try and do that.

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