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MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY FOOTBALL MEDIA CONFERENCE
September 24, 2019
East Lansing, Michigan
COACH MARK DANTONIO: This is the 11th time playing IU, and this past week, I thought they got back on track, as well. They played extremely hard as a football team. I think Tom Allen has done a vert nice job there.
Defensively they will play a lot of guys. They will play their first unit, and then sub in their whole second unit at times. Maybe that was the situation in the game, but they play a lot of players and their players are playing a lot of plays relative to that.
Ball, No. 9, I think is a very good player. Plays sort of a hybrid defensive back linebacker position, but he makes their defense I think work, able to do some of the things physically that he can do.
They do return, I believe, seven starters on defense. Secondary, three out of four, one linebacker -- two linebackers, count the hybrid player and then two defensive linemen. Like I said, they are playing a lot of players.
On the offensive side of the ball, remains to be seen who will be the quarterback. They do return two offensive lineman, six starters, total. Westbrook and Hale, two very good receivers that are fade guys and then No. 1 is a guy that can make you miss. Stevie Scott is the running back, and then they tell freshman records last year. Big, physical guy.
And then Ramsey and Penix are the quarterbacks, and we'll see who goes. Both those guys are very, very capable players and have done good things for them.
As far as where we're at, last week, I thought, as I said Sunday night, played very well in the red zone, four out of five scoring opportunities down there. Missed the one field goal or it would have been five or five.
I think our quarterback is playing well and when you're quarterback plays well, it always gives you a chance and he's playing well with only one pick. Tough to sack, as well. 25, Stewart, playing very well, along with our running back, 24, Collins, doing a nice job.
Getting plays out of Cody White this past week, big plays and Matt Seybert busts onto the scene a little bit and has a couple touchdown catches. We'll put Matt back on scholarship. We put him on scholarship last spring, but we put him on scholarship, so he will be on scholarship the remainder of this year, so congratulations to him.
Also, again, want to publically thank everybody who extended texts to me, especially our players, our former players with the win No. 110. Takes you back when you hear from people, it takes you back, about their time here, and the relationships that we had and everything.
With that, I'll take some questions and get out of your way.
Q. We talked a little on Sunday about different NCAA rules changes. With the four games, veterans can now transfer out. Do you anticipate or have you heard of any attrition and if you run into that situation, how would you approach it?
COACH MARK DANTONIO: I don't anticipate it. It may happen. You know, I'm sure that today's society, anything's possible, I guess. But I've not heard of that yet, but I could see things happening like that as you go through the course of a year, and how you address it, you've got to get your young guys ready to play if something like that happens with a veteran guy.
Q. Michigan State is in that top part of the Big Ten East, and I'm curious, with a school like Indiana, two really good recruiting classes in a row, a good, solid coach committed to defense, do you sense them as a team that's breaking into an upward slide?
COACH MARK DANTONIO: They have always been a football team that has been extremely competitive in every football game. They have lost games at the end of the game, as evidenced by some of the games we've had with them over the years.
When Kevin Wilson was there, it was more offensively. I think Tom Allen has come in there and done a great job defensively. You can see his fingerprint on the defense. They play hard. They are sudden. They are good tacklers. They provide pressure.
The offense has remained much the same. They have got a new coordinator in there from Fresno State who was at Eastern Michigan. He's done a nice job and he's done some different things that we have to get ready for, so there's that whole element that exists again now.
But I think he's got them playing at a very high calibre football. I know they had a disappointing loss at Ohio State, sort of snowballed on them, but been there. They were competitive early on in the football game and then some competitive things happened and got a way from them. We'll see how they play when they come to Spartan Stadium, but I anticipate a very good game. Always has been. I think he tries to do it right, too.
Q. This will be the last time it's about you, but I know that everyone was kind of bracing for a celebration after the Arizona State game with your 110 alumni back and whatnot; didn't happen. What was the moment like in the locker room, team counting to 110 in unison and you're with your team and you're celebrating something like that?
COACH MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, it was a very special moment, you know, because they are at the tail end of everything. We have guys who were the at front end of it, but it brings everybody together. I think it really does.
It brings everybody together who is a part of this program and hopefully everybody has a little bit of a moment to sort of take in with that, but I've said all along, we've got great chemistry on our football team and good guys, and they were excited.
They were excited for me. I appreciate that very much, but they are also excited for them. It was a big win. Puts us at 1-0 in the Big Ten Conference. It was a win coming off a tough moment which I think we've always tried to sit there and say, okay, who are we in our toughest moments. I think they define themselves a little bit. Took a step towards defining themselves. Got a lot more games to play, but I think we took a step forward. That was exciting.
The 110 thing, that was going to come inevitably. I was more excited about going 1-0.
Q. To the Western Michigan game, offensively the key was to find consistency and to build on that. Obviously that didn't happen the next week. Now I know it's not easy to say, okay, let's be consistent and do it every week, but how important is that that now this week after the way they played Northwestern that you continued to do that?
COACH MARK DANTONIO: It's very important. Early in the game, we go down the field and score, first series. Then the next number of series we put ourselves back. We have a couple penalties, right, wrong or indifferent, we have a couple penalties. We have a TFL on a first down when we try and run a race.
So all of a sudden we are behind the chains for a number of series. We get the interception, go down and score on a two-minute but including that series, the next five series, we're down in the red zone or near the red zone with opportunities to score. I think that was a very good statement.
Conversely on the defensive side of things, we went three-and-out or got turnovers. I think we went three and out maybe three times or maybe four and out with the turnover, or maybe got a first down and went three and out maybe one other time.
The possession time in the fourth quarter as I said Sunday night was 11-4 in our favor. Everything went that direction and that's why we were able to sort of separate, because it's a closer game than -- it's a close game in the first half and all of a sudden we separate in the fourth quarter.
But sometimes that's how games go and we were fortunate enough to be consistent what we were doing and it's not easy to play up there and it's not easy to get away from a Northwestern football team because they always play everybody very competitively.
So it was a good thing, but we need to be consistent. Again I go back to what I said last week, consistency and performance. I roll my arms just like Coach used to do, but that's what he always said and I believe it totally. You know, Coach Saban, consistency and performance, that's where you're going to have to do it over and over and over and be on the front end of things in a consistent basis.
Q. You mentioned how you think guys took a step forward this past week. You're in a similar position as last year, 3-1, coming home for homecoming, how does this group feel different than last year's group? That game last year didn't go the way you wanted.
COACH MARK DANTONIO: Every year's different. I think the mentality of our football team and what we've tried to do from the onset of this season, which this season -- you know, we're on that Chinese New Year type deal -- I don't know when Chinese New Year is, but our season starts every January, or every February, when we go back to work and start fourth quarter workouts and winter workouts.
When people start saying, okay, what are we going to do, critique the season, move people around, you know, get new blood in, all that kind of stuff.
So from that point on, you know, our seniors and our leaders on our football team they have done a tremendous job in terms of setting the tone and setting the chemistry, I guess.
So they have done a great job with it and we are sort of a different football team right now. Not that we were a bad football team last year. I didn't believe we were. We just lost some close games down the stretch and we needed to have more production. But we had a lot of injuries. We still got our share of injuries, but we're making our way through it right now.
Remains to be seen what you do the rest of the season. We're one-third down. We've got two-thirds left to go and we are in a stretch where, again, we play the next two-out-of-three away, so this is a critical football game.
Q. Speaking of consistency, how concerned are you with Matt Coghlin right now, especially now that you're in Big Ten play?
COACH MARK DANTONIO: Well, you know, I'm concerned that he missed a football game but I'm confident in Matt. He was the First Team All Big Ten kicker last year and there's a reason he was that. He's been very good throughout summer camp, very good, probably missed two football games the whole camp. But you get out there, the wind is moving a little bit and you get out there and you have to make them during games.
But he has his confidence and if he's confident, I'm confident. He's a confident player.
Q. You mentioned about the Indiana quarterback situation. From a defensive side, how much does having played Ramsey the last couple years allow you to maybe back off that and focus more on what Penix does different, or do you have to fully prepare for both?
COACH MARK DANTONIO: I think you've got to take both into consideration. I know Penix is coming off an injury and he hasn't played and maybe it's a shoulder injury or an arm injury. So got to take that into consideration with everything.
But I also think Peyton Manning -- Dad would have said Peyton Manning. Peyton Ramsey has done a great job. He's a gamer. He knows where to go with the ball. He gives you scramble ability. He understands the defenses he's reading.
Penix is a very athletic guy. We haven't experienced him as much, so we don't really know, but we've seen him play and make plays, and he can take off with it.
Q. A couple quick things on special teams. Did Evan Morris not kick off because of the four-game limit? Are you thinking of that? And with the problems Cody had on the punt returns, how is it now been him and Sowards?
COACH MARK DANTONIO: The first question is, we kicked off -- we kicked off Cole Hahn because we felt like at this point in time he was the best guy, but it's sort of right now, it's a constant competition. And no -- the answer was no, it's not because of the four-game thing yet.
And then the second question is with -- Cody had a sleeve on. I think that ball got caught on the sleeve. We'll research that. We're going to look at that this week and make a game-time decision on that. But Sowards did a nice job while he was in there and he's been very steady in his time here as a punt returner and receiving the ball.
My focus on our punt return team -- I'm a defensive coach, going to say what it is -- has always been -- the main focus is get the ball back. So you'd better be able to receive that ball, you'd better be able to have no fakes and not have any penalties that set you back even further.
From a special teams perspective, we need to do a better job overall. That's a message to our football team and to our coaches and I truly believe if you're not coaching it, you're letting it happen, so we will coach that extremely hard this week.
Q. Couple small things. Are Penix and Ramsey different enough that you'll have two different guys mimicking them in practice this week or similar enough?
COACH MARK DANTONIO: They are different enough that you've got to put them into -- when you break them down, you're saying, okay, he's the quarterback and here is the plays he's quarterback, and here is the plays he's quarterback, and then look at them a little bit differently.
With that being said, I think the coordinator is the same. He's calling the plays, and so he has things he maybe likes a little bit more with one or the other, but I think there's similarities. About to be coach speak, but I think it's 50/50.
Q. You mentioned Joe Bachie had the most production points that you had seen. Do you have a short list of the other high scorers?
COACH MARK DANTONIO: No, all those Mike linebackers, you've got to be productive at that position because you're in so much of the -- right in the heat of it. But you know, Greg Jones certainly has had them. Max Bullough, Riley Bullough, across the scope of things, you know, those have been the majority of our Mikes throughout our time here. And all of them have had high production games but never that high. I can't think of one getting into the 40s, but they have been in the 30s, and they have been very productive players.
You know, as we go back in this production system, really, is the same production system we had when I came here in 1995 with Nick Saban, and so it remains the same, and so got a lot of guys -- if a guy gets 200 points for the season, he's an extremely productive player so that ought to give you an indication of the monstrous game that he had.
Q. A real question for you. The tempo offense, the first drive, felt like the fastest you got to the linemen. What's your evaluation of how the tempo has been used? I know that can conflict with time of possession. Curious how it's worked out and how you see it moving forward?
COACH MARK DANTONIO: Our tempo can be as fast as we want it to be. I think we have different modes, just like everybody else does right now. But we can also slow it down. I don't know -- I really don't want to give you good answers, so hopefully I'm correct.
But I do see us using tempo and we've done a nice job with it, really pretty much throughout I think the four games.
Q. The use age of Julian Barnett and his ability, what is it that's maybe holding him back from getting more opportunities out there?
COACH MARK DANTONIO: Pinkeye. He's had a serious eye infection for about two weeks. There's been a number of days where he hasn't been able to practice.
So he finally got it cleared up. He missed one practice this past week. He missed Tuesday, and he was having a very difficult time getting rid of it. So that's basically the reason.
But he's okay now. He's back and he should be playing more because I think he does have ability and as I said I think we had some very good young players. Hopefully we're going to see our guys play more.
Q. You also have a couple -- more than a couple of experienced guys. I was just wondering if there was a moment after the Arizona State loss during the week of practice where some of those veterans, you noticed them -- they had been through it before, losing a tough game and having to bounce back and it looked like they were --
COACH MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, I think we did have that, you know and I think that -- we've got experienced guys as you've just said and I think that helps us be able to refocus and reset.
You know, as I said before, and I've come in here, there's going to be friction points in every season where you've got to go this way or that way a little bit and you've got to be able to hit the reset button as players, as coaches, and be able to recollect yourself and move to the next challenge because nobody's going to feel sorry for you. They are not going to wait. They are going to prepare and everybody has a plan.
This is an extremely well-coached conference. It really is. When you go across and you look at the teams, you see different concepts. You see different things, nuances that every football team brings in, and it's competitive. Somebody is going to rise up every week and beat somebody else and that's the way it is across the country right now. You can look at it and see that every single week.
Q. Is pinkeye contagious?
COACH MARK DANTONIO: Was it? Yeah, it is.
Q. So you had to keep him away from the rest of your players?
COACH MARK DANTONIO: Well, I think so. His roommate got it, too.
Q. Because it's a big week and big day for him what your relationship is with Lorenzo White? He's been hanging out here more recently than some years. What's your feelings about him?
COACH MARK DANTONIO: Lorenzo has been around a lot over the course of time. I've known him for a long time. I knew him when I was here the first time around, got to meet him and know him a little bit.
Great Spartan. Very supportive. Talked to our football team, I believe it was last week. I think it was last week or maybe the week before, or the week before that Friday, being inducted in the College Football Hall of Fame is a tremendous honor, and I will be there for that.
He's a Spartan, and you know, I remember stories about Coach Perles would say, run that same play again and put it right in front of me, and he would put running 40 times, toss sweep and that type of thing. I think he was one of the great Spartans of all time.
Q. Matt Seybert's story is a pretty cool one, comes here from Buffalo as a walk-on. What did you see from him that allowed him to earn that scholarship in the spring?
COACH MARK DANTONIO: First of all, he came here and played in 2017 a little bit at a tight end. I said this I think on Sunday night. Then this past year, he moved to defensive end. He's got that type of personality a little bit, sort of a tough type of personality, wants to collision people.
Then he didn't get to play as much, a little bit but not as much. He transitioned back to tight end in the spring. Did a nice job in the spring, and it felt like that warranted that scholarship in the spring. And then I just leave it up in the air and say, okay, we have a certain number of scholarships and you have to work for them and see what happens.
He had 47 plays this last week. Had big moments. He had four or five catches. Four catches, I believe, two touchdowns. He's going to give you everything he's got, and I just thought that that was warranted, but excited for him. Brings a certain amount of excitement to the game and continue to play him.
Q. Just the housekeeping stuff. No AJ, no Cole, are they still in the same holding pattern right now?
COACH MARK DANTONIO: Yeah. Still in the same holding pattern. I think that AJ will get back. Not sure about Cole. We'll see. I know he's working extremely hard at it and it's been very disappointing for him, and for our football team because he's one of our leaders and he's been a starter here. But his overall health is our main concern.
Q. As kind of a secondary thing, the running back situation right now, you mentioned Eli, Williams getting in as the three-back now, has he moved up the pecking order or what have you seen from him to get into that mix and get carries?
COACH MARK DANTONIO: I think everybody brings something different to our offense a little bit, so we've got three or four guys. Actually have four guys that have played a little bit. He's probably played the least, but he gives you a little bit something different. He's a little bit like Jeremy Langford. That's what we've seen.
So we give him an opportunity and see how it all shakes out. But that remains to be seen how he's going to do, and same with the others, but we're going to keep pushing it.
Q. You mentioned, you said Julian's roommate had the eye infection. That would be Anthony, right?
COACH MARK DANTONIO: That would be Anthony. It's unfortunate but it happens.
Q. Back to the running backs. When you have a guy like Elijah, emerging as the guy getting most of the carries, what's the challenge in keeping the rest of the guys in the group engaged when they are not getting the ball as many times?
COACH MARK DANTONIO: It's challenging. I would say it's always challenging because everybody wants to play and they have had success. But everybody has an opportunity to do things every day in practice. We're going to always play the best player or the player who is playing the best. Maybe I should say, the player who is playing the best at that moment.
I'll go back to when Le'Veon was here. Le'Veon played as a true freshman in 2010 and played very well early in the season and through midseason, but towards his freshman year, he wasn't as productive, and all of a sudden became Larry Caper and Edwin Baker more. It was more Edwin and Le'Veon early on.
So it changes. I'm going to try and make sure that we ride the hot back and make sure that they have opportunities in practice to show what they have got and then we evaluate game film and productivity and try and take it from there.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports