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November 5, 2019

Mark Dantonio

East Lansing, Michigan

HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: First of all, going into our second bye week, it's been a bill different schedule as we've gone through it. For us it gives us an opportunity to get healthy, that's a positive. Negative is we play one game in basically a four-week period. We're excited to get busy back here this coming Saturday.

As far as where we're at, you know, got four games left. November has always been a big opportunity for a big push by us. Take that opportunity to begin here versus Illinois.

As far as last week, you know, obviously Joe Bachie is out to save everybody the trouble of asking me the questions about it. Made a statement about Joe and the thoughts, the appeal process, is not something I'm involved in, that's involved with our trainers and our athletic training staff and doctors in the Big Ten. We'll see how that shakes out as we go.

As far as Illinois, got a lot of respect for Lovie Smith and what he's been able to accomplish. This year, I think they are playing exciting football. They are motivated. An opportunity to win six wins as they come here, so should be a great football game and a lot of competition, etc.

Playing well on the defensive side of the ball, leading the conference in takeaways, No. 1 in the nation in takeaways, averaging about two takeaways a game in the Big Ten Conference. Plus 11 in the turnover margin in the Big Ten Conference games itself, so very productive in that area.

The big message to our offense is ball security. Got to keep -- take care of the football, whether it's throwing it or whether it's running the football or pass protecting.

When you look at them defensively, you're getting the turnovers. When you look at them offensively Peters is doing a nice job of running the offense. They have two tailbacks that have been very productive and No. 9, their wide receivers, sort of a jump ball guy that's made some big plays, but they are being more consistent on that side of the ball, special teams. Good kicker. Good kickoff guy, good punter that spreads it all around and they are playing well on that area, as well.

So with that, I'll take some questions and we'll sort of go from there.

Q. No Darrell Stewart or Matt Allen. Do you expect them back this year?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, expect them back but always try to be -- hey, if a guy is not going to play for sure, we'll make that announcement. Those two guys will not play. Darrell is out for a time period. Matt should be back a little earlier. I think we'll get them both back but we'll have to see.

Q. Did Matt get hurt on that play when Lewerke came back in?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: He got hurt when he went down on the field.

Q. I guess on that play, what did you see, and what happened with the injury?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: I don't take specifically about the injury. Just right now, he's out. I don't really talk and get into too many specifics about it. This is the way we've always done it.

Q. As far as Joe goes, with Noah Harvey, I assume that's the plan with him on the depth chart, and how difficult is it on the field and off the field with a two-year captain?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: Noah has been practicing there and has gotten game reps there and has been in our nickel package in various places throughout the season, so he's a seasoned player a little bit. He's an outstanding athlete. He can really run. He's got some size to him. He's explosive. He can jump. 35-inch vertical guy, 10-foot long jump guy.

What he needs is game experience, more game experience at the Mike position. He'll get that this week. But everybody has an opportunity. Everybody has a time. This is his time that gives him an opportunity, as well as a couple other guys, to get in the mix and play well. We expect him to play well. That's why we coach them all. We coach ones and twos systematically. That's been our approach and we've got to go with the next man up philosophy.

Q. Joe, a captain, a leader; did you have to talk to the team and try to keep them focussed? This is a pretty big blow, it seems.
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: First of all, it was a tough deal last Thursday when we made the announcement to the team. Joe is still start part of our football team, comes to practices, and is basically still a student coach. Wants to be involved with us. Planning to be at the game Saturday, as well, but he's just ineligible to play now as we go through this. But we want to keep him a part of our process. I think that's what we want to do and I think that's what he would like to do, as well. That's No. 1.

No. 2 is, hey, everybody's got to pick it up. Everybody's got to play 1/11th better to make up for a guy that's lost. He's a very good football player. He's a team leader. Everybody has to move in that direction. Who fills that void as a team leader is important, as well, but we have got guys that have led in the past and are leaders within themselves, and they will pick up the slack.

Thus far, what we have had Thursday, Friday, Saturday, very good practices, as well as yesterday. The energy is very, very good and like I keep saying, you know, young people are resilient and they put things over here and it's an opportunity for somebody else to step forward.

Q. So he will be at practice --

Q. Considering this is the final month of the season, what do you expect the timetable for the appeal process to be?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: I really don't have any knowledge of that because I really haven't gone through that before, the experience of that.

You know, it's sort of out of my hands and I've got to focus on what I can control. What I can control is -- or what we can control is putting next guy in there, getting ourselves ready to go, having a positive mental disposition in terms of what we do and bring energy.

Q. How challenging has all this off-the-field stuff been? Is it the toughest period in your coaching career that you've faced?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: The bar is set high. The bar is high. You know, learn to deal with things, and I told our football team, at times, it can always get worse. It really can. And I also said, how strong are you? How strong are you as an individual to hold up to things that happened, whether it's a missed play on the field or whatever case off the field. You know, how strong are you? What do you have to do to stick your foot in the ground and drive back forward?

That's what we try to do and that's what I try to do as the head football coach of this program is make sure that we're moving in that direction and I think that's the appropriate thing to do. Don't take that "pity me" type of attitude. We've got to move on. Got to get ready to go.

We've got other people coming here to play and we've got big games this month. We have four games left to play. We are a 4-4 football team. We've got something to make of this season.

So got good, young players. We've got players that a lot of recommend recruited. Players that come here with an idea that they are going to play their way through Michigan State and come out the other end and play on a bigger stage. Those players, even though they are young, those players now have an opportunity to step up and play and that's exciting. Sort of sets the tone.

Q. The outside narrative is what it is, but do you have that opportunity with four games left? Is that what you're really trying to do inside the walls, making sure they focus on these last four games and finish as best you can?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: In football, the reality is, you truly are focusing on, what's the next play, what's the next defense, what's the next kick, what's the next situation. Because I mean that, in itself, I said this the other day on the radio, that in itself is a game in itself. It really is. Everybody has to be on the same page, going in the right direction and doing the right things and they have to beat their guy and dominate their man. You put a string of those together and good things happen.

But you can't look past one game. You can't look past one play. You need to to focus on your job, do your job and get yourself ready to go. That's the way we have always done it, win or lose, success or times of struggle; we tried to do that and it's benefitted us by doing that, and we take the next-man-up mentality, and it's happened before.

We lost Connor Cook going into the Ohio State game, and you know, two quarterbacks quarterbacked that game in 2015 and we won. The bottom line is, can you win. That's what I'm focused on. What do you have to do to win a football game.

The first thing you have to do against these guys is don't turn the ball over and we can control that to some degree. We can control that. Now, they are going to be raking it, pulling it out, but we do the same so we can control that deal.

Q. Can you give insight into Joe, if he was able to speak to the team and what his message was?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, he talked to our football team, but I think those things are a little bit private. I can tell you there was a lot of disappointment. A lot of disappointment, a lot of sorrow.

Q. What do you see out of Dele Harding?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: No. 9, averages about 12 tackles in a game. Jack Hanson's ripping the ball of him. Very active player, can run. Had a big pick last week with an interception for a touchdown. Playing at a high level. He's a downhill, scraping linebacker, that type of thing, but he's been very effective for them. Having a good year.

Q. What would you say the biggest reason is for Illinois to be able to turn it around three weeks ago?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: Turnovers. I think turnovers give you a chance to even up the playing field. You know, when you're plus three turnovers against Wisconsin, all of a sudden the game gets a little tight and then they start to believe in themselves. I think they did a nice job since then of capitalizing on that, building it in the Purdue game and obviously Rutgers this past week. So they are on a three-game win streak.

But the turnover margin, plus 11 in your Big Ten games, they have got six games, so to do the math -- you know, when you do the math on that, it's more like it's 1.75 a game and that puts you -- that puts you right there. I think when we are plus two turnovers in my history here at Michigan State, we're 41-2.

So you've got to come up with those numbers. If you come up with those numbers, good things are going to happen.

Q. Nick Samac and (indiscernible) what do see from those guys and do you expect them to play down the stretch?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: Nick is an extremely athletic guy. Blake Bueter's played in there, as well, so it's an either/or situation. See where we go with that. Tyler Higby has played there in the past, as well. He's an emergency guy probably.

But Nick is a very athletic guy. He's been a guy that we've said great things about and has been working No. 2 pretty much at center the entire season and now is his time to have an opportunity.

Be challenging because he's a freshman, but the guy plays hard. He's extremely athletic. He's a 300-pound guys that athletic and can run.

Impressed with Illinois's offensive line, too. I think their catalyst is their center.

Q. With Darrell out this week, obviously having a career-best year. Do you expect Laress to capitalize on some of the flashes we've seen at times?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, Laress Nelson is going to have opportunities there, step up at the f-position. Also play guys around a little bit. Obviously tray Mosley got involved last year. Julian Barnett last week -- or two weeks ago, I guess. It's been awhile.

But Julian Barnett been playing the entire season. C.J. Hayes, Cody White obviously is a guy that becomes more of a factor as you go, and he's been a factor all year.

We've got guys that guys catch the ball, big guys that can run, and they have got to move forward with the opportunity.

Q. Curious to know where the challenge lies when your team is a double-digits favorite against a program like Illinois? Obviously they are scrapping for a potential Bowl bid and you guys come in heavy favorites in this game?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: Well, the challenge I think is -- and I think we knew where this season was at with -- we knew we were going to play three or four road games in that second stretch. We knew we were going to play Ohio State, Wisconsin, Penn State.

We also knew we were going to have a bye, one game, then another bye. But the challenge is, you've got to get up off the Matt a little bit and had some different things happen, Joe Bachie or a couple different injuries, which you've got to get up off the Matt and get ready to play. So the challenge to me is if we played three very good football teams and let's go. It's November. We're coming down the stretch. You've got a hot team coming in here, but a football team that I believe, talking about our team, I believe our team will be ready to play.

Again it comes back to ball security and making plays. You've got to be able to make plays on the field and you've got to be able to have explosive plays and you've got to be able to stop explosive plays, play well on special teams. So there's a lot of different things.

Q. (Off-mic). All your focus is on this team right here?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: All our focus is right here. It's on ourselves, what are you going to do now and it's on Illinois. I think the players are very focused right now in terms of what they have to do. Sort of a wounded animal a little bit, type of mentality. We know what we have to get done. We understand the situation I think that we're in here with just where we've been and what's gone on. You know, the two bye week, all these different things I'm talking about. So I think we understand that, but I go back to what I said before. Young people are very resilient. I think our guys are excited to play. We've got very good practices, very good energy practices. You know, guys with a lot of energy and guys pushing and stroking the fires a little bit and things of that nature.

So got to get ourselves ready to go. That's the bottom line. You've only got so much time and then that hourglass flips and you've got an opportunity to get it done. Four-days plus, four days from now, we're going.

Q. How much education do you guys put into in terms of telling guys what they can and can't put in their bodies and do you have to do it again this week?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: Constant. Constant education.

Q. So they are fully aware?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: They are fully aware. Absolutely. Fully aware. Our training staff and our weight staff, they do a great job. So fully aware.

I'm not going to second-guess that aspect of it.

Q. Do you have any hope that this appeal will come through, was it accidental or any more details you can share on that?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: Again, I don't know, that's up to our trainers and our medical staff to figure out and that's something Joe has to share with them in terms of what went on and all that kind of stuff. I can't tell you the time frame and I can't tell you any of those kind of things, because really have not gone through it before.

Q. Matt's been struggling lately, but he's a guy who has kicked the ball past.
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: When you have a first team all Big Ten kicker coming back, you want to pin your hopes on that and continue leaving him and say he's the guy and then conversely, the guy behind him, Cole Hahn, needs to kick well in practice, if there's going to be a change to that.

But right now, I tried to stay with her, stay with her guy and believe in him. But we've got to be better. I don't think there's any question about that. The game's played, tight games and things of that nature, you've got to make the kicks.

Q. In preparation --
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: In practice, there has.

Q. Lewerke, the quarterback interchanging that went on in the last game against Penn State, you're trying to find a hot hand, but is he the guy you're going to stick with the rest of this season through or is it time to try to get those guys more of those opportunities?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: Brian is the guy who gives us the best chance to win now. I do think if you're not having success, the option of moving to another guy and giving them another opportunity is the right thing to do in that scenario. But I think he's played well enough for this year to warrant that at this point. It's game-to-game as we go through this thing. I'm not going to sit there and say never, ever.

But he is our quarterback at this time and I still believe in him in terms of getting the job done, throwing the ball, running the ball, and allows us to win.

We're going to play the best players to the best of our ability. Best players play. That's always been our motto. That will always be our motto. Don't care if a guy is a freshman, senior, junior, whatever, walk-on, scholarship players. We are going to do the very best we can to look at all the information and say, best players play. Try and win every football game.

Q. We saw Shakur come back last week, listed as a co-starter with Josh. Is that a fluid competition? Are you planning on three corners?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: We'll see how it goes in the game. It's a little bit of a competition thing, but we'll also see how it goes in the game.

Before I get off here, I want to congratulate our women's cross-country team on winning the Big 10 Championship. Tremendous achievement by them and also wish our women's basketball team and our men's basketball team the best tonight as they start their season. Look forward to everybody being out there. Need a big push. After this we have two away games. Our schedule is lined up just perfectly this year, but we're looking forward to a big game this weekend and we'll need everybody there. Thanks. Go, Green.

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