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September 17, 2007

Mark Dantonio

THE MODERATOR: So to recap Pitt and look ahead to Notre Dame, head coach, Mark Dantonio.
COACH DANTONIO: Thanks, guys. Obviously big win for us. We go to 3-0. We look back at the beginning of last year, you know, we tried to break things down and inch ahead. And I keep talking about that as I come over here. But our games are getting tougher and tougher as they go, And the chips are getting bigger.
We looked at this schedule and said we play a nonconference game and go - UAB comes here, BG comes here, a home game. Pitt comes here, Big East team. Now we go to Notre Dame. The place has tremendous tradition and our first away trip, so we'll see how we react.
Looking back at last week's game, the Pitt game, you know, I think, first of all that we had to look at is, I think, this game was another team win. Gave us a little bit of an idea in terms of how we were going to react to adversity when we really hit it.
I think we hit it a little bit the week before against BG, but this week in particular. You've got penalties and all different types of things going back and forth. New formation. Are they running the ball effectively? But our guys hung in, and we continued to play.
Defensively we came up with five sacks, three turnovers, one per score. Any time you score on defense it can be very, very difficult to beat you, I think. They were 0 for 12 on third down, and I think when you figure in the fourth downs there, there might have been what, 13 or 15, something of that nature. But we actually were. So obviously, played very well defensively.
They were able to run the ball a little bit. They've got a good running back, and I think that we've got to continue to adjust. And that's the name of the game for us defensively. We played hard, but we are still young in certain areas, and we need to adjust.
We ended up playing Chris Rucker the entire game at corner, the true freshman. Ashton Henderson came in when Kendell Davis went down and played throughout the entire second half. And we had Nehemiah Warrick, and Rod Jenrette was pressed into action in a nickel situation. And Travis Key did a great job at the safety filling in for him, but we're still working there.
Offensively, I thought we drove the ball. In the second half we had four basic drives. We had a 16-play drive, no points, ten-play drive, no points. Another ten-play drive, got no points, and a four-play drive where we ended up kicking the field goal.
So we controlled the tempo of the game, but we were our own worst enemy in terms of what happened. We dropped some passes on third down which we can't have, and we had penalties.
You know, the penalties after looking at the game film, you know, the holding penalties were there. So we've got to reduce those issues, and continue to move forward. We ran the ball for 170 yards, but I thought we needed to come away with more points. We certainly could have.
We certainty could have, but again, we get down to the 8-yard line and have a double penalty, a personal foul and holding call. Next thing you know, you're 2nd and 30, and those things are going to hurt us. So we have to go back to playing penalty-free on offense and defense, and you know, put the points on the board.
Special teams, special teams, I think we continue to have great kickoff returns. Our kickoff team is covering when we kick it well, we're able to cover very, very well. So it's got to come down to the kicks a little bit.
Punting, we're going to have a tremendous challenge this week with their returners, Notre Dame's returner, Zbikowski, outstanding. Maybe one of the best in the country, probably is one of the finest in the country, so it will be a challenge.
We've got some penetration on the field goal, had the low kick on the last one. But the thing that I can, if I could settle it up, I would say that, you know, we won a game and went back and forth and back and forth.
We won a game where they had opportunities to take the game over whether it was a mistake by us, whatever, they had a long run. We had to overcome that. But we hung in, we played. We kept our emotions. There was no finger pointing.
I thought the crowd was great in the third and fourth quarter and helped us out tremendously.
Where we're at right now, we go to Notre Dame, 3-0 as I said. You all know the story. I think, I guess at Notre Dame I'm just beginning to find out this week, but I would say from my perspective they've got excellent talent. Always will, always will have.
They have excellent coaching, they have tradition. They're backed into a corner a little bit. They have a rivalry with us, they played us last year here and you guys know the score on that one. And so it's a traditional rival. Any time you have a rival game, we need to be prepared.
So we'll go down there with the mind set and we need to become overachievers. In my mind, we need to become overachievers. The message to our football team last night was we need to overachieve, and we'll continue to take steps towards doing that regardless of where we are record-wise. That is the biggest compliment anybody can tell a person to me is when they overachieve. They go beyond their abilities. We need to be able to do that. That's where we're at, and I'll just leave it for questions.

Q. You've certainly embraced rivalries with countdown clocks and everything else. Two years ago Michigan State beat Notre Dame in overtime. Charlie Weis assured fans they would never lose again to Michigan State. How much do you embrace that in talking to your team?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I have not, as of yet, but I guess we need to move towards that, all right. We're going to find out those things as we go down there. But I expect our guys to be ready to play.
You know, from my perspective, as a coach's perspective, we could have played better on Saturday. And we played a pretty good Pitt team. They played very square. You have to give Pitt a lot of credit. They had been working on that formation and play, those play scenarios since last spring from what I understand. They had not shown any in the prior two. You know, they played very well defensively. Pitt's a much improved football team.
But if you look at the game, we were our worst enemy at times. And my message to our team will always be about us, how we play. So we'll be prepared. We will be prepared.

Q. Mark, probably everyone's question, the three DB's were hobbling, and for that matter, Martin the lineman went down. Were there any game time calls what are the updates of those four?
COACH DANTONIO: We're not going to talk about injuries here. Actually, I'm not even going to talk about a depth chart today, actually. But we're going to see all three defensive backs possibly play. So we'll see. See how they shake out during Roland and Owen's situation, we'll see as well. Got to bounce back from those. So we're probably getting other players back as well.

Q. Do you think your players are motivated by what happened to them in this game against Notre Dame?
COACH DANTONIO: I think that it's human nature. It's human nature. You should be motivated by what happened. And I'm sure Notre Dame's players are motivated by what's happening to them as well.
So everybody wants to succeed and they're driven, and there are different pressure points on people. So I'm sure that some of our guys feel it. Last year we were 3-0 as well at this point in time.

Q. Knowing that Notre Dame is basically going back to the drawing board, starting all over again and all of that. How do you game plan for a team that they don't really know exactly what they might bring out?
COACH DANTONIO: I think what we have to do is look to see what they've done offensively and defensively, and study the personnel as we always do. And there are certain things that you just basically say are camp rules, which is just a blackboard way if you need to do things.
And you know, you need to be sound in terms of what we have to do, all the different defenses. We need to have better attention to detail, ourselves, and we need to mind our own store in that way. So we need to come up with a plan and execute our plan.

Q. Do you have to go into this game and get your team to go into this game with the mind set that Notre Dame will become Notre Dame at some point, and you have to prepare for their best, whatever that may be?
COACH DANTONIO: Absolutely. I think without question they play a home game where they were not successful, go away and play in two difficult environments. Now they get an opportunity to come back home. And it's always more special when you're playing at home. It's very difficult to win away games. You look across the Big Ten and you can see that every day. So we have to have the mindset when we go down there.
But I expect Notre Dame to be emotional. I expect them to be prepared, well prepared and eager to play. I'm sure if they could play tomorrow, they would.

Q. Speaking of that home field advantage. There is actually kind of a home field disadvantage in this rivalry recently. What do you think leads to that when State's won five in a row in South Bend, and Notre Dame's won three in a row here?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I guess, there you go. I make a statement and you turn it around, so (laughing). But I can't speak to that. I don't know what the odds are on those type of things. I just know in your own environment, you have a chance of playing a little bit better in front of your family and friends. But you know, you go down with the mindset, so we'll be prepared. I guess history's on our side.

Q. What part of your offense really has proven, and what part of your offense still needs to be proven?
COACH DANTONIO: I would say I guess offensively we need to have more consistency. You know, we move it down the field this past game, and then we don't get the points. So we need to be a little bit more consistent, maybe, in terms of what we're doing.
But I think that at times Hoyer looks very, very good, Saturday included. At times we've looked very, very good at wide receiver. At times we've run the ball very effectively as well. So we're going to find out more about ourselves and who we are as we continue playing throughout the season.
Three games in, this is where we're at, but I think we can become a better football team. And as I said earlier, our goal as a staff and our goal as a team should be that we're a better football team at the end of this season than we were at the beginning.
Of course you're going to play tougher teams as we move forward. And certainly this is going to be one of the tougher opponents. Away at Notre Dame, it's a tough situation, so we need to be prepared emotionally.

Q. You talked about overachieving. What -- can you expand on that a little bit more? What would be overachieving for this team from this point forward?
COACH DANTONIO: I think when you look at overachieving, that's a matter -- that's a statement that's sort of an intangible for us. What I'm looking for is the end result, the end result. And you know, that's to be proven, because we don't know where we stand relative to the team that's we're playing right now.
You know, if we beat a Pitt team that loses one game, then obviously we've played very well. So that remains to be seen a little bit. It's an intangible. But a lot of that I think rests with, as I said before, we need to continue to win the respect back of our fan base and the people. And that is an ongoing thing.
That is not a one-time thing. That's not one time, Oh, you get it done in the opener and then it's over. That's a long-term deal, and we need to do that. And it's not going to be billed over three games -- built over three games. Our reputation is not built as of yet. We need to continue to do that. So we need to constantly remind ourselves of that. Stay grounded and understand what we have to accomplish. It's long-term, though.

Q. How important is winning a game like this that's being nationally televised to recruiting?
COACH DANTONIO: I think it's important. But we have some other things here, you know, we're in our initial stages here as a program with the new coaching staff. We have new facilities going up. So there is a lot of newness coming on to Michigan State that will impact recruiting.
So there's always opportunities when you're a new program for new young players to come in and make an immediate impact. I would expect it's important, but no more important than playing against Michigan or Ohio State.
There are so many -- the nice thing, I think, the positive thing about playing in the Big Ten conference, you can constantly have exposure, media exposure. So players here want to have that. This is a great place to come.

Q. Can you talk about your honorary captain?
COACH DANTONIO: Jason Strahorn will be our honorary captain. And Jason serves as a color commentator for our radio and was also a captain in '98. He's also been down to Notre Dame and won in '97.
And I don't know how many history buffs are here. But in 1998 we lost to Colorado state right out here, and then we went to Oregon and got crushed by 50. And had to come back here and play a Notre Dame team that was very highly ranked, I think, at that time. And we played very, very well here at home and won. So I think there's a little message there in terms of what we're up against, and what he's been able to accomplish, and he speaks from the point of view of a captain.
Again, our players recognize him because they've had relationships with him. A relationship with him as far as talking with him.

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