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MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY MEDIA CONFERENCE
September 24, 2007
COACH DANTONIO: I guess first of all, it's great to come back 4-0. I think it was a statement game for us, as we talked about earlier. The things we talked about leading up to the game were really first road game, statement game for the program in terms of being able to go down to Notre Dame and win for a sixth straight time, opportunity to do something that really has taken a year probably for our players to overcome a little bit. There was a lot of tough things going on in their lives for this past year. It was important to them.
We basically have been in camp. I told our guys, We've been in camp since last February. Notre Dame might have went back to camp on Sunday, but we really have been in camp for almost eight months, nine months, because it has not been easy for our guys. We went there I think very, very emotional, with an attitude we were going to get it done, we were going to have to weather the storm, that it was going to be an emotional time at Notre Dame, that they were going to be prepared, their fans were going to be into it. We also knew our fans were going to be there as well. I thought there were a lot of Spartans there. As the bus rolled up, a lot of Michigan State people there.
We knew we were going to have to overcome some things early in the game. After the turnover, we went right back down, even though they did score, and scored, had a big third-down play from Hoyer to Thomas that sort of sparked it, went down and got the touch, continued to play on.
I thought offensively we were able to control the ball. The team that runs the ball most effectively in this game has usually won it I would say 95% of the time. We knew that was going to be important. Then also we got some big play passes from Hoyer to Kellen and a couple other players. We played well enough offensively.
Defensively I thought we played outstanding. With the exception of a couple runs, we played very, very well. Pressured the quarterback. Came up with only one turnover, but it was a critical turnover. Saint-Dic played well again. Special teams played well. I thought one of the biggest things we had to do this game was eliminate their return team, their punt return team, which was doing a tremendous job.
Bates did an outstanding job. Put the ball where really they had no opportunities for returns. He didn't touch the ball the entire day, Zbikowski. That was a very positive thing for us.
Kickoffs were okay. Held them down there. I guess the only thing we really lacked a little bit was we missed the one field goal, which was a bad angle, tough angle for him. In retrospect, probably should have taken a lay and moved it back for him so he had a better angle. Nevertheless, got out of there with a win. Very, very happy for our football team and players.
Now we got to move on to Wisconsin. As we've talked really from day one, the chips have gotten a little bit bigger every week. Started with UAB first game, et cetera. BG, little more difficult team, I think. Had a little adversity. Pitt, Big East team coming in here. Go away, Notre Dame. Now we play our first Big-10 team. We're 0-0. We can't make too much out of our non-conference schedule, knowing regardless of what happened we were going to have to start the Big-10 season. That's where we're at.
We're excited to be there. It's an ABC game. That's a big thing for our guys. Just a little bit more exposure. It ought to be exciting. I've been up at Wisconsin before. It's a very exciting atmosphere. They have an outstanding football team. Very impressed with Hill, their runningback, the physicality of their offensive line. Their quarterback makes plays. They've got some wideouts that do some nice things, as well. A couple go-to guys defensively. Very good football team. Very well-coached.
With that, I'll open it up for questions.
Q. Honorary captain?
COACH DANTONIO: We've yet to pick it because we had it picked but we've got a little bit -- we have to make a change because he'll be unable to do it. We'll now set it probably here in the beginning of the week, within this next week.
Q. Obviously you got off to a really strong start. Wisconsin is a top 10 team. Is this a measuring stick for your team?
COACH DANTONIO: I think every game, we're measuring up a little bit. We'll continue to play. Our schedule, from what they say, is the fourth toughest in the nation, so we'll find out. We continue to take steps, I think especially these first five games, to find out a little bit about who we are as people and as a football team.
This will define us a little bit, there's no doubt about that. If you want to play in this conference, challenge for this conference title, you have to be able to go away, you have to be able to go away and compete well in a place like Wisconsin, which is one of the more difficult places I think to play in the Big-10 conference, play against a top 10 team. There's always going to be a top 10 team in the Big-10, one or two or three. If you want to play to that level, you have to compete to that level.
Q. Given the fact that emotion played a big role in the last game, football is often a season of emotional peaks and valleys, how do you sustain that? Is that a concern? Just the fact it's the Big-10 opener on national TV, is it going to be a big deal?
COACH DANTONIO: I think that, again, it will be another test for us in terms of: Can we stay up? Can we get remotivated? Can we be mature enough to handle the success? Those are things we're going to find out.
But we'll certainly bring our guys back to earth here tomorrow. They were back yesterday. You know, the thing about football, especially right now with no byes, you have to get ready to play. Win or lose, you better get ready to play the next week.
You look around the country. You see Miami losing to Oklahoma, coming back and beating Texas A&M. Things can flip-flop very, very quickly. You have to make sure that regardless of the win, the loss, whatever, it's a game of matchups and you have to respond in a positive way. Our response this week has got to be we have to get ready emotionally.
They've got the same situation. I think they were very emotional this last week against Iowa. It will be interesting.
Q. Can you update us on the status of Roland Martin and Ross Weaver, please.
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah. Both those guys are coming along satisfactorily. How is that?
Q. You mentioned matchups. What are the key matchups this week for you?
COACH DANTONIO: I think the key matchup this week, we've really just started watching them a lot, but we obviously have to be able to stop the run. You're not going to stop the run completely against Wisconsin, but you have to eliminate the big play. They're a big play pass team. They're going to go down the field. I think protecting the quarterback is a huge issue this week. They've got a good front. They play well in the back end, as well. But we've got to be able to move the ball and control the tempo of the game.
Q. Against Notre Dame it looked like the offense had both facets of the game going: you were able to run the ball consistently, then took advantage in the passing game. Did the offense mature against Notre Dame? Can you comment on the process of the offense?
COACH DANTONIO: We lost Kenny Shane early in the game. Mike Bacon came in, did a nice job in place of him.
But, yeah, I think we're finding depth. I think we're growing as a football team. We've still got some young guys on the team that are still basically solidifying who they are as players. Brian Hoyer played a little bit last year. He's the full-time starting quarterback now. I think he gets more and more experience as he moves forward and becomes more and more confident.
I think you see a guy like Devin Thomas making plays every single game we've seen him. But he's coming into his own. You have Mark Dell, a true freshman playing out there. You've got some other freshmen playing on the defensive side of the ball. You have Chris Rucker, who played every snap as a true freshman out there at corner. You've got some guys that are growing. Their learning curve is large because, I mean, every game they're going to see substantial growth I think as a player.
Q. Would you talk about Wisconsin's Donovan and Hill, what kind of threat those two guys present to your defense.
COACH DANTONIO: Well, Donovan looks like a guy that can take a bad play and make it a good one. He's got great athletic ability. He's a gamer. You can tell that right off the bat. He plays to win. He's got toughness. He's probably got a lot of intangibles as a person. Looks like he makes good decisions.
Then Hill is the big back. He's a big, physical back that gets a lot of yards after contact. He's a guy that obviously we have to concentrate on. They got a lot of people at the point of attack on counters and powers and things like that. Schematically they're very well tied together. They've got some big-play wide receivers. So it will be a challenge.
Q. Wisconsin had a close game with Iowa last week. Did you watch that and take anything from it?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, we watch every game they have, try and look at the strengths and the weaknesses they have, try to find out who we are, what kind of matchups we'll be able to handle with them, absolutely. That was an emotional game.
Q. Trying to motivate this team this week, do you play the 'underdog' card with this team, try to use it to your advantage?
COACH DANTONIO: I think it's naturally going to be -- I would think we're going to be underdogs. No. 9 ranked team in the nation. I think, yeah, naturally you're going to find out a little bit who you are as a football team and a player and a coach when you go up there and play in that environment, play against that football team.
They're a good football team. They or Michigan have been picked to be the conference champs, as I understand it, through all these different magazines. You still have to play the game. We'll see how we come out. But it will be fun for us.
Q. Do you pay much attention to some of the other Big-10 teams? What do you think about the Big-10 as you start out and where you see yourself fitting into the race?
COACH DANTONIO: I really just watch the scores. You know, really haven't paid too much attention. Obviously watched Penn State last week against Notre Dame. Watched Michigan a little bit against Notre Dame. We've got a little bit of a feel for those two football teams. They played very well against Notre Dame. I can only really talk about them, talk about Wisconsin a little bit just from what we've seen.
But I think the Big-10 is, again, a strong conference, very strong conference. You look around the country, you see a couple upsets here and a couple upsets there. But that occurs in every single conference.
It's a strong conference. People are going to play emotionally. It's tough to win on the road. You look at the schedules and try and figure it out from there. But I don't really have a total feel yet for the Big-10. Haven't seen a lot of the teams.
Q. With the Spartans probably going into this game as underdogs, do you think that takes some of the pressure off the players, knowing they go in there and the expectations are on the other team?
COACH DANTONIO: No. Our players will go expecting to win. We may be underdogs for a lot of people, but our players will go there expecting to win. We have a lot of confidence right now. We have confidence that if we play fast and make plays, we can be successful. We'll expect to go there and play and win.
I'm not going to sit there and say, hey, guys, listen, if we really play well... But I think the natural thing is just because they're where they're at, we're where we're at, we would be an underdog as far as most people are concerned.
Q. You had momentum going into the season in recruiting. Now you have tape to show people. I know you can't talk specific names. Would you talk about how you're getting momentum in recruiting.
COACH DANTONIO: I think hopefully recruits are seeing what we're doing. We're laying a foundation here. We're going to win football games here. There's going to be a great atmosphere here. We're going to play on big TV games. We're going to have opportunities because of the media exposure here. It's everything that you want here.
I guess when you measure recruits and everything, I think they're looking for a place, not just a football place, but a place that they can come and I don't want to say learn, but they can come and thrive on not just football but socially and academically as well. If they get around our players, they can see that's happening here, that the environment is a positive environment.
Q. How do you look at the matchup of Wisconsin's offensive line against your defensive front?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, we're looking at it. You know, they're big. They're physical. Their runningback is very physical. They're going to throw the ball as well. They'll keep you off balance with that. Our defensive line so far has been up to the task in terms of applying pressure to the quarterback. The runs we gave up on Saturday were the result of a couple missed tackles on the perimeter. We've got to continue working those things out.
But we're getting better and better. We grow a little bit more. We're in a different system so we grow a little bit more every week. We're able to put in a couple more things and grow as a defense, do things better.
Hopefully we can continue to get better. Again, all these things are going to be measured out at the end of the season. Right now we've gone through our non-conference schedule. That's what we set out for at the beginning. At the very beginning, it was, Let's go through the fall camp, then let's get through the non-conference schedule, see where we're at. Regardless of that, the Big-10 conference was coming down the road. We were going to be 0-0 at that point and find out who we were.
Q. Talk about T.J. Williams. He's second in your depth chart now at cornerback. Do you see him primarily playing cornerback now?
COACH DANTONIO: I see T.J. as a football player and, you know, opening options up for him. He can be a two-dimensional player. He has that kind of athletic ability. We needed him on defense this past week because basically our corner situation was depleted. We had lost two corners and a safety. We needed to be able to have somebody. We wanted to play him. I wanted to play him. I wanted to get him back in the flow. I wanted him to play on defense because I wanted to see him play. Figured we would try and get a guy that can do some different things. Got great 'D' ball judgment. He's big, he's quick. He can play press. He can bail. He's got football sense. It was a good thing for him.
Q. Can you talk about your impressions of Otis Wiley's play so far this season?
COACH DANTONIO: I think Otis is growing as a football player, as well. He's got a couple picks, I believe. He wants to do things exactly right. Again, it's the concepts. We're four games in. The safety position that he plays, I don't want to say it's complex, but it's a heavily involved position. If you make one move here or there, you can make a mistake.
I think he's playing very well thus far. He's physical. He's big. He's active. He can run. He's everything that you want in a safety. Having a good season thus far.
Q. In addition to Weaver and Martin, Shane is not on the depth chart. Safe to assume you don't expect those three to play this week?
COACH DANTONIO: No, I wouldn't say that. You never know. He's walking around, so we never know. We'll be cautious. Cautious.
Q. Not on the depth chart.
COACH DANTONIO: May be a misprint. I didn't know he wasn't on the depth chart.
Q. You also have T.J. listed on defense on the depth chart, not on offense. Does that mean you expect him to get more reps on that side of the ball?
COACH DANTONIO: Not necessarily, no. I don't know what to tell you about that. I didn't see the depth chart before it came out. Really. Comes out on Monday, Sunday, so... He'll play both places probably.
Q. Talk about Terry Love's decision making. He's a fifth year senior. Talk about his decision making.
COACH DANTONIO: I think he's made great decisions back there. You're talking about punt returns?
COACH DANTONIO: I think he's done a great job back there. He's been excellent. He's very calm. He's given us some punt returns. An 18-yarder again this week. He's making good decisions. I think he's a very confident player back there, which I think adds to his situation. He's doing great. He's grown.
Q. Do you see any differences from this year's Bret Bielema's coached Wisconsin team with the Barry Alvarez teams you played against?
COACH DANTONIO: They're both physical. They don't have Ron Dane, but not far from it. I think that Wisconsin, since Barry Alvarez has gotten there, also with Bret being there, I think they go a hundred miles an hour. They're going to play physical. They're making a statement every time they go on the field that they're going to be a physical football team, whether it's offense or defense. I think that's a stigma that they've lived up to, from what I've seen.
Q. What is your assessment of the way Brian Hoyer played this weekend?
COACH DANTONIO: I thought Brian played pretty well, very well. I think you can always play a little bit better, but there's a lot of decisions to be made at quarterback. When you throw four touchdown passes... I think the one interception was a tremendous play by their safety. Came out of the middle all the way for it.
But he's been solid. He got the ball off. Does a great job on the trick play. He's been good, very, very good. He's sharp. What I like about Brian is that he has confidence. He has a lot of confidence in himself. The players have confidence in him. Has a quick release, good arm. He can get us in and out of the right place. So much of quarterback is game management, I think. He does a great job there.
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