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October 15, 2007

Mark Dantonio

COACH DANTONIO: Thanks, guys. First of all, you know, I thought we came out and responded in the Indiana game very, very well, and our guys came out and played extremely hard. I thought we played with an idea that we needed to play for respect.
I think that was the theme coming into this season. I think it needs to continue to be our theme as we move through this first season as we try and build a foundation here at Michigan State.
You play a football game and the offense has 90 plays and your defense plays 37 plays, good things are going to happen. I think that was what happened. It was indicative of how well we played on offense. We played extremely hard there.
You know, I try and break things down, look at offensively some of the things that we were able to do. Ringer played very, very well as you guys already know, Hoyer played well, Devin Thomas made big plays. We got great play from our offensive line, Caulcrick made big plays. We had two big explosive plays from Kellen Freeman Davis. So we really played very, very well on the offensive side of the ball.
We had the one turnover that resulted in a touchdown, but other than that really played outstanding.
If you look at our special teams, three huge plays on special teams. One Travis Key rips the ball out of the guy, we get the ball back down on the 20 on the kickoff. We have a fake field goal which results in a touchdown, and the ending series results in a touchdown, also. We have a big kickoff return again from Devin Thomas, and consequently our special teams played very, very well.
Defensively relentless, five three-and-outs. I think they were actually one out of eight on 3rd down. We adjusted to what we do on the very first play of the game. They did hurt us with a couple big plays, but other than that really played very, very well against Indiana, an offense that was averaging 37 points a game and was really a concern going into the game.
So again, I thought our players played extremely well. We came out fired up, as I knew we would. We had great practices all week. Our attitude has been one where we've been unified in everything that we're doing, even though we were coming off the two losses, and I think that was a credit to our seniors' leadership and just the overall chemistry we have on our football team, and now we look to the future.
When you look to the future you look at Ohio State going down the road, and that's an exciting place for all of us to go play. I think that's one of the reasons you come to Michigan State is to play in games like this, you know, a lot of media exposure, a lot of things going on.
Of course, I've been with Coach Tressel for, I guess, three, six, five, about 11 years of coaching, including my graduate assistant years at Ohio State. You know, obviously he's a great teacher, a mentor, and he has his team playing very, very well. When I look at them, you see a very, very quick defense, explosive, number one in almost everything throughout the conference and ranks up there in the nation. Offensively they're very, very solid.
The thing that's a little bit, I guess -- it's a good thing for us, I think, it's because we are so current with them. We played them twice at Cincinnati when I was there, so it's not the first time I've been down there as a head coach. We know their personnel. Usually as we get into a game on Monday, usually you're trying to figure out who their personnel is exactly. We know that Alex Boone, Rehring, Person, Cordle and Barton are the offensive line. We know Rory Nicol, Jake Ballard are their two tight ends. We know Hartline is a wide receiver and Ray Small is a wide receiver and Robiskie is a wide receiver. Boeckman was there when I was there as a gray shirt. So we know their offense very well.
We know their defense in the same way. I could repeat all the names again to you. And certainly they play some of the same things that we had played earlier when I was there.
So a very well-coached team; very, very good players; operating on all cylinders down there, No. 1 in the country. Went down there in '98, No. 1 in the country, eighth game of the year. So it's another challenge for us. It's another measuring stick for us, the second time we've played against a top ten team, Wisconsin being the first one, and we have an opportunity to go down and see where we're at as a program. And it will not be without great challenge to us.
But it ought to be exciting for us, and with that I'll open it up for questions.

Q. That Indiana game, was that the most complete game this team has played so far do you think?
COACH DANTONIO: I think that we've had some complete games. If you look at the UAB game, we played very, very well in that game. You know, I don't know if you ever play a complete game because there were a couple big runs and then we also turned the ball over the one time offensively, but we played very, very well.
And I think that the one thing that I think we captured a little bit, we recaptured a little bit, was passion, and we were fired up. I think that's how you need to play every single game, but whether you play one play in that game or you played 90, our guys got ready to play, we were ready to play, whether you had ever played a play before, we were ready to play. And we wanted to finish this game and we wanted it to be to be a statement game.
Consequently at the end of the game, really didn't look at the scoreboard too much, just kept on playing. I wanted it finished, and I think our guys did that. We played for the brass spittoon, so now we have two trophies. We're looking for three and four as we go.

Q. Could you elaborate a little more about the game nine years ago when Michigan State went down there and beat a No. 1 Ohio State team? What are your greatest memories of that and will you use that as a motivational tool at all this year?
COACH DANTONIO: I would use it as a motivational tool in the fact that you can get things done. We were 28-point underdogs at that time. They were a No. 1 ranked team. I think we were a 4 and 4 team, I believe, at that time. We went down there, and that was -- I think Julian Peterson sort of had a breakout game as I remember, and it came down towards the end and had four shots at the end zone. We had five sacks. Turnovers are obviously key to any game, so we played very well in that area and came up with some turnovers, didn't turn it over.
But these are different football teams, it's a different time. Coach Tressel is very, very good about not letting his players get too far ahead of themselves and keeping them current and keeping them focused on the task at hand. He is very, very good at that.
I would anticipate some of the things where we may have been underestimated a little bit in the past would not occur this time. They are very well-coached teams, and I know from Coach Tressel, he works extremely hard on the intangible aspects of the game in terms of focus and things of that nature.

Q. What make this defense so effective? They've only given up two touchdowns in one game so far.
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I would say they know where they're going, they get there at a rapid pace, and they have very, very good tacklers and very, very good players. But the system really from -- when you're in a system defensively or offensively, the longer you're in that system, the more continuity you have, the better you're going to become, and I think the system probably was implemented in 2001 when I was there, and it's been tweaked ever since.
And it's not the same system, but there are similarities there. So it's been tweaked and refined as they've gone through. The one thing that's been consistent there from 2001, Jim Heacock has remained the defensive line coach and is the defensive coordinator, so he's entrenched in there. He was there before, so he had a history of players and what they've done. Luke Fickell has been there since 2002; Paul Haynes was actually here, he's been there since, I think, '03 possibly. You know, they've got some other good coaches on their staff.
Offensively, continuity, as well, so they've got continuity there on the defensive staff, and I hope I'm not forgetting anybody on that defensive staff, but I know Jim and Luke and myself and Mark Snyder and Mel Tucker, so those were the guys that were there when I was there, and two of those remain, so there's continuity there.
There's at least a foundation there in that defense. They've been doing that since '01, so this is the seventh year that they've been doing this. When you do something that long you're pretty good at it. Your younger players come on and they learn the system and they learn as a freshman and articulate themselves all the way up. So they play fast and they're very, very good players. They tackle very well in space. Good ball skills.

Q. The fact that they're No. 1 now, does that have any effect on either team?
COACH DANTONIO: Oh, I don't really think it does. I mean, 1 through 10, I mean, what's the difference? You get the opportunity to play a top ten team, and that's exciting. Because you play a No. 1 ranked team in America means everybody watches that score throughout America, and I think that's the big -- and everybody certainly is watching every single week because of how this year is unfolding.
So I think that maybe that you have a little bit more media exposure, but as far as how good people are, I don't think you can make an assumption that this is the best team as opposed to Oklahoma or another team, you know, BC or another team that's undefeated. But it'll be exciting for us.
I think the nature of the Big Ten conference and this being Ohio State, we have a lot of players from Ohio, we have coaches from Ohio, we have coaches who coached there, not just myself but others. We have people who are from Ohio playing for us. I think when you grow up in Michigan, there's that instant Ohio State-Michigan, Michigan State-Ohio State type thing going on, so it's a bit of a rival game, probably need to get a trophy for it.
But it's always been big here. Ever since I was here before, that game has been big, and you can go back to '74 when Levi Jackson made the run right out here, and Ohio State was No. 1 at that time, as well, so there's a lot of tradition here in this game, and I think that makes for a story line.

Q. I know you're excited about playing Ohio State and you knew this day was coming, but most coaches don't like playing friends. Do you feel that way, not wanting to ruin the other guy's Saturday night? Is there a discomfort in you playing him?
COACH DANTONIO: No, there's not really a discomfort. You get a chance to measure yourself a little bit. It's fun to go back in that environment. Like I said, when you're from that state and you've been there, you look forward to the challenge a little bit. It's on the schedule, and I knew it was coming, so I really haven't thought about that.

Q. Speaking of those games being on the schedule, could you have imagined a scenario in which Ohio State would be No. 1 by the time you all -- this season by the time you all faced them?
COACH DANTONIO: No, I didn't really know where -- I really didn't anticipate those things because we tried to look at things really just one game in advance. But I knew that as usual they would be good. I knew that their defense would be very good, and I knew they had a lot of people back who had played on offense. Didn't necessarily start, but the big question was quarterback, who was going to be the quarterback with these other guys, Robiskie and Hartline. They saw playing time last year as did the tight end, and the offensive line is all back. So we knew that they would be pretty good.

Q. You made a lot of inroads in Ohio in recruiting. How big is a game like this as far as you're in Ohio and all those kids watching?
COACH DANTONIO: I think it's big. I think that's why you come to places like Michigan State, to play in games like this. Ohio is a state that has -- in the past four years since we've looked at recruiting as a head coach, they've always had right around 70 BCS players a year come out of Ohio, 45 Big Ten players. So they're always very talent-rich. I don't know where it'll be this year, but they're going to have great players there. Certainly Ohio State is the team to beat in that state, but there are other very, very good players.
We have a couple players from Ohio that start for us on defense and punter, that start for us as true freshmen. Greg Jones, Chris Rucker Aaron Bates are all from Ohio. So very good players come out of Ohio, as they do come out of Michigan. Hopefully people from Ohio see us playing and can identify with us and come on up.

Q. Eric Gordon is back starting at linebacker. Was it last game Greg Jones started basically a match-up situation and now you need more physicality?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, Eric will start depending on his practice this week and depending on the others' practice this week. I feel like we have four starters there, really, and Jon Misch has started before, too, so we're gaining experience at that position. It'll depend on his on his play this week in practice because I thought Greg played pretty well. SirDarean also played pretty well.

Q. How close are you and Tressel now to this day? Do you talk a lot? Do you vacation? Just give us an idea.
COACH DANTONIO: We're very, very close. Coach Tressel and I are very close friends, and before I took this job obviously I talked with Coach Tressel. There's a very true friendship. I admire him as a person, as a mentor and as a friend, and he's always been there. If we need to get him on the phone, we can do that.

Q. Considering the number of players you have here from Ohio and just their connections, will you handle things any differently as far as how you want them to approach the game? I mean, I talked to Greg Jones after the Indiana game and he was fired up already. Are you going to get them to calm down a little bit? Can you want them to rev it up and go with that? How do you want to handle that?
COACH DANTONIO: I want players to be passionate at game time, so we'll be fine. We've always looked towards the next game and got ourselves ready to play the best we can. Some things you can control, some things you can't, and that will rub off on other people. But I think our entire football team is going to be that way. Our football team is looking for opportunities to prove themselves, opportunities to measure up.
So again, we're playing -- like I said, we're playing for respect. I think we need to have that mentality. This is the first year in this program, and based on the last three weeks, I think we need to continue in that vein and prepare ourselves. But we need to be excited going down there, and I think we will, but knowing we've got to play through the tough times down there, as well.

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