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November 5, 2007

Mark Dantonio

COACH DANTONIO: I guess the first thing we have to talk about I guess is the Michigan game. I guess very disappointing for our football team, for our players and their families, for our coaches and their families, for all the past players, past coaches and the fans, very disappointing because I thought we fought back again and really physically dominated the football game in the second half.
When you're up by ten points, when you go eight times and force the opponents three times in three plays and out, when statistically you out-rush them and do the things that you have to do and physically beat them and then to have it taken away from you at the end is very disappointing.
I give credit to Henne and Manningham. Henne came out and made plays. We tried to pressure him, he got it off. We rolled up a little bit on Manningham, he threw it underneath, played soft coverage, he threw it on the out from the hash. Press coverage went deep, so he got it done.
We need to finish I guess is what I'd say, we have to finish games. We have to continue to try to fight through that. I think we have to continue to try to build from the positives we get from it. We consistently come back and fight through things and then get to the end and nevertheless give up a play or don't finish a play or whatever the case is.
I guess my message to the people out there is that it's -- when I look at the Michigan game, I would say it's not over. From my perspective it's just starting, and it won't be over as long as I'm here at Michigan State University. We continue to emphasize the game. It's an important game not just to Mark Dantonio but to everybody who wears green and white. So disappointing, but refocus, go on to Purdue.
Got a lot of notes on here, missed opportunities in the first half, too little too late, that we had a couple opportunities for touchdowns in the first half, could have played better defensively in the first half, missed some tackles.
Second half played very, very well except for the last two drives defensively. I'd say the same offensively, really, but that's why you can make a case for any stats. You look at our conference stats, across the board I think that we're very comparable to a lot of the better teams in the conference. If you look at where we're at right now, we're a 5-and-5 football team and we need to continue to refocus and win these last two football games.
Purdue University, been over there many times and a very difficult place to play. 7 and 3 right now, they're talented, have an outstanding quarterback, wide receiver in Bryant, mismatched player in the tight end. Various guys on defense are making plays, Vinson leads the conference with five interceptions right now. Takeaways, 25 takeaways for Purdue.
Haven't won over there, I guess I see a note here, since '93, but with that said, I have not lost to them personally since 2000, and we played them very, very well.
So it'll be another challenge for us. I think our players will refocus. Joe Tiller does an outstanding job over there, as do all the Big Ten coaches, excellent concepts. People work extremely hard every week to try to get a win, and it'll be very much the same over there. We're looking forward to the challenge and to put this game behind us for another 363 days.
And that's really where we're at. So with that I'll just take questions and we'll move on our way.

Q. How difficult is it going to be to get your players to refocus this week after all that you did put into last week?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, we've had heartache here. It's like we have not had heartache. I don't even want to use that word. It's not like we haven't had some gut-wrenching losses here. You know, it's no more, no less than losing to Wisconsin on the road or losing to Iowa the week before.
So our players will respond. Our players will react and get refocused. I already met with them last night and already have seen a number of them today, so we'll be okay in that respect. I don't worry about that respect at all. I know that we will refocus and regather ourselves.
And this teaches you more about life, and sometimes I guess you have to go through these situations to get stronger. We can only say over and over and over so many times, the attention to detail, the minute, smallest details, the inches that we try and find, the smallest details can lead to success and failure, and hopefully we're learning those things.
I'm sure that as we contemplate over the season once we get to the off-season that the ability to refocus and learn those things and be more attentive in those areas will come out. Again, this is the first year so these are concepts that are new to our players, and when it gets down to the end of the a football game, it's those type of things that will affect you.
You have to give them credit, too. They made some plays, as well.

Q. After spending time with your team last night you said, what's the mood of your team, and are you worried about any guys kind of throwing in the towel now?
COACH DANTONIO: No, I don't worry about any of our players throwing in the towel at all. Our mood is one of disappointment, and any time you put a lot into something and you're not successful, you know, you're disappointed. But that's life. We're going to learn from these things and move forward. But we won't lose focus. We won't lose our football team. We've come too far.
You look at the five games that we have lost, and any one of those -- probably Ohio State is the only team that really beat us when you get right down to it. The other ones could have gone either way, and we've got to make a play at the end of the game to win.

Q. Does Brian have the permission from the staff or the ability to authorize plays if he sees --
COACH DANTONIO: Yes, he does. He did that a number of times in the game.

Q. After you guys kept Henne in check and then the one drive for a touchdown you were in the prevent, why did you stay in the prevent when they went with the go-ahead touchdown? After scoring you guys went into the prevent when you were up 21-14, they came down, scored --
COACH DANTONIO: We had our nickel package in the game. We really weren't in prevent, we were pressuring. We ran various pressures where we brought the blitz. We did drop eight a couple times throughout there. Just because we have a nickel in the game does not mean -- they had abandoned the run. They weren't going to run the football. That was done. What we needed to do was make sure we could play the coverage we needed to play because they were going without a huddle with the coverage we needed to play and be able to adapt.
But we did pressure them -- in fact, the touchdown when it was 24 to 14, that particular play we brought pressure, we brought six guys. But we didn't get there.
So they picked up a couple of the pressures, and a couple of them we didn't. But it was varied, it wasn't just a drop. Just because we had three guys in there doesn't mean -- three defensive linemen in there doesn't mean we were not pressuring. We probably pressured about 30 to 40 percent of the time when we were in there with those guys.

Q. Last week you said that this team could feasibly be 8 and 1. They aren't, though. Aside from the experience factor, what is it going to take to get over the hump and make this 5-and-5 team better than --
COACH DANTONIO: I think what we've got to find a way at the end of the football game to finish the game. Some of it is breaks. The ball pops up into the running back's hands, and I think it was a 3rd down play as I remember. Was it a 3rd down play? They're punting right there. If the ball doesn't go anywhere, they're punting right there, and there's seven minutes left in the game, we take three minutes off the clock or so -- you know, but it is what it is. I can't tell you why those things happen. And then we start to press a little bit and things get tight and maybe we haven't been there in that situation enough times, although you would argue that because this is the fifth time this year.
But we need to find a way to make the play at the end of the game. We need to find a way to keep our composure at times or call a different play. So it's all-inclusive and the coaches are involved in that. I'm the head coach, so we'll start with me. You know, it's very disappointing for our players and families and fans.

Q. As a follow-up to that, four of those losses and five or six plays that could have gone differently that could have made a difference, where is your frustration level right now?
COACH DANTONIO: Where is my frustration level? In terms of high, low, medium?

Q. Well --
COACH DANTONIO: I guess it's high. Yeah, I'm frustrated just like everybody else. But life goes on. Life goes on. I've been frustrated before. I've been very successful before, as well. So you have to take both. You have to be able to take both in. I've been very fortunate at other times.
So you take both ends of the spectrum and try to deal with it. You're never as bad as it seems, it's never quite as good as it seems, and everybody has adversity they have to be able to fight through. And I think as I've said a number of times, I think it's got to start with me in terms of the refocus and being able to see the big picture and continuing the process. It's got to start with me, so we have to be strong here, strength from our position coaches and coordinators, strength from our seniors and our team leaders on this team. It's got to start with that. We can't go backwards, and we won't.

Q. I think this is your fourth time now looking at the spread. Is there anything that Purdue does differently that you haven't seen so far this year?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, Purdue runs the spread but they run a lot of different things with it. They run a lot of different things. The run an assortment of different formation groups from two back sets to two tight ends and three wide outs to four wide outs. They run quite a different variety of different concepts, conceptually, which is a little bit different than some of these other spread teams, incorporate a little bit of option, as well. But Joe Tiller is an excellent coach, and like I said, he's always been very, very good in terms of what they've done, and he'll continue to do so.
But I would say there's all different varieties of spreads, so this one would probably be right in the middle of the road there. They do a little bit of everything.

Q. You need one, maybe two wins to play in a Bowl game. Is that something you're talking about a lot with your team? And also, how important is it that you get that extra Bowl practice in December?
COACH DANTONIO: I think it's very important we get to a Bowl game. I mean, that's a goal of ours, and we want to reach our goals, and I also think it would benefit our younger players in terms of Bowl practice, getting those extra practices.
In terms of where we're at, in terms of talking about that, we've been talking about that. We've been sort of stuck on number five or quite some time here, so we've been talking about it just as a reality. We're going to continue to play it through. It's got to go one play at a time.
I can't say it any more times than that to our football team or to you guys. It's got to be one play at a time, and you have to be great focus every single time you line up. And if you don't, or if there's an incorrect play or an incorrect adjustment or maybe something we haven't worked on, there's a liability. So we have to try and get everything covered, and some of it you have to play on what we call camp rules, just base ideas, base formation, base coverages, base fronts.

Q. How concerned are you, and I don't pretend to know everything that goes into plays, but Brian appears to be missing open receivers quite a number of times. Do you see that?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think that this game passed out here certainly had the post open. I don't know if the wind caught it or not. They were producing some strong wind down there. I think it might have sailed on him on the tight end, to Kellen, as well. Those are two possible big plays. The one going down into this end zone, Devin has got to run for the football. The pass was thrown perfectly.
You know, I'm not going to sit here and second-guess our quarterback. He's our quarterback, he's thrown for over 2,000 yards in his first year starting. He's thrown five interceptions. He's done a lot of good things. He's got a good arm, he's got a good presence. But it's a competitive game out there, and you're playing against a good defense. They're pressuring, they're creating situations, as well.
I'm not going to second-guess where he's at in that respect. I've always liked his competitive spirit, I've always liked his leadership. So he'll be fine. This is his first year. This is not like he's a third-year senior here and he missed a guy.
Usually when you're a quarterback or a head coach, I guess, you tend to take more criticism and get more praise than you probably deserve. So it goes both ends, and he'll deal with it.

Q. Two of your opponents, though, have talked about him locking on receivers. This late in the season obviously it's got to be a concern. Is there a way to coach that, or is that really something you handle in the spring and the fall?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think it's something certainly you've got to try and omit from what he's doing, but everybody has strengths and weaknesses. I don't know that he's locking on receivers. I think we have a go-to guy a little bit in terms of Devin. You want to feature your play-makers. Players are making plays. It's just like the one fumble play we worked. It's 3rd down and Kellen is not open, he goes to Devin, he makes a tremendous catch. It's a great throw. So I think what we're talking about right here now is if we win this football game, we're not even talking about what happened in the first half.
We had opportunities to win that football game. It didn't come down to missing a receiver. You know, we got back down to the 32 yard line. Can't take a sack, but it is what it is. I know I sound like a broken record up here, but I'm going to maintain our consistency in terms of the way we handle things here. That's just the way we're going to do it.

Q. I know the issues with the late hit, just penalties throughout the game, I know that's something you focused on. But what's going on just -- are some players still just not getting it, or is it the heat of the moment kind of thing?
COACH DANTONIO: I think we lost our composure at times out there, made some bad decisions. I think there were some calls that could have went either way. You know, I think it was a highly volatile game. The referees were trying to control that and were calling things probably pretty closely in that respect. What we have to do is learn that if you're -- the consequences are too great. We can't take a 15-yard penalty when we're playing in a game such as this and move it from the 40 down to the 25, and all of a sudden, boom, within a minute they're back in the game. So it goes from 3rd and 11, dropping a ball, forcing a fumble on a great blitz. They put their other guy in there, and he fumbles the ball again, and we don't come up with it. And it goes from that to a minute later they're down by three. It didn't have to be like that when we basically had shut them out for pretty much a quarter and a half. So emotions turned because at that point emotions were certainly in our favor.
But football is a funny, funny game. You know, it's going to just have to -- you play it out. That's why you play until the end of the game.

Q. With two games left, how are the challenges of this job living up to your perspective versus the reality of what it is?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I don't think that I would be here if it wasn't a difficult job, so we're trying to change culture a little bit. I think we've competed in every game. I think we've handled adversity, so there's a lot of things that we can point to. We have to get the win at the end of the day, but there's a lot of things that we can point to our players are doing very, very well. We're staying together, we're not unraveling, we're handling some adversity, we're coming back after being down 14 to 3 and pretty much handled it in the first half, especially offensively, and we come back and change the whole complexion of the game. We've done that time and again throughout the season thus far, so there's a lot of positive things we can point to.
We have to get over the -- we have to get the win. That's the bottom line, and I understand that, but there are some positives we can build on and we need to take the positives we can build on and do that.
I guess the question that you asked, where am I at? Is that what you're asking? Or where is the team at? Or did you forget because I gave a long answer? I think you forgot.

Q. Is the challenge pretty much what you thought?
COACH DANTONIO: I think the challenges are there, absolutely. It's living up to what I thought, yeah.

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