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November 12, 2007

Mark Dantonio

COACH DANTONIO: Recapping Purdue game this past weekend, I thought, again, our players came out ready to play with focus, and I think we answered the bell for the 11th straight time, just in terms of coming out and fighting through some adversity, having a good mindset coming into the game.
Obviously we were disappointed a little bit, but we had great practices last week, and I this I that's a great indication usually in terms it of how you're going to play.
Offense responded throughout the entire game; every time something happened defensively we would respond offensively. I thought Hoyer had an outstanding game. Obviously Devin Thomas again had an outstanding game with 10 catches, I think 119 yards. I thought Kellen Davis had a very good game, as well, as did Hoyer. Caulcrick gets his 20th touchdown, gets two more, 19 and 20, and Ringer has a good day.
I think the key thing offensively when you look at this football game it was about turnovers. We had zero, they had three, and that's an important statistic when you get right down to it.
Defensively obviously the turnovers helped us. We gave up some big plays but we continued to fight through it. Purdue has an outstanding offense. They're very well tied together, as is everybody in this conference. We were able to score and get into the red zone. We were able to score on defense and then get into the red zone two additional times with turnovers, and they all led to points.
Going back to our offense, I think we were 7 out of 7 in terms of getting in the red zone and getting points, that's 5 for 5 once we got in the goal line situation in terms of scoring touchdowns. When you're able to do that, I think good things can happen.
Special teams played a factor into the game, in terms of we kicked to Brian. He was the number one kick returner in the conference, did a nice job containing him. Bates had an outstanding day punting, 41 yard average. Didn't have too many punt returns be we got the fake punt, which I thought was a pretty big play in the game, just in terms of recapturing the momentum when they came back down and scored and cut it to 10.
All in all, I think it was a program win, big win for us, takes us to No. 6, which makes us Bowl eligible, and allows us to play on. We talked about it being a two-game playoff schedule for us this past week, talked about being crunch time, and we answered the bell. That's very, very encouraging when you're coaching in this program for the first time, that our players have answered and came out to play every single week.
In terms of Penn State, they have an outstanding football team, outstanding defense in particular. I think they're No. 2 in the nation right now in sacks. They've given up 20 touchdowns for the year. Their defense and Ohio State's defense are both tied exactly, giving up about 90 yards a game rushing the football.
It's a trophy game, which I've been involved with, I think this is my seventh time at Michigan State doing this. So we've got a history with Penn State, and it'll be an exciting time for our players, a 3:30 game. They've got some outstanding players, Morelli at quarterback, highly recruited guy; Kinlaw, a guy that has over 1,000 yards, Derrick Williams, No. 1 recruit in the nation about three years ago. Defensive players, Maurice Evans, I think he's No. 4 in the nation in sacks; outstanding linebacker in Dan Connor; Justin King, outstanding corner; Phillip Taylor I think was one of the top five players recruited a couple years back, as well. So they have an outstanding football team. Very well coached as you can imagine.
Ron Mason will be our honorary captain, which I think will be outstanding to have him here and talking to our football team and allow him to leave his mark on our football team, and it'll obviously have Bowl implications for us. We'll be ready to play, we'll look forward to our fans being out there. Our fans have been outstanding throughout the entire year. Our students will come I'm sure ready to go, and it'll be a great atmosphere. 3:30 ABC game and we're looking forward to it.
I'll take questions and we'll go from there.

Q. You mentioned that the team has been able to get up 11 straight weeks. Do you think that's a habit now or just something that out of desperation that they were able to do it? Are they letdown-proof?
COACH DANTONIO: I don't know if they're letdown-proof or not, but I hope it's something that remains in place from now on. I think that you have to be able to fight through things. Anybody that's playing well in this conference or anybody that really has done anything in the conference has had to fight through adversity. I think that's the nature of the game in college football right now. Our players have done that.
Even though we've lost some close games, we've had to come back in those games to get to that point. That's very encouraging in the first year. The fact that we've got six wins at this point gives us something to continue to play for and play on. We're just excited about it, very, very proud of our team in terms of how they've approached things and how they've approached games.
Again, it's disappointing in other areas, but we can't look backwards because you can't change that. That's my message to our football team last night, or our message, is really the only thing we can change is the future, and we'll work to be able to do that.

Q. Out of the 11 Big Ten games, you have six wins. How important is getting that seventh win for you guys and putting your best foot forward?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think obviously we can control our own destiny. We don't have to wait on somebody else to do something, we can control our own destiny here this weekend, which is the way we want it to be. That's the main message. You don't want anything given to you, you need to take it.

Q. Just kind of expand on that. As far as the seniors going into this week, how big a week and how big a game this is for them since none of them have gotten the opportunity to play in a Bowl game?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think it's a big game, but every game has been big for our football team thus far, and I think that's why we've come to play every week, because every game we've tried to say, okay, this is an important game, and every game is. You guys can see that. We've sat here and talked about it every single week. But certainly for our senior group and certainly for all of our players in this program right now, this is as critical as there is because it's our last game, so we set the tone.
Obviously seven wins puts us for sure in a Bowl game situation, six puts us in a situation. We have to wait and see what happens and all that kind of stuff. But seven puts us in, and we can control our own destiny, and that's the positive thing that we want to do.

Q. I know it's kind of difficult to start thinking of scenarios, but is that something you've started to look at, looking at team X wins and team Y loses, just to try to figure out what your chances might be?
COACH DANTONIO: Really the last three weeks we've looked at everybody's schedules and who they're playing and where they stand in the standings and what we could do about that. So we've been looking at that and keeping track of that. But all our focus has been on the team we're going to play, so all my focus since then has been on Penn State.
But I think we're naive if we didn't look at the standings. We know who's playing who and what we have to do. We'll stay focused on our task.

Q. There are a lot of benefits that come with making a Bowl game. Could you talk about the importance of getting not only extra practice for the players but maybe some of the exposure that may help in other areas like recruiting?
COACH DANTONIO: I think exposure is one thing that we'll get obviously. The second thing is we need to set ourselves up as a winning program. After this first season we want to say, hey, we are a winning program. I'd really rather say that than say we're a .500 program right now. We're building, building a foundation.
I think it helps when you go to a Bowl game in your first year as a program. Obviously it'll help for our seniors. The 20 extra practices that our younger players will get would be outstanding because it allows them to improve. It almost gives them an entirely spring practice, so that will be outstanding for our players.
We've got business to take care of, and we have to go about that task first.

Q. I was just hoping you could talk about Pete Clifford and what he's meant to your team this year.
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, Pete is an interesting story. He's a guy that is in his fifth year, went to prep school out of high school, and from what I understand, because I wasn't here previous to that, but he's a self-made guy, a tough guy that has learned his trade and is really a guy that has really probably superceded all visions of him as a player.
He's been an outstanding player for us. He's been consistent. He's great at winning every single game, with the exception of two, I believe, this last game because he jumped offsides twice, but don't tell him that.
He's done a great job, and his leadership has been very positive, and all of our guys. Our seniors have led, have remained positive, have done everything that we've asked them to do, and they've gotten themselves ready, and their focus has been there.

Q. As a coach is it at all amazing to you that Paterno at age 80 is still coaching? Could you imagine yourself at that age still coaching?
COACH DANTONIO: No, I can't. That's 30 more years of this? No (laughter). He's been around for a long time obviously, and he's done an outstanding job. He is the program in a lot of ways there; Coach Paterno is a legend. I had the opportunity to play against him when we were at Cincinnati in '05, and great person, great person for college football. It's amazing he's been able to stay that long. He's weathered the storms, too. It's not like he's just been here the entire time. He's weathered the storms.

Q. Can you talk a little bit more about the senior class? They've been through so many ups and downs during their time at Michigan State. What message do you think they're kind of sending here down the stretch?
COACH DANTONIO: I think that they're sending a message of perseverance and resolve, and it could have been -- very easily they could have thrown in the towel and not worked as hard. Some of them have battled through injuries. They've all battled through tough losses. I can't tell you how excited they were after the Purdue game. It was very exciting for all of them.
They've stayed the course. From day one when I've come here, when we came here as a staff, they wanted certain things done and they've worked to get those things done in terms of just their attitude. There's been no complaining. We've tried to empower them in the process of decision making a lot of times. They've done a great job with that. They've remained positive.
And in your first year as a coach, you know, sometimes you could lose a football team, I think. Not having one player leave this program since we've been here as a staff is a great indication of the senior leadership because not only -- it may be an indication a little bit of our staff and what's going on there, but it's a great indication of where our seniors are at because they've allowed it to be positive. They've remained positive and focused. They're our peer leaders, and so they've done a great job.

Q. You said you've been a part of this game for a number of times. What is it that benefits Michigan State to protect this game at the end of the year?
COACH DANTONIO: I don't really understand the question.

Q. To protect this game, to make it a trophy game, to have it every year, how does that benefit Michigan State?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think every since Penn State has gotten into the conference we've made this a trophy game I would imagine. Since '95 that rivalry has been pretty intense really. There's been a lot of close games when I was here. It seems like they've come over here, we've gone over there, the home team plays a little bit better at times.
But it's been -- I remember '95 went right down to the wire, '99 went right down to the wire here, '97 we won here. Over there in '96 was a very close game, as well. I just think that it's becoming a rivalry just in terms of it's always played the last game. A lot of times it was played on Thanksgiving weekend as I remember it, at least when I was here before. I think it was always Thanksgiving weekend.
But I just think that your last game all the time will always sort of set the tone for your next year in a lot of ways, and I think that has as much to do with it as anything. It makes it special. Last senior game, those type of things.

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