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December 17, 2007

Mark Dantonio

COACH DANTONIO: Where we're at today, as of Monday here, I sort of broke it down, we were at practice squad a little bit. We'll practice Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and actually gave them off yesterday and then practiced beginning sort of last Wednesday and Thursday, Friday, Saturday had great practices, and I think we're moving ahead.
We tried to have some practices while the recruiting process was going on, but we're full go into Boston College right now. Trying to do the recruiting aspect, as well. Right now we've finally entered a dead period so there will be no recruiting on campus or off campus for that matter, so we'll just be able to go one day a week. Recruiting is going very, very well right now, and we'll expect that to continue through the month of January and early February.
Boston College, excellent football team, excellent offensively and defensively. As I said earlier, beats the nation in defense versus the run. Offensively outstanding quarterback, Matt Ryan, spread the ball around to four different people who have caught more than 50 passes actually. Callender, their tailback, is also their leading receiver, as well, with almost 1,000 yards receptions and almost 1,000 yards rushing. So they're not just a passing football team, although they will certainly look to do that quite often.
Challenger, No. 84, is an excellent wide receiver; Robinson, No. 2; tight end Purvis is an excellent player, as well, an All-ACC player, excellent offensive line. So we will have our challenges ahead.
Defensively, Silva is their safety that sort of anchors their defense. Dunbar, No. 40, will be coming back into the focus after being injured, an outstanding linebacker. Quite a few players from the Cincinnati area on their football team, so we have a little bit of an idea about them. But they do an excellent job in terms of pressuring, playing coverage and dictating to you exactly the situation in terms of whether they're blitzing or forcing you to throw hot or different things as we go.
Special teams are solid, and they're a 10-and-3 football team. Having played in the ACC Championship game, they'll be very much prepared for Michigan State.
Our goals very simply are probably in this order: We want to represent, not just on the field but off the field, we want to be represented as Michigan State University and go down to Orlando. I believe that right now we've sold quite a few tickets, and there's a lot of excitement in the Spartan Nation right now. So that's our first goal, to represent both on the field and off the field, try to make a little bit of a difference in the community while we're down there, but certainly be who we are.
Second thing is we want to win eight games. If you look at that eight-game figure, that puts us into a situation where maybe we haven't done that as of late, and it provides us a solid foundation to move into the 2008 season.
Third thing is we want to have some fun, so we'll give them an opportunity to have fun, and that will be not just the players but also our coaches and coaches' families, probably more coaches' families than coaches, but we will be at work.
With that I'll just answer questions and we'll take it from there.

Q. When you look at film, what is it about their run defense?
COACH DANTONIO: They're going to put people out there. They're going to outnumber you sometimes. They do a great job getting people in the box, they zone pressure. Silva is an excellent safety, big safety, physical safety that comes down on the run, and they're going to play very, very disciplined. They're going to be in their gaps at all times. I think that in some cases they've probably seen some teams in the ACC conference that have thrown the ball around, quite a few one-back teams, so we'll see how they stack up.
I've said before, they average I think 67 yards given up a game, I believe, 67 yards rushing given up a game. I guess my comment to that will be we'll find out if we're average or better than average. Right now I would say we're a little better than average.

Q. Is it harder to challenge when you've got to face a team that spreads the ball around, throws the ball to different receivers, as opposed to a team that just has that one go-to guy?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, it's more of a challenge. I think the quarterback, Ryan, does an excellent job of looking off people and getting it to the hot receivers or the receivers off of reroutes and different things. They will go up top, as well. Excellent tailback, outstanding football player in his own right in terms of Callender, No. 32. He makes a lot of things go himself. Purvis, the tight end, as well.
So they do spread the ball around, but it's not like we have not seen those type of offenses in terms of spreading the ball around. They're probably as much like Purdue as anybody else I would imagine in that situation. But we've seen quite a few offenses this year that are in one-backs and empty sets, and they'll also be a two-back football team, as well. They try and cover all aspects of offensive football. I haven't seen too much option, but other than that --

Q. Could you give us a background on Chris L. Rucker, how many surgeries he had to go through, how he's looked in practice, and do you think he might get cleared for the game?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, he had his first surgery when he had the retina issue after the Indiana game, and I guess from what I understand, retina surgery is 40 percent successful a lot of times. So on that particular eye it did not take, so he had to have that redone. He also had a little situation on his other eye that needed to be repaired, as well. So he's had that done and he's cleared for contact. He has been practicing. He's finally cleared for full contact as of today, so he'll be able to tackle and things of that nature. But he has been pretty active the last three weeks in terms of running and playing the seven on seven, and he seems to be doing pretty well.

Q. Have you seen any evidence of the value of practicing this time of year, and are you getting into things that you might not be doing until spring, for example?
COACH DANTONIO: We've seen the value of that, especially with our younger players. Now, we played quite a few of our players, I guess five or six. We only really recruited 19. Of those 19 I would say three defensive linemen have played, a linebacker, a corner, a punter, a wide receiver. So some of these other guys are getting opportunities to play and perform in more of a structured situation rather than just having scout team per se will take and a three-on-three scrimmage and we'll provide an opportunity to get in with the twos some.
They're being coached more emphatically, I guess is what you'd say, in terms of what we do rather than what an opponent does. So there's a little bit more structure there for them, and I think that's good. And I think if you're just playing football for a longer period of time, you're bound to get better at it.
We tried to take a little bit of time off and then ease them back into the situation, and we've gone pretty hard these last four days, gave them Sunday off, we'll go hard these next three, then give them two days off and go to the Bowl site. Very, very excited about going down to Orlando and playing in that Bowl game. I think it'll be an outstanding organization, the Bowl setup, hotel is beautiful, the way they've run it is first class, and it ought to be an exciting game, as well.

Q. I guess you could ask this of a lot of coaches for Bowls, but how concerned are you in a sport that requires so much rhythm and repetition that there's five weeks between games?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I've always been concerned about that. That's why I've always felt very strongly about doing things live as much as we can, putting them in situations, at least creating situations where they have to tackle in space or catch the ball in space with people coming at them. We need to be able to keep our rhythm, as you said, both offensively and defensively. We've done that.
We scrimmaged I think last Friday or something like that, went and took them to the ground, and limited the amount of reps but we did it. We'll probably do it again here in the next two days. There's a little bit of a Catch 22 situation in that there's one game left to play so we don't want to lose a player before that, and thus far we have not.
But I think you have to do some things to keep them sharp in terms of just being on edge a little bit in terms of how we approach the game in terms of the blocking, tackling, catching the ball in space. So we've done that. It's not like a game. It's not like a game, but we make it as much as we can like a game. We've tried to create that atmosphere as much as we can.

Q. I wonder if you could talk about Matt Ryan a little bit more. Is he the best quarterback you've seen? Who would you compare him to, and what kind of challenges is he going to present to your defense?
COACH DANTONIO: We've seen some good quarterbacks this year. Certainly he's the one that has a lot of statistics and a lot of different things that he's done very, very well. He does a great job of getting out of pressure and creating down the field, as well. I don't think you probably would realize that initially, but when things break down, he creates, and we have to not allow them to do that. A game will be going along and people will be defending them pretty well, and you next thing you know, he creates or gets loose on somebody, and it's six. We have to keep those things from happening.
As far as where I would rank him in terms of the quarterbacks we've seen this year, we'll do that after the game, but he certainly has our attention and respect going into this football game.

Q. What's the key to containing a guy like Callender coming out of the backfield, catching passes the way he does?
COACH DANTONIO: I think what you have to do is honor him both as a runner and as a receiver. He's not just a guy that's going to catch it out of the backfield, although they'll screen you a lot. He's a guy that can go downfield, catch digs, catch takeoffs, run comebacks, so he's fully a wide receiver when they put him in that position. He's not like a back coming out of the backfield, and I think that's what creates a lot of problems for people if you treat him just like a back, I think when he aligns himself out there in motion or whatever, that he's got to be treated as a wide, also. So it'll be a challenge for us. We'll have to do some things differently but we will get that done.

Q. Mark Dell gets a lot of attention and rightfully so for the great season he had, but can you talk a little bit about Ervin Baldwin, too, and how he adds to that defensive line?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, G-Ball, as we call him, has done an outstanding job. Ervin is a guy that is a very instinctive football player, very aware, has a great motor, does a lot of different things from a pass rush perspective, as well, very athletic, and he's had an outstanding season for us. He truly is a another guy that gives us two guys off the edge that create a lot of problems for people.

Q. This might be a better question in Orlando, but do you sense an energy or an excitement in your team at practice? They're not used to practicing out here in December with something to play for. Do you sense an atmosphere --
COACH DANTONIO: It gets a little spirited, I will say that. We've had a good time. We went hard the other day. I think it was on Friday. There was a lot of emotion out there. Our guys are practicing hard. Our guys are practicing hard. They're running, they're lifting. It's been a full workout type thing.
We really tried to return to a lot of the things that we have done in the summer in terms of penalties, being aware of those different type of things.
By the way, I guess I should announce that we went from 95 penalties in '06 to 66 in '07. You know, when you look at it, we had seven offsides penalties the entire year in 12 games. That's pretty good. That's a compliment to our players and the discipline that they played with. We still need to get better at other things, but we've done a nice job in that area.

Q. Could you talk about BC's run defense? I know they're at the top of the ACC and just -- I don't know what running backs but if they've faced guys as Caulcrick and Ringer? Just talk about that.
COACH DANTONIO: They've played some good competition. The ACC, certainly Florida State is going to have great tailbacks, Clemson has great tailbacks, Maryland, so they've played some people -- Virginia Tech. It remains to be seen. When you cross over a conference sometimes I think it's interesting, very interesting.
I remember when we played Miami and we crossed in the Big East conference. The more you watched the teams that we were playing against, that they were playing against, the more perspective you gained. Those are the type of things we watch. I always try to put ourselves in a situation and say, now if that player that they were playing against was playing for us, where would he be in the big scheme of things.
So they've got excellent defense. I think they've played against good people, and they've done a nice job tackling and the coordinator does an excellent job. So they'll be prepared, and they don't become 10 and 3 without some form of excellence, and they've shown that.

Q. (No microphone.)
COACH DANTONIO: Well, they have their multiple in a lot of ways. They'll play a 30 package somewhat like ours. So a lot of teams are multiple right now. They'll send backs, pressures, based out of a 4-3, which we do, as well, and a lot of teams do. I guess you could make a -- you could look at them and say they're somewhat like some of the teams in our conference. Everybody tweaks it a little bit differently.

Q. I know that you strive to get better game by game. Going into this last game are there still some areas you'd like to see some improvement in?
COACH DANTONIO: I think what we need to do is constantly work to improve our football game as individuals and then as coaches and players. We're still building a foundation here, so we're still learning about ourselves. I think we have a pretty good handle on what we do well and what we need to improve on, but we still need to constantly check ourselves in those areas, and that's one of the other things we've done here in this time period leading up to the Bowl game. We've really done a pretty detailed study on who we are, what we do well and what we need to improve on.
Naturally I think it goes without saying that I thought we started off pressuring the quarterback very well, we've sort of leveled off and did a pretty good job at the end of the season. I think that the ball gets on the ground sometimes and you need to come up with it, and sometimes they just bounce that way.
But we need to some up with some more interceptions offensively. I think we need some more consistency in terms in certain areas. We critique it, we evaluate it and we understand it. These are certain things that you have to do to win this football game and we go about systematically saying, these are things we need to do. As we get closer to the time at hand of the game, it'll be very, very clear what we have to do.

Q. How well do you know Rich Rodriguez, and what was your reaction to that hiring?
COACH DANTONIO: I know Rich just from being in the Big East with him and being in meetings for two years, I think two years with him. And as far as my reaction to that job, we are Michigan State. That's my reaction.

Q. What's the ring on your hand?
COACH DANTONIO: This is the ring from the Citrus Bowl in 2000, which is when we went down to Orlando last, and I put it on at certain points in time.

Q. I wonder if you could tell us about any position switches or things you might be looking at like Michael Jordan looking at tight end a little bit or anything else?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, we're looking at different things and just allowing players different opportunities to perform in those areas. We've had Ryan Allison at safety. He may move back to wide receiver here in the next couple days, but he's been playing safety. Michael Jordan has played a little bit of tight end, but he's still a defensive end, defensive tackle right now, so we've looked at that. Patrick Rigan has moved over to tight end a little bit. We graduate two tight ends, so it's an excellent opportunity for a young player to come in and play, but we need to have players within the program getting themselves ready to make moves in the spring, so we thought we'd see if they could do it and expose them a little bit to it and see where they would be. I can't really think of any others that you guys probably don't already know about.

Q. You're not a candidate at West Virginia now, are you?
COACH DANTONIO: No. Nope, I'm excited to be at Michigan State and be a Spartan.

Q. In your time that you may lose recruiting preparing for a Bowl game, is the Bowl game appearance in a game like this a recruiting tool in itself?
COACH DANTONIO: I think it is. We talked to our staff, we came up last Tuesday, Wednesday, kept just a couple coaches on back and forth. The biggest thing we can do for recruiting right now is play well in this game. I think that'll make a statement as to where we're going at Michigan State and what the future holds for us a little bit.
It's important we go down there and put our best foot forward. There's no guarantees on that, I guess, but you want to be prepared and know you've done everything you can for our seniors and for our fans and for this University in terms of playing well and succeeding in this game.

Q. Are you allowed to have some of the recruits at practice?
COACH DANTONIO: No, it's a dead period right now, and I think the site is like the site of the school. No, I don't think you can. But we'll check.

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