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MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY MEDIA CONFERENCE
September 2, 2008
COACH DANTONIO: First off, just to wrap up Cal very, very quickly, obviously we talked about that a little bit on Sunday, but the stakes obviously were costly. When you play a good football team, you're not going to be able to make mistakes, especially on the road in a tough environment. So positives are that we competed. Hopefully we gained some valuable lessons and learned some things.
But irregardless of that, we will continue to focus on the present. The present is Eastern Michigan.
Eastern Michigan comes in here after winning 52-0 in their opening game last Thursday night. Special teams, you know, they're going to do some things that put us in a tough situation at times. You know, they're certainly going to gamble in that area.
Offensively great design, create problems schematically, good skill players. Quarterback right here from St. John's, which from what I understand wanted to come to school here, so I'm sure he'll be motivated. Skill players are back, good tailback.
Defensively they played extremely hard with a shutout. In 2008 when you shut out teams, I don't care who you're playing, it's difficult. So they'll run and tackle very well. Coach Genyk has done a nice job there, great job there. They battled back last year in terms of who they played. They played Michigan, they played Northwestern, so they're used to playing in Big Ten environments. I don't believe that they'll be intimidated at all.
It'll be our first home game, so it'll be exciting for all of us. And we've got to get better, and this is a chance to take a step in that direction, as well. We'll go from there and answer questions.
Q. Javon took 27 of the 28 carries for running back on Saturday. Do you plan to use the other three more, and how is Jimmerson doing?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, you know, as we enter into every game, you know, we're going to go with Javon until he tires. Basically throughout the game, you know, we checked with him, and he was ready to go. It was one of those situations where he didn't want to come out. I think that's a credit to his competitive nature. It was the type of game where every series was a critical series, and he wanted to be involved in that. As long as he's feeling in that way, we're going to play him.
As far as AJ, you know, he was tweaked a little bit this past week, so we didn't play him. Andre Anderson took a carry, Ashton Leggett got a little reps, we held Glenn Winston, and we'll see from there. But I'm sure that these guys will all have opportunities as the season progresses.
Q. With Javon's struggles, and what I understand Cal's defensive front is pretty ferocious but how big a concern is the offensive line in terms of adjustments you need to make? Is that a young group mixing in for newcomers, and what is the big concern on the offensive line, if any?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think the concern, first of all, when you look back at the Cal game, we were experienced at defense and we weren't really quite positive exactly what they were going to do, so you had to adjust on the field. For example, when we went into the game, and say we were going to run this particular play and feature this, they took that away and we had to go to a different play a little bit more often and hadn't practiced it as much and didn't do it as well, bottom line.
We had a couple plays that were called back, run down to the one yard line, called back because of a hold. So we probably would have scored a touchdown there and had three running touchdowns.
You know, we did not have the balance that we wanted to have, probably because of the situation of the game as it unfolded. But you tend to play the cards that are dealt. We've got to get better. We've got to become more consistent I guess you could say, but you have to give Cal credit. They were good up front. Their linebackers were very firm and did not get knocked off the ball. They're a good football team.
Any time you play away, you've got to take what the defense gives you. Sometimes you stack all those people up there, you've got to throw it. They were in a Bear front a lot, which dictates that you probably need to throw a little bit more.
Q. Also on the Ringer topic, he was returning kickoffs. Do you see him in that position again this week? And how about with punt returns, who's it looking like?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, Otis Wiley was back there as our punt returner but got a little gassed so we moved Mark back there. And then also Javon, as far as a kickoff return guy, he has the ability to be back there. We can put him anywhere pretty much in that front, that back eight, as well as we could put some other guys in there. So it's really a game-to-game situation type thing, what we think is going to be best with our return game. So we'll move him around a little bit.
Q. Does the 40-second clock have any impact on the game plan or made you make any other kind of adjustments?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, it didn't have any impact I don't think on the game plan. I think as the game unfolded, though, and we found ourselves behind and needed that four and five minutes, that 40-second clock when the ball was in play rather than a 25-second clock, you were getting 15 seconds off the clock.
But as many commercials as they had, I think the game took just as long. I think it was a four-hour game.
Q. Could you talk about your receiving corps, especially the performance of Dell? And also, will Deon Curry back this week?
COACH DANTONIO: Mark Dell had an outstanding game, caught the ball very well in traffic. With that said, he still dropped two passes so he could have had 11. We want to be perfect. B.J. Cunningham played pretty well for a red-shirt freshman in a big-time environment, in pretty much a TV game, nationally-televised TV game. In a lot of respects, it had a lot of hype, so I think he went out and played very well.
Deon is a guy that is sort of recovering a little bit from a back situation. He may be available this week. He was practicing last week but probably rushed it a little bit, so he may be available this week. We'll have to see how the week unfolds, and I think you'll see some other guys playing a little bit more this week at the wide receiver position.
Q. What did you see from looking back at the tape from Brian Hoyer technically? It looked like there might have been a couple plays where he was throwing off the back foot, or just from more of a technical aspect?
COACH DANTONIO: If you came running at me right now, all five of you came running at me, I'd probably throw off my back foot, too. If he can step into the throw, he steps into the throw. But under pressure you have to make all different types of throws, and I think he did do that at times and did a great job of it. But a lot of people practice -- when you're practicing with your quarterback, you want to set, throw, be perfectly fundamental in everything, but so many times quarterbacks are often asked to throw in all kinds of difficult positions.
And when they pressure the quarterback and they hit the quarterback, you know, that's going to take its toll, and I think they hit him about 11 times. We hit the quarterback six. As a former defensive coordinator, we want to try to hit the quarterback 20. That's when you start affecting the quarterback and get all kinds of different throwing motions.
But I think other than the one errant throw, I thought he played pretty well, other than the one decision going in at the end of the first half, which as I've said earlier, when you take points off the board, that's tough, but other than that one throw, I thought he played pretty well.
Q. Looking at the penalties, what maybe bothered you the most there in that area? I know obviously there's a lot of younger players there.
COACH DANTONIO: You look at penalties and you ask which ones were unforced, to me. How many times did we jump offsides. Well, Kershaw jumped offsides, had no delay of game penalties, I don't think we jumped offsides on offense. Mark Dell goes up and makes a play, they call him for interference. Not only is it an incomplete pass, it's a 15-yard penalty. Roland is trying to cut a guy and he misses the guy and he somehow hits another guy who's already engaged, they call a penalty, we get a holding call. Guy runs a reverse who runs 10.3, and we're trying like crazy to get the guy down, and he guess he grabbed his face mask a little bit. Guy is tangled up with an All-American center and he's trying to get him off.
So a lot of these things are things that happened out there. Some of them are judgment calls, some of them are not. But you've got to play the game and play the situation out. Am I happy about it, no, absolutely not, we are not happy about it. But you know, we're not jumping offsides, we're not doing those type of things. What we do have to do is be able to correct the heat-of-the-moment penalties and get our hands on -- you can't grab a face mask. A couple of those things were difficult ones to assess because it's sort of action, split second.
Q. Obviously when they're in Bear blitz you can understand pressure, but on the play where B.J. Cunningham was called for interference they only rushed three, and Brian in the gun gets the ball and he's under pressure. How do you address those issues? Clearly three Spartans against one Cal guy shouldn't have happened.
COACH DANTONIO: Well, you have to address those issues. That's technique. Some of it is exactly who the protection, what protection it was and everything. And again, they have some very good defensive linemen, and they wiped us. In other words, you can start working here and they wiped you this way and he got loose. That's one of the ones that Hoyer is throwing off his back foot. But if it's ruled a completion and a touchdown, everybody is happy. But that's why this game is a tough game.
Q. With a loss coming down so close, by a touchdown, what was your message to the team after this, and what was the team's reaction?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, the message to the team is you're playing away, you can't -- as I've already said, you're playing away. You can't make mistakes. Mistakes are very costly, especially when they take points off -- when you're in scoring position and you don't score. When you're punting coming out and you have a punt blocked, it's nothing unusual, it's just a guy doesn't block out to where he's supposed to go. Very, very costly. When you miss a field goal, very costly. We have to be perfect.
But with all that being said, we responded coming back after the -- it's pretty draining on you when you throw an interception right at the end of the half and then you go into halftime. I thought our players came out the second half and got back in the game immediately, made it 17-14, and played throughout and competed throughout. I think that's the message to our team is that, again, it's a game of inches.
Again, it's very difficult to win in any environment, home or away. That's just the way it is these days. You can ask all around the country. People have the same issues.
The message is do the very best you can, and I think our players did. I'm very proud of them for that. I'm very proud of them for continuing to fight through it because when you see a game like that unfold and those sort of things start to happen, it can get a lot worse than 38-31, and it didn't. That's a credit to how we played and the way we continued to fight through it.
Q. In the shadow of the Pittsburgh upset, MAC schools seem to be the upset makers. How in the past years has the perception of this conference changed?
COACH DANTONIO: The Mid American Conference? Well, I think the Mid American Conference has always been an outstanding conference. I think every year you see teams come in and play a Big Ten team tough. Teams go away and play a Southeastern Conference team very tough. So in this day and age you look at Arkansas State beating Texas A&M, you look at BG beating Pitt, you can look at the Arkansas score, you can look all around the nation. You can look at last year's games that Eastern Michigan was involved in, the Northwestern game and the Michigan game, and those games were pretty close throughout.
So no doubt in my mind that they'll come in here prepared to win, prepared to play. We will have to play well, and the perception is that there's a very, very small margin for error. That's what I would say. The difference between winning and losing is very small. I think we've learned that, but we are where we are.
Q. I was wondering what you thought about your pass rush the other night, and then also, you have Fortener listed ahead of Davis-Clark. Is that health related? How is his shoulder going into this game?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I don't want to talk about injuries, so we won't. He went back in and played the second half, so we'll see how to respond this week.
But as far as pass rush, we knew coming into the football game, this football team that we played, Cal, if you can believe it out there, was sacked 11 times last year in 13 games. That is a tremendous stat. They gap it up and they use a lot of people in protection, protecting, and schematically everything -- anyway, they're very, very good, have an All-American center who is starting for three years now. They had three other guys returning, I believe, that had game experience, and they're physical. The quarterback does a nice job, gets the ball off. I think we got our hands on him a little bit, but we didn't force the issue as much as we usually have.
They did some things personnel-wise where you watch 600-plus plays of them from last year's games and you start to think you have them down, but they came in, and credit Coach Tedford and his staff, with different personnel groupings, things that they had not done, different pass protections, and we couldn't get there as often. We pressured him some, we made him throw the ball, but when we did, we had to bring it all. I don't know if I'm answering that question.
Q. Jeff Genyk is a protĂ©gĂ© of Randy Walker, runs his type of offense. Does it help to be able to go back and maybe look some more there as far as game planning for them since you didn't play them last year?
COACH DANTONIO: It helps somewhat, but I think like most offenses, he's evolved. It's an evolved offense towards a little bit toward what everybody is doing in the spread, creating mismatches, their quarterback can run it as well as pass it, you've got a backup quarterback that was successful last year, as well, played the entire Northwestern game. They've got a wide receiver that's played quarterback in that offense, so they've got quite a number of different people that they can go to and do some things with.
They create option situations, they create situations with bubble passes, so it's a little bit of the spread -- not a little bit, it's a spread-type scheme, and they do a great job with it. They've found a way to always one-up people a little bit. It's done very well.
Q. Looking back, I think Saturday marked the seventh time in the past year this program has lost a game by a touchdown or less. How do you think the players have handled that, knowing that's obviously not an easy thing to do?
COACH DANTONIO: I hope our players understand that when you play away or when you play at home, you'd better be perfect in every aspect. You'd better prepare, you'd better understand that you'd be in this gap in this defense or this gap in this blitz, you'd better make that tackle, you'd better make that catch, you'd better protect your gap and punt protection, all the things. That's the message to our team is that it takes everybody in this room. That's coaches included, so we win together as a team, coaches, players.
With all that being said, as I said earlier in the summer, you know, you've got to get to the point where you can finish the game. You have to get to that point. You have to play well enough to get to the point where you can finish the game. With all the things that happened to us throughout that game, we at least got to the point that in the fourth quarter with four minutes to go, we were in the game. That's one thing that we can say. And that's about the only thing we can say. But we'll try and continue to work forward on that situation, move forward.
Q. Cal came in thinking that they could block a punt. Aside from the protection breakdown, does Aaron need a quicker getaway?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, his getoff was 1.92 on that one. The snap was low on his shoes, which probably took a little bit. But his getoff time is under 2.1, which 2.1 is the normal getoff time. I wish they would have told me they thought they could block a punt. I guess they weren't sharing that prior to the game. But it was simply a guy not blocking out on his gap. When they ran it later on, it was blocked up, not a problem. So his getoff time has been consistently very well, 1.9. Our snapper has been very good. At first he dribbled back there, but for the past year he's been excellent.
You know, it's the first game. Again, I think the first game you have a lot of anxiety out there, as a coach, as a player. You need to come and play.
Q. Even though he was a little banged up, what were your impressions of Trevor Anderson's first game?
COACH DANTONIO: Trevor was average, I think. As a defensive front we were average. It might have something to do with who we went against, as well, but he was a little bit banged up there, and we expect him to continue to get more 100 percent here in the next few days or another week. But I would say in the next day.
Q. You talked last week about nobody really knowing who the kind of breakout guy is going to be, that someone is going to emerge in the next couple weeks. Was there anyone that you saw that you thought maybe there was glimpse of that who could be that guy?
COACH DANTONIO: I thought B.J. Cunningham had a nice game for his first game as a red-shirt freshman wide receiver. I can't remember how many catches he made, maybe six, but I think he had a nice game. You saw Javon doing his thing. On defense I thought Otis Wiley played very, very well. Kendell Davis played very, very well, as well. Greg Jones made some tackles, but his first game back, they create a lot of different formations and a lot of different things that as a linebacker you have to adjust to sometimes.
I guess the answer to that question is B.J. Cunningham played a little bit. I think it's too early to assess some of the others.
Q. Can you talk about the first game players, what were your thoughts on their performance and how much of an effect did you see them having on the game?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, you know, we have a lot of defensive linemen that played last year, but they weren't starters necessarily. So when Oren Wilson came off the sideline, there were a lot of questions to be answered. Kershaw played very well, I thought, pretty well. Trevor Anderson, it was his first game. Home played in first game as defensive end and did okay. Colin Neely played in his first game. So there were a lot of questions there.
You've got Eric Gordon, who's a red-shirt sophomore, so there was anxiety there, just like -- we're a sophomore oriented sort of team, so we're relatively young with some experience there, but we do have still some youth there. I think those guys were trying to find themselves a little bit in that environment, and I think the environment was -- it was a live environment. For those of you guys who were there, it was very loud, a lot of pressure on making adjustments defensively.
Offensively Joel Foreman played a little bit as a red-shirt freshman guard; Cunningham played as we said; Charlie Gantt played, 79 plays at tight end. So you saw those guys play. Other than that, I think our offensive line was pretty much intact.
But we have experience on the football team, but we lost some players in key positions, and we're reestablishing leadership, as well, who are our leaders, how we're going to handle things when things get tough in there. And for that matter, I was very pleased with it. I think we hung in there and we kept playing.
Q. Could you please talk about Rocco Cironi? You've seen the film, how you think he played and his performance?
COACH DANTONIO: I thought Rocco was steady. I wish we would have run the ball more effectively, but didn't give up any sacks. I thought he played pretty well. He was steady. He was average. It's hard for me to sit here and see winning on a lot of guys because we didn't win. But I thought he was steady.
Q. What do you expect or anticipate Eastern Michigan doing on the defensive side?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, they're a little bit like our defense. Coach Narduzzi worked with their defensive coordinator Jay Peterson, so they're a little bit like our defense, but they've been a little bit more -- a different scheme this past week, a little bit more of what we would say is a bench scheme or an under scheme, has a linebacker at the end of the line of scrimmage, but we'll see what they come in here with. But they definitely have some patterns that sort of parallel with ours.
But they're active and they run. Their linebackers will run. They're going to fly around. It's impressive the way they played last Thursday. They flew around, made plays and ran the football.
Q. You mentioned Otis. Can you just talk about where his confidence level is now overall and in the system compared to last year and then what that journey has been like for him?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think that last spring he had an excellent spring, and I think it's sort of carried over. He's remained healthy throughout fall camp, so every time you make every single practice, I think that's a positive thing. And he had an outstanding game. I think the longer you're around one particular defense or one particular system, whether it's offense, defense or whatever, the better you get at it. He definitely had an outstanding football game, two huge plays that otherwise -- were tackles, so he tackled very well.
Q. If you had to have a loss, a loss like this, would you have preferred that it come now and have time to fix the mistakes and the problems because you know what they are rather than starting fast and discovering the mistakes kind of later down the road?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, there's a tough question to answer because you don't know what lies down the road, I think. You don't want to lose Big Ten games, you don't want to lose at home. You don't want to lose away, either. I don't know what to tell you on that one. We'll play one at a time.
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think first of all, coming off a loss helps in that area, and then the thing we've continually talked to our football team about is what Coach Perless used to say, "They all count one." If you can't get excited to play your home opener and you can't get excited to play in Spartan Stadium and be motivated for that, all you have to do is put on the film and watch them a little bit, watch them play against Michigan or Northwestern from last year, watch them play this past Thursday, and you should be motivated on both sides of the ball.
But we're playing in front of our families, friends. That makes it special. I would like to think that if you have an opportunity, there's no guarantees of a 13th game. You have 12 times a year that you do everything throughout the year to get ready for those times. So it should be significant, and our players need to be motivated, our players will be excited, and we will be very emotional come Saturday. That's the way I feel. I'm sure our players will feel the same way.
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