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September 9, 2008

Mark Dantonio

COACH DANTONIO: Just wrapping up Eastern Michigan very, very quickly, I know we did that on Sunday, as well, but I thought we played very well at the point of attack, especially offensively, ran the ball a lot, wanted to make a statement in that direction. I think Eastern Michigan came out as we thought, played us very well early in the game, and then we played a little bit better in the second half.
Special teams was a huge factor in the game, creating a lot of field positions for us across the 50. I think we scored on five of six possessions when the ball was given to us across the 50.
And also obviously coming out of the end zone, big pass to Mark Dell, great catch by Cunningham, touchdown, defense goes in, makes a couple nice plays, big punt return by Otis Wiley sort of broke the game open.
Not perfect, but we took steps, I think, towards getting the program in the right direction.
Florida Atlantic is a good football team. When you look at Florida Atlantic and see who they've played this past year, Kentucky, Florida, Oklahoma State, Minnesota, South Florida, five BCS-type teams. When you look at them this year, they opened at Texas, came back against UAB and now they're playing their third game at Michigan State. They're no stranger to coming into a big stadium and playing. They will compete.
I think they have excellent skill, won a Bowl game last year, Sun Belt champions, 8 and 5 overall, but they compete.
Outstanding wide receiver in No. 16, Cortez Gent. I think he goes up and makes plays. Their quarterback is outstanding, Rusty Smith, 32-plus touchdowns last year, 30-plus touchdowns and well over 3,000 yards passing the football. Tight ends, both tight ends, the wide receiver I just mentioned, all average over 20 yards a catch thus far this year.
Defensively Joseph Frantz, their inside linebacker, was voted as basically, I guess, pre-Defensive Player of the Year in their conference. They're going to run around, make plays, be active.
Two corners led the nation last year as a corner tandem in interceptions, so they have skill, and they'll look to come and play very well.
I think that their program is, from what I understand, sort of molded after the South Florida program, and as I said on Sunday, I remember when I was at Ohio State, Jim Leavitt calling me and saying, hey, can we get a game at Ohio State, and South Florida was just starting that whole process, and you've seen how far they've come, and I think Florida Atlantic is going in that direction.
It'll be an exciting challenge for us and we look forward to the game on Saturday, and we'll get a sense of where we're at as a maturity standpoint, as a football team, in terms of taking the next step, coming off a win and taking the next step this weekend.
I'll leave it up for questions and we'll go from there.

Q. Have you put any consideration into maybe playing Ross Weaver at some safety or is he locked into corner?
COACH DANTONIO: I mentioned that today a little bit, about Weave playing a little bit of safety actually to our staff. We'll have to see how that goes in terms of our preparation. But certainly he's 205, 210 pounds, he's extremely strong. You know, he runs very well. So that may be a possibility, doing something like that.
Our guys have been in the system long enough that they're somewhat interchangeable. We've shown that we can do that.

Q. Guys often get picked out for making big plays on offense, but can you just talk about what Otis is doing just on defense and special teams, the waves he's making there?
COACH DANTONIO: I think he's had two games where he's made huge plays for this football team. Obviously the Cal game with two interceptions, one coming off the goal line and then the other for a touchdown, are big plays. He tackled very well in that game, and he's got leadership qualities going on back there, as well. And then this past game, not only the long punt return, but he also had another one to set up a touchdown. So both of those were huge plays in the game.
You know, obviously he's playing very well. He has outstanding talent, and he's doing a great job of leading, as well. He's a great person. His second year in the system, so he's being pretty active.

Q. It looks like Florida Atlantic has struggled a little bit against the run, almost 200 yards per game. Are you going to run the ball to the extent you did against Eastern?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, that remains to be seen. That all depends on temperament, how we're feeling at the time (laughter), if we get irritable.
But I think we're always going to try and be balanced, but you also take what the defense gives you as you go through this. But don't be misled by that little statistic. I mean, they have good linebackers. Their front is -- they played against a Texas team, UAB team, but we're expecting a great football team.

Q. Do you expect Trevor Anderson and Brandon Long, are they pretty much back to healthy, and what will that mean for Colin Neely and Dwayne Holmes?
COACH DANTONIO: I expect all those guys to play and play well. We always do. As far as their health, they are healthy.

Q. Would you expect to get Kirk Cousins in again and get him some playing time?
COACH DANTONIO: It would depend on the type of week of practice that he has, but I anticipate that he's going to have another great week and have an opportunity to play. I just think that we have to provide him those opportunities to get experience as we go through this year.

Q. Could you talk about the challenges that Florida Atlantic's passing game presents for your pass defense?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, you know, they move the ball. They're an extremely well-coached football team. You've got Coach Schnellenberger, he's had great success in the past, and then you've also got Gary Nord on their staff who used to be the head coach at UTEP. They use quite a few -- they break the formations enough that they use a lot of different formations. But with that being said, they do it out of regular people a lot, two backs and a tight end, a two-tight-end system. Their tight ends are extremely athletic. They have a guy that can go up and get the ball. They move the ball in the perimeter. They've only been sacked last year -- I just told you who they played, but they were only sacked last year 13 times.
The quarterback Rusty Smith has got a great release, a very quick release, does a great job of knowing where to go with the ball. When you're playing that caliber of competition to only be sacked 13 times, I think that's an extraordinary statement. Cal remember was only sacked 11 times last year. We're probably playing two of the better teams in that area thus far this season.
Gent, the wide receiver, No. 16, goes up and gets the ball. If you watch them against Texas, they go right down the field this year -- first couple series of game, the quarterback has a ball snapped over his head in the shotgun or they may be the first score on the board. The score is not indicative of how that game went, much like the score in our game Saturday was not really indicative of how the game went. I think those who saw the game would see it a little bit closer than that score would indicate, and I would say the same thing for them.
Even last year when you look at Oklahoma State, they loss 42 to 6 but the score with one minute to go in the half was 14 to 6. Okee State gets a long one.
But those type of things are happening to that program. It's a program that's, I think, moving in the direction of, like I said, South Florida, and they've got some good players and they've got skill.

Q. Could you comment on the play of Kershaw and that front four?
COACH DANTONIO: I think Justin is playing pretty well in there, and again, he's got leadership qualities that make him invaluable. The rest of the guys, I think Trevor took a step towards playing more healthy this past week, Trevor Anderson. Our defensive ends, we played quite a few of them this past week. Oren Wilson has been solid in there, especially playing against Cal. I thought playing against an All-American center, I thought he played pretty well.
We've got some different pieces moving in and out of there, our defensive front. Michael Jordan has played some and has started to play a little bit better. I mean, he's a big, active 6'5", 290 pound guy that can run.
You've got some different people, Antonio Jeremiah, you see him in there; Ryan Weeks, you saw him in there a little bit. So we've got five or six guys that can roll in there a little bit.
What we have to do is continue to play consistent. Colin Neely played at defensive end and applied some pressure to the quarterback. But when you keep them all in there sometimes it's difficult.

Q. Assuming that Florida Atlantic is going to throw the ball quite a bit on Saturday, and like you said, Kendall Davis-Clark is day-to-day, what kind of scenarios -- do you have to think of a lot of different scenarios when it comes to the secondary and who's to play and who's not to play?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I think that's natural. You tend to think of things, how you're going to play certain teams based on personnel that you have relative to their personnel. I think it's natural. You're looking for match-ups. I know one of the keys to the game is we've got to go up and get the ball because they will do that. They'll go up and get it.

Q. You've got four young running backs that you're high on for various reasons, yet Javon is getting almost all the carries. Obviously he's your meal ticket. Are you looking for somebody to step up because we're so used to seeing a B back here, or is that just going to be the way it's going to be in this offense?
COACH DANTONIO: No, I think that, first of all, Javon gives us obviously a threat every time he touches the ball. But the other guys are all young players. A.J. is even -- he is somewhat of a young player. So as they grow with maturity and confidence, you'll see them getting more reps, I think. But right now this was their first game, really.
I thought Andre Anderson had a great game. Leggett, the first time he touched the ball was on a toss sweep; he was a little tentative. The second time he got it, he ran with authority and it was a touchdown. A.J. was just coming off an ankle so we'll see how he is, but he was certainly functional. We'll probably play Glenn Winston a little bit, too. So there's five of them.
But we'll see as they mature. That takes some time because I want them to be -- we want them to be able to play with great confidence out there, so I think you have to pick and choose a little bit.

Q. When you watch how Texas attacked this guy, their quarterback is 6'5", 238, they spent a lot of time with their hands in the air, and when they did they were able to distract him. Is that something maybe this week in practice you've got to put extra emphasis on getting your hands up because his release is so quick?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, his release is very quick. It's a little bit of a low release. But yeah, I think it's natural, and they'll spread him out a lot, move the pocket and do things of that nature to try and protect him. That's one of the reasons they don't take a lot of sacks, quick release and the things that they do. As I said earlier, they're a very well-coached football team, and they know what they're doing. For anyone to sit there and say here comes Florida Atlantic and count that as a win is completely inaccurate. We're going to have to play and play well.

Q. You mentioned Howard Schnellenberger. How is he regarded in the coaching profession? Where do you think he fits in among the legends of coaching, and do you get any more personal excitement from going up against a guy like that?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think that, first of all, he's won a National Championship as a head football coach, and that sets him apart from many coaches. He's had great success. He's coached at -- he took a Louisville program and developed that program into a great power I would say. He went to Oklahoma so he's coached at that level there. He's been at Miami.
Now he's taking another program, and you see it develop. You can see it developing in the course of five, six years, and that program is getting better. It's getting some players in there with skill. It's got a great quarterback, and they've got two great tailbacks that are going to make plays.
I took the time to sit down and watch their Bowl game last year against Memphis in person when they played on TV, and they've got skill, and they played with excitement and an attitude and they played aggressively. I think he's doing a great job. If I look at the coaching aspect of who we're playing against, they're a well-coached football team, and I respect that.

Q. Why did you watch that game?
COACH DANTONIO: Because I knew we were playing them this year.

Q. Just wanted to ask about Deon Curry's status, how he's coming along.
COACH DANTONIO: He's coming along. I think he may play this week. We'll see. We don't talk about injuries too much. He's doing well, though.

Q. After the game on Saturday you talked about building toughness, pushing hard. How do you see that mentality and that strategy coming into play for this game coming up?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think you have to look at the maturity of our football team. We have not practiced; we went through films and everything on Sunday, so today is our first practice. But how do we handle success? We are a young football team in a lot of respects, so some of our guys have not tasted some of the disappointment that some of our older guys have. We have 13 seniors basically. So they understand the difference between disappointment and success.
It's important, I think, that our young players understand that, too. We'll see how mature we are in terms of how we play and how we prepare ourselves.

End of FastScripts

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