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MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY MEDIA CONFERENCE
September 23, 2008
COACH DANTONIO: Real quickly, just to recap Notre Dame, I thought first of all it was an outstanding crowd, outstanding student support. The entire crowd just made for a great Saturday. I thought it was a program win.
Any time you can involve as many people as we did, the crowd, recruits, everything involved, and the way our players played, with a great amount of toughness and really played well on both sides of the ball in a rivalry game, program win for us.
You know, very, very happy about that. But we need to move on and focus on the present, and that's Indiana. Road game for us. They're coming off a loss, so they're going to be motivated, as I said before, and it'll be a challenge for us.
Outstanding offense with Kellen Lewis as their playmaker, and they've got Ray Fisher and Thigpen. They've got good skills surrounding him, and he can take a bad play and make it a good one very, very fast. It'll be a challenge for us.
Defensively lost a couple players possibly, but they still have this Greg Middleton, their outstanding defensive end, and they had seven or eight starters back from last year, outstanding kicker, as well. We need to bring our intensity to the game.
With that, I'll just open it up for questions.
Q. Knowing the kind of workload Javon is getting, I see he's still listed as returning kicks. Is that something you have to reevaluate as the season goes on, assuming he's going to get a similar kind of workload in games?
COACH DANTONIO: No, I don't think we'll reevaluate that. I think it makes him more valuable and allows him to showcase his talents even more. We certainly maybe would like to use somebody else back there when the option would arise for us, when the opportunity would arise for us.
But our plan is to use him. He's an outstanding player. He's a threat every time he touches the ball, and that gives him a chance to get out in space.
Q. It seems like Michael Jordan is getting more playing time. What have you seen in him from the last few weeks?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, he's practicing better. He's got both feet on the ground when he plays. He's playing at a defensive tackle position. You know, he's getting better. I think that there's a point in time, whether you're a freshman or whether you're a junior college player or whatever the situation is, you have to mature, not just -- I'm not talking about as a person but as a football player. You have to understand the concepts, understand the system, and understand if you do it right, you're going to play it. If you don't do it right, you won't.
I like his progress, and I think he'll continue to play. So that's been a positive thing for him. We'll reserve judgment. This gives us an opportunity to play other players. I think Jeremy Ware is another player. He was a scout team player last year and he's a guy who transferred here and really didn't play much at all last year, and he's really started to play very, very well.
Again, it's a situation where you see a guy that has worked hard and put in the effort, and it's paying dividends for him.
Q. When you're facing a team whose quarterback is the team's leading rusher, how do you work to contain that?
COACH DANTONIO: I think you take guys that -- first of all, you need to simulate that in our practices, so we'll have a couple guys being able to do that. You need to take a different approach.
As I said last week, every offense that we play -- that's something that's challenging when you're in college football. Because you play this offense this week and you play a particular offense last week, you have to change as a defense, as well. You have to change your thought process, the way you attack that offense, and that's where if you're a young player sometimes you can't change as quickly if you see the problems and the difficulties.
But it's not like playing in the NFL where everybody is pretty constant to some degree and you pretty much know what they're doing week in and week out. There's quite a drastic change from week to week, whether you're playing a team in the spread or whether you're playing a Wisconsin two-back team or vice versa.
I don't know if that answered the question or not. But again, if I didn't, I'm getting better.
Q. In talking to some of your older guys after the game on Saturday, they were all saying the Big Ten is a different kind of beast. What are you trying to kind of impress upon your team, especially kind of the younger guys who don't know so much about what the Big Ten grind is all about?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, we talk about it's very, very difficult to win on the road, first of all, that this is a conference that knows each other. We know Indiana a little bit; they know us.
As we go through -- even though we've only been here a year, they know us a little bit because there's a past history or there's a past history in playing our players. Their chips are a little bit -- you have to ante up a little bit more. There's more things at stake, and our players have to understand that.
You see throughout the conference, whether it's here, whether it's the Southeastern Conference or Pac-10 or whatever it is, you see teams rising up every year and beating other teams, and I think that happens in the Big Ten conference, as well.
You see Stanford beats USC last year. Who would have thought that? You can go around the conferences and see upsets. They occur all over America, and that's what makes college football so great, as well. It happens in the Big Ten.
Q. If you watch Rocco Cironi, he's playing more instinctive, not thinking as much. Talk about the emergence in his play.
COACH DANTONIO: I think he's another guy that last year did not play as much. The year before he played quite a bit from what I remember, but due to injuries. I think he's a guy that has, again, matured, not so much in the type of person he is, he's always been a mature person, but just in terms of his football ability and his work ethic on the field, getting things done on a regular basis.
As you said, I think he's having a good year thus far. You see him working well, and I think it's a credit to the coaching that's being done, as well.
In the end, you're responsible for yourself, and he's getting it done.
Q. I just wanted to ask, as much talk as there's been about Javon Ringer, on the other side of the ball Otis Wiley is having an outstanding season. Could you talk about what he's meant so far to your team and his progression this season?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think he was elected as a captain by his peers. He's an outstanding person, much like Javon in the type of person he is: outstanding competitor, he's a good worker, outstanding athlete, and he's a very good person. He's a good soul.
I think those things, when you carry that with you, you carry some intangibles with you, and you're seeing some of those things pay off. He's got great ball skills, he's tackling very well, he's big, he's strong, he's physical, and he's making things happen for us. He's assuming the leadership role, as well, so he's doing an outstanding job.
Q. Against an offense like this, do you give any thought to switching things up with your linebackers at all, getting a little more speed on the field in a game like this?
COACH DANTONIO: We do a lot of different things, as I said earlier, you know, depending on the type of offense, we have to get our defense towards that. So we'll probably make certain adjustments in terms of personnel just like any other team would.
Q. Have you had picked an alumni captain? If so, who?
COACH DANTONIO: Alan Howard will be our honorary captain this year, this week.
Q. Comment on your defensive backs as a unit.
COACH DANTONIO: I think we're starting to play more players, which is good for us. We're starting to get people playing different positions a little bit. Johnny Adams has come on, a young freshman. We've taken the red-shirt off of Trent Robinson. He's played a very little bit in the secondary, but he's very active in special teams.
I think Danny Fortener has had three solid games. Probably his best game was last week, so he's playing very solid for us.
You see guys like Marcus Hyde show up on special teams. At the corner position you have Weaver and Chris L. Rucker. Chris L. Rucker has been outstanding in playing his role in this defense, and he's basically shut down every wide receiver that we've gone against.
Weaver is playing pretty well. I'm trying to think of some other guys that are involved out there. Jeremy Ware. Mike Bell played the first three games, we played Jeremy this last game, so we've got seven or eight guys. I think that's what you have to have. You want to be in a situation where if somebody goes down that you have experience there.
We need to continue to do that across the board at every position, including tailback. We need to continue to try and work towards getting that type of situation.
Q. How do you help the team balance the confidence of three straight wins, but then also knowing the last time the team was in Bloomington it was a game that they lost?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, that's been brought up already, not by myself but by our current players who were on that 2006 team. So the focus is there. As far as a coach, we're going to go out and practice just like we always go out and practice.
One of the things I'm most proud of our football team is we've come out focused every game. There's been nobody that has come out and just been flat, this year or last year. I'd hope that's a habit. I'd hope that's a habit we're developing, that it takes focus and intensity to do your job at any point in time, and we're going to get that.
But we'll get each other ready; that's the best I can answer that one, I guess.
Q. In talking about Brandon Long last week, he said that he felt fully healthy going into the Notre Dame game and he thought he could have a pretty good game, and he obviously did. Can you just talk a little bit about his development, because he hasn't gotten a lot of the big, you know, name recognition. But in watching him on Saturday, I mean, as far as the technician part of the game, he looked like he was really on top of things.
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, he played very, very well. Remember, Brandon is a guy that last year went into the season as the starter and Saint-Dic started playing a little bit better making bigger players, so Jonal became the guy.
Brandon is a very good football player. He's very athletic, very explosive, very powerful, and you can see those things happening out here. So hopefully that gives him confidence and gives our football team a little bit of confidence that he can play with a great amount of consistency.
I think he'll have a great senior year, and as we always say, if you're a senior, you need to have your best year ever as a senior if you want to have a great football team and be successful. We're looking forward for him to do those things.
Q. A lot of schools have done different kinds of creative types of things to promote players for individual awards like the Heisman and other things. Knowing Javon is up for a lot of those kind of things, what would you like to see the school do to promote him? I mean, I know some schools do choose to do that, others don't. Obviously him doing what he's doing is good for the program, good for the school, good for recruiting. Can you talk a little bit about that?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think the media exposure that John Lewandowski gives all of our players is incredible. I've never coming in here felt like there weren't people here. There's always somebody here. So he's going to get media exposure. That's number one.
Number two is my belief is you always put the team first, and we don't want to focus on one particular person or go out there and say, Hey, we're going to run you 40 times regardless of the situation just to run you 40 times.
We have to make sure that we're succeeding and winning as a football team. When that happens, more recognition will follow. More TV games that are in a national venue, more opportunities to be heard, more plays to be made at a higher -- you know, a little bit higher importance.
So the best thing we can do is continue to win and surround him with good players and good people that are all going towards the same goal, and that's the way he is, too.
As far as the little things that people do, I don't know, I guess people put -- you get a little card or you get a little sticker, you put it on your refrigerator, (laughter) you know, I don't know that that's going to get him the Heisman. I think running downhill, breaking tackles, scoring touchdowns and getting yards would do something to help him.
But the more successful we are as a team, the more exposure there is, and I think that's natural. Not that we wouldn't take them. I like those little things (laughter).
Q. With so many teams running the spread offense, does the way Indiana runs their spread, does it offer a unique or a different kind of a challenge?
COACH DANTONIO: It offers different challenges because of the guy running it. The guy running the spread this week is different than the guy running the spread at Eastern Michigan because of the quarterback and his ability to break plays and make runs. Same thing in the passing game; he's likely to take off as much as he is to pass it, so we have to contain him.
You saw that last year on the first play of the game. So he has the ability to take it the distance, and that makes him a very dangerous player.
But everybody -- you know, it's sort of like you run power football. There's different types of power football, there's different types of spreads. Bottom line, I think it basically goes hand in hand with what type of players you have operating in that. I think he's a very good player.
Q. Continuing with the theme of the attention that Javon is getting, in the past when you've been on different teams with different staffs, how have you seen a spotlight player help or hurt a team's success?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I really haven't had that much experience with that, I guess is what you'd say. I haven't really seen it hurt, as long as you continue to focus on the present. I know that when Chris Gamble was at Ohio State they had him dressed up on a commercial where he's sweeping the stands and then he's buying a Coke and then he's playing football and he's doing it all. I don't know. That's the only experience I've had with it. It's a great commercial (laughter). But I don't know. That's maybe better directed towards John.
Q. Last year you were coming off a big high. Going into the conference season you beat Notre Dame on the road and then went up to Wisconsin. In what way is this team better prepared for the conference season than last year?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think one of the things that we've done is we didn't win the Cal game, but we played away in a tough environment to play and we left -- we had our issues and points off the board and all those things we've already talked about, but at least we gained experience in that environment.
So hopefully we can continue to press forward and understand what it's going to take to play at that level, to win. But I think we gain experience every time we play. So this will be no different. This will be challenging down there. There's going to be difficulties, there's going to be adversity we have to be able to fight through, and we're going to have to measure ourselves and see how we did.
Q. When you got this job you said that more than wins and losses there would be mileposts along the way, that you were changing the culture. When you heard about Javon bringing his offensive lineman in, was that one of those moments? Talk about that.
COACH DANTONIO: I think our team has been very unselfish, not just this year, last year, as well, and that comes from our players. That comes from their hearts and what they believe. I have not seen anybody calling attention to themselves.
We try and -- that's a negative experience for them when they do that, but I think that our players have done a good job with that. It didn't surprise me at all. So it wasn't a surprise when I heard that he had done that, because that's the type of person he is.
As I said the other day, I think he's a great role model for our younger players who have had similar success.
Q. Given the caliber of Lewis, who will you use in practice to simulate him?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, Keith Nichol can run around and has a great arm and can do it, and then Mitchell White is a guy that played for Stevenson High School down in Detroit, went to the state championship game, and he's very much like him. He'll play that role, as well, so we have two guys being able to do that.
You remember Mitch was a 6'10" high jumper and has great athletic ability and can scoot. He'll do a great job with that role, as well.
Q. Coach Narduzzi said after the game Saturday you guys had a practice last Saturday where the defense was so physical that Nichol was holding his head and people were worried that people were going to get hurt out there. What do you remember about that practice, and was that one of the more productive and intense practices you've had since you've been here? It seems like Coach Narduzzi was really praising that.
COACH DANTONIO: It was a great week of practice. It has to start with our scout teams. They've done an outstanding job. It has to start there. If they're just going through the motions on either side of the ball, then you don't get the look that you need. So we're fortunate that we have enough depth now, particularly like in our defensive line and our offensive line.
You know, last year we had to take a guy, Nick Bendzuck, who was a fullback, and say, Okay, play center this week. We had to take some defensive linemen and play them at offensive linemen. This year we don't have to do that. We have enough defensive linemen to go over there and play Ishmyl over there, play Ishmyl Johnson, play Tyler Hoover over there some, and do different things like that where the offense is getting a good look at good, powerful people that can play at a high level and will be great players here in the future.
So I think that makes all the difference. As far as the practice itself, last week was a great week of practice, and you know, I think our guys are motivated. It was just the way it was. They were motivated to practice, and they practiced extremely hard and with a lot of intensity. You know, you had to slow them down a little bit at some point.
Q. With the TV timeouts so long, what do you talk about during that time? Is it just football?
COACH DANTONIO: Pretty much, yeah (laughter). I called my wife one of those (laughter). No, pretty much it's just all football, but there are a lot of TV timeouts. You know, they changed the 40-second clock. I don't see the game getting any shorter, I just see a couple more commercials.
But it gives us an opportunity to adjust, the other team to adjust. It gives us an opportunity to catch our breath if we need to or whatever it is, but there's constant dialogue.
End of FastScripts