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MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY MEDIA CONFERENCE
September 30, 2008
COACH DANTONIO: Just quickly recapping the Indiana game, again, thought our guys persevered, were resilient. Came back, did enough good things to get the win. Obviously can play better in certain areas. Offensively played very well, I feel. I think we've talked about that enough.
In going to the Iowa game, big game, homecoming. I understand that maybe 600 tickets left. Oh, 200. Should be an outstanding crowd. Home crowd last game against Notre Dame was excellent. So we're looking forward to our student participation and our fan participation. They need to get their game faces on. It will be a big game.
Iowa comes in 3-2. I think they've played very good football thus far. A very physical football team. Kirk Ferentz has always done a good job in that toughness aspect of his football team. Defensively giving up about 10 points a game. Very difficult to run the ball against, giving up about a hundred yards rushing. Mitch King is an outstanding player. Hunter, their linebacker, leads their team in tackles. A very disciplined football team. Norm Parker is their coordinator. Phil Parker, played in the secondary here for Coach Perles, is an outstanding coach as well. Both those guys know Michigan State, and in some way brought a little bit of Michigan State to Iowa when they went there. Very disciplined defensive football team.
Offensively they're going to run the football. Greene is an outstanding tailback, very physical, good offensive line. Looks like they've decided on a quarterback. He played well, pretty well this last game, as well. They have a couple of big-play wide receivers in Koulianos. So they're set.
They're a football team I think that's dangerous, coming off two losses, one very close to Pitt away, one last week against Northwestern. They're backed into corner a little bit. But we'll look forward to them coming here.
Our honorary captains will be Morten Anderson. We're going to have two this week, Morten Anderson will be up from Atlanta, and Buck Nystrom will be down. I think we've got some other guys from this past year that are coming down to be around the game. Jehuu Caulcrick will be here. I think Pete Clifford. Jehuu will come and be near our program, as well. But the two honorary captains are guys I talked about. Great careers, great motivators and I think outstanding individuals to talk and be around our players. We look forward to that.
I'll leave it from there and let you guys ask questions.
Q. At the Big-10 meetings, Coach Ferentz told me one area you're a little bit different is you use wide receivers almost as additional offensive linemen. Talk about how you stress the importance of getting down field, blocking, those type of things.
COACH DANTONIO: I think without question, every position on our football team has to bring some type of physicality to our game. Last week I think it was Javon who got loose to the edge, and Cunningham makes a great block to spring him. You see Mark Dell coming down the field when Charlie Gantt gets loose, provides a block that sort of springs him, the last guy that could have possibly got him. We're going to demand that all players exercise toughness and play with great effort.
I think our wide receivers do that. Blair White does a great job doing it. You know, so that just goes as part of the game with us right now. Happy to see somebody's taking notice of it I guess. So I'll bring that to them today.
But I think all those guys, all of our players, really put forth the effort. It starts with the coaching. Coach Treadwell is constantly talking about those things as well as a coach.
Q. With Stanzi now at quarterback, you mentioned Greene, the receivers healthy, how different is Iowa offensively versus the team you saw down there a year ago?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think last year, as I remember a little later during the season, so there was more information to be gathered on Iowa last year as a coaching staff in terms of their current year. Played them a little later in the schedule. At that point in time they weren't scoring as many points. They had two talented tailbacks, a physical offensive line. Their quarterback, I can't really remember what his statistics were at that point in time, but I think he was doing a great job guiding the football team at that point in time.
But just like every football team, Big-10 conference is a tough conference. Nobody walks through the conference without having challenges. And I'm sure that at some point during the season last year, they lost their series of close games as well. They certainly won ours with them in a double overtime win. That's what we've evaluated. In that game, Christiansen played very well. Threw the touchdown pass to win the football game. I think he's equally important in terms of how we prepare for this football team.
Q. Ringer is on an NCAA record pace for carries. How much longer do you think you can keep running him 40 times a game without wearing him out? How much more did the passing game open up last week because of that running threat on the play-action passes?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think the pass game is always going to open up when you can run the football. It does for everybody. If you're one-dimensional in any way, you're going to have problems at some point. So we need to continue to stay balanced.
I saw where Coach Perles made a statement that the ball only weighs eight ounces, so he has plenty of time to get rested during the week. I guess that's what was mentioned.
You know, we need to continue to try to work our other tailbacks in there. But he's a very good player. The games that we've had thus far, you always want your best players carrying the football or touching the ball. He has the ability to get a crease and go 30, 40, 50, 60 yards. And you never know when that's gonna be.
So we'll continue to work the situation. As I said last week, Coach Enos does a great job of keeping his hand on that pulse in terms of does he need a rest, does he not need a rest, how healthy is he, all those type of things.
Last week, Andre Anderson came in and on his one carry ran very well. Ashton on his one carry ran very well as well. Feel good about those guys (laughter). They're good football players. They're going to have their moments. It will come this week, next week or the week after.
Q. Is Iowa even more dangerous coming off a loss? You ran into this against Indiana, losing a home game. Does a team coming off a home loss play with an edge or hunger that makes them more dangerous?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, they were a football team that was ahead, and came back and lost. Northwestern came back, did a nice job winning the football game away. But I'd still rather be 4-1 playing as we are right now than 3-2, saying, Okay, we're going to be ready for this game.
From our perspective, I think we could have played better. So we have a little bit of feeling like we can play much better and we need to. We have our home field here. We have our home crowd here. We have homecoming here. We have reasons to play as well.
So bottom line is you need to get yourself ready to go. I keep saying it every single week: preparation is the key. You know, our guys will go out there today with a healthy work ethic, I can tell you that, just by the way they've responded thus far.
Q. Keshawn Martin is moving up the depth chart. Can you talk about his progress, what you saw from him last week, how he keeps progressing this season.
COACH DANTONIO: Well, we've tried to get Keshawn involved in the game plan as we've gone. He's a very talented young wide receiver. His first year as a receiver, really making the transition from high school football. He caught some balls this last week and showed he has some ability. He definitely has ability down the field. We'll continue to look to expand his role, as well as continue to expand Mark Dell's and Cunningham's and Blair White. Looks like Deon Curry may be able to play this week. That gives us five. Fred Smith is a little bit in the rotation, continues to learn. That gives us six guys there. There's a seven and eight traveling. They do a nice job as well, Chris D. Rucker and David Williams. So all those guys are capable of making plays.
It's just the point for our players is when you have an opportunity to make the play, if you make the play, you get noticed. Keshawn made plays on Saturday is what was noticed. He'll be an excellent player for us.
Q. Is there anything you have to do to make sure the backup runningbacks stay interested? Are there any morale issues there?
COACH DANTONIO: No, there's no morale issues. Those guys get opportunities every single week to come out and show what they've got. They want to win. This is a team game. They have opportunities to get on the field in other areas, in special teams. Everybody wants to carry the ball and to be the man. Hopefully they feel that way. I know they do. They get excited about their roles and opportunities.
But they haven't expanded as of yet. But it doesn't mean it won't happen this weekend or the next one or the next one. Everybody's waiting for an opportunity. When that opportunity comes, they need to deliver. I have a lot of confidence that all three of those guys, including A.J. Jimmerson, will have that opportunity.
Q. When people look at statistics for quarterback, there isn't one for dropped passes, which has been a problem this season. How do you address that in practice? Is it drills, talking about it? It has been an issue.
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think those guys have also made some great catches back there. You know, it's a game of inches. Sometimes the ball is slightly overthrown or under-thrown or the defender makes a nice play. A couple times we've had a couple drops.
But it's not a perfect world out there. I understand that. And the thing we need to focus on is the very next play. I have complete confidence - and I think our coaches do, too - in terms of our ability to catch the football.
So you go back. The number one thing to me is remain confident in what you're doing, shake it off, let's play the next play, because they've all made plays. It's the way the world works sometimes, I guess.
Q. Kendell Davis-Clark is on the depth chart. Do you expect Kendell to play some? How do you feel about that position now compared to in camp?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, when things happen, sometimes you start to look at a position and say, Hey, we need to move this guy, need to move that guy, because it becomes a position of -- a little bit of an area of concern. I think we've addressed that area by moving Kendell in there. Fortener has got a lot of reps all of a sudden. He's played very well. Otis has obviously played very well for the most part this season. So it now becomes a little bit more of a position of strength.
What we want to do with Kendell, where we want to play him becomes a luxury. I think the first thing he has to do is get back on the practice field, which he will do. So then we'll move from there.
Q. Now having your first road win and first Big-10 win of the season, what kind of momentum does that give the team going into this weekend?
COACH DANTONIO: Our football team's a confident football team I think, based on as you visit with them and everything. I think our offense is very confident. I think defensively this last week we were sort of thrown out of sorts a little bit. But prior to that we played pretty well.
So confidence is huge. That swings the momentum factor for you. If you're not a confident football team, you can't have a lot of momentum. But we play for the next game. You're never as bad as you think you are, and you're never as good as you think you are. You're somewhere in between. You continue to fight. And as I continually say, this program is in a progressive state. We're not there yet. We're a work in progress.
You know, we've got young players, and they need to step up. We've got guys that are asked to play different positions. They need to learn those positions and fall in and get to work.
So I think we're too early in the season, the Big-10 season, to say, do we have a lot of momentum, where are we at. But we'll play. That's the main thing. Will we have focus this week? Will we have attitude? We'll come to play, there's no doubt in my mind about that. If that's the momentum, we'll feed off our fans as well.
Q. Playing a team that's not a spread team, both teams have a similar style of play. When you're breaking down the film, looking at the film, how much do you have to evaluate how the team plays as opposed to talent in the system?
COACH DANTONIO: Big part of it. You have to look at the talent they have to play that concept, then you have to look at things conceptually and say, okay, these people, we do this against these people, we do this against these other teams.
I think Iowa is very similar, probably more similar to Cal and Notre Dame certainly than they would be to Indiana. So, you know, I don't think that's big news to anybody. Conceptually how we handle them is a huge thing for us offensively and defensively. They're different defensively as well.
Q. Last year, double overtime game, one of those games you lost by seven points, and you focused on that. I know the two teams are different this year. Is there any carry-over into this year where you can use this game as a measuring stick to how your team has progressed in finishing off other teams?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I think that there is. I think we have to look at it and say, first of all, as I said earlier, you always have to get to that point where you're able to finish the game. You know, you have to play well enough in the fourth quarter to be in that position at the end of the game.
But at the end of the game this year, you know, hopefully we draw some strength from what happened last year and will remain confident. Again, playing at home should be an added advantage for us.
Q. How big of a challenge is this game for your offensive line, particularly the tackles?
COACH DANTONIO: Big challenge. You know, Iowa is very stout up front. They're very well-coached up front. Their linebackers do a great job as well. Very disciplined football team. So it will be another huge challenge for us.
Q. Saturday was a game that obviously probably tested your patience, the team's patience, a lot of crazy plays. You touched on that afterward. Out of curiosity, where do you think you get your coaching style from? It seemed like you really try to control your emotions. There were moments that were tougher, more challenging than others. I think there were even some dropped passes that happened right in front of you.
COACH DANTONIO: I think, you know, you concentrate on the things you can change and have to leave alone the things you can't change. There's a bad call out there. If we don't get the safety, we think we should get the safety. Everybody is saying, Hey, throw the flag, challenge the call. I just said, Hey, they're going to get it right. They'll get it right. If there's any doubt, they'll replay it. They replayed it. You let people do their job.
Same thing as far as our players. If they make a mistake, you need to coach for the next play. I think that's the most important thing we can do as a football staff, is coach for the next play. That doesn't mean that you don't go back and try and fix what just happened, but I think the biggest thing is you don't want your players to lose confidence. It's got to start at the top. You know, if I become unglued, which is not to say I haven't, you've seen me when I have, but, you know, I think that your team responds accordingly. If I'm in a panic, our coaches are in a panic, we can't stop them, fretting about everything, you know, I think that trickles downhill. So you better remain vigilant and continue and try to coach for the next play and continue to coach confidently.
I don't know if I'm answering the question, but I know that's part of being a leader. Whether you're the guy calling the defenses or the offenses, the position coach, player on the field that's in a position of leadership, senior captain, all of us have to remain constant in that area.
Q. How good of a runningback is Shonn Greene? Would you compare him at all to Javon Ringer?
COACH DANTONIO: Different style. Very physical. Very good runningback. Breaks tackles, much like Javon does. Different style offensively than ours. They're a two-back run team but they don't use as much gap-type blocking as we do. But very good runningback. Outstanding, as I would say Javon is. So I guess they're similar.
Q. Marcus had some big plays on Saturday. To prevent that with someone like a Shonn Greene, how much do you focus on that this week to shut that down?
COACH DANTONIO: With no disrespect to Marcus, because I think he did an outstanding job, the thing that you have to talk about, was it us or them on those two plays. The bottom line is the ball shouldn't have been completed on the one. We're in position to make the play. All we have to do is knock the ball loose. And, number two, we don't fit the gap right. The guy runs 10-4, goes shooting up the middle, we jump outside with all of our secondary, playing a pass instead of a run. Opens up a huge gap. So was it us or was it them?
I'd like to think we could get a guy on the ground after 20 yards. Credit him and his speed and what he did, give him credit for that. But I also believe that, given those same situations, we make the play 19 out of 20 times.
Q. Knowing you don't like to talk about depth chart things too much.
COACH DANTONIO: I appreciate that (laughter).
Q. Since we have to ask, Brandon Long didn't start against Indiana. He's listed with Colin Neely. How is he doing?
COACH DANTONIO: He's doing okay. He's in a position where he can play, practice. But we had to hold him a little bit. He didn't get as much practice maybe last week. So we felt like we needed to hold him a little bit. Want to take precautions there. But he's not out.
So there, I gave you an injury report, which I shouldn't have done (laughter).
Q. But we don't know the injury.
COACH DANTONIO: Right.
Q. Obviously you're taking recruits to the center on Saturdays. I know you can't talk about them specifically. Talk about the feedback you're hearing from recruits now that the new building has been shown off a few times?
COACH DANTONIO: Very impressed. Much like when we walked in the first time, a little bit awestruck by the tradition and by the people that have come before them. I think they recognize the outstanding technology in there and the teaching environment as well.
With that being said, I do think that there needs to be a time, so many of our past players, our alumni want to get in there and see that. Right now, because the recruits are in there, they can't come in at the same time due to NCAA rules. So I think there needs to be something set up time-wise where we can make it available for a half hour or something, where they can get in there and see that, because I think it would be a good thing for them, especially on homecoming if we could do that, so...
Just had a thought (laughter).
Q. You've talked since you were hired how this is a special place. When you got off the bus, the students were there the other night, did you feel that as much as any time?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah. Did last year, too, after the Wisconsin game when we came back. It's a special place. Not many places where the basketball coach comes down to the football game. By the way, I let Coach Izzo or had Coach Izzo talk to our team before the game. But he takes the time. I how busy a head football coach, a head basketball coach is, that he would take the time to do that. Then the fact that our students would come out and be there and support like that. You know, you get off the bus. It humbles you. I hope our players understand how many people they represent - not just there, but all across Michigan, across this country. It's a humbling experience when people do that. Very much appreciated. That's why seeing our students out here on game day, you know, it's very impressive. It makes the difference. It makes a huge difference.
Q. Talking with Tom, he says you guys do a lot of recruiting together now. I know you probably can't get into specifics, but what is it like? What kind of things do you do together?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, there's some guys that look for an opportunity to play football and basketball. It's just an opportunity, an open window, to get involved in basketball if they're a football player. So we'll always give them that opportunity. If they're good enough to play, we'll give them that opportunity, providing their grades are good enough to be able to handle both. That's a huge time commitment.
Then the other thing is we have had so much success here, basketball, hockey, any time one of our recruits or young people can meet someone, Coach Comley, Coach Izzo, some of our other coaches, it just speaks to the family-type environment that we have here. They have an opportunity to meet the president of our university. They have an opportunity to meet Mark Hollis, some of the other people, Coach (indiscernible), some of the other people that are still around the university. Those people made this place. To be able to walk and talk to those people I think is impressive.
I know that Tom was very much involved in Keith Nichol, in recruiting him initially, then also was around in the second recruitment of him. Just that time that he spent with them, just that common ground that they had shared before made the difference. It's a great thing and much appreciated.
Q. There was a situation in that Indiana game where Indiana got penalized, took that touchdown away. How much do you address that situation after the game? The play didn't count, but that's a situation where it could have counted. Do you do much addressing of a situation like that?
COACH DANTONIO: Oh, yeah. It's a blow. It's a mental blow. It's one of the things we need to fix on the sideline. How did that happen? Why did that happen? Most definitely we broached that subject, okay? If I can stay calm at that point, then I'm good to go the rest of the year (laughter).
It was a coverage blow, you know. So we're very fortunate that it happened, but I think it was a hold, so... I'll go on record. He would have sacked the guy (laughter). Take 'em as it comes.
Q. I don't know if you can give an inch or two more on the Jenrette situation in terms of how much he's been around the team, what your conversations with him have been like?
COACH DANTONIO: No, not really.
Q. Not even half an inch?
COACH DANTONIO: Not even a quarter. I think that's a personal thing with him and myself. I wouldn't want to do that to him.
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