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MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY MEDIA CONFERENCE
October 14, 2008
COACH DANTONIO: Very quickly, recapping Northwestern, I thought it was an outstanding team win for us, a lot of people got to play; 59 out of 70, as I said earlier. So many different things happened that allowed us to be successful, but I think the number one thing that we were able to do was believe that we could play mentally sharp the entire game and respond. That was the story line going into that game.
Ohio State comes to Spartan Stadium this Saturday, both 6 and 1, should be a very exciting game, not just for our players but for our fans and Ohio State fans alike. I think obviously there's some story lines involved. I'm from Ohio originally, I've coached at Ohio State, graduate assistant there. We have, I think, 24 players from Ohio, as well. We have various staff members from Ohio. We recruit Ohio. We have committed recruits that are all ready for this next class from Ohio.
So I think the thing is that that gives us a little bit more preparation, a little bit more attention to detail when you play against someone like that. Certainly it did when I was here before for six years. Every time we played Ohio State, it was a little bit more emotion, there was a little bit more preparation, a little bit more attention to detail, and it made the game a little bit more exciting if you can believe it. Sometimes it seems like you go the extra mile every single game, but it'll be an exciting time for us.
As far as Ohio State's offense, Pryor gives them another weapon in the backfield, certainly a very capable, exciting runner, he's passing much better. I think the other quarterback, Todd Boeckman, is a guy who was All-Big Ten last year, First Team All-Big Ten, 25 touchdowns, led the conference in passing efficiency. So in the event that they would decide to go in that direction, he is more than capable, and he played very well against us last year.
Offensive line, other than a freshman starting at center, which is the key position, is all back intact. I think Bryant Browning, the left tackle, is only a sophomore, but they have three starters back. Tight ends are back, running backs are back, wide receivers are back, so offensively a lot of experience, a lot of success in the past, and a lot of guys that play at a high level of excellence.
As far as their defense, again, almost everybody back. I believe nine starters are back. Outstanding secondary, linebackers run very well. Laurinaitis is an outstanding player. Defensive ends, very firm; defensive tackles, as well. Very good defensive team, react, explosive, close on the ball.
Special teams are solid. Trapasso and the kicker are both back, good athletes running down the field, and they're a very well-coached football team. Obviously a lot of coaches are still there that were there when I was there.
I think the key to the game will be execution certainly, attention to detail, need to play mistake-free. And I think the other thing that is very important is we need to play with excitement, and if you're coming to this game on Saturday, you need to bring that with you and stay the course. I think that's key, too; in a game like this you need to stay the course and make sure that you don't get ahead of yourself or behind yourself in either respect.
With that, I'll take questions, and we'll just take it from there.
Q. At the Big Ten media days Coach Tressel told me both schools -- Michigan is kind of a better battle, but this one he said is not as enjoyable because there are such close ties. Do you feel the same way, not as enjoyable, simply because there's so many ties?
COACH DANTONIO: This is the fourth time we've played them since I've been a head coach, so I sort of enjoy playing Ohio State. I always did when I was here before. I don't enjoy playing people that are close friends, I guess, but I enjoy playing against a football team that is from where I grew up or a football team from where I used to coach.
So I do enjoy that because I think that you get an opportunity to impact your people that know you, I guess, is the best thing I can say. I tried to explain that the other day; when you're from Michigan and you play in the state of Michigan, there's a certain amount of enthusiasm and emotional ties that come with that, and I think the same thing can be said for Ohio. Our players from Ohio will be very motivated to play.
That's the case whether you're at Minnesota playing Ohio State or whether you're probably at Oklahoma playing Texas. I think that just goes with the way the world is made up.
I get excited to play, or coach, I guess I would say, and it'll be a great challenge for us.
Q. With Beanie Wells, Terrelle Pryor, guys capable of doing a lot of damage on the ground, are you worried at all about your run defense or certain things that have to be done there to prevent big plays?
COACH DANTONIO: We have to prevent big plays, there's no doubt about that. That's whether it's by the run or by the pass. We have to tackle effectively in space. It's gap football. You know, you have to defend your gap and you have to be in the right place relative to the defense that you've called.
But that's the nature of it in every single game that we play. You know, we're still a work in progress; we're still learning; we're playing a lot of players. We play some young players. But on the flipside of that, our guys are making plays, too. We're making enough plays to be successful in the end. We have the number one red zone defense in the conference right now, which when you look at it as a coach, it just means that your players are developing confidence in my mind, and they're figuring it out that they can win when their backs are up against the wall. And when those things happen, I think you have a chance.
Q. With Boeckman as quarterback, basically just a straight dropback quarterback, you don't have to worry about the run as much, but with Pryor you have to watch for a guy who really excels at the run and does a pretty good job of passing. How much extra preparation do you have to do for a guy like Pryor?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, you certainly have a lot of -- there are a lot of things that he can do that present problems for an offense. I think we're fortunate we have a guy like Keith Nichol here who can simulate that type of ability in terms of being a running quarterback and a throwing quarterback with our scout team, and you know, we'll devise certain drills to allow him to improvise to do some of those things. So it's not the real deal, but we can try and simulate it as best we can.
I guess in answer to your question, we have to play to a high level. You may have everything perfectly defended down the field, and he may take it, tuck it and make a play. That's what being a quarterback, being able to take a bad play, make it a good play, is all about in my mind, and he can do that. I've seen Boeckman do that, as well, in a different way, and I think everybody quarterback does it in a different way. Brian Hoyer does it in a different way, as well.
Q. Speaking of Brian Hoyer, I'm assuming that they're going to try to stop Ringer as much as possible; it just makes sense. This is a big moment for Hoyer. Can you just talk about him, and is he ready for this challenge against Ohio State?
COACH DANTONIO: I think he's very ready for the challenge. This is a big game for all of our players. Ringer is from Ohio, Hoyer, Otis Wiley from Flint, wherever. This is a big football game for us. I don't think that we want to downplay this in any respect, just like next week's game and the next week's game and the next week's game. They're all big coming down the stretch. We've gotten ourselves into this situation where you're 6 and 1, we're 3 and 0, so every game means something to us.
As far as is Brian Hoyer ready, Brian Hoyer has been ready every single game this season, and there's no doubt that, again, more preparation, more attention to detail, a high level of excitement, all those things, he'll experience the same, and I'm sure he'll be very excited and ready to play.
Q. There was a lot of buildup last year because of your friendship with Coach Tressel in last year's meeting. As a first-year coach last year and with your players, what do you think you've gained from that meeting in Columbus last year knowing you guys had to get some turnovers and make a competitive game? You did make it a competitive game for the most part.
COACH DANTONIO: Well, you never quit, but in terms of playing against Coach Tress, like I said, this is the fourth time. 0 and 3 (laughter). So you learn a little something more every year. This is the first time we'll play at home, home stadium, so that will be exciting for us.
You know, you spend three years in one place, you spend five years at another place, you spend another two years at another place with a person, you get to know that person. That person also gets to know you. So I think there's -- it goes both ways there in terms of do we know what he's going to call.
I know he likes to break tendencies, so who knows what he'll call. Maybe he'll break a tendency and do the same thing that he did before, to break a tendency. He breaks tendencies. I don't know (laughter). So there's all those things going on, I guess.
Q. You mentioned emotion. In a game like this can emotion get in the way of execution at times? Is that any kind of a concern? And do you think your team is better at staying even-keel, highs and lows, in games?
COACH DANTONIO: No, I've always thought that you bring -- I've always thought you need to come prepared for a football game emotionally. You need to be excited. You need to be on the verge of a rage, as Coach Bowman used to say. And that's the way the game is played, and you need to be very alert.
But you've got to bring excitement to the game. Our fans will give us that, our student section will give us that, the situation will give us that. It will not be easy. Some people think that we've arrived all of a sudden, but we have to play every single game, whether it's this game or the next game or the next game. Every single game is a challenge for us, and I would expect that that's the same case for everybody in America right now the way I look around the country and see what happens on every given Saturday. You'd better be ready to go.
Q. Chris Wells was quoted as saying he wants to see Terrelle Pryor pass more. How much of an effect do you think a road game for Pryor will have an effect on him being a young freshman quarterback?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, he played very well in the Wisconsin game and won the game for them. Took them down to the last six minutes, so I think he's ready to play on the road. It takes a special kind of guy to play as a freshman in any position.
They have a true freshman quarterback and a true freshman center playing right in the heart of their offense, so that's a huge statement for those two young men, not just in terms of their ability but in terms of their maturity as people. They're to be congratulated for that.
Q. As much as many people think you've arrived, I guess the other side is some cynics think this is where Michigan State does the fold, mid-October on. You can't account for before you came back here, but because that's been your history and you point to it so much, do you address that with your players as motivation, not just for this game but for the rest of the season?
COACH DANTONIO: No, I don't address that. I think we as a coaching staff, the first thing we want to impress upon our players when we first got here, and I've said it before, is we were playing for respect, for a certain amount of respect that was lost for one reason or another, and maybe we've gained back some of that respect. And now we have to continue to take the next steps in building that foundation, and I've said before, you know, there's going to be times where you take a step up and two steps back and another step up or two steps up and one step back, I don't know. I get confused on those things.
But I think that's the way a program is built; there's going to be experiences that you go through, positive and negative, that you're going to learn from. We need to take lessons from every opportunity.
I don't know if I'm answering the question or not, but the bottom line is regardless of what happens, if we play hard and we come to play and we play with excitement and we play loose, et cetera, we'll all be able to handle what happens. I hope our fans understand that.
We're playing a very good Ohio State team. I'd like to think we're a pretty good football team right now, so we'll see. We're coming to play.
Q. Because Glenn Winston is a different type of runner than your other backs and because he runs with so much power, have you given any thought to setting up a one-two punch, a change-up like he had last year from Jehuu?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, we've given some thought to it. We have some other backs that are very capable, so we'll see. But we've given it some thought.
Q. Can you talk about this season and last season, the way that you became Bowl eligible, and which way do you prefer it? Are there disadvantages to becoming Bowl eligible this early in the season?
COACH DANTONIO: I can't see one (laughter). Last year I guess you'd describe it as we were over in that corner over there trying to get Bowl eligible, and this year we're standing at a podium Bowl eligible. So there's the difference. We played our last two games in a corner fighting to gain respect and to make it there. Thus far at least we've got our sixth win; that's a guarantee. There are no guarantees beyond that, absolutely none. Our players understand that. I hope they understand that. We talk about it a lot.
We play these things one at a time, and the bottom line is our seniors have -- this week is about over; it's Tuesday, at least in my mind. Saturday will be here very quickly, so we'll have four weeks left after this weekend for our seniors that are guaranteed. So we need to make the most of those and focus on the moment and deal with whatever comes down our path.
Q. I know that Brian had talked about working checks into the game and being able to call more at the line of scrimmage. How much more has that been done this year as opposed to last year, and how does that kind of work for him?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, he's done that last year, as well, and he does it this year, so it's very common for him. It's part of the system conceptually. Sometimes there's a pass to be thrown and there's a check to run the football. Sometimes it's the opposite. Sometimes it's different things. But that happens, and then there are other occasions where that does not happen where the play is just called.
We try and keep people off balance in that way, but that's part of a system that he has a great grasp for, and he has the flexibility and the freedom to do that and the trust by the coaches to be able to do that.
Q. On paper it appears that you're playing a team that has more talent than you and maybe more guys who are NFL-ready than your team. Can you address that at all, that you're playing a team that maybe just has more talent than you?
COACH DANTONIO: I think our players understand we're playing against a good football team. But you know, as far as talent, NFL talent, et cetera, et cetera, maybe we should call Devin Thomas and ask him how he's doing. Here's a guy who was not on the radar coming into last year and he's playing in the NFL now. Right there out on that field you can make or break what you want to do, and that's an opportunity for everybody.
We've got some guys that will play at a high level. They're younger players, there are older players, they'll come and play at a high level, and that's what's exciting about football. You just never know, but there are opportunities out there, and there will be opportunities on Saturday. They'll have the media exposure.
Q. Greg Jones says if you have to get hyped to play in the Big Ten, you don't belong there. He says it's a lot about the fans and the players. Do you kind of agree with that assessment and let the players kind of take that lead?
COACH DANTONIO: I think it's everybody's choice, every individual player's choice, how motivated they are to play in a game, and everybody is different. Why does a team come out flat? Why does a team come out energized? That's a very hard thing. How can a team play through adversity? How does adversity affect another team? That's tough to measure. Sometimes you don't know how you get it.
I think it has to come from within. I think the only thing that we can do as coaches -- I can stand up here and pound the table and yell and scream and make a big scene, and maybe I affect five guys or ten guys for two, three, four, five minutes. What we're trying to do is affect each player's heart one at a time, and that's something you build just like a program. And when you're able to do that, then it's lasting, and that's what we're trying to do, affect each player to get themselves ready for themselves every single game.
I like our players; I like the way we've prepared; I like our focus. I've said that all along. That started occurring last year.
Q. I asked you a question about whether or not it was luck or for the lack of turnovers how you do so well. But if every staff, and your staff included, preaches don't turn the ball over, protect the ball, why are you so successful in preventing turnovers if you're coaching it and every other staff is doing it?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think that Coach Enos, Coach Treadwell, Coach Warner, Coach Staten, all the guys who handle people with the ball, they first of all do an outstanding job in terms of making that important in every single practice. So it's a responsibility that they carry with them, much like every coach in America does. I guess you call it ownership, responsibility.
We've done a good job taking that responsibility and that ownership of that football. It's going to bounce some ways. It's like that; it bounces every which way sometimes. There's some of that going on, I'm sure.
But I don't know, I guess if you're not coaching it, you're letting it happen. That's what Nick would say.
Q. Can you go into why the state of Ohio has been such a hotbed for recruiting? The amount of players you have on your team, other than Ohio State, I don't think even like a Michigan or Penn State has that many from Ohio.
COACH DANTONIO: Well, first of all, I coached at Ohio State, I recruited Ohio when I was here at Michigan State for six years, and obviously I coached at Youngstown State at one point in time. Then I coached at Cincinnati, and we brought eight coaches from Cincinnati. So it's about relationships, first of all. We have relationships with coaches in Ohio just like we do in Michigan.
The second thing is that we tracked -- really ever since I was at Ohio we tracked how many players would come out of Ohio and play at the BCS level. You know, varying degrees, but right around 70 BCS players out of Ohio every year, and about 144 Division I-A players -- notice I said 144, not 140, okay, but every year that are just Division I football players.
So there's a lot of population there with the big cities, there's a lot of major minor cities like Toledo and Akron/Canton and Youngstown and Dayton that play good football, and I just think the population base, the coaching in that state, you have more players. I like to recruit players that are close to -- as close as we can to Michigan State, so Michigan is our number one priority.
I think that's been seen in our recruiting these last two years, and probably Ohio, Chicago, Indiana is our second priority. We have a lot of relationships in Ohio. So those guys are able to come to camps, we're able to see them play in person, and I think that when you do that, you have a chance to make good decisions on players.
Regardless of how many people an individual is recruited by, when you see them play, when you see his good plays, his bad plays, when you see his personality, when you know his coach, when you know everything about him, I think you get a guy that's dependable. Are they more dependable? Not saying that, but you know what you're getting a little bit more.
Q. As a follow-up to that, I don't have your bio in front of me and I never asked, were you born and raised in Ohio?
COACH DANTONIO: I was born in El Paso, Texas.
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, but we moved after one year.
Q. A good part of your youth was in Ohio?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, Zanesville, Ohio.
Q. When you were a nobody, before you were a coach, were you an Ohio State fan, a Woody Hayes admirer?
COACH DANTONIO: I hate to even tell you what I was.
Q. Tell me, please.
COACH DANTONIO: I was an NFL fan is what I was (laughter). Because back then if you guys remember, there were only three stations that you grew up with, right, and there was one game on TV about every Saturday, and I was not an Ohio State fan. I just watched NFL games on Sunday.
Q. What did you watch on Saturday?
COACH DANTONIO: No, really, I worked on Saturdays.
Q. Were you a Michigan fan?
COACH DANTONIO: No, I was not. I did have a cousin that played there, though. That's as close as I got. Notre Dame fan.
End of FastScripts