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MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY MEDIA CONFERENCE
October 21, 2008
COACH DANTONIO: Okay. The day we have all been waiting for has arrived, huh. You can fire questions at me.
Just to wrap up, Ohio State very quickly, obviously we didn't play very well, that well at all and give credit to Ohio State. They played very well. We need to tackle better, not turn the bawling over, etc., etc. And I think we have talked about that enough.
This is a 56th meeting of Paul Bunyan Trophy. When I was here before, as a coach, we had it in '95. We had it in '99. So I know how big it is it, not just in terms of how much it means to a program, but also, how big it is. And no pun intended, really, there wasn't.
And I know it's huge for our football team and for our program to be able to bring that home. Last year's game, 28-24, very emotional game, and obviously lost at the en. Give credit to Michigan, especially Chad Henne I felt in that game last year, he brought them back, and he deserves a lot of credit for that. But we played extremely hard and it was very frustrating to lose that football game.
I am proud of the way our football team played that game in terms of the emotion and the intensity that was put forth. I think the key to any big game is obviously mistakes, turnovers, mistakes. In other words, blowing out a coverage or not catching a big catch or whatever the case may be. Turning the football over, and then the ability to handle adversity I think will be key in this football game as well.
In regards to the off-field incidents that are being reported out there, I guess my only statement will be on that is we are cooperating with authorities and we are letting them handle that end of things. Our focus will be on Michigan. It needs to be.
Offensively right now, I think when you talk about Michigan, I think it's a program, much like we were last year, it's a program in transition. And you know, so there are changes, and any time there are changes, it affects a lot of people and changes sometimes create adjustment situations on the field, etc.
So offensively, they run the spread offense, no-huddle offense. I think they use sort of a two-quarterback system, with Threet and Sheridan; Threet being the dominant person there. I think McGuffie is an outstanding running back as well as Minor. They have skills at receiver. Offensive line is being retooled. Very good conceptually to be able to take advantage of things and if you watch them closely you'll see that they move the ball on everybody.
Defensively, nine starters back. Again, different defensive structure there. Much like ours in the case that actually Coach Schaeffer and Coach Narduzzi were on the Northern Illinois staff together, so there are similarities there. But nine starters back, physical football team, been able to stop the run at times, and will be a challenge for us.
Special teams, outstanding punting game, and you know, got good athletes. When you have good athletes, they show up in special teams, as well.
With that, I'll open up for questions and I can talk about more individuals or open it up and I think that's usually the best way and I'll try and guard my comments.
Q. You mentioned how they at times have been able to stop the run. Talk about the importance of establishing the run this week.
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think any football team wants to have balance. Even regardless of what you do, you need to try and have balance so that you can keep the other people off-balance in terms of how they are going to play you; in other words, against Northwestern if they can't run the ball, you're going to drop eight, etc. So they have got to be able to run it. They throw it very effectively.
For us, it's about balance and not having mistakes. It's about field position. It's about putting the ball in our best players' hands, which most teams do. And that's how we'll look at it.
Q. The fact that you coached against Rich Rodriguez at West Virginia when you were at Cincinnati, how will that familiarity of the system help you?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, it certainly helps in the fact that at least we have competed against and we at least know the tempo and some of the things that they have done back then.
You know, whether they are able to continue to do those, so early in his stay at Michigan, remains to be seen how they play us. I'm sure some things will change in terms of how they play us, and they were very effective at West Virginia versus Cincinnati.
Again very good conceptually and a lot of people have borrowed from the things that he has done across the nation. So he's an excellent football coach.
Q. Do you feel like there's more pressure on you in this game than the normal Michigan/Michigan State game just because you're 6-2 and they are 2-5; do you feel like there's a little different approach psychologically because of the seasons both teams are having?
COACH DANTONIO: I look at it as a football coach, you deal with your own football team and get them ready to play. There's no more pressure this week than there is any other week. There's more emotion but there's pressure any time you go play, there's pressure.
So again, I can't measure elation or disappointment. I know I'm very disappointed on Sunday. But I've been disappointed before, very much so.
So to say it's a big game, yeah, it's a big game. It's a game we point to all season long because it is a rivalry game. I expect our players to be emotionally ready for every football game.
Q. You said you'll guard your comments; you spoke very emotionally last year on Monday after the game, do you regret reacting like that, and does the little brother line still gall you a little bit?
COACH DANTONIO: No, I do not regret talking like that. You know, big brother is watching, so I don't know.
Q. Have you selected a captain and alumni captain for this week?
COACH DANTONIO: Yes, Sherm Lewis will be our captain, Sherman Lewis, and very happy to have him down there and he'll do an outstanding job with our football team.
This is painless.
Q. So far.
COACH DANTONIO: So far.
Q. How much do comments, do actions play a part in this game this year?
COACH DANTONIO: Do actions -- I think actions play a lot. Actions on the football field.
Q. How much do words play?
COACH DANTONIO: Oh, you know, words I guess they can motivate at times. But I always think that in the course of a game, the actions begin to motivate.
You know, it doesn't really matter what I say to our football team or what somebody else says or all that stuff that went on last year. That doesn't really matter, because when you start to play the game, what happens in the game takes over and you have to be able to respond and play off blocks, block people, catch the ball, etc., and that takes over.
It's a tough environment to play in because it's away; it's an away game. But I think that all of that stuff is sort of window dressing. When you get right down to it, you'd better be able to run and tackle and do the things that need to be done to win the football game, hold on to the football, etc.
Q. In preparing for this, will you remind your team of the little brother comment?
COACH DANTONIO: Of course. Of course I will. We'll use what we got.
Q. Last year you had the count down clock, you had the things in the windows, beat Michigan and that kind of stuff. I don't know if they are hidden or not evident to us anymore or they are completely gone. Are they are; why not?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, they took the trainers out of there so Coach Enos's window had that on there.
I've said many times, we use a countdown clock for our next focus, our next goal, whatever that is. And during the off-times of the year where there is not that immediate focus, for me to put up there in December or in January, spring ball, 72 days away; doesn't really get their attention maybe that puts 'beat Michigan X number of days.'
So that's why that's there. Many places have those clocks. I've seen them other places in the state. And so I mean, you know, it's no big deal. You know, it's a clock that's trying to just stay focused on the next thing and hopefully subliminally when you walk by it, it's just a reminder.
Q. Considering you said you'll use whatever you have to motivate your team, is there a sense your team feels like they are disrespected? Obviously what happened last year with the comment, but over the weekend, Brandon Grant from their team stated: You know what, basically I can't ever see us losing to that school, Michigan State. And yesterday the Michigan players said, you know what, if I was a Spartan -- (indiscernible) -- it is bulletin board material. So I don't know how you feel about that, or how your team takes that or if they do feel disrespected?
COACH DANTONIO: Pretty soft bulletin board material to me, soft. You know, and I say that, it's not a deliberate antagonistic -- that's fine. I don't see that really as big material.
You know, guys need to be ready to play, whatever motivates them. That's not an issue to me on that end of things. That's not quite -- I don't equate -- I don't know if I'm answering that right. I don't take any offense to that; nor do I think any of our players. It's just getting ready for the next -- just understanding that this next game is important for both programs.
Q. Not trying to get to you say anything you don't want to say, but the fact that there's an off-the-field investigation; the fact that you're coming off one of your worst losses in your career; the fact that it's Michigan week, how do you keep things in order? How do you keep things under control and is this one of the more challenging weeks in your time as a coach?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, yeah, it's challenging, because of those three things. You know, very disappointing, Ohio State game. Very disappointing for our fans and thought we would have shown better.
Now were we going to win the game, based on what I saw, we would have had to not make mistakes, and they would have had to make some. So that was disappointing in that respect.
Then to have an incident, that's disappointing, obviously. And then to have to play Michigan to have to get your focus back. But that's what we have to do and that's what my job is. That's what our players -- so it's going to be fine. Good question, though. Not baiting at all.
Q. The fact that Michigan State has not had much success against Michigan, whether it's at home or on the road --
COACH DANTONIO: I knew this one was coming around.
Q. Do you have to address that fact just because it's been a long drought for success on either venue?
COACH DANTONIO: You want me to really go there?
COACH DANTONIO: There's a lot of people that haven't won at Michigan. They found a way to win. So we'll have to find a way to win.
Q. When we're talking about comments and what the players over there are saying, do you all talk to your players about being careful what they say, or do you go through anything so that there isn't bulletin board material, so to speak, the other way around?
COACH DANTONIO: I'd like to think our players are going to try to handle this in a mature way, but their coach sometimes didn't. So sometimes I guess that you get going and it's hard to pull it back. But I would like to think they would handle it in a classy way.
Q. A lot of teams, Oregon, Utah, Toledo, Appalachian State have gone this there and won --
COACH DANTONIO: Say that again.
Q. Absolutely. Oregon, Utah, Toledo, Appalachian State. So when you hear this, are you going to go down and win, at some point, it's not like it's Darth Vadar is guarding the place. Talk about how people seem to make more out of that than what it is.
COACH DANTONIO: Would you repeat that question? (Laughter). We'll just let it go.
We need to play well when we go away from home wherever we play. It's a tough environment to play in any Big Ten stadium. And Ohio State got it done up here, certainly played very well. It's happened in this stadium, and we need to be able focus on what needs to happen for us to win and that's the bottom line.
All of this other stuff is just sideshows, and it's just window dressing, like I said. Our focus needs to be on what we have to do to beat Michigan. It will be a challenge for us. They will be ready emotionally, I'm sure we'll be ready emotionally, and it should be a great game.
Q. Unless you talk about focusing on what you have to do to beat Michigan, it doesn't seem like you worry about the hype or the meaning of it distracting players, it's almost like you feel it will help; is that fair to say and is that something you learned over the course of your career?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I think so. For me, these are the games -- the reason we put a clock out there is that these are the games we should look forward to, not dread. These are games where they talk about them after the fact regardless of who wins. I'm sure they will talk about last year's game. I'm sure they will. And things that were said after.
But these are the things that you should look forward to right where the games are meant to be that. Everybody in the state gets excited and anybody who likes football in the State of Michigan is probably a little bit at least curious about this. That's the way it should be. So that's why there should be extra focus because it should be exciting for you.
And at the end of the day, whether you're a senior or whether you're a freshman or whether you've coached here, you're going to measure some of your success on winning or losing. Some of it, you're going to measure that, and I'm sure they don't want to lose and, I'm sure that our guys want to win this one in this case, because I think I've heard that they haven't lost, and I think I've heard that we haven't won.
So there's a measuring stick there and we want to measure up, and those are things that you talk about later in life. That's what makes sport great.
Q. First year for Rich Rodriguez' program, second year for yours, obviously both programs somewhat in transition. How important is this game, do you think, in terms of perception and also recruiting moving forward and making a statement either way?
COACH DANTONIO: Sure, it's always very important in that aspect. But I also think that people tend to choose up a little bit way before high school. That also -- you know, recruiting is about relationships, too. It goes beyond just who won that particular game. I think it does go beyond that.
Q. After going through the rivalry last year, is there anything that you learned that maybe you would do different this time around, or is everything still exactly the same way that you will do this year as you did last year?
COACH DANTONIO: No pun intended. But we were up by ten with seven minutes to go. And you know what, it wasn't over. And it still is not over. How's that. Can I end it with that?
Okay. They obviously came back and won. Didn't throw in the towel. And I think there's a message there for all of us. That's the way it should be.
Q. You've talked about credibility and restored that and you've also talked about your fan base, but do you think the ultimate credibility even outside your fan base comes with beating Michigan?
COACH DANTONIO: I said the first time in one of our first talks that I ever had when I came here, that we are going to measure up. And I think that that is -- I think that is a measuring stick for us.
And I'm not afraid to sit here and say that. I'm not going to sit here and say, hey, listen if we lose to those guys, it doesn't matter. It does matter. It matters to a lot of people.
And as I said earlier, that's the way it should be. At least that's my take on it. It's the same as the Ohio State/Michigan game. It matters. And that's the way it should be; or the Texas/Oklahoma game, that matters; or the Clemson/South Carolina game, that matters; or any other rival game throughout this country, they matter. That's the way it should be. That's what makes college sports great. That's what keeps people pushing and that's what keeps people excited, and that's a good thing.
I think that you know, in this day and age, people need things to get them excited. Everybody goes through tough times. There's tough times on the football field. There's tough times that people go through in this country right now in all areas of their life. So there is a release, and I think that's a positive thing.
So we'll get ready to go and we'll be focused and our guys will be excited. And I can't wait to get to practice today, and I can't wait to have the team meeting today and we'll get our guys going, so thanks a lot.
End of FastScripts