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MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY MEDIA CONFERENCE
November 4, 2008
COACH DANTONIO: Just real quickly, recapping Wisconsin very quickly, I think we talked about it Sunday night, but found a way to win; somehow, someway we got it done, and I think that's something that we can build on from a confidence standpoint, and I appreciate our fans staying in there and hanging in there throughout the entire game, because with nine minutes to go, 11 down, some might have left. But I don't think anybody left, and they kept pushing.
Great game by Hoyer, Blair White; I thought Charlie Gantt played very well; defensively, Greg Jones, another ten tackles plus; Swenson had another huge game; and we're excited to get the win and we move on to Purdue University.
In regards to Purdue, Coach Tiller is an outstanding coach, great person, great mentor, I think, for his players, and an outstanding coaching career.
Probably not where they want to be right now in terms of a won-lost record, but I think that can be very deceiving when you look at them as a football team. They've lost close games, they've lost games at the end. They won one last week at the end, much like Wisconsin had done the week before. They got their Big Ten win and are now moving. But there's great parity in this conference.
I think they've found another quarterback in Justin Siller, very electrifying, very exciting quarterback, run-pass guy, can take a bad play and make it a good one. Whether Painter plays or not is really an unknown. Greg Orton at wide receiver, 54 catches, almost 900 yards. Kory Sheets, running back, almost 1,000 yards, I think he's about 70 short of 1,000 yards. So very, very dangerous football team, good football team, very well coached.
Defensively, Heygood is their top tackler, I think, and Pender top defensive back, breaking up passes. But they're going to challenge us. Brock Spack, defensive coordinator, I've known Brock for a long time, and he does an excellent job.
In addition to that, I think there's two things I'd like to talk about real quickly in regards to the Purdue game. One is it's an opportunity for our fans to bring a canned good to the games. I think it's important to note that. The food banks around mid-Michigan are empty right now, and I've never really gone out of my way and asked for anything from this program at this point, and I would just ask our fans to please bring something and just try and make a little bit of a difference for people. I think it's that time of a year getting near Thanksgiving when we all have something we can give back a little bit. So I think if we did that, it would be very much appreciated.
The other thing is our seniors. It's our seniors' last home game. It's our last home game for our seniors. Real quickly, I just want to run through those guys and just give basically one word or one phrase on each of these guys because all 16 of these guys have played a big part, I think, in this program, in this 8-and-2 season, and in this program last year, as well.
I'll just go through them sort of alphabetically. Ryan Allison makes a transition from wide receiver where he made some big plays last year, if you remember the Indiana game and the Penn State game in particular, and all special teams, makes the transition to outside backer and responds with two big games thus far, Michigan game and really the Northwestern game, does an outstanding job for us.
Mike Bacon, a guy who can play a variety of positions for us and has numerous starts here, non-scholarship player who earned a scholarship from Lansing Catholic, just goes about his work every single day, extremely tough.
Mike Bell, see him on all the special teams, a guy that's been in and out of things a little bit in terms of on the field. Played scout team, still plays scout team some, does whatever he's asked to do, but you notice him out there on different things, on rangers on our kickoff team in different areas, our kickoff return team, does a great job.
Todd Boleski. Not many people in this day and age can kick the ball 70 yards. You saw him kick it 80 yards last Saturday. Huge weapon for us, just in terms of his kickoff ability, and will be missed next year. We need to find a replacement for him in that regard, but a guy who came here as a non-scholarship player and the last two years we put him on scholarship, so there's opportunity there.
Deon Curry, a guy who's been hampered by injuries this year with a bad back and then a hamstring, finally played last week really regularly for the first time, totally committed to this program and extremely tough, and we'll see him play more and more as the season progresses.
Matt Haughey, backup kicker, and Matt actually was the kicker, I believe, at some point during the '06 season, but very, very dependable and has stayed with it throughout.
Dwayne Holmes, fullback, tight end, played all-scout team last year as a junior after being a starter here. He could have very easily moved on but stayed the course and now he's playing regularly on our defense and doing a great job. Will graduate, as well.
Brian Hoyer, I think, has distinguished himself this last week and the last two weeks as a quarterback who has won here and done something that not many quarterbacks can say that they've done; he's won at Michigan. And I think he distinguishes himself and puts himself in a position to be one of the great quarterbacks that Michigan State has had here because of an 8-and-2 season at this point, because of a Bowl game last year. But is really, really playing well, and really, a lot of the credit from last week's game goes to Brian Hoyer, the way he performed.
Justin Kershaw, made the transition from defensive end, another one of our captains along with Brian, transitioned to defensive tackle and just does whatever he can do, plays with pain, plays with a stinger every now and then, but very, very dependable player and has been a vital part I think in the development of our entire program.
Brandon Long, having his best year as a Spartan, and you've seen him play against Michigan and various -- Northwestern and some other places, just gives you the guy that can run down people, plays with a high motor.
Roland Martin, starting for his third straight year on the right side, very dependable, physical.
Jeff McPherson, another non-scholarship player who was moved to fullback when we didn't have a fullback in the entire program and made the move. We put him on scholarship, and he's basically a starter for us. He's had some huge plays and always plays a lot of time at the point of attack.
Jesse Miller, right tackle, third year as a starter, extremely dependable, very talented, gives us another person besides role and to anchor our right side of our offensive line.
Javon Ringer, a Spartan warrior, does everything for us throughout the entire program from leadership, again, another captain, to his playing ability on the field.
Kyle Smith, special teams player throughout, and a guy who's been a non-scholarship player and has maintained a great attitude and has traveled on this football team for three years.
Otis Wiley, another captain, big-play guy. He's played a variety of positions for us, both safety to start, which is the nickelback, and punt returner, and just has excelled at almost everything he's done.
Those are our 16 seniors. I think when you talk about those guys, you'll see that those guys will all be missed, every one of them will be missed in this program, and we appreciate what they've done. This is their last time coming out in Spartan Stadium. Hopefully we're very, very motivated to play and they're motivated to play against Purdue University.
With that I'll just open it up for questions and we'll go from there.
Q. Last year your team was in a situation where you were playing to get Bowl eligible or to guarantee a Bowl. What's it like playing against a team that is facing elimination or to become Bowl eligible, kind of like what Wisconsin was last week?
COACH DANTONIO: I think you become a very, very dangerous football team when you're in that situation. Last year we went to Purdue, and it was, hey, whatever we need to do. We faked a punt, we faked a field goal attempt. Whatever we had to do, we were willing to do it. You're playing away, you're playing in a situation where, you know, everything is sort of stacked against you, much like we did last year. I remember seeing last year that we were going to lose to Purdue 52-2 by some columnist, and I think every columnist picked us to lose.
I remember when I walked in the hotel there that we were staying at, the manager says, We're expecting a good game from you guys tomorrow. We think maybe you guys will give us a good game.
So I think when things are stacked up against you, you raise up a little bit. Purdue found themselves a player in sophomore Justin Siller. Last week he made a lot of plays for them. They've got great skill at wide receiver, they've got great skill at the running back position, they're physical up front, and on defense, you know, they'll run around and make plays. They're active. They played very well against Ohio State.
If you look at them and start watching the games, the thing that they've done is they've turned the ball over, and that's when they've lost the games.
Q. I wonder if you could talk about what Joe Tiller has meant to the Big Ten.
COACH DANTONIO: I was here when Coach Tiller came into the conference, right here, 1996, I believe, 1997. Actually we went to Purdue and lost a game when we were up by 11 with two minutes to go. He transformed this conference into a spread conference in a lot of ways. That was the first time I think that I can remember -- now, I wasn't in the conference prior to '95, but where the term "basketball on grass" and all that type of thing, all the bubbles, the Vinny Sutherlands, all the people they've had, the (Taylor) Stubblefields, the quarterbacks they've had, Drew Brees, the success that they've had as a program can all be traced back to what Coach Tiller has done. He's won everywhere he's been. He's won at Wyoming prior to that.
I think he's an outstanding person, and he's got a pulse on his football team at all times. He's a guy that expects to win and is never in a panic mode. When you have a coach like that as a fellow coach, as a person that watches how others handle themselves, you know, you develop a -- I guess I can't really say the word I'm trying to think of here because I'm at a press conference, but you just start to like the way he coaches and admire him for those things.
Q. Trevor Anderson, he seems to be, at least publicly, one of the most passionate guys on this team. He seems to really enjoy what's happened here, what he's gone through, what the team has gone through, a season like this. You've known him for a while. How has he helped you in this whole transition phase?
COACH DANTONIO: Trevor came here last year. I think he has a passion for what's going on here because he paid a price to be able to play here. He passed 47 hours in one year's time, that's semester hours, when the norm is 24 hours. He transferred, he had to sit out, he wasn't on scholarship the first semester.
Usually when you pay a price, you know, when you finally reach those goals, they're very satisfying and they give you a passion. And I think that's what he's done.
I think he brings a little bit of a sense of how we do things to our football team that even though last year he was playing on the scout team, you know, he still had been with us for two years. He had been with Coach Gill for two years, and so when somebody would ask him, hey, why is he doing this, at least he had maybe an answer. So there was at least a little bit of knowledge there in terms of how we did things. We appreciate his efforts very much, his attitude.
Q. With Purdue winning their game against Michigan with the trick play at the end, how do you prepare your team to look out for gadget plays because they're a team that uses quite a few of those?
COACH DANTONIO: Basically what we have is a history when we look at particular teams, and I'm a little bit of a pack rat so I keep old books, old scouting reports and stuff, so you look at their past a lot and you look to see what trick plays that they have.
In the age of computers here, you actually have all the P and 10s. In other words, the first play of every series that they run, you have a cutup of that, and you also have a trick play cutup. So you watch all their trick plays. You have some periods where you have trick play periods, where you may run them all just to get them on film and then talk through them, and then you also sprinkle them in during team. But he'll have some that we haven't seen.
I remember that '97 game, they had the double reverse pass back to the wide receiver that faked a block and rolled on the ground and got up and caught it. Hopefully they don't run that one (laughter). He's got a whole bag of them, and we'll look for all those. But we need to be able to play them. But the biggest thing I think you have to be able to play is very disciplined football when you're playing against a team that does so many things well.
Q. After the Wisconsin game, some of the seniors talked about keeping emotions in check this week, but they also talked about it being just a special season. How will emotions play out for them in preparation for this game, it being their last home game?
COACH DANTONIO: I think that we'll get everything that our seniors have. I think it'll be a very emotional time not just for them but for their families, as well, and I think that's a good thing.
Now, I keep saying that that's all we're addressing because when you get on the field, the game on the field starts to move your emotions one way or the another, and the crowd helps in that area. But I do think preparation will be very, very good. I would expect it to be very good.
We have a lot to play for, and not just because of what awaits us if we win, but because of it being the last game here, too. It's very meaningful, I think, to a family whose son has gone here for the last four or five years to be here for the last game. That makes it special.
Q. You got a pleasant surprise last year with Devin Thomas, but could you ever have envisioned the contributions you've gotten the last two weeks from Blair, and when did you know the different ways you could use him as a deep threat and everything else?
COACH DANTONIO: I've always seen him catch the ball very, very effectively. He's a very good athlete. He's a 36-inch vertical jump guy. He can run, he's big. He's 6'2", 205 pounds. But what he's been able to do is find the seam, work things in there, make the catch. I think that he's always been a guy that our quarterbacks have felt very good about going to, and he's gotten opportunities. He made great plays and he's made the best of his opportunities.
I think that what's happened is whether it's been Mark Dell or whether it's been Blair White or whether it's been Charlie Gantt or whether it's been B.J. at times or Keshawn Martin at times, I think they've all sort of picked up the slack a little bit with the loss of Devin. Devin caught maybe 73 passes last year, 70-plus passes over the course of some 13 games.
But there was a big difference between the top and the bottom, the top of the next one last year. So I think that opportunity is there, and he's embraced his opportunity and he's done an outstanding job.
Q. Playing non-Division I teams may some into play with a tiebreaker between you guys, Ohio State and Penn State. What are your feelings about scheduling teams like that, and how tough is it to put together a college football schedule these days?
COACH DANTONIO: I think it's difficult to put together a schedule with 12 games now where you have people having to come to your place, and there's that give and take in scheduling. To be honest, right now, I concern myself with the present, and that's playing Purdue. We'll play whoever is on the schedule.
Q. How tough is it setting up schedules?
COACH DANTONIO: It's really tough today. I don't have any feeling on that right now. So rather than just give you a status quo answer, I'll just defer that to the spring.
Q. Is the spread offense the best thing that ever happened to Ryan Allison in terms of his role as a specialist, and why is he so effective?
COACH DANTONIO: I think he's a hybrid guy. I think the spread offense does give him a role in our defense and probably many defenses. You know, he's a 225-pound guy that can run. Again, great athlete, outstanding athlete. We worked him at safety last year in Bowl practices, and he had ability to play safety. It was just a learning experience there at that position.
But he gives us a guy that can blitz, knows the outside back position, run and tackle, play in space, that type of player. And the spread sort of fits his style of play a little bit.
Q. Do you have a sense for how you'd like to handle the bye week, how often you'd like guys to practice, how often guys you think need to rest up?
COACH DANTONIO: I think it differs every year depending on where you're at, where the bye week is. This bye week is the first time we've ever had a bye week where it's been, to my knowledge, that I can remember, before the last football game. So we'll rest our players. They need some time. Usually it comes in mid-season where you're going to continue to work a little bit more. But we've got a plan laid out, and I'd prefer to just give it to our players first.
Q. You talked about the improvement of the left side of the offensive line on Sunday. How big of a role have Roland and Jesse played in that, just lending their experience to those younger guys?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think in the beginning I think they give you a sense of confidence because they've been at their respective positions for so long. But as time goes, those other guys start to gain confidence in themselves, as well. I think early on, certainly we may be probably more of a right-handed team because of that. I think it's become a little bit more balanced as we've gone forward. But those guys have established -- they're leaders on that side of the ball because they've been through it. They've been through all the different kinds of things, the ups and downs and arounds of playing here and playing on the offensive line, and they've been huge for us, as you said.
Q. Does the uncertainty over Painter or Siller complicate your week in terms of preparation?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, yeah, I guess it would complicate it, but I don't know that their offense changes as much. I'm sure they run a little bit more of this rather than that, but I don't think they've just gone out and made wholesale changes. Siller was actually a running back for a large part of the season and has just moved over there when Joey Elliott was injured to back up.
So we won't know really until we get to the game. Both are very good quarterbacks. Painter certainly had a tremendous amount of success, so whoever plays we need to be able to prepare for and change it, alter our game plan a little bit.
Q. In the last drive of last week you had Charlie Gantt split out, and coming in there was a lot of talk more about his run blocking and his pass blocking, but has it been at all a surprise how much he's been involved in the passing game this year?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think he's made huge strides as a player from last year to this year. I think that, again, here's another guy that's had opportunities, and he had a great spring practice, a great summer practice, and now that has transitioned him into having a great season thus far.
He's very good at the point of attack, he runs very well, catches the ball down the field very well, and he's become a weapon. He's become a weapon much like Kellen Davis was last year to be honest. A lot of the things that we were able to do with him, we were able to do with Charlie.
Q. In previous years some of these close games haven't exactly gone State's way. When a mistake was made late in the game you heard the caller Ray Bentley this last weekend say, "Same old Spartans." What do you see now confidence-wise in this team that makes you know these aren't the Spartans of old, that this team is very confident and believes that they can beat just about anybody?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, first of all, Ray should know better than to talk like that because he's done about four or five of our games, so he's been here and he's seen what's gone on this year.
But in terms of how we've played, when you win a close game, you begin to get confidence that you can win, and that's what we've been able to do. That's very fragile at times. I really like the way -- if you look at our football game last week, we found a way. We were basically out-played at the point of attack. We had to go two-minute offense midway in the second quarter. We did it in the third quarter. It worked some.
In the end we made plays at the end of the game that allowed us to win. But statistically we had no business winning that football game. We didn't turn it over, we played well on special teams, we played well at the end of the game, and that's why we won, penalty-free. But that gives you confidence, I think, when things aren't necessarily going well for you that you can win a football game, just stay the course.
Those kinds of things can become very contagious, and I think things like that are really the difference between the great teams every year and the teams that are good, or are 7 and 4, 8 and 4, whatever it is, and we're not out of the woods yet at all. But I think everybody has to be able to win a game like that or two or three games like that during a season if you're going to have a great year.
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