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MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY MEDIA CONFERENCE
September 8, 2009
THE MODERATOR: With a preview of Central Michigan and a review of the Montana State game, Coach Dantonio.
COACH DANTONIO: I think we talked about Montana State a little bit already. But, again, just to reiterate, first game, got to play an awful lot of players. That was a big positive I think for us. As far as mistakes, I didn't think we made a lot of mistakes in terms of turnovers and special teams things, that type of thing. I thought our quarterbacks got off to a good start. There were a lot of positive things.
Central Michigan game, big game this week. Emotional game for a lot of guys at Central. Certainly for a lot of guys at our place as well. We know a lot of those players as coaches. I think a lot of our players know those players as people. That makes it even more exciting.
Butch Jones has done a great job up there. They basically have been picked to win the MAC the last three years. Great player offensively. You look at three dominant players. You look at their quarterback, LeFevour. Guy has, what, 760 yards, almost 800 yards rushing last year, 2700 yards passing, 21 TDs, accounted for almost 12,000 yards of offense. I think the biggest thing he brings to their program is toughness and experience. Anytime you have an experienced quarterback that has done the things that he has done, he's seen every defense, he's seen every front, every blitz, he's very proficient at what he does.
Antonio Brown, No. 27, very exciting player. Led the nation in punt returns last year. Second all-time leading receiver at Central. I think he has 195 catches. I'm not sure how many, 2000 plus yards. Kickoff guy, punt return guy.
Then their third guy offensively that I think really makes them tick is Bryan Anderson, who is their all-time leading receiver with I think 225 or something, 226 receptions, 21 TDs. Very, very productive player, No. 7.
You go along with that, they have two offensive linemen returning, the rest of their skill returning, other than their tailback. They should be a very exciting team to watch offensively.
Defensively, eight returners. Nick Bellore, No. 43, probably their top guy, along with Gordy, their corner. Two very good players. Bellore has started since he came to school there as a true freshman. Plays the game the way it should be played.
I think all their linebackers play very well. They play downhill, they're an active group. They will be a challenge.
They return both their specialists. We'll look forward to them coming to Spartan Stadium. I'm sure they'll bring a crowd and it will be an exciting day for all of us.
I'll go ahead and take some questions and we'll go from there.
Q. Since Central lost that opening game, what would you anticipate them doing, anything extra or differently?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think they'll get right back on track. I think they'll do the things that they've done that allowed them to be successful. They went down to I think Arizona. There was a lightning delay. I'm not sure how long that pause created, 45 minutes, an hour. They started almost 11:00 eastern time. I kept looking for that score. I'm sure that threw them off a little bit being on eastern time. Probably got back early Sunday morning, like we did from Cal last year.
I would anticipate them, they just weren't quite in rhythm. A little pressure, whatever the case. A lot of situations could have went the other way, they could have completed the pass or whatever. Arizona did a nice job defending them.
But they made a game of it. It was definitely a football game. I thought Arizona looked pretty good, pretty athletic. They had some guys.
Q. The fact there's no depth chart out, does that follow through with what you said Sunday, you don't want to create any weekly drama with the quarterback situation?
COACH DANTONIO: There is a depth chart. There is a depth chart. So that's good. But I think what we've done is we've listed some guys. Nitchman is day to day. He's been traditionally a pretty quick healer. We'll see how he goes. He may not be able to practice much this week, but he may be able to be an emergency guy or he may not. We'll see on that.
I don't like to talk about injuries too much. So just let it go. As far as our quarterback situation, I think that's what you're talking about, we won't -- we're not going to sit here every week and say this guy is the starter. It's status quo. Both guys did an outstanding job.
Q. What does the Celebrate the State series mean as a whole and help spread the brand around the state?
COACH DANTONIO: I think what we've tried to do is look at things from a couple different ways. One, what is going to be good for the state of Michigan. That's the first thing when it was suggested to me. I thought about it for a little bit. I thought that's good for the state of Michigan. That's good for Kalamazoo, Mt. Pleasant. That keeps money in the state.
Number two, I think they come here three times, we go there one. That's good for us in terms of financial matters in terms of how you bring people here, the amount of money you pay to bring people here.
I think they have quality football teams. Whether we play Florida Atlantic, Central played in the Bowl game, or Central, they have quality football teams. It's good for attendance. There's a lot of things it's good for.
I think the main reason that we decided to do this was because we wanted to make this an event throughout Michigan, whether it was an event here or an event at their place. I just think, as much as anything, it makes good common sense to me. If we're going to pay $780,000 to bring Kent State up here, why not play one of our own?
Q. At quarterback, is it going to be a situation like at the Montana State game where Cousins will start, Nick will get in? Is that what you're looking to do?
COACH DANTONIO: I guess, yeah. Whatever you say. However you want to write it. It just means that I reserve the right to do what we want to do. That's what it means. Status quo. That's what that means.
We're going to go into the football game and try and win the football game. Whatever gives us the best chance, we're going to do. I think both those guys played very well.
Q. Positively what maybe stood out most to you after your first game and what maybe disappointed you the most?
COACH DANTONIO: I think what stood out to me in a positive way is that had zero turnovers. I think that's big when you play your first game. We had very few penalties, which was a positive. And I think we got good play from some very young players, guys, if you look at our quarterback situation, people are focused on that, we got very good play from that position. We got a lot of young guys in. A lot of players played.
Any time your players can play in a game, that helps team chemistry. They work very hard practicing all year long, doing all the things they need to do, to be able to get them into a game and play 'em, and not just play 'em one or two plays, but get 'em in significantly, was a big positive for us.
I think from a negative standpoint, wish we would have not gotten a guy hurt. From a negative standpoint, I know how Coach Narduzzi feels. We would have liked to have maybe limited them to 50 yards. I'm not sure. They did run the ball just a little bit because we were out of our gaps, so we weren't perfect there.
But offensively I think that we probably wanted to run the ball a little bit more effectively early. I think we ended up running the ball more effectively. But they had everybody up there. We were playing fresh at the time. Dropped passes probably. I'm not really concerned about that, because those guys have made the catches. It's going to happen at times. They got defenders, too. Everybody has people on scholarship.
Q. In terms of the center position, preparing for whatever you need to prepare for, looks like you got two guys who came in the second half, one that only played in one game since 2006 and a redshirt freshman. How do you prepare these guys knowing they don't have a lot of experience to fall back on?
COACH DANTONIO: You know, they've taken reps. Stipek has taken reps at that position since spring practice. So when you look at that and say how many snaps you're taking, he's got thousands of reps at that position. When you look at Ethan, he has been in and out of that position since he's been a freshman. We experimented with him last year in the fall, moved him to left guard, moved him back, back and forth. Joe was a little bit injured in summer practice, missed like four days, so Ethan took a ton of reps there. He actually had one major scrimmage, a 90-play scrimmage at that position. They've got reps at that position. It's not like they're going in there and they don't have an idea or knowledge of what to do.
Nate Klatt, a guy that we want to redshirt, he's a true freshman, I think it would be more difficult for him to make that transition right now. Joe is going to get back. We'll work through this. But I think it's a positive. Again, you go back -- I think we have to deal with it and make it a positive in the long run. These guys are going to have an opportunity to play significantly in this game probably. But that only makes that position stronger as we go on throughout the season. Gives them experience.
Q. Mark, what do you do defensively to adjust to a quarterback who can beat you with his feet and with his arm at the same time?
COACH DANTONIO: I think what you have to do is you have to be very sound at what you do. You have to tackle well. You have to keep a quarterback off base a little bit and do different things at times, give them different looks.
But he's seen about every look I think imaginable as we watch films and everything. Can't give you the game plan, okay? Not that there's anything enlightening there. We know we're going to pressure. We need to play the ball in the deep part of the field, there's no question about that. We need to make plays on the ball. When the ball goes up in the air off a tip, we got to come up with it. We have to make some tips. We have to create pressure, whether that's coverage pressure or whether that's pressure up front, our defensive front has to have a good game. Cutbacks, we have to be very gap sound in terms of what they're doing. What they do, a lot of the things they do, some misdirection, other things zone-wise, really stresses your linebacker position at times.
Q. Is there a little extra motivation knowing this is an in-state rival?
COACH DANTONIO: I think that there is. I'm sure that there is for them. I think that there is for us, as well. This is the next game on our schedule. We only have 12 opportunities so our guys will be excited to play. Anytime you know the guys playing across from you personally, and many of our players do, I think it makes it a little bit more emotional for them.
Q. Can you go into their emotional element that they face whenever a MAC team feels this he have something to prove against a Big-10 school?
COACH DANTONIO: I've been in that situation. So you go in with that chip on your shoulder a little bit and you go in thinking, This is my opportunity. I think that's normal. Chance to play in this environment, and I think this is a tremendous environment to play in. It will be a packed house. It will be an ESPN game. They played in big games before. So it's not like they have not. But this is an in-state game, which makes it a little bit more -- I think it makes it a little bit more significant because, again, they're playing against people they know, as well.
Q. LeFevour, can you compare him to someone you've seen recently in the Big-10 maybe?
COACH DANTONIO: Really haven't thought in that line. All I can tell you is he's a very good quarterback with experience, mobility, toughness. He can get north and south in a hurry. You can have everything boxed up and he can scramble with it. He's got arm field to throw down the field. He's got a gig delivery. When he steps and throws, he's very, very accurate. Like most quarterbacks, if you can pressure him, it starts to -- things can happen one way or the other. It's a little scary sometimes.
I think he's a very good quarterback.
Q. Did you address Mark Dell or do you care to now on his status?
COACH DANTONIO: Mark Dell is on his way back, probably day to day. Same thing I always say about injuries.
Q. But he's getting better?
COACH DANTONIO: Oh, yeah.
Q. The bigger thing is, Central beat Michigan State twice in a row seems like a thousand years ago now. In fairness, there was probably more separation between the Big-10 and MAC, so it was probably more shocking. That's so long ago, you don't use that at all, do you?
COACH DANTONIO: No. I remember when that happened, though. My focus or our focus is on now, what we have to do. So to take them lightly would be a very big mistake. And I can assure you that, as I drove home late last night, we're not taking them lightly.
Q. Nobody ever wants to see a player get injured, but for coaches all around the country, when something happens like it did at Oklahoma, does that drive through the message to whoever your backups are that they're one play away?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I think that's the case at every position. If you look at that game, and I did watch that game, you saw BYU's middle linebacker out, you saw their top tailback out. But everybody wants to focus on the quarterback being out because it is such a central position to a football team.
But obviously you need to be ready for the next play, and that's why we always work our twos. That's why it's so important to recruit this player, have depth at this position, those type of things.
But it is critical, as you said.
Q. When you have a game like Saturday where both Cousins and Nick will play well, there doesn't appear to be any big separation between the two, if this continues to keep going, what kind of challenges do you coaches face from a week-to-week preparation standpoint, getting linemen ready? Any kind of challenges?
COACH DANTONIO: Those guys have worked with the ones and they've worked with the twos throughout spring practice. They've shared equal reps. They've gone back and forth daily. One guy is working with the ones, one with the twos, vice versa. They've gotten work throughout.
When you look at a normal practice, you're probably getting, on the average of a practice, I would say a quarterback, you know, in seven-on-seven, pass kill, all the different teams, you're up there around 130 reps probably or so of team things where you're doing something with the football, taking snaps and such. That's a lot of plays for both those guys to have when you look back over spring and summer. You start adding up the days.
So it's not a problem for us. It may create a problem for those who try to defend us a little bit because they're different in some ways. But as long as they continue to play well, that's a good problem.
Q. With the competition getting stiffer over the next coming weeks, do you look for the team to improve in a certain area? How do you look at that?
COACH DANTONIO: I think as we continue to play, we always need to try and improve. Our goal is to be the best football team we can be at the end of the season. That's what our hope is. When we are playing our last football game, we want to be at our best. When we're playing our Bowl game, we want to be at our best at that point in time.
Hopefully game experience strengthens this team, allows you to develop confidence, allows you to learn some things when you do make mistakes, gives you a chance to go back out and prove yourself if you do. Our goal is to always get better. As long as we're doing that in any respect, I think we're working towards the ultimate goal, and that's winning championships and things of that nature at the end.
But health has something to do with that. But, again, I go back to what I said earlier. When somebody does get hurt, gives somebody else an opportunity. And those individuals need to take advantage of that opportunity and it should build confidence in them. You look at guys who are young, all of a sudden three years from now if you look at our quarterback situation, one has to wonder how good they'll be because I think that they will be very, very good, very proven.
Q. Some of the true freshmen had an impact right out of the chute here. Do you expect that to continue to the extent it was in the first game? Dion Sims, other first-year guys you think you'll be counting on more and more?
COACH DANTONIO: There may be a couple other first-year guys that would play into it. We would probably try and hold those guys, you know, unless there's some significant injuries. Those four guys will probably continue to play, that's our plan right now, significantly. When you start playing them, that's what you want to do. You play 'em for a reason. I do see them being a part of our offense and defense.
Q. Following up on the idea of the quarterbacks three years from now, when you think of what Brian Hoyer was three years ago, where he is now with New England, what does that mean to the guys you have now?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think what it means is that you can operate in this offense and you can go to the next level because of some of the things that we work, whether it's the run game, whether it's the passing game, the different protections from systemically and conceptually it gives you an opportunity to do those things to help get you to the next step.
But it means that the Big-10 can prepare you, the experiences you have here out in that stadium can prepare you for the NFL or for big-time experiences because of the pressures that are put on you here. I think those are all experiences that are very, very crucial to their long-term success.
Q. Seems like last year you were always in a position of defending Hoyer against the critics. How pleased are you that you won that backup job?
COACH DANTONIO: I'm very, very pleased. I talked to Javon last night. Some of our guys, you got Ervin Baldwin was picked up, back on practice squad last night. Kellen Davis made team, I think JU was picked up by the practice squad. Devon made it. Brian Hoyer made it.
But all long-last year what I saw in Brian Hoyer was a guy that did things right at the line of scrimmage, made the reads correct down the field, did things right in the huddle getting us to the line of scrimmage, getting us in the right play. He showed a great amount of toughness I think in taking some shots. I think he also showed a great amount of mental toughness. But under the circumstances tough. It's tough being a quarterback wherever you are. It's tough being a quarterback because they're probably going to take most of the blame, get most of the credit. It goes up and down. So you're on an emotional rollercoaster sometimes.
He has done a great job here. Very, very happy for he and his family.
Q. I don't know if status quo pertains to the runningback situation. What is your satisfaction level if you have to keep the revolving door going with these guys?
COACH DANTONIO: I think what we want to do is allow these guys to be in rhythm. What 'rhythm' means is to me be active enough carrying the football that they feel comfortable doing it, that they're waiting for that opportunity, that they're not nervous. That's what we were able to do this last week. If we can continue to do that. But if there becomes separation, we'll go with two. I don't see us going with one guy, giving him the ball 25 times a game right now or 30 times a game or 42, okay? But I do see us going with a couple guys, getting them significant carries as it goes along. If they're all playing well, you just never know who's going to have the hot hand.
Thanks again, guys.
End of FastScripts