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September 22, 2009

Mark Dantonio

COACH DANTONIO: First off, Big Ten season kicks off this week, I think everybody is very aware of that. When I look add where we're at right now, I think we have to bring a tremendous amount of focus and energy again to our game on Saturday. I think we were able to do that last year and should be a very exciting game.
It's a great atmosphere to play up there. I remember 07 when we went up there, we were a 4-0 football team. Consequently we go up there this year 1-2. You know, do I remember after '07, we lost that football game, lost the next one, and ended up being 5-5 before winning the last game. So the reverse is possible to happen, as well, so feel real good about that.
We start the Big Ten Conference. That's what it's all about. You know, when you're in our situation right now, I think that whether you're playing any kind of game, when you lose them close at the end, whether you're playing checkers or whether you're playing football or basketball, whatever, you have a tendency or a feeling that you can be successful. You have a belief, because you're only looking at a couple of plays; you're really looking the last play of the game in both situations.
You know that gives you a feel-good -- a feeling that you can have success. I think that's a very positive thing for our football team right now. We very well could be 3-0; a couple of plays from being that.
So we have to hold to that and move forward. We go to Wisconsin, you know, play a football team that's noted for their toughness. I think that in a lot of ways when I became a head football coach, you know, I wanted to simulate some of the people that had success running the football and staying balanced and working that toughness aspect into their programs.
One of the programs was Wisconsin. What they do in terms of running the football and their backs, their passing game, their play-action pass, a lot of the things that they do were thoughts that I had when I became a head football coach. Coach Bielema has taken over that program and been extremely successful.
They return an offense that have quite a few offensive linemen back, getting some guys who were injured back in the fold as well so, they are a big physical offensive line. It probably starts right there. You go to their skill, Toon is back, Isaac Anderson has emerged; Gilreath is back. Their tight ends are pretty much back intact.
So you have a pretty successful, experienced football team. Their quarterback situation, Tolzien is really emerged as a starter, he's playing very well, and gives them a catalyst and looks like a leader out there and can make some plays.
From an offensive perspective, you know, you always need to stop the run against Wisconsin and that's where it's got to start, on a play-action game falls from there.
Defensively, again, from defensive standpoint, I think they are very solid, disciplined. You know where they are going to be. You just have to be able to block them. Culmer St. Jean probably anchors their defense, the Mike linebacker, along with McFadden but Schofield is a very good player, defensive end, No. 50.
Again we will go in with the thought process that we have to score points obviously, move the football down the field. Special teams, you see them hustling. That's when you see when you watch your special teams, you see people making plays. They don't take plays off. They are going to make things work. Obviously Gilreath has been a very good punt returner, was All Big Ten kick returner last year, punt return specialist.
So with that, I'll just take questions.

Q. You talk about wanting to be balanced. Is that -- do you want balance on every drive, or just at the end of the game do you want to be balanced? What are you searching for when you talk about wanting to be balanced?
COACH DANTONIO: When he we talk about being balanced, I think what we want to try and do is get into situations where we are at second and six, at second and five. So we have run/pass options on second down, and then again on third down, it doesn't become a third-and-long-type situation.
I think, also, on first down, we need to be able to play action pass and we need to be able to pass the ball, straight-up, stay balanced there. I don't think we can come out and run the football. So what we want to do is be an offense that can be unpredictable what we are doing down to down because we can have success doing either/or. And so that's when we look at balances, that's what we are looking at.
I'm not really look the end of day check, many yards did we throw for and how many yards did we run for. I think what we have to do is present the situation that we can run the football, well enough, that they have to honor the run; and we can throw the ball well enough, that we are not one-dimensional running the football.
I think that's when we look at balance, that's what we are trying to get. And also I wanted to make sure that every aspect out there, whether you're a quarterback, who is being recruited, you are going to play under center like you're going to do in the NFL, you're not going to take shotgun snaps all the time, so the possibilities of recruiting a pro-style quarterback are there.
We recruited tailback. That guy is going to get 200-plus carries, from the I-position, downhill runners, power, those type of things, stretch; the things that we do that you see being done on the next level. And then again you see wide-outs and tight ends catching the football, things they have to do on the next level. So it's going to attract those type of people offensively to our program.

Q. Last year, you had a couple of close games where you made big plays that turned what could have been a sub-par season into a good season. Now you've made -- not made two plays in particular that have turned potentially 3-0 into 1-2. Do you worry about how that filters into the players' confidence? Does it make them waver?
COACH DANTONIO: No, I don't think it makes them waver. When you look at what we do and what we practice daily, you know, field goal, extra point. We've had two mishaps the last two games that very well if we just get those done, we are going to be successful, which we work on that daily and you know we critique and we are continually working on that.
Again I go back to what I said in the opening statement a little bit. When you look at how you lost a basketball game or how you lost a soccer game or whatever you're doing, the margin of error is very, very close.
So when you have a situation like that, I think from a player's perspective, from a coaching perspective, yeah, you're disappointed, you're irritated but you can look at it and say, should have won. And I think that gives you confidence. You look at it and say, they are not better than we are in a large way, and that gives you a little bit of I think confidence and fortitude to push through to the next game and to get yourself ready.
When you become involved in those type of games, you become more dangerous football team. You become tougher, as you go on, you become tougher and tougher and tougher, because you should become more resilient. I think that's the nature of humans, you know, when you're backed up a little bit you're going to fight a little harder. That's where we are at with the whole thing.
But you know, hey, I wish it was different. You know that, I wish we would be sitting here -- but it's a lot easier to coach when you're 3-0 than when you're 1-2 but you continue to have faith in your players and most definitely we have faith in our players and we have faith in each other as a program that we can get it done.

Q. In terms of recruiting with the nine losses out of the 12 you've had here by a touchdown or less, do you find yourself explaining that to prospects, telling them, hey, just hang with us, we were a couple of plays away from doing a lot of special things?
COACH DANTONIO: No, never have. You know, I think when you're talking to recruits, they are looking at an opportunity to play, they are looking at facilities, they are looking at relationships they can have with the coaches and players, they are looking at proximity to where they are going to school a lot of times.
Especially in this day and age, they have usually been on campus ten or 15 times. So many times right now you have so many guys that are committed before a season starts and the relationship is pretty strong. A lot of our recruits come from programs that maybe haven't won quite as much or are having their tough times themselves, so there usually is a little bit of an understanding there.
I haven't seen us lose a player because of that. You know, I think you lose a player when there's a lack of trust or a lack of a relationship that starts to come into play there or lack of an opportunity to play or you recruited some other recruit so they changed their mind.
But you know, guys want to win, we have been to two Bowl Games in two years and fully expect to go to another one this year and expect to challenge for a Big 10 Championship. We are 0-0, and I think to jump off the bridge right now is a mistake. And as I said earlier, we went to Wisconsin 4-0 and I believe after ten games we were 5-5. So we were 1-5 after going to Wisconsin whereas we went to Wisconsin. So we didn't get down. We kept playing through and won the last two football games and had a pretty good football team that year.
I think the key is to just continue to fight through your tough situations. It will turn. You know, last year we won a game at the end -- we won a couple of games at the end, the Wisconsin game was one of them, where it didn't look very possible that we were going to win. And we turned it around and won that football game. So it goes both ways. But you have to make the plays on the field.
But I think our confidence is high and our energy is high and our focus will be there. The one thing about this week that we had about last week, I don't think we had the poor me's. It's not, "oohh"; it's not like that. We don't have the poor me's this week. Getting ready for the Big Ten Conference, it's a new ballgame any way you cut it.

Q. Given the success you've had against the run this season and also the way you praise toughness on your team; this a good week for you to play Wisconsin? Are you looking forward to playing a team that's going to be a more down instead of central than Notre Dame?
COACH DANTONIO: You know, every football team gives you different problems offensively or defensively. They are all going to be different. So you have to look at who is doing. What they do a great job running the football. I think they always have. So they are tough to stop in that respect. They have big, physical offensive linemen, they run downhill, they put a lot of people at the point of attack and a lot of different variety of ways.
So the key will be adjusting, tackling, on defense, but we'll have a good plan and we'll have an outstanding plan. We have to execute the plan.

Q. What has Chris Norman shown you the first couple of games?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, Chris Norman got his first start last week as a freshman, and as you would expect he's extremely anxious about that start. But I think that Chris, the more he plays, the better he will become. He is an instinctive player when he turns it loose, and when he's thinking, he's a little slower, it's just like most of us. And it goes back to that adage that I talk about. I still remember our coaches when we first got here. They had the tom-tom in their window just to get down to campus, okay. But sooner or later they figure out a way to get to campus, and they were here like that.
I think it's the same thing when you're starting or playing a new position, you have to fight your way through that and be able to put that puzzle together, and if you put that puzzle together, enough times, you can do it, you know, in a matter of seconds, a real puzzle.
But if you're doing it for the first time, it takes a little bit of time. That's what we struggle with with our young players, so we have to be patient. But at the same time, you can't allow mistakes to happen that will be costly. So we try and do certain things with him in there and try and create that comprehensive-type defense or comprehensive thing by allowing it to be simple for him.

Q. With the way you beat Wisconsin last year, do you have to address the fact that maybe they might have more incentive to beat you this year; that they might come at you a little bit harder?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think that to be honest with you, all that, whether you're winning or you're losing, I don't think that Notre Dame came at us any harder than they would have had they won the last game. I think a lot of those things are build-up toward the game. You need to take every game personal. I'm sure they do. I'm sure they get themselves ready to go.
But once the game starts, the game flows and there's energy and enthusiasm and there's momentum that turns in that particular game. That's what I've found. You know, on occasion, there's that one game that sits with you for the entire year. So maybe that's it for them. But our players will be motivated, too. So I can't control what they are worrying about, I can only control what our players think about and when we get on the bus, we will have our heads on straight.

Q. You've talked about tackling and how important it is to be sound fundamentally. Not many takeaways this year as a result of that.
COACH DANTONIO: Well, that's a result of the offense holding on to the ball and making good decisions. I think we saw the last two weeks, two good quarterbacks who did a good job taking care of the football.
But it's a result of, you know, I think sometimes they happen in bunches, too. We haven't had a drive, yet, where we have been able to get the ball on the 20-yard line or 30-yard line going in. We have it come the hard way. We have done a good job with those drives, but they have not just been handed to us. We have started most of our drives across the 40. Consequently, they have had to do the same thing. So we have not turned the ball over very much at all; two times this last week, which was unfortunate, one on the last play. But we have got three for the season.
So we keep talking about turnovers. Tackling, it's about getting the guy down. It's the second guy on the hit; it's the third guys have got from behind that's creating those situations for turnovers and we need to keep coming and keep working at it, which is what we talk about, which is what we work constantly. I don't know if it's the result of poor tackling, is I guess what I'm saying. We do need to tackle better, we need to continue to work and tackle better.

Q. You mentioned the two straight tough losses and confidence should not be shaken because they are close losses. Do you see signs already early in the week that things are not lingering, or is that something that you had to work with with your team?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, we don't practice on Mondays, so today is our first practice. But in seeing the players yesterday just around a little bit and in talking to them on Sunday and seeing them on Sunday and visiting with our coaches in terms of how things are, I think our players are -- most young people, they are resilient. They can get through things and they can move through the next thing.
That's what I see, what I've seen. I think our offense had a nice showing. You know, they feel good about themselves. I think defensively we look at the mistakes that were made. You say, we can correct that mistake. You know, they can make that tackle or they can do this fundamentally a little bit better or structure a little bit better, so we can get things in order. Same thing with the missed extra point or whatever it is. You know, we can get things done.
So I don't sense that there's -- in any inadequacy in that area at all. I think that we'll be ready to go. So, we'll see.

Q. Just some personnel questions about the secondary. Kendell Davis-Clark moved up, can you kind of talk about that position change and also, Ross Weaver, how is he doing? Haven't seen him as much on the field and how is he competing?
COACH DANTONIO: We are always going to play the guys, first of all, that practice the best and give us a chance to win and the next thing we are going to evaluate games and see how they play.
I think Kendell Davis-Clark is a guy who has been nicked up early on. He was a starter coming into the fall camp at a safety position. He's played corner. He played '07 exclusively at corner. He's a good blitzer. He's physical. So I think he deserves an opportunity to go back out and play at that corner position.
Chris L. Rucker is an outstanding football player but he's got to make the plays, he's got to make the plays. Ross Weaver has had opportunities on the football field and when he has opportunities he has to make the plays. He does an outstanding job on special teams and he's a great leader for us. Jeremy Ware played well and you can look at the same situation right now with Danny Fortener. I think Danny has done a great job, great player, great person, does a great job on special teams, has a solid year last year. But Trenton Robinson has come in and played very well, and so you play the players that give you that opportunity.
I think that's the way we have always approached things here and will always continue to approach it that way. We are going to try to play the best players, and our players understand that. So when you go out to practice every week, it's competitive. Now with that being said, we can role guys in there and you can see whoever in there because obviously we have quite a few guys we can move in and out of that situation.

Q. You talked about a potential lack of confidence in the defense on Sunday; most of that coming from the defensive backs and when they do get beat on a play, how much do you have to remind them to wipe the slate clean from that play and more on to the next one?
COACH DANTONIO: I think the makeup of anybody is you want to be successful, and if you're unsuccessful too many times in a row, you start to say, well, what am I doing wrong? We haven't come down with the deep ball a couple of times. One time I think a couple of times, you know, central guy made an outstanding guy. Anderson made an outstanding catch on the one, another one we needed to be better phased position in control.
But you know, when you look at us pressing last week, we played very well. We went center blitz one time and they made the long play. We had a busted coverage sort of one time or structurally we were in cover two and it came out the other end. That's that was a deep ball play.
When you look at those two things, they are things that are correctable. I don't sense that our players are, you know, we will be sound back there. Our players will be focused. They will be ready to go. I think they will be confident.
It's the nature of playing back there and in this day and age, there are going to be big plays, so in this day and age, you'd better have a short memory, but remember what you have to do. But you've got to get over it and you've got to move on and be able to play the next play. I think for the most part, our guys have done that.

Q. After the game Saturday, Cousins give as detailed a description as could he on what happened the last two plays and seemed to try to take the emotion out where at a time he could not have been feeling at his best. How has he been with you since that game? I think you mentioned that you were going to talk with him?
COACH DANTONIO: He's solid. He's a solid person, solid individual in all respects. And I think that he has the ability to put things in botches and sort it out, this is why this happened, this is why this happened, this is how it shouldn't have happened and this is how it should be.
So he has the ability to prioritize what he needs to do. He's very deliberate in the way he handles his day, his everyday living, and his football. So he's in good shape. I think he's very solid.

Q. The defense was supposed to be a strength and a lot of people look at it as a strength going into this year, but there's some confidence and doubt with this unit, what kind of Coach Narduzzi become when his unit is struggling or being questioned?
COACH DANTONIO: What kind of coach does Coach Narduzzi come? He becomes best coach he is. I think in those types of situations, that's when your leaders and that's when your coaches respond.
So you go back and you re-look at things and try to re-organize things and try to make it simpler and reevaluate who is playing and you try and fix it. But in the end plays have to be made on the field, too. Players play. Coaches coach. Coach Narduzzi is an outstanding coach. I sit in those defensive meetings daily and I know what's going on in there and we leave no stone unturned.
You know, what you have to do, I think, there are two ways that you respond. You can either crush people as a head coach, you can crush them, and tell them they are no good and lay the blame on certain people or you can embrace those people and bring them with you and I think that we have always chosen to embrace the people, embrace our players, bring them along with us, and you know, there's -- you know, when it's a group thing, there's solidarity there and more chances of you becoming success.
I think when you tear down, you tear down everything. Remember what I said, I guess when I talked the first time after the central Michigan game, we are building a foundation here. And a crack, a loss, a close loss, a crack in that foundation has not knocked the building over.
So this is business as usual. This is getting ready for a football game. If I was up here today talking to you and we were 3-0 today, quite honestly if we were 3-0 today, I would probably be feeling exactly like I do today.
So I would be saying we've got to be ready to play the Big Ten conference. This is a tough football game, we have to be energized and focused when we went up there. I remember when we went up there in '07, we were 4-0, and I remember what happened after that, okay.
So the same thing holds true now. And that's the way I feel about it. So the thing that we have to remember is that nobody really knows what goes on on this football team internally. Even if you have your sources, okay, which I'm sure we all do, okay, because the vocabulary and the terminology on what we do in there is so foreign in terms of the communication and the defenses and the offenses and the schematics of it; that we know when what is broken down and we know what has to be fixed and that type of thing.
So I feel good about where we are at. Wish we were 3-0 from a mental standpoint in terms of what we have to do to win the football game. Feel good about what we have to do and our mental psyche.

Q. Wisconsin game is going to bring back a lot of memories from Brett Swanson and he has continued to have a reliable year. Do you think maybe people have taken him for granted a little bit?
COACH DANTONIO: Taken him for granted? No, I don't think so. I don't take people, take --

Q. On the flipside, does the one touchback between him and Conroy concern you at all in kickoff?
COACH DANTONIO: Does the one touchback? Yeah, it's something we continue to work towards. We lost Todd Boleski after last year because he was a senior. Todd provided that opportunity to kick the ball 75 yards in the air and put it in the end zone, you know, two thirds of the time. The other third I was irritated, okay. But he did an outstanding job. So we need to make up for that with hang time and we need to continue work to getting it there. I think our kickoffs this past week were pretty close, down to the two or so.
But yeah, it's a weapon. When you have a guy that can put it on the end zone in a consistent basis, you know, it definitely is a weapon.

Q. You talked about Cousins mental state Sunday night and again briefly today, but there's been suggestions outside your circle that, well, maybe if he can't make those throws, he shouldn't be the quarterback. The fact is, he played great that day. Wouldn't philosophically this be the worst time as a coach to bail out on somebody like that?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, you know, which armchair quarterback was talking like that? Well, tell him, have another cup of coffee, okay.
He did an outstanding job in the game. He was extremely poised. He went to work two times in a two-minute situation and went right down the field. One time he scored the touchdown, and the other time, you know, emotions got the best of him.
But for the people that are sitting out there wondering, you know, that's not going to happen. Well, if we make a decision on our quarterbacks, it will be because one guy is playing better than the other or one guy is getting the job done. With that being said, I think Keith Nichol went in there. I thought he played well at the second half opportunities. I just felt like from a game management standpoint, we needed to be a little bit better. And if the reverse happens, then we'll go in the other direction.
But again, we are going to try and put the guys in there who are going to win. This is not a popularity contest. So the guys who are functioning on the field are who will get the opportunities. But I guess for whoever is talking like that, they are out there, I guess. The end result is if they if he would have scored, they would be talking about him like he's Joe Montana, rather than Joe off the pickle boat. (Laughter).
So as I said before, the people in that room know what's going on, and I think he did an outstanding job. And again, when somebody fails, I guess I go back to say, it's not the critic that counts; it's the person in the arena, and that quote. And that's where we are at.

Q. You faced two outstanding quarterbacks these past two weeks, maybe guys who will both be playing on Sundays. Does that all change how you evaluate your defensive backs, anything else, because you played two really exceptional guys?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think that when the ball goes up in the air, you have to have good deep ball adjust many, you have to move on the ball and you have to make the plays. Once the ball leaves the quarterback's hands, obviously you have to be able to play it. And you know, there are certain things that we do from a schematic standpoint coverage-wise depending on what coverage there; there's always a weakness in the coverage and always a weakness in the zone pressure or man pressure. There's a weakness in every defense.
The thing that we have to do or sometimes you are just naturally exploited on that weakness. There are certain things that are good versus this and not quite so good versus this, and the key is, you know, sometimes just rolling the dice a little bit.
But the key is trying to minimize those stress points of every defense. Yeah, we played two good quarterbacks and they have made some plays. They have made some plays. I still would like to say that we would have every opportunity to be successful against both those quarterbacks.

Q. Are the three running backs we see on the depth chart the ones that we are going to be seeing the rest of the season?
COACH DANTONIO: Good question.
I can't tell you that. What if one guy gets hurt?
I can't tell you that. What if one guy doesn't play as well as the other?
When you say "rest of the season," that's a long time. But I thought all three of those guys played pretty well, and you know, they all have toughness and they know what to do. They all have ability. But we have other guys that are very capable, as well. I guess that's the point I want to make. We have other guys that are capable.

Q. Inaudible.
COACH DANTONIO: TBA. TBA. That's a good one. I like that. All right, guys. Thanks.

End of FastScripts

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