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MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY MEDIA CONFERENCE
October 6, 2009
COACH DANTONIO: Obviously a big win for us last Saturday. Huge win for the program, but more importantly, I think that hopefully this will help spring board us on to our next opponent, Illinois. Be a road game over there.
I think probably one of the toughest schedules in America right now, if you look at who they have lost to, they are a 1-3 football team but they have lost to Missouri, 9-14 last year that went to the Big 12 Championship, and lost to Oklahoma, an Ohio State team picked to be the favorites, and a Penn State team that was 10-2 last year, as well picked to be favorites. They have played tough competition and they have an offensive player that is second all time in Big Ten Conference in rushing and certainly has been a phenomenal player last year, all-purpose player in the Big Ten Conference, leading all-purpose player by over 80 yards over any other player, Juice Williams. Eddie McGee will have an opportunity this week, as well, but you know, we expect to see Juice Williams, as well, as we go through this.
But tied together very well conceptually, their coordinator came from TCU, does things that are difficult to defend. Benn is an excellent receiver, also very notable player. Good group of tailbacks, Duval, some players experienced offensive line, three starters back, very good tight end; I'll learn how to pronounce his name as we go, and a couple other receivers, Fayson and Cumberland is back. So they have got an excellent group of offensive skill players.
Defensively, five starters return but they are very solid inside, Pilcher is a very good defensive end. I believe there's three of their four starters are back in the secondary, so they have an experienced secondary. And Ron has done an outstanding job there taking Illinois to the Rose Bowl two years ago. Everybody has the diversity.
I'm sure they are facing their own challenges, but we are expecting a great game from what I understand, it's homecoming and it's a sellout, so it will be very, very exciting for us over there are.
In regards to where we are at as a program right now, we need to take the next step, and even this next weekend, try to get to 3-3 and then we begin from there. It's a huge game for us and we'll prepare accordingly.
Obviously, I wore my Tigers jacket up here that Coach Leyland gave me in July of last year, '08. So we want to support them in any way we can. Just want to say, "Go Tigers!" and looking forward to their game tonight.
I'll just take questions.
Q. When Nick Saban left Michigan State, he says one of the things he had learned, it cost him some wins sometimes being too conservative when he got leads. As a coach offensively, how do you guard against being too conservative and maybe let something teams back in?
COACH DANTONIO: If you are asking the question from this past weekend, we say, if you notice we threw a pass on the first drive when we got the ball back, I guess with three minutes to go or something to that effect. We are were not playing conservative but when it becomes 3rd and 2, you'll probably run it more times than not. You know, we lead the blocking scheme or whatever and they hit us for a loss.
But to answer that question, on defense as well, you've got a situation where we have stopped them pretty much the whole day. I felt we had the quarterback running around, a lot of the plays were loose-ended plays that a play hit for a 60-yard touchdown was a great job by him. But also a poor job by our safety who should have rolled it over No. 1, farthest receiver out and played that effectively. We practiced that quite a few times, and then we missed a tackle. It was an outstanding play by Stoneham with the run-after catch.
But the rest of the time was a lot of loose-ended plays. It was raining, the quarterback dropped the ball twice, fumbled out-of-bounds once, receivers breaking routes off, can't get to the quarterback, he is scrambling here, scrambling there. So a lot of loose-ended plays. We sent pressure one time. He drops the ball, picks up the ball, the pressure goes right by his hip and he should hit the guy in the backfield but we don't.
So the last play of the game, you know, of the actual game, we max-blitzed him, as well. So I don't know if we are playing conservative, we rushed four guys almost every time, Greg Jones being the fourth in there, but you know, a lot of loose plays, a lot of sort of chaos at the end of the game, which at the end of the game, a lot of times that happens.
In answer to your question, you keep doing it and you keep working on those situations, the two-minute situations at the end of a practice, but it's never quite like you played in a game. But the end result is we won the football game, we played very well up to that point to get us to the point, and we had missed opportunities on our side and we have to take advantage of those opportunities to put it away.
We had the routes, we had a couple guys clean open on fourth and four; you hit that, it's over, but it is what it is. Happy with the win.
Q. How good is the Illinois quarterback that's going to be starting the first game, and what problems does he present?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, he presents a lot of the same problems that Juice does. A little bit taller. Very athletic. He played last year, pretty significantly, he's a redshirt junior, so he's been in the program four years. He played the entire Illinois state game because of an injury at that point.
He's a good quarterback. He can get it done. So I mean, he's going to run with the ball. He'll pitch the ball in options and he'll throw the ball down the field, so a lot of the same things that you're going to see. I don't think they will alter their offense. I also don't think they have the ability to put both of those guys on the field at the same time, and they have done that in the past and so you may see that.
We do expect to see Juice Williams regardless, and one of two things are going to happen: Either McGee is going to play well and he continues playing or he doesn't play as well and Juice comes in to give them the spark. We will expect either of those type of things and we have to be prepared for both.
Q. As of 30 minutes ago, the stadium scoreboard was still on and then it got turned off, it sounds like it was on maybe all weekend. Is there an emphasis, as you try to improve the football culture around here, is there any concern that one game, especially the Michigan game, when you beat them, there could be too much emphasis on that game?
COACH DANTONIO: I'm sort of concerned. I thought they said we were going to keep it up for a year, but I guess they turned it off early. (Laughter).
We have to focus on the next game.
Q. From the naked eye, looked like Chris L. Rucker, who has had troubles this year, has had maybe the best game of his career; and if so, can that boost the confidence of your whole secondary which needed to play a good game and did?
COACH DANTONIO: Hopefully so. I think Chris L. Had an outstanding spring last year, an outstanding fall. He's been a guy who started here since he was a freshman, so he's an outstanding football player.
Other people have guys that make plays, and you know, ball judgment, those type of things, I go out there and watch him catch balls off 60 yards down the field. We even experimented with him -- not experimented with; we actually had him ready to play wide receiver when Dell was out. He took reps with our wide receiver group, and so he was sort of considered the fourth guy. He has excellent ball skills but you have to make the plays on the field. He's big, very extremely fast. He's a very good tackler.
So yeah, we felt the same way, we had an excellent football game and this should propel him forward. But confidence, he's a tough. He plays into the boundary where a lot of the balls come to. We play a lot of press coverage. We get on guys tight, but you have to play the ball, cut them off on the deep throw.
So I think that the couple of times this season, he's been hurt on those things, but I think he's very, very capable and an outstanding football player. The guy started for three years now for us. He'll be fine. And I think that our secondary did need a boost. We have good players back there. But you know, things happen.
So this is -- you've got a lot of to take care of, a lot of different types of routes coming at you. You need to have a pass rush on a consistent basis. The quarterback gets out in space and start scrambling at times, it creates different problems for you downfield. There's a lot of different scenarios that they go through, but it's a team game and takes 11 of us to get it done.
Q. How important has Cunningham been to your offense, considering Dell was out for the first few weeks and you continued with that steady performance ever since, and is it possible he's the most improved player from a year ago?
COACH DANTONIO: I think BJ as a freshman last year did some things very well early in the season and got nicked up hurt with a hip pointer and came on and had a decent season. But I think he's just like any second-year player starting for the second time, he's developed more confidence, as I just said and he's raised his level of play. I think he's become a guy that we can go to any four or five, six, seven guys out there, mixing in our tight ends with that.
So I think our quarterbacks and BJ, especially; very comfortable getting the ball in traffic over the middle. Deep balls he has tremendous deep ball judgment and he's a big body guy, he's about 6'3, 205, 208, so he's a big body guy and can use his body and come down with the balls. He's had a very, very good season thus far.
Q. The offensive line seems to be solidified how much will that help the offense going forward?
COACH DANTONIO: I think any time you have your offensive line solidified in terms of who is playing where and that they are healthy, obviously you are going to get better play and I think that's what is helping out Moss, who will be playing in his third game at right guard and he's getting more accustomed to being in there. Same with BJ. Nitchman is back at center and left guard, left tackle is remaining the same, and those type of things are obviously a help to us. I think our tight end positions, you know, they add, and our fullback positions, they add significantly to our blocking schemes, as well.
And even our wide receivers, so again, it's an 11-man thing, when they run the football, there's not one person that's not accountable to getting the job done. Same thing on pass protections. You look at the one pass protection that we had the sack and the fumble on in the game, the running back is supposed to chip that guy, along with the tackle. He's expecting a little bit of help. Because of that, because of Larry being a freshman, he didn't chip the guy. And that's experience.
And consequently, the guy gets the edge and he runs him down. But that's more of a great football play by the defender but it's also a little bit of a mental error by the running back. So it takes everybody in there doing their job, along with the quarterback going through the proper reads and throwing on rhythm for this to get done.
Q. You play a freshman like Larry Caper, you look for growth in that person, the touchdown he scored late in the game, what did that do for that and what does that mean for the rivalry?
COACH DANTONIO: First of all, boosts his confidence greatly. He had a great game against Notre Dame I felt. Ran very, very well. You know, he put the ball on the ground a couple of times, which you don't like to see which can't be tolerated but he came back and he responded in a tough situation in a pressure-filled environment in a big, huge game. It should do great things for him as a person as he moves forward.
As far as what he does for the rivalry, like I had said earlier that game belongs to the players, and with things that happen in that game, history sort of is made, I would think that his play will go down as one of the plays in that long line of history that will be remembered by a lot of people.
Q. Illinois is in the same position you were a week ago; do you have to emphasize to you guys that their intensity may be off the charts, and with the homecoming crowd, that they are going to have to match it somehow or exceed it?
COACH DANTONIO: I think it's very, very difficult to win away from home anywhere you go, and you know, certainly in the Big Ten conference, there are no games that you can just go in and say, well we are going to win this one, let's worry about the next one. That doesn't exist here.
Our guys need to be ready mentally. As I said earlier, this game, that past game needs to springboard this football team forward. If we are not able to catch fire, if we play over there emotionless, if we don't play over there and execute well, but more importantly if we don't go over there with a sense of energy, then really, what good did this game do us other than just sort of instinct stuff.
So we need to be focused. We will prepare. That's been the nature of our football team, and get ready to play our next game. The next game is the most important.
Q. Kind of stole my question a bit, as a footnote to that, do you as coaches have to work harder to give them an emotional edge? I know they all count one and it's the Big Ten, all that jazz, but Michigan, Notre Dame, traditional rivals, Big Ten opener at Wisconsin, you don't have any of that natural stuff here this week. Do you have to work harder to get them to play at a peak edge?
COACH DANTONIO: I would hope not, in the fact that we are a 2-3 football team. The way I've always put it, we are just trying to -- we are even. We are trying to get even over there. We are trying to get to 3-3. So I guess if we are even, we're leadin' (phonetic), would be the motto, good things can happen. First thing is take care of the business at hand and that's get to 3-3.
While I don't want to sit here and talk about that because that's not where I thought we would be, but it is where we are at, so we need to deal with that and play to that. We have never had a problem getting up for a game. That has not been our problem here since coming here. So I expect that our seniors will lead, that our players will lead. They understand the importance of this football game long term, and they are ready and there's enough new things that they have to work on offensively and defensively that keeps your attention.
So you know, that's as much as anything. You're not going in the same math class learning the same things. Keeps your attention. You'd better be thinking about what you have to do and then executing to be successful.
Q. Just wanted to ask about the status of Kendell Davis-Clark and is he going to play this week?
COACH DANTONIO: He's day-to-day. We do expect him to practice this week, so we will see how he feels today as he's moving around out there.
You know, I can't really say I can't really know. But he has traditionally been a very fast healer, and as Jeff talks in his years here as a trainer, he feels like he's one of the Top-5 guys in terms of dealing with injuries and coming back in terms of a toughness standpoint.
In addition to that, I don't know if I mentioned this, but in addition to that I'm sure everybody knows Rod Jenrette is out for the year now. May be able to play in the Bowl game but he had a great game on Saturday. And I wanted to mention that. He played with great effort, toughness and was all over the place, so I just want to make special recognition to Rod and what he did in that football game. I thought he was a tremendous performer in there for us.
Q. Were there fewer ors this week on the depth chart?
COACH DANTONIO: Were there fewer or?
Q. Fewer ors?
COACH DANTONIO: Fewer ors less ors?
Q. I think it's fewer ors.
COACH DANTONIO: I thought you said there were few ors.
Q. Fewer than last week. But safety, Trent Robinson and Danny Fortener; that a situation that's a true or, where this week, a practice may determine that? They are very close at that spot right now?
COACH DANTONIO: They are very close as you saw in the game, they both played. Trenton had a little bit of a problem early in the game. It's a big game, a big game for a young person from Bay City, a big huge game. Guys wait for this game when they come to this program for their whole life. They really do. And I would imagine it's like that everywhere in big games. They wait for opportunities like this. You know, we made a couple mistakes but I felt like it's important to get him back in the game and push him back in there. I always feel that way.
Danny Fortener came in and did an outstanding job and when it came down to the end, Danny Fortener was playing and he's got a lot of experience. I think Danny goes into the situation this week as an either/or. But you look at the situation that was developed with Rob being out so Fortener could play at that position as well, Marcus Hyde could be in there, as well.
We'll have see how everybody practices. Ashton Henderson is another guy that enters into the picture a little bit, and also Kendell Davis, what he has when he comes back. That's why we still have five guys that we have in there that that have moved around and guys with experience and have played football here and know what's going it on, so that's a positive.
Q. You mentioned you were going to give the Big Ten Conference a call regarding penalties, have you done that and if so, how has the conversation --
COACH DANTONIO: Yes, I have done that. What we do is we send the penalties in and evaluate and get back to us and I have not heard back. We do that, but at the same time, I don't comment on those things, and that's the head official, the head of officials, Bill Corella, Big Ten officials, that's his job to grade the officials, and you know, say yes, no, that's a bad call, that's a good call.
But there's human error, there's no doubt about it. There's always human error no matter what you do, whether it's on the football field as a player or as a coach or as an official. So there's human error, and you try to get it right to the best of your abilities. So it's part of the game.
Q. Speaking of human error, isn't the booth review getting a little silly? It seems like they do it every five plays.
COACH DANTONIO: The replay? I think what they are trying to do is get it right. So, you know, even then, some of them, you can't get right.
So I don't know the answer to that question, but I'm glad they are taking a look at some of these plays, because they are significant plays. But they seem to -- they have a guy sitting up there and they review it, probably every play they review, and if they see something, they hold it up so. I don't necessarily think it's a bad thing, but there are some things that can never be overruled. So just based on the rules.
Q. Trawick (ph) seems like a pretty intriguing guy with his size and speed. At safety, do you see it as a chance that he could get back over there?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, there's been some thoughts on that. But he has been playing lineback and he has been entering the situation with special teams so he had not been playing safety for the past four weeks, four and a half weeks, but that would be an emergency-type thing. Also, we may travel one of our freshmen, young freshmen, possibly.
Q. You recently on the flagship station commented you were tired of talking about Michigan and you're wearing the Tigers jacket. Can you talk about how you have done a lot to relate to the rank-and-file fan? Fans have embraced you. Talk about what you've done.
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I just -- I don't know how to really answer that one. I've just tried to be myself when I talk to people. I don't know how to answer that other than that. I've tried to just be myself. At some point in time, you start to feel like enough is enough sometimes, in regards to what subject you are talking about.
But for those who have seen me mad, I wasn't mad.
Q. You'll be watching the Tiger game, though, right?
COACH DANTONIO: No, we'll actually be at practice but our thoughts will be there. We will have people checking in and letting us know what's going on.
I think everybody in Detroit and the State of Michigan is excited. They should be. So we are excited, as well and hope for the best.
Q. Speaking of position changes earlier, I think on your radio show last week you mentioned Dion Sims had been practicing at defensive end. Is that something you are still looking at?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, we are. I told Coach Gill, we are on to Chris Gambell (ph), for those of you guys that know Chris, we are on his method of introduction now, which is when I was at the Ohio State, and I was the wide receivers and defensive backs were messing around, I was all the way down the field on the inside drill, and I looked down and saw him pressing at wide receiver and I'm like, the guy can play. So he gave him to us for five minutes, the next practice, but I was determined that we were going to get him in the game and let him play. So the next week we got him for ten minutes, and the next week we got him for 15 and the next week we got him for 20.
So we'll see if we can teach him a little something, see if we can get on the field, but he's an excellent football player. We have a good group of tight ends. Position of depth has been tight end for us. I just want to make sure that he's playing significantly on this football team on the offense and if he has an opportunity maybe on the defense in special situations like Kellen did in '07 a little bit. We'll see if it works or not, but it's always fun to try. He's an excellent athlete and big body guy with quicks.
Q. Coach Gill said pretty assertively about a week and I half ago that Dion Sims at tight end is not going to happen. You're the guy who calls the shots, so what do you make of that?
COACH DANTONIO: That's nice. (Laughter) I call the shots. But like I said today, period seven, you got him. But it's a seven-minute thing, we'll see what he can do. It's just an experiment type of thing. We do that all the time. We did the same thing with Chris L. at wide receiver a year ago, and he did a good job and so he was a guy that could go in and play a little bit.
We did the same thing with Kellen in '07. We popped him in there for a couple of plays and he ended up playing a couple of plays and give the guys a rest and provides a little speed off the edge or athletic ability, but we cannot put a person in there who cannot succeed because of knowledge. So it's got to be very limited of what we do and allow him to use his athletic abilities. He's a tight end and not a defensive end, and he will remain a tight end, but we will be able to use him as other positions a little bit. I think we need to use the best football players we have and never close our eyes and be -- we need to think out of the box a little bit at times.
Q. What about the Illinois defense, how good are they, and what problems do they present?
COACH DANTONIO: I think Coach Zook, he's a defensive secondary coach by trade, he's a defensive coach by trade. I think they are very well tied together. They are a little bit younger. Their linebacker crew is a little bit younger. They are very stout in the middle their two defensive linemen, solid defensive end who came back as a starter, and guys who are experienced in the secondary that return as starters.
So they do some different things. They will play man coverage, they will be able to pressure you. They will zone pressure you. I'm sure they are going to focus on stopping the run. But you know, that will be, again, that will be the key to the football game: Can we run it and stay balanced with where we are at in that whole thing.
But we will have our work cut out for us. They are a physical football team. When we looked at them and studied them in the spring, we came away from our study saying that University of Illinois has as talented a football team as anybody in this conference athletically, and that still remains, they are extremely talented.
As I said when I started this press conference, they played a tough schedule thus far. They have played a team that went to the Rose Bowl, a team that went to the Fiesta Bowl I guess and also a team in Missouri that played for the Big 12 Championship. All of those teams are very good football teams that they have played against.
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