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MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY MEDIA CONFERENCE
October 13, 2009
COACH DANTONIO: First of all, opportunity to take -- to go 4 and 3 this week is huge for us, would put us 3 and 1 in the conference, which allows us to continue to set sight on our goals and to reach our goals.
In regards to the whole weekend, you know, it's homecoming weekend, so it should be exciting for a lot of people to come back, be a part of this. Also, our hockey team travels to Maine this weekend after sweeping this past weekend, so want to congratulate Coach Comley. And then it's Midnight Madness, as well, for our basketball program, so ought to be an exciting weekend for everybody involved.
Northwestern comes here 4 and 2 right now. I have a deep amount of respect for Coach Fitzgerald and the program that he runs there. Very up-tempo offense, extremely disciplined football team. They play extremely hard. They will be prepared. I remember 2007 when they came here, and I believe it was homecoming at that point in time. So we need to make sure that we come out not flat, ready to play, knowing what they do on the offensive and defensive side of the ball, and get ourselves ready to go.
Just very briefly, I guess when you look at them offensively, first guy you look at is their quarterback, Kafka, and the things that he's been able to do. It really has put him as one of the premier quarterbacks in the Big Ten conference. Outstanding statistically right now, and he'll throw the ball all over the place.
Very up-tempo offense; they're going to snap the ball every 15 to 20 seconds. The first drive last week or two weeks ago, 19-play drive against Minnesota for a field goal. So they take time off the clock, they do a good job with things. Markshausen, No. 85, is one of the leading receivers in the conference; Dunsmore, No. 9, sort of what they call their super back, another guy that has done very, very well. So they're going to throw it all over the place in all different formations.
As far as their defense, again, Coach Fitzgerald is by trade a defensive coach. Mike Hankwitz is defensive coordinator. As I said earlier this week, Mike Hankwitz is a guy that was at Purdue when I was a graduate assistant there in 1981. He's an outstanding coach, and he'll have those guys ready to play. So you'll see zone pressures and various fronts and different things that they do. But they'll be very, very good, as well.
It'll be a huge will challenge for us, we're looking forward to it, and I'll just take questions.
Q. Have you ever coached a player who conducts himself off the field like Kirk Cousins does?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I have. Absolutely. And he does an outstanding job. Many of our student athletes do an outstanding job in terms of how they handle themselves off the field and on the field, and I think that's what's great about college football. You see so many players across the nation doing things for other people, not just concentrating on just themselves, but doing things in a Christian mode, in a mode outside of that, as well, but doing things for other people and impacting communities.
The reality is that so many of our players do that, so many of Northwestern's players do it, and many other players in the Big Ten conference do that, and that's what makes college football so great. You see people impacting the community.
But aside from that, when you talk about Kirk Cousins, he certainly is one of the top people that I've been around in terms of coaching, in terms of impacting others.
Q. You mentioned that you don't want to get into the situation where you have somebody getting 40, 50 carries like last year. How much do you think Larry Caper is capable of handling at this point?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, he had 20 carries last week, so I'm certain that he can handle 20, 25 carries, that type of thing. And that's our hopes.
But with that being said, we have some our tailbacks that will enter into the picture, depending on how they practice this week. Certainly Caulton Ray is a guy that's been used already. But there will be some others possibly, too. But we'll try and keep it with two or three type situation. But I think Larry can handle the load.
Q. You have talked about recruiting being about relationships and not making much of one game, but Northwestern has started to make some inroads in the state of Michigan in recruiting. Does winning this game help you on that front, or is it still only relationships?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think it's about relationships, and it's about so many things, really. I mean, academics, what they have, what we have in terms of degree programs. It's about some guys don't want to stay in -- they live to go live in a big city. It's about winning, it's about losing, it's about attendance, it's about facilities. But it's different for everybody.
So I think the key to recruiting is finding out what's important to that individual and concentrating on that aspect and trying to say, okay, we're better. In the aspects that you truly want, we're better than so-and-so, not necessarily Northwestern but anybody. They've done a nice job of recruiting the state, and they should be complimented for that.
Q. Since you spend a lot of time with the defense and you have collegiate playing experience back there, I just wonder what kind of college player did you think you were and what do you share with these guys now since you're trying to teach them a lot of different things? And a lot of the guys say that you've really helped them along.
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I would say I was an average college player at best. But you know, you've got to go back -- we're talking 1978 was my senior year, so that's a long time ago. And what you see now from the standpoint of what you teach, techniques, all the different things, the technology and the level of fitness and the level of you're going to try and get better at this particular skill set, whether it's a squat or whether it's a bench or whether it's whatever, it's so much farther than when we were in college.
When I was in college, I remember they never had a strength coach. We didn't have a strength coach. And I remember that a guy who lifted a lot became the strength coach for the first time because he could lift well. So they said, we'll make him the strength coach when he's done playing, and that's what they did.
But you were never timed -- you were timed in the 40 or something, but you were never vertical jumped, you never had a long jump, you never had shuttle times, you never saw things on the film, you never had all the different techniques that you need to be able to play back there. You never had the complexity of things. And naturally you never had some of the things that you see on offense that you have to defend.
I don't know if I'm answering the question or not, but that's nice of them to say that. That's a long time ago.
Could I play right now? Not right now. Could I have played back then? Yeah, I think I could have, yeah. If you have good ball skills and you can run and you're coachable, you've got some toughness.
Q. You've got a lot of youth on the defensive line. Could you talk about how those guys matured halfway through the season?
COACH DANTONIO: I think you see guys like Jerel Worthy beginning to play much better. Every snap is a new experience for him, but the last two games you've seen him play pretty well. Oren Wilson is solid, a very solid player, very solid player, and now he's finally off his ankle injury, so he's 100 percent. Trevor Anderson is pretty healthy. You see David Rolf starting to play better, I think. But you've got some young players like Blake Treadwell in there and you're seeing his play get better and better. He'll be an outstanding player for us.
We have some young players in there playing. Kevin Pickelman is not a guy that's played a lot, although he's played last year. He's still hampered with an ankle injury and he's finally healthy. I think we're going to get some guys that are going to be full go, have enough players to get them in there and be fresh this week. This is going to be a lot of -- there will be a lot of pass rushing involved in this game, so we'll need everybody and we'll need them to be able to go hard, extremely hard. This will be about who's in the best condition in some ways.
Q. Over the weekend you talked about with Winston being gone that Baker could possibly be reactivated, and that's something you'd have to consider during the week. When do you make that decision as to whether you would, whether you wouldn't? Is there something that would take place during the week that would make you decide to activate him or not?
COACH DANTONIO: I think what we'll do is we'll look at him in practice some this week relative to the others, make some decisions at that point in time, but then also point towards the game and see what happens in this game, as well. Because a lot of it becomes as the game becomes played out. We'll have to make those decisions probably at the end of Wednesday's practice, not before Tuesday or Wednesday, but at the end of Wednesday's practice to see where he is in terms of the offense, and really seeing where those other guys are, too. But we're six games in right now. If we can hold the red-shirt, we want to hold it.
And then we also have to look to see how he's -- where he's at physically, as well.
Q. Your secondary played very well last year at Northwestern, and they've played very well the last two games. How important are they going to be in terms of what you need to do Saturday?
COACH DANTONIO: It's not just the secondary, it's the linebackers, it's the pass rush, it's everything. How we play against the pass obviously will be very, very important this week. As I said earlier, I think conditioning because of their tempo will be extremely important. You know, this is a team game, so it's not going to be just two corners on the field the whole game. You're going to see four corners playing, because we have to stay fresh in certain positions. So you'll see different guys playing. We have depth to be able to do that.
I think one of the things last year is we were able to put different people on the field. I'm not talking about rolling them in and out during a series, but if a series gets long you can come back with another group of people. So we'll try and do that some. But it's going to be the linebackers, the pass rush and the secondary, affecting the quarterback, playing routes. Tackling in space will be huge because there's going to be some things that we're just going to have to tackle in space and keep their running to a minimum. Last year what I thought we did pretty well, we tackled well in space.
Q. The pace of Central Michigan's offense gave you guys some issues in getting off the field on 3rd down and those kind of things. Is there anything you can do to counter that that you learned from that game and can you scrimmage ahead of time?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, we try and simulate things, and the more you play against it, the better you become against it. Michigan, Illinois they did the same thing with the no-huddles type thing. We've had two weeks of that. We've practiced for two weeks of that tempo. This tempo may be even a little bit faster, we'll see. Certainly it is at some points in game. So we'll see.
But again, it goes back to making plays, I think, and being in a mindset of making plays rather than standing and watching. I think sometimes when you get into one of those tempo games, if you get into the 11th play of the drive -- in the Central game there weren't a lot of plays over 20 yards. A lot of the plays were just they systematically sort of went down the field, and you get into the 12th, 13th, 14th play of a drive, you find yourself standing there and watching them complete passes rather than reacting. That's when the negative things start to happen for us.
So I think it's a mindset. It certainly is film study, it certainly is being able to operate in your system and being able to play well in space and tackle, play the ball. Got to have a great pass rush.
Q. Somebody over there kind of stole half my question, but as a defensive back yourself and a guy who a few weeks ago said you spend more time with the secondary than any position on the team, do you feel any personal challenge to shore that unit up, and how much is defense going to be a factor because everyone scores points now in these games? How much is defense going to be a factor in how you do this season?
COACH DANTONIO: I think defense every is always a factor. I think if you win championships, it always starts with defense. I think if you look at Florida and what they're doing right now and Tebow and all the accolades he gets, they're winning because of defense based on what I see. If you look at some of the other teams around, they win on defense. So I think it always starts there.
So many different things can happen for you, turnovers, et cetera, and as far as where I work and what I do, I try -- I think it's always important -- I think probably in every realm of life you sort of become the CEO or you're the principal of a high school. I always like to use that analogy. Sometimes as a principal you taught a class, and whatever class you taught, that's where your strength is.
So I'm not going to try to be somebody I'm not. I'm going to go in the offensive room for an hour, two hours, three hours, whatever it is, try and know what they're doing, try and say, hey, this is from a defensive perspective, this would give you problems. But I will always go back to what my strength is as a football coach because I think that's where I can help the most.
We have five offensive coaches, we have four defensive coaches, so when you add myself in, we have five defensive coaches. Corners and safeties are what different in what they do, so I'll always try and take the safeties as an individual, and I'll always try and split time during the practice sessions, but I'm going to always try and probably -- gradually fade back over to the secondary at some point.
I have a great working relationship with Harlan Barnett because of our past, and I knew him when I was a secondary coach here, and then he has a relationship -- he has experiences with Nick Saban as much as I have experiences with Nick Saban, so we talk the same language, and there's a lot of principles that we both believe in. So it's a great working relationship in that capacity.
You help where you can, and that's the way I always try to look at it, and if I look at it always like a principal, I'd say, hey, so-and-so is out there, I'm going to run down and teach math class, because that's what I always used to teach. And it's sort of fun for you. But it keeps you as a coach -- I think one of the things I never want to lose as a head football coach, I never want to lose that interaction with players on the field. I never want to lose that opportunity to coach on the field because that's what's fun. So I'll always probably do that.
Q. When the team is going on a long drive, 12, 13 plays, how important is the depth that you guys have on that defensive line?
COACH DANTONIO: Critical. If you watch some of the games that they've played, you see their defensive linemen on the opposing team get very tired. A lot of the teams will run screens and get you running and running and running as a defensive lineman initially in the early parts of the game or early parts of the series, and then your pass rush sort of starts to suffer.
One of the main things we have to be able to do if we get somebody tired is be able to get the substitution in. Referees can control that somewhat if they substitute, but if they don't substitute, it's going so fast, sometimes they can't even get the chains set if they got a 1st down. The chains aren't even set, and they're on the ball running a play.
So when that's happening, you know it's pretty quick. So tempo is an issue.
Q. If you were to take a typical season, it generally becomes a season within a season, as 2009 seems to be for you. If you were to draw the biggest distinction between the last two weeks and the first four, a concise summary of what you might have been doing best the last two weeks, what would it be, versus the first month what occurred.
COACH DANTONIO: The last two weeks what we've done very, very well is offensively we've controlled the ball, so possession time has gone our way, and defensively we've gotten off the field in three-and-outs quite often. I think those two things, we've stopped the run in both cases. They've been unable to run the ball, and it's left them with long yardage situations on 2nd down if they have tried to run it, and then we've gotten off the field pretty much on 3rd down. A lot of three-and-outs.
The field position, you see us punting the ball near the 50 and them punting the ball on the 15. So there's a big field position swing, and I think we're winning that war.
I don't think the turnovers -- turnovers are coming, but they haven't been as prominent as those two statistics. We've controlled the football, we've run it and passed it, and we've sort of found our running game and a couple guys that can run it, and then on defense we've been able to get off the field and we've been able to sack the quarterback. I can't remember how many sacks we had against Michigan but we had seven last week.
Q. As far as the three-and-outs, what's contributed to the three-and-outs the last two weeks?
COACH DANTONIO: I think pressure on the quarterback, pressure on the quarterback and good play versus the run when they have run the football. I think those two things.
Q. You brought in at least on paper one of the best recruiting classes this program has seen in years this year. Given that it's your plan or intention to red-shirt most of those guys, what do you do? Is there anything special you do to keep them engaged now knowing they haven't been playing?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, you know, all these guys, the biggest focus we have tried to have always is it takes everybody on our football team to be successful. Today, this afternoon, a lot of our guys, those young offensive linemen, they have to have a great day of practice. Our young defensive linebackers, our secondary players, Dana Dixon, Jairus Jones, they have to have a great day of practice because they're simulating what our opposing team does.
They're getting better as they do it, but they're simulating that, and if you don't get great simulation, then you show up on game day and it's not quite the way you've practiced it, you've got a problem. So those guys have done an outstanding job this season, and they're growing physically and they're growing mentally as far as football, and then they're doing very well academically.
You know, I think that there are certain positions that we recruit that's difficult to play as a young player. But I think we have maybe four or five guys playing, but other than that, you've got about 15 or 16 guys red-shirted.
Q. In the last two weeks your players have credited the scout team and the looks they've been given, but when you're going up against a team with 15 seconds between plays, isn't that pretty hard to simulate that in practice?
COACH DANTONIO: The way we simulate is when we do seven-on-seven, we actually have three different seven-on-seven comings at us at once, so the defense will stay in maybe 10 plays and you'll have three teams coming right at you simulating that. I've got a stopwatch. Every 15, 16 seconds we're going.
The way we simulate it in team is when we have what we call game time, which is good versus good. We'll have the ones run a play against our two defense, let's say, and then the scout team will come right back at them within 15 seconds, they'll run a play, and then back to the two offense versus the ones. So you get maybe eight to ten plays as a defense straight up, and then you switch it.
We've got a system worked out the way that we do this. It's a good system, but it takes everybody involved to do it, and there's an understanding there. We can't do it the whole practice because our offense needs to work on things, but we can simulate what's going on.
Q. You're a 3 and 3 football team, 2 and 1 in the conference like you talked about. You have goals. I don't think if you can take us into the locker room with the chatter and the hopes that this team has, and how much of those hopes are revived with two straight wins right now?
COACH DANTONIO: I think all our hopes are very reachable, all of our goals. If you look at the schedule that we play, we're playing everybody except Ohio State, and the team that beat us has already lost once. So everything is there.
What we need to concentrate on is the very next challenge, which is Northwestern. Once we get through that one, then we reassess where we're at and move to the next one. That's the only way we can handle this thing. If our players can understand that and if we can focus truly on one game, more importantly the next play, then we're going to be successful. If we get beyond that, you can't get yourself excited, you become complacent, you can't possibly have overall success I don't think if you get beyond, if you look past things. We can't look past anybody.
We could very easily win our next six games, or we could lose all six. I hope our players understand that it's certainly -- this season would certainly give you an indication that we should understand it, but that's maturity and that's leadership from within. And right now things look positive. We can see the light a little bit, but we need to make sure that we continue to open that horizon for us.
Q. Could you talk about Northwestern's defensive line? I know there's some questions whether Corey Wootton will be playing or not, but when he's in, he's definitely a game changer.
COACH DANTONIO: Corey Wootton is a huge defensive end for them. He's had a knee injury this past season. He's had an ankle injury recently, but he was playing this last week in certain situations. So we would expect him to play full time against us. Very good player.
They lost a couple guys from last year, but as I said before, they're very active. They play extremely hard. Their linebackers are very active. They run a lot of different zone pressures, and I think they have two excellent safeties and corners. Those guys are returned from last year, so they're ball players.
Q. You mentioned Blake Treadwell earlier. He's played a couple of games, but how much better do you expect him to get for the rest of the season?
COACH DANTONIO: I think every experience leads to another right now, and the more you play, the better you become. So the more things that you see, the more prepared you are, the less anxiety you have, the more confidence that you bring. With six games left, we would expect him to continue to grow as a player, and he should be a very good player for us.
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