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October 20, 2009

Mark Dantonio

THE MODERATOR: With a recap of the homecoming game against Northwestern and a look ahead to Iowa, head Coach Mark Dantonio.
COACH DANTONIO: Seems like the Northwestern game has been a while ago. But we're a 4-3 football team right now. I think we've scratched our way back. I think that's the big message right now. I think we've talked enough about Northwestern. Guys rallied back in the second half, played very well. Getting ready for Iowa.
Iowa has an outstanding football team, 7-0. Ranked No. 6 in the nation right now. Well-coached football team. You look at them defensively, Norm Parker used to be here, defensive coordinator. Phil Parker, one of the great defensive backs here. His picture is up in our secondary meeting rooms. Might want to let him know that. Coaches their secondary. Their secondary is performing very well. No. 5 in the nation right now, passing defense efficiency.
Iowa traditionally defensively always very difficult to run on. They had a stretch there for 33 or 34 quarters where they have not had a rushing touchdown against them. An outstanding defense that we need to prepare for.
I would say when you look at them, you look at their football team, I would say the linebacker position all three guys returned. Pat Angerer is their leader there. But I think that Edds and Hunter are very good players. Clayborn, No. 94, along with Ballard, are excellent players. They replaced the other guys they lost in there. Playing very well up front. Sash in the back end, very impressed with him. Spievey, as well. But they return three starters in the secondary. So they play very well at the point of attack. You're going to have to earn everything you get against them. It will be a challenge for us.
When you look at their offense, very good up front offensive line-wise. Couple guys they needed to replace. Playing very well. Tailback situation with some injuries. They have younger players playing. They're performing at a very steady pace. I think their quarterback is an excellent player as well. You throw in their tight end, Moeaki, very good tight end. Wide receivers are all solid. Koulianos, I don't know if you would say he's their go-to guy, but made big plays for them throughout the year so far.
But special teams-wise, you look at them, again solid, do exactly what they're supposed to do. Very disciplined. It will be a challenge for us out here Saturday night, but one we're looking forward to.
As I said on Sunday, we played Iowa two very close games the last two years. We expect nothing different from that. But it will be a great opportunity to really play in an environment that really has some national repercussions. Our guys will look forward to it. We'll be excited to go.
I'll take some questions.

Q. Your offense is doing well. Are you concerned about the lack of production out of the tight ends?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, you know, you take what's given to you sometimes. I'm not concerned about the amount of production there because it will come. We have excellent tight ends that need to block at the point of attack. We've really used four of them now. You've seen all of them be involved in big plays, whether it was last year with Charlie or this year, with Linthicum, Dion Sims, even Celek got involved last week against Illinois. All four of those guys can play. The balls will come to them when the read is there. They do a nice job catching them.
When you look at our offense right now, we're throwing the ball pretty well, pretty effectively. One of the nation's leaders in the amount of sacks given up. Coach Roushar has done an outstanding job and our players have done an outstanding job, along with our quarterbacks and the other people involved in protection, fullbacks and tight ends as well.
It will be interesting.

Q. You mentioned the other day in your postgame the electricity that seems to surround Saturday night games around here. From the last Rose Bowl team that played USC on a Saturday. As a coach, do you make sure somebody calls, they don't sleep in and watch cartoons on Saturday?
COACH DANTONIO: We have a routine going back to really Cincinnati, we had a lot of night games. We have a routine worked out there. We've used that in the past year when we played the Indiana game. Also the 3:30 games are a little bit later starts. We'll be prepared.
I think our routine, we'll get our guys ready on Friday as usual, then Saturday there will be some walk-throughs and film, things of that nature. Also have some time to retreat and get to themselves as well.

Q. Brett Swenson is only seven points away from being the program's all time leading scorer. He's been here since you've been here. When he gets up to kick a field goal, do you have that peace of mind? How has he helped move this program forward knowing how consistent he's been?
COACH DANTONIO: I really do have a great feel of confidence in him, that regardless of what happens on the field, he's going to kick it with confidence. That's half the battle right there. He's been money. I think he needs one field goal to break the all-time record, seven points, as you said. I believe he needs 10 or 11 to break the all-time Big-10 record, which is doable when you look at five games left and beyond.
We'll see what happens. But last year he did an outstanding job in this football game. We'll look for him to do great things. But he's been a great leader for us, not just in that area, but across the board on our football team as well.

Q. In the pre-season, you talked about playing up. You didn't do that last year. How much have you referred to that throughout the year? Is this the week that kind of brings that phrase to its truest form?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, we really haven't talked too much about that because where we were at, we needed to just play and get back to even and doing the things that allows us to win. This is more about refocusing where we're at. We got one month of football left for our seniors that's guaranteed. We'll play, as I was reminded today, November 21st against Penn State. Our seniors have one month to go. They got the spotlight on them a little bit right now, based on this football game, what the consequences are with it, then beyond that. So it should be exciting for them.
But there's no doubt we need to play well to win in this game. We'll be prepared to do that. We'll be motivated for it. As I said before, the last two games have been great ones. We'll look forward to the same.

Q. Is it at all difficult for the defense to go from spread, spread, spread, dink and dunk, to a power team like Iowa?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, it is, because now you're working different things. Again, you have to readapt, again, everybody involved. It's especially difficult for younger players to go from playing no-huddle offenses, that type of thing, where the ball is being spread, to now this is what they do. But that's why we have practices all week. That's something that you deal with with younger players at times. Our older players are able to adapt a little bit easier. But I would agree with you, yeah.

Q. Iowa is a team that creates and gets a lot of turnovers. Is there anything you can do to prepare the guys to try to slow down their turnover ratio?
COACH DANTONIO: I think what you have to do is take care of the football, make good decisions. You have to hold onto it at runningback. Sometimes the ball comes out with hits, those type of things. We certainly have to take care of the football. I think that will be one of the major things in the football game as far as win or lose.
Last year they had some turnovers versus us here. I think obviously it had a direct correlation with winning and losing there. So I would imagine it will be the same. It seems to always fall into that category. It's very difficult to win the football game if you turn it over. We went to Wisconsin, we turned the football over. Consequently the game in the fourth quarter, end of the third quarter, we were fighting to get back in it. It's always going to be a big issue. They've done a great job. I believe they're plus nine right now. They're one of the top in the nation again in that category.

Q. Greg Jones great player. This is the first year he's in a leadership role as a captain. How have you seen his development in that category in addition to just maintaining or staying consistent with his level of play?
COACH DANTONIO: I said early in the week, our players are evolving. They can be leaders off the field. But the guys that are on the field, playing in positions of leadership or starting, our quarterbacks, our linebackers, some of our other players, our secondary players, those areas where there's communication that has to go out, they're doing an outstanding job, and they're growing in that area.
I think Greg Jones is an example of that. I've seen him with the defense around him as of late. They're sort of rallying up a little bit, however you want to say it.
We've got a lot of guys doing that, a lot of seniors doing that. Right now there's a good feel on this football team. I think one of the reasons is because the fact that we were 1-3, we're doing it the hard way. We've had to reach back, we've had to overcome some adversity. When you do do that, you start to have a good feeling about yourself a little bit.
I think if you're a 7-0 football team like Iowa, they've had some adversity, but they've won the close games. In our case we've lost a couple close ones. If you really look at the two teams, you probably can look at us and say we're right where Iowa was last year with a couple things that happened early in the season to them, close losses. They rallied back and did an outstanding job to have an outstanding football season. I guess we were 6-1 when we played Ohio State. We did lose the first game, but we ran off six straight.
A little bit of a reverse situation there. But I feel good about our football team's attitude, their presence, their focus. But we've got to get the job done on Saturday.

Q. Will Keith Nichol be available for more than emergency duty this weekend?
COACH DANTONIO: We're going to have to find that out as we go through practice. We talk about those things. We'll see how he does today.

Q. From where you guys were at 1-3 to where you are now playing for first place, if you had to sum up why you are here, is it a statement about your team, about the wide-open Big-10? Why are you where you are right now?
COACH DANTONIO: I think because we've sort of taken care of business, been able to refocus, not fall apart. That's why we're there. Regardless of the situation or the game, we've come to play every week. Doesn't mean you're going to win, but you have to show up with the right kind of attitude. I think our football team has done that.
The preparation during the week has been very good in terms of accountability and attitude and overall I guess team environment type things on the football field. So we've sort of hung together. Nobody has pointed fingers. It's just been staying to the task basically. I think that's why we've been able to do that.
I'll say, again, good leadership from within.

Q. After being in and out of the starting lineup this year, is Danny Fortener starting to emerge showing on-the-field leadership?
COACH DANTONIO: He had a great year last year, made some big plays last year. Yes, he had some big plays last year. He's starting to do that again this year. But we played a lot of players back there. So, again, even at the end of the game you saw Kendell Davis-Clark come in and play that position at the end of last week's game. As long as you're doing the job in there, playing well, you're going to continue to get the reps and play in there.
But he's done a great job. He's an extremely hard worker. I think our entire secondary that we played seven or eight guys last year, they all played very well. So that's a plus when we have a position of depth, plus we can play people around, play people in different positions.

Q. Yesterday Coach Izzo quoted Mack Brown who said you really don't know what kind of football team you have until after the fourth game. Do you feel like you're just starting to get to know this team, what it's all about? Is it what you thought it was?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I think that's probably true. Especially from a leadership standpoint, because if you're in the NFL or something, you probably have for the most part the same players as leaders for four and five years. I think it's very unusual that a freshman would be elected a captain or be in a position of leadership. I don't think that exists too often. So by the time they get to be juniors and seniors, it's always changing.
I guess what I'm trying to say is the leadership is always changing on a football team. As you get to the point where you start to struggle or handle adversity, you need to find out what kind of leadership you have. I think that pulls you through. Some people evolve to that, as I said earlier. I think that's what's happening for us. I think we're getting good leadership. I think our players buy into what everybody is doing, whether it's the coaches, the coaches buy into the players. There's good chemistry on the football team right now. You see guys stepping up and making plays. Edwin Baker made some plays on Saturday. Going to be a very good player. A young player, inexperienced player, had an opportunity to play. He steps up.
But we are still a young football team with some of our players. We basically have two freshmen runningbacks right now, true freshmen, that are our feature runningbacks. That's a little bit different. So you grow. Experience is the best indicator for you in terms of your growth, I think. We're getting that experience as we go. Sophomore quarterbacks. You know, different type of things like that.

Q. Do you see any of yourself in Kirk Ferentz? You even look like the guy. Maybe where his program is, isn't that where you would like yours to be?
COACH DANTONIO: When you become a head football coach, I think you try and emulate some of the programs around the country you look at. Iowa was one of them that I looked at because when I was here in 2000, I remember going to Iowa. They were on a long losing streak. I can't remember how, but it was the longest in the nation at that point in time. I remember they beat Michigan State in 2000. At that point in time it started to turn. It took time, maybe one or two or three years even. But I remember that time. I think he built it step by step, with a great foundation under it.
His program is built on toughness. It most certainly is. It's built on running the football, stopping the run. It's built on not making mistakes, playing very well on special teams, doing the little things that allow you to get the big picture.
When I look at that football team, they've been to the Rose Bowl, they've had great success. Some of the things that he's done, he deserves a lot of credit for. So, yeah, I would say you look at people who are successful, you try and take what they've done and apply it to your situation.

Q. You look like him.
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I'll ask him if that's a compliment (laughter).

Q. Last year the team struggled in big games against Ohio State and Penn State. How do you think that experience will help the team this week?
COACH DANTONIO: It's got to help us some. Obviously it's a game of mistakes. Against Ohio State we had too many turnovers. Against Penn State, we couldn't get off the field and we couldn't run the football.
I think in both those cases, a little bit different than now. It's got to help us now that we've played in those games some. And the reality is that those football games had us playing for the Big-10 championship at the end of the season, a national media type thing with being 6-1, I can't remember what Ohio State was, whether they were 6-1, 7-0. Different in that capacity because we had won six straight.
I think this is a little bit different because, you know, we're climbing back. So we have a little bit more scratch to us maybe right now. So we've been down this year already. So I think we have to recognize where we've been, what we've done to get back to 4-3 and continue to be able to do those things. I think that's important that we recognize that.

Q. You mentioned emulating the program. Do you think the fact maybe these programs are similar in some way has anything to do with the closeness of the games, not just the last few years, but even over the years?
COACH DANTONIO: Probably. I think they're two similar type programs, sort of built the same way. Probably as I look back to my past here, you know, Hayden Fry (phonetic), George Perles, close games even back then. But I can't answer that for sure.

Q. Cousins, if he has to go full-time duty for the second straight week, given the importance of this game, and he succeeds, knowing he's owned up to mistakes in the past like the Notre Dame game, what do you think that could do for his growth as a quarterback within this program?
COACH DANTONIO: I think any time a player has an opportunity to go out on the field and quarterback, play safety, play center, anything that they do in a starting role, or really anytime, it's adding experiences to them. They will grow. If he has a bad game, they're going to grow. That's what makes the player, the experiences on the field. We can run the same pass play seven or eight times in a row, but he may end up going to seven or eight different people, may see seven or eight different coverages or pressures. All those things, all those little experiences, as he grows, are very meaningful. That's what you have to have, I think.
The same could be said for Keith, the experiences he's had. Continue to grow with each experience. That's what is great about this situation when you're sitting here as the football coach, they're sophomores, still young, have a lot of growth. They've played well. That's a positive for us.

Q. I wanted to ask about Blair White, got a lot of recognition for his performance, national wide receiver of the week. Do you feel the people outside the program are starting to recognize his talent on a greater level?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I hope so. But, I mean, in all honesty, I work over in like a little cocoon. I see the press when I come here. I go back over there, and I don't. I really don't read too much. John informs me of some things that are going on.
But I hope they're recognizing that fact. He's an outstanding wide receiver. He is a play-maker. He's not just a play-maker there. If you look at him on special teams, he has the big tackle on the punt down there. He's been on the kickoff team in the past. He's returned punts in the past. So he'll do whatever we ask him to do. That's the beautiful thing about Blair White, he's extremely unselfish, he's a worker, he's a gamer. The biggest thing you can say about him, he's a gamer. We have other guys who will do that, but he caught 12 on Saturday, so he's done a great job.

Q. When you talk about hanging in there and leadership from within, guys like Blair White and Kirk Cousins who have had ups and downs, are those the type of people you're talking about with this team?
COACH DANTONIO: I think regardless of who you're talking about, Joel Nitchman, who has been through injuries, now he's back as a starter, John Stipek, who filled in for him, did an outstanding job. Whether you're looking at now Larry Caper, seven games into the season, so a little bit less of a freshman, more like a sophomore, he's got a little bit more confidence. You have naturally more confidence than you do the first game of the season. Across the board, you can look throughout. Even Greg Jones, as much football as he's played, he played Mike linebacker for one year, now he's sort of doing it for the second time. Oren Wilson, a lot of our guys are just growing. They were young, sophomores, now they're more like juniors. Our seniors that are on this football team, some of them didn't start maybe as a junior. (Indiscernible), for example. Now he's in a solidified starting role as right guard. He's showing leadership as well. All of these things take a little bit of time. They involve experiences on the field and success on the field.
I mean, when you talk about winning football games, you have to have leadership out on the field, I believe. It's great to have it in the locker room and everything, but when you step on the field, you have to play well and have leadership there and provide that spark or that anchor out on the football field that people can depend on you and look to you for leadership.

Q. I know you mentioned Norm Parker. I don't know in your football world how well you know him or any stories you can share about him.
COACH DANTONIO: I know Coach Parker really only through reputation until I got back to -- until I came to Michigan State, just hanging around. Never really have sat down, never gone to sit there in clinic. I know his reputation here as a person, his reputation as a coach here because he had been here with Coach Perles for so long. The things I hear about him as a person are tremendous stories. You talk about character, a person who cares deeply for his players, all the positive things that go along with coaching, a mentor. I know he coached with Dino Folino on our staff. The things he had done at Vanderbilt, as well.
I think he's one of the premiere coordinators in the Big-10, in the country. He's done an outstanding job. His guys have played very, very well, not just this year, but in the past years.

Q. When you look at the numbers, it shakes out that the third quarter has been this team's quarter. What is it that happens in the locker room at halftime that makes this team come out and perform the way it does?
COACH DANTONIO: I think our coaches, first of all, are doing a good job with adjustments, settling down things. We've done a nice job with that. I think the second thing is you go back to the leadership from within on this football team. We have guys that aren't panicking in there. There's a sense of calm. There's a sense of, Okay, this is what we have to do. We bring energy back out in the second half. We've brought energy out. Those are the things you have to be able to do.
So that's a good thing. I think that's a very important thing, that you feel like you can go in at halftime, recollect yourselves, you're going to have success coming back out. Those are steps towards development I think for this program.

Q. You have a sixth ranked BCS team coming in, 3-0 in the Big-10, the only team standing between you and your ultimate goal. How much do you embrace seizing the moment?
COACH DANTONIO: Big-game opportunity, but a lot of football left to play. A big-game opportunity. You certainly don't want to say, This is it, this is all of it. But I want our football team to experience this moment. I want them to be excited about it and have fun with it. When we've come to big games like this, whoever we've played in these type of things, I've tried to talk to our football team, just like my wife talks to me, Enjoy it. This is an opportunity to play in a football game that you should remember and be able to tell your children at some point in time, I remember when.
So to go in there and not be excited, not be loose, not be jacked up to play. I want all that for our players, because I think that's the football experience. I think that's what makes football great and that's why they should play it. Let's not put too much pressure on ourselves, let's play the game, block, tackle, execute, get ourselves ready to go.

Q. What would you say Cousins is doing better now than he was doing early in the season?
COACH DANTONIO: First of all, I think he's got a great grasp of our offense and always had. No interceptions this past game. So I think that's been a positive. He sat out the Illinois game because of his ankle. You really can't evaluate that. I thought the Michigan game he played very well. I guess the biggest thing is we're winning football games, when you look at it. Your quarterback needs to lead you in that direction because he's got so many things he has to make from a decision-making standpoint at the line of scrimmage or in the pocket or regardless of what he's doing.
But he's been an unbelievable leader in all aspects on and off the field. But, you know, I guess in truthfulness, it takes a whole team to get this done. There's 11 people. But I've never worried about Kirk Cousins and the job that he was going to do in terms of his preparation, his game management, those type of things.

Q. Honorary captain?
COACH DANTONIO: Julian Peterson. It's special for me because I recruited him when he was here. Had an opportunity to be with him for two years here. Obviously, went to the Citrus Bowl. So it's 10 years from that point in time, the '99 team, now to the 2009 team. He's been here on campus. Came back and spent four hours or so with our football team. Some of our players will recognize him as a person, not just as a player, they already know him a little bit, so that will be special for him. I talked to his mother. She's excited about it, too. It will be nice. It will be really nice to have him here. He'll have an impact on our football team. It will be exciting for him.
Thank you.

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