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October 27, 2009

Mark Dantonio

THE MODERATOR: Head Coach, Mark Dantonio.
COACH DANTONIO: Before I get started here, I wanted to congratulate Rolph and the field hockey team for winning the Big 10 Championship, tremendous accomplishment. I think anything you do something special it needs to go recognized, and winning a Big 10 Championship is something we all strive for.
In addition to that, our men's soccer team with their win over Michigan this week, sixth straight time, and makes it three -- they're on a three-game winning streak, and I also wanted to congratulate them. I think we point to those games and they're special for all of us, and with the rivalries being as such, I wanted to recognize those things.
Just to conclude the Iowa situation, the Iowa game was a disappointing loss for us, but we'll move through it. We'll move through these things as we make our way through our football season.
Minnesota is up next, 4-4, eight o'clock night game, eastern standard time, night game. It comes on a day before we go into daylight savings time, so we're falling back -- we'll fall back a day early for our football team. They're a 4-4 football team, they've played two very tough opponents on the road last two weeks, with Penn State and Ohio State, so to be back home in their home state and their home stadium I'm sure will be much more friendlier, and they're probably excited about getting back to business.
Halloween night, makes it special, a little bit. I'm sure they'll have a little extra excitement there, so I'm sure it will be a great environment for us to play in, we're looking forward to going up there.
Offensively looking at Minnesota, Weber certainly is their quarterback. Decker remains to be seen whether he'll play or not based on his injury, but I have not heard anything contrary to that so we expect him to play. They use three tail backs, offensive line is big, physical, good tight end, wide receivers are all solid, conceptually very well tied together.
Defensively I believe ten seniors on their defense, middle linebacker sort of leads them, and their a program led by Coach Brewster who is in his third year, much like we are, and he has made strides in the program and they're on the verge of bold performances as well, so with that I'll open it up for questions and we'll go from there.

Q. You just mentioned Minnesota is in their third year. Do you see any similarities there between your program and their program? A lot of the Big 10 programs are in younger stages, 8 of the 11 teams, fifth year or earlier right now.
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I see some things that they're going through that we're going through. They have a new stadium; we've got now facilities. They came in in a situation where they were sort of looking to rebuild things, and the same things that we've sort of followed through.
The blueprint may be a little bit different where they're at as opposed to where we're at, but I think there are a lot of similarities in terms of the two programs moving forward, so I do see similarities there.

Q. Coach, after heart-breaking losses under you the last three years, the team has always been able to bounce back. Why do you think that is?
COACH DANTONIO: I think we've got good leadership in our football team; we've had that since we've come here. It starts from within, it permeates down through -- up, it really permeates up through our assistant coaches and to me. So you always feel good. You know, you have players -- I saw players walking -- as I walked in the building today a couple of players were walking out and, you know, "Coach, how you doing?" I get a slap on my behind by our players, "How we doing today, Coach?" and hit me on my bottom, okay?
So our players are, you know, resilient, as I said, and we'll be ready to play, and I think that permeates through the whole program. We're in this together, so I understand that. It's a good feeling.

Q. Coach, another week where you have trouble scoring in the red zone once you get down to the goal line. How do you explain those difficulties of finishing off a drive and getting the touchdown?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, you know, you always look at those things and evaluate them, and I think you get down there and you say "What happened?" It's always something different. I went back and looked at those myself yesterday again as I was looking at Minnesota's goal line. I said, I've got to go back and watch this one more time. When you look at it, you've got good players up there against Iowa, and they made good plays.
You have four shots to get in, you don't get in on the fifth shot, I think we need to kick the field goal. I wish I could have sat here and said, "Hey, we went for it on the fifth time," but we needed to come up with points in that game, we were playing well defensively, and I felt that was the right thing to do.
But when you look at it the first time, young tail back slides against Illinois; he walks in, and he doesn't even get hit. If you look at it against Northwestern, we had an opportunity a couple of times there, and in the end we sneak it and we don't get in, and I made a bad decision with Cousins, because of his ankle he couldn't get the drive he needed.
And this time I've got to credit Iowa's defense on this one. They played very well, they got their pads under us a couple times, we had a shot to go in one time and we got close, but then the next play we lost a half a yard, so we're still a yard away.
It's something that needs to be addressed, we'll address it, and we'll move forward with it. But our offensive staff is addressing it, and I think the first thing -- in order to fix the problem I the first thing you have to recognize is maybe there is a problem, so we're doing that. We'll continue to do that with all aspects of our football team.

Q. Coach, you've had good success running trick plays here in the last three years. What goes into the thought process on when to decide to run one? What's made 'em so effective for you?
COACH DANTONIO: I think that timing is very crucial when you run a trick play. You've got to have the right set -- the set-up pass be right, obviously, the time has to be right as much as anything the time has to be right.
Then you have to have a little good fortune, I think, in terms of what they have defensively on as opposed to what you are doing, and then you have to have good execution, and it has to be done confidently by our players.
So our players have done that, I think Coach Treadwell -- we've always worked on certain things and had good designs. Obviously we have a small package of trick plays that we carry, whether it's every week or whether we pull out after such and such so, or whether we see something somebody else did and we create a library of that. So players like 'em, everybody likes 'em, and only when they work. That's the key to it.
So I think the execution of our players has been good and we work 'em and practice them a little bit, so that's probably been the reason.

Q. Coach, for as good as Greg Jones is, he almost went to Minnesota before Glen Mason was fired. What do you remember about recruiting him and how have you seen him develop as a young man?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, what I remember about Greg, and we recruited him in Cincinnati, great young man; we had him in camp. In the recruiting process when Coach Mason left, he was still committed to Minnesota, somewhat, didn't know how strong.
I remember getting to the heart of the problem as exactly why he wanted to go to Minnesota, "Why Minnesota?" And he said, "Coach, Mall of America." (Chuckles) and I just remember that.
He likes going to malls and hanging out and stuff like that, and I said, "Hey, we've got malls in East Lancing," and we got him over the top. He came over on a visit here and we got him out to the malls, and we got him to be a Spartan. I do remember that. You never know what's going to turn a guy.

Q. Can you get him to the Mall of America Saturday morning?
COACH DANTONIO: If we sent him back there he might want to transfer, but (Chuckles), no, but I do remember him saying that to me. The bottom line is he had relationships with us prior to that coaching staff going there; he had relationships with us from Cincinnati and knew us as people.

Q. You're pretty much neighbors with Tom Izzo. You said he comes over and talks to you sometimes about coaching in general and just wondering, since he's done so much, yet in the beginning he didn't really jump out of the gates right away and have a tremendous amount of success in his first couple of years, how has he helped you kind of instill this belief that you're doing the right things despite some of these close losses?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, you know, he's always there to offer a word of encouragement or just say, "Hang in there," you know, he makes phone calls to me, that type of thing, just a good relationship just as friends.
Whether it's Tom or whether it's Bobby Stoops calling me and saying something on Monday or someone else in the coaching profession, it's just good to know because everybody sort of goes through things similar situations like that at some point in time in their careers. But Tom has been unbelievable, Lupé as well, their family and that's been from the onset, and it's greatly appreciated.
And the respect that I have for him and his program and what he's been able to do as a coach goes without saying. It's been good, real good.

Q. After a game like the Iowa game, just -- reporters get all sorts of comments from fans about --
COACH DANTONIO: I bet you do.

Q. Yes, about what we should have asked you or told you. What does a coach go through? Did your inbox go up even more? What kind of reaction do you get after a game like that?
COACH DANTONIO: I'm glad you asked me that, Janet, because I brought over here the seven stages of grief, okay? Let me read 'em to you, just so we're all straight here and then we're done with Iowa.
The first thing was "shock and denial" when that happened. How could they go down the field, how could this happen? All these different things. You know, because you go from complete celebration with the drive and especially the way it was done with the trick play and the big touchdown pass to shock and denial, that couldn't have happened, not again.
Then I think we went to the next stage which was "pain and guilt" okay? Pain, guilt. The players had guilt, I had guilt, everyone did. Then we went into "anger and bargaining" about some different things that went on during the game. We all were there, right?
Then we hit "depression and reflection," area and, okay, along with number 4 is "loneliness," a little bit of that, okay? We felt like we were all alone with this.
Then I think yesterday -- or maybe it was -- yeah it was probably yesterday was the "upward turn," okay? Looking forward a little bit. And I think that happened -- you know, I hit that reconstruction of working through No. 6 as I was on the exercise bike yesterday for 25 minutes trying to recreate every situation that happened on that last play, if we were in this coverage what this would have looked like, all the different plays they've run in that situation, what if they got into empty, early part of the game, things that they had never shown and ran this particular route, how would that have matched up versus that?
It was at the 7 yard line, how all of these different things -- and I had it all reconstructed in my mind and went back up to the defensive staff room and went through that with our coaches again and then basically settled on, you know, we needed to be in man coverage and pressure them, which is exactly what we did. That was No. 6.
Finally No. 7, I think we entered that last night, "acceptance and hope." And that's where we're at, you move on. I think that's what you have to do. Our players have done that, as I said this morning, when I see 'em, very encouraging, and I think when you're in a family -- and that's what we have, we have a family, we have a football family. Doesn't mean everybody always get along in a football family, but we have a family, and there's people that in times of crisis they come together. That's what we have to do.
That's what we've done. When you say you played very well after tough losses, that's what we have done here. Because of that I know that we will be successful here ultimately. We've taken a football team in three years that had very little hope and now we're playing No. 6 teams in the nation and saying we should have won and that's the reality of the situation. We've got a good football team, we'll measure up. I'll continue to say we'll measure up as a program, and it won't just be on the football field, it will be in the classroom and off the field as well and that's what we'll do here.
That's our job, and we're going to get there. We'll be a championship football team at some point, when we're ready. When it doesn't become chaos on the side lines or when it doesn't become chaos on the field in a critical situation, when we can handle those times as a coaching staff and as a group of players to be able to fight through those moments and make the play when we have to make the play; that's part of growing.

Q. Moving forward, looking at how in college football, the clock stops on first down. Do you change your approach toward the "prevent defense" based on experience now and how it worked out?
COACH DANTONIO: You mean on the clock stops after first downs?

Q. Right.
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, we don't want 'em to get first downs. The whole intent of anything is we play one snap, one snap of what I would call prevent defense, that was the first snap. After that we were rushing three and dropping eight, but we were pressing our wide receivers, we were pressing the wide receivers at the line of scrimmage so we had to play the deep routes, the nine routes, we were playing close coverage on everyone.
The fact of the matter was two safeties were on either side -- the ball is in the middle of the field usually a safety is here a safety is here, a right and left safety a strong and weak safety, and they got flipped, so you got a safety playing something he usually had not played. He doubled the wide receiver instead of poaching off, so he couldn't back-stop the crosser coming through, the linebacker dropped the crosser coming through, and it's a 20-yard gain instead of a six-yard gain. That's what happened on that one.
The next play we pressured the quarterback, blitzed. After that we sent Greg Jones and had four-man pressure the entire time. Once we were down to the 7 yard line we were in eight-man pressure, key coverage, which means we've got one more than they got, we had one more guy coming than they had blocking in the last four plays.
The blitz that we ran, Cobra blitz, Cobra key is the same blitz all four times, all four plays that were run against Ohio State in 1998 and we beat them on the 7 yard line, it's the same exact blitz. Not run to perfection, couple of mental assignments, but it is what it is. That's the blitz, that's what we ran and that's what we know. We have to practice and play what we know because in those situations it's as you can see, it comes down to the end.
As I said, you know, thank you for that question because that slipped me back to "reconstruction" and working through, okay? Which is No. 6, so I am still close. All right? But that's where we're at, okay? I have complete faith in our players and our coaches, and we're looking forward to going to Minnesota and starting back. We can still have a very, very good football team. In reality we can still win as many games as we won last year, which is a good thing.

Q. Mark, going to Minnesota, the weather forecast calls for snow, bitter wind, rain, maybe two or three of that combination. If it's bitterly cold and windy, do you change anything that you're going to do offensively or defensively however the weather is?
COACH DANTONIO: I think we have to play to that environment. Obviously that's why we have a football team that can be balanced. We have to be balanced, we have to be able to run and throw it, obviously if the wind is blowing like crazy you can't throw it down the field as well, way down the field if it's really that bad.
But we play accordingly, and we have plans for that based on the weather. We have a weather coach, you probably didn't know that, get the weather report every single day, so it's changing but I haven't heard snow and rain; I heard cold. So we'll see what it is, but I'll recheck with the weather coach, but you have to have plans for that.
Your offense and your defense is predicated on different things, short passing game, intermediate passing game, deep passing game, so we can go to any of those things we need to.

Q. Mark, two-part question. Did you come up with that, finding the "Seven Stages of Grief" or did someone give that to you? And focussing on the seventh stage, are you in the process of reevaluating and hoping for what? Fill in the blank.
COACH DANTONIO: That would be 6, "reconstruction." We're past that, okay? "Acceptance and hope," okay? In reality the "Seven Stages of Grief," I've heard it before so I just thought it was a good time to bring it out since we're getting questions -- I knew we would have a question, notice I didn't lead with that I waited for somebody to ask that question. I knew it would come.
In terms of where we're at as a football team, no, our football team is pretty well set, I think we're set in terms of who is playing, what's going on. I think we're getting better as a football team. I think without question as I said earlier in the season you want to continue to progress as a football team and get better.
We played a great defensive game, an outstanding defensive game. I thought we ran the ball more effectively against Iowa than many people do, and I thought we ran the ball effectively against Iowa better than we did last we're. We didn't get the turnovers this year that we did last year. Last year they turned the ball over 4 times in the red zone; this year they didn't. We turned 'em away twice on goal line stands. We needed to come up with a third. We were three out of four in the red zone, we needed to come up with a fourth.
We made 'em kick three field goals, turned 'em away on goal stands twice. We're getting better as a football team. I thought our tight ends were more involved this week, I thought Mark Dell caught the ball better. I thought he had a better game as a football player. You see Blair White doing good things, so we're getting better as a football team. That's our ultimate goal, is to play our best football team at the end of the season. Ultimately we need to win our last football game, any way you cut it. That's our goal. And I think we're doing that.
So I think we're fine, we're moving ahead, we had a set-back, it's unfortunate, but you deal with it and you move on it, and makes you stronger in the end, I do believe that.

Q. Coach, how have you seen Greg developing from a wide-eyed freshman into a leader?
COACH DANTONIO: Greg Jones as a freshman ran around and made a ton of plays when he was in there but he didn't play full time; he was in and out quite often, toward the end of year he was playing a lot. But, you know, as a freshman every game change -- well, really, for a defensive player and an offensive player every game is changing for you, because you see a different offense. Even if you see the same two-back offense, you may see two-back gap runs, here, different type of passing attack as opposed to zone-type runs like we saw last week.
So there are different schematics involved there, and there's different fits and reads, especially for a linebacker. You see a lot of mistakes as a freshman, fewer as a sophomore and as a junior he's starting to take off and you are starting to see him play to his abilities in terms of knowing what to do and consequently you see not only a better linebacker, you see a lot of tackles, still, but you see a better linebacker, better fit.
Sometimes it's just about how you take on the blocker which allows somebody else to fit off of you. All of those things are happening, and he's closer to being a senior now than he is a junior. He's got eight games of experience, coming on nine games of experience as a middle linebacker full-time. So I think he's doing a great job.

Q. Mark, you seem to have this pre-game routine, at least for the home games, where you sit up in the stands in your suit and you're jotting down notes. What are you doing up there in what are you writing down? Is that something you've always done?
COACH DANTONIO: That's something I've always done. That's my quiet time. It's my quiet time. That's what I do, I look over things and maybe call a couple of people, sometimes recruits, but it's my quiet time, that's just it. I go there just to get away from everybody. Guess not anymore. (Chuckles.) No, it's all right, but that's what I do. That's what I do. Nobody is in the stands yet and I just go there. I think everybody needs a little time to get away.

Q. Mark, at the point in the season how do you keep the young players from it hitting the wall and how do you get 'em past that if they do?
COACH DANTONIO: Young players do hit the wall, I think we talk about things like bowl games. One thing you always want to do as a football team is continue to keep your hopes alive to go to those bowl games. I know in the first year, for example, you want to be in a situation where, hey, like we were 5-5, if you win the last two games you got a bowl shot. Even if he won one of the last two in that first year you have a bowl shot, and we keep playin' on.
And we're to that point where those things are becoming the situation. And we have an opportunity to sit here and win four games, and I think if we win four games we'll be in a New Year's Day bowl game, I believe that; we'll have the same record that Iowa had last year.
There is a lot to play for and I think -- I said this the other night, the thing that I want everybody to understand is we weren't playing against an undefeated team and that's why we were playing hard; that had nothing to do with it.
We were playing for our fans and we were playing because if we won that football game we were 4-1 and number 1 in the Big 10 conference, at least a share, so we were playing for ourselves. We still need to play for ourselves, we need to play for a 4-2 record, and where that puts us in the scheme of things depending on what happens this weekend. That's why we need to play and our players need to understand that, and I think they do.

Q. Mark, looking at Minnesota, Gray played a little bit in the last game and it sounds like they may alternate series or they may play him a lot more. What does that present to you as a challenge? How would you describe their offense, they were talking about the power game but they do some of the options stuff. With him I think they have more options like that.
COACH DANTONIO: They've moved outside to play and I'm sure that factors into it because late in the season up there, you know, you get some bad weather reports. But they use MarQueis as that spread-type guy, you know, quarterback runs, those type of things. I think it works out well for 'em, they just move him in and out of the formation a little bit, and that's something they've done conceptually really since the first game. They did more the last game maybe just because of the situation late in the game.
But, you know, it just gives us an added thing to prepare for, basically. Not to say that Weber can't do those things or has not done those things in the past year, as we looked at them all the way back through the last year, too.

Q. Mark, I don't want you to go two weeks without a quarterback question. Would Keith be available if you needed him on Saturday?
COACH DANTONIO: Yes, he will be available. He would have been available this week, but it would have been an emergency, I think, based on how practice went that week. All good, guys? Okay, thanks.

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