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MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY MEDIA CONFERENCE
November 3, 2009
THE MODERATOR: To look ahead to the Western Michigan game, head coach Mark Dantonio.
COACH DANTONIO: Real quickly, just following up on the game last Saturday, I think first thing we have to do is readjust where we're at. I think you always have to be able to do that. I think it's very, very important this week as we look forward towards Western Michigan that we understand this is a football game in the middle of a Big Ten season and we need to get ourselves ready to go emotionally.
Western has done a great job the past three years. They beat Illinois last year, knocking them out of a Bowl game. Year before that I think it was Iowa, knocking them out of a Bowl game. I think the year before that they knocked Purdue out of a Bowl game, if I remember right. Very, very capable. Will be very confident coming in to Spartan Stadium.
Have an outstanding quarterback, who has thrown for thousands of yards, touchdowns, I think he had 37 touchdowns, over three thousand yards last year. Outstanding tailback, go-to wide receivers. They've had some injuries at the wide receiver position, but nevertheless they're still being productive. Coach Cubit has done a nice job there defensively. They're probably a little bit less than what they're doing offensively, but they still play extremely hard. They've had injuries as well, playing different people in there as well.
From that perspective, I think the main thing is we need to focus where we're at as a football team. What I mean by that, we have to understand where we're at. I don't think we're going to win the Big Ten championship. That's a reality. We've lost three games in the conference. I think our goals need to be going to a Bowl game, regardless of which Bowl game that is. I think we do that, we've done that for the first time, three straight Bowl games for our seniors, first time since '95, '96, '97, then winning out in November, which I think is possible.
We've come up short. We've lost some respect. It's about rebuilding respect. It's about building that fire I think I talked about on Sunday from within to get ourselves ready to play on a weekly basis. I'm not saying we weren't ready to play this last Saturday, but we need to understand and be able to execute as coaches and as players on a constant basis.
We need to talk to the people who understand our situation, whether that's media, family, our mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, teammates, our football team. We need to understand that it's got to start there. We got to start rebuilding this process.
I think a lot of teams are in this position right now throughout the country. A lot of teams are fighting adversity. The ones that are able to fight it through November will come out of it and will have good football seasons. We have an opportunity to be a 7-5 football team right now, 8-5 if we win a Bowl game. We have to build on that from there.
With that I'll take some questions.
Q. In 2007 when you were here I asked about other coaches who have their offensive coordinator look at their defense to look for tendencies. You said it was too early for you to do that. Minnesota players and coaches talked about knowing what you were going to do. Have you had your guys take a look at each other to look for tendencies?
COACH DANTONIO: I think it's very difficult to do that during the season. We're extremely busy in terms of focusing on what we have to do. We look at ourselves for tendencies. Every single week we self scout. That's one of the things we do every single week. We go back and look at all the big plays against us as a defense. We've looked at every single goal line play we've had as an offensive staff this year, because that's a point of issue for us. We've gone back and looked at that. We've looked at last year's goal line offense. We've looked at the year before's goal line offense. So regardless of what aspect of the football game you're struggling in and trying to critique, that individual staff is looking at that aspect of it and critiques themselves.
I think it's very difficult if we say, Okay, Coach Narduzzi, I want you to look at our offense and say what's going on here, you always do this. I think as a head coach, I can do that somewhat. There's a vast amount of things you do formationally and defensively and zone pressure and man pressure, all these different aspects that you try and do. You have a general feel for those things and you look at the self scout, the critiques of both, which is what we do. We look at everything we run formationally, look at it and say, What kind of tendencies do we have in these areas? We try and address those issues.
But everybody that we play has tendencies that they have. We've repped the first play of the game last week against Minnesota. We repped 10, 15 times. Far set, back offset to the open side of the formation, to the X receiver. Pass, trick play, wheel routes, crack and go's. We've got to be able to play that within the scheme we play, within the specific defense we play.
The problem on that particular play was that we got caught in a defensive adjustment because, just like everything else, you try and window dress it a little bit by moving the tight end, which they hadn't done. They hadn't moved the tight end. Created a situation where our defensive players thought they were going to switch the pressure. Changed where it was coming from, which is a mental assignment. It created a problem. They hit the pass on the wheel route. We missed the tackle. Bad things happen.
We can't spot a football team 14 points. We dug ourselves out of the hole. We were ahead in the football game. You can't spot a team 14 points and expect it not to be a close game. It's going to be a close game when that happens.
I don't know if I'm answering your question or just rattling on. So next question.
Q. You just said you lost a little bit of respect. You have to start rebuilding this process. Can you expand on that.
COACH DANTONIO: I think anytime you have a football team that is all of a sudden 4-5 after nine games, I think you begin to lose a little bit of respect. I think that's natural. What we want to try to do is make sure we're regaining that respect.
I believe that is a weekly challenge for every football team in America. It's a weekly challenge for Michigan State. I would look down the line and I would imagine that anybody, like a couple weeks ago Ohio State lost a lot of respect when they lost to Purdue, this past week I'm sure people out west feel like USC lost some respect in their loss to Oregon.
I think that's a weekly thing we struggle with as coaches, regaining respect, our players regaining respect. I think that's a natural thing regardless of where you're at in the sports world, the athletic world. When you don't win, you don't get the prize. There is no prize for second place. You either win or you lose. You can say why you won, why you lost, all these different things, you can lay it out there, but it's one or the other.
We have to always deal with that. I feel that's very important because your competitive nature as a person, as a player, as a football team, will directly correlate with how you feel about that. It gets you irritable. I think we want our players irritable. So that's why I say that. We want our coaches irritable. That's why I say that.
Q. On Sunday you said you didn't anticipate any depth chart moves. Today it appears that depth chart doesn't exist. What's changed and what does that mean for this week?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, you know, we have some guys that are banged up, injured a little bit. Really till we get to practice today, we don't know who's in, who's out. We had some guys with some head injuries. We have to see where we're at. We also have to see how certain players are coming back as well, guys who have been injured previous.
But there will be no depth chart issues relative to how someone played, if that's an answer to your question. It's purely are we going to play this guy over here, this guy over here, how are we going to align things based on injuries, that type of thing.
Q. It's November. In your last two years you have done pretty well in November, just losing that one game against Michigan that first year. That had been a problem for Michigan State in the past, doing well in November. Do you talk about that with players this year?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah. I think our goals now have to be: win out in November. I think that's a realistic goal. I think that's something we need to point to. We pointed to winning the last football game, regardless of where we were at. That's a goal for us.
Then the Bowl game things, you know. We were 5-5 after 10 weeks in '07. Won some close games in '08. That's where we're at. So you have to be able to deal with it. I think you have to be able to face reality, where you're at, readjust your goals, and move forward. I just think that's what you have to do.
Q. Mark, the fullback used to be an integral part of the ground game. What happened to the fullback and talk about Andrew Hawken?
COACH DANTONIO: I think the fullback in college football today, it still is in existence for most people, but in certain situations. I think in goal line, short yardage, you are constantly seeing the fullback in there, regardless of what football team you play against. But I do think when people have moved to the spread, they tried to take people and move them out of the box by making them cover down, and they've used the quarterback and the off back, the remaining back in there, as a way to hold the defender, either by moving the ball, faking the ball to him on the zone play, running the quarterback. So the guy hasn't been used as much.
I think there's still definitely a place for him. It provides an extra blocker, a receiver and a runner on occasion. We have run him once this year. You got to self scout that. But I do think that individual is a key component, a very important component. NFL teams use that guy on a constant basis. As a matter of fact, you know, either they can't find the guy anymore, there's not enough teams that are using them. They're pretty valuable. You find a good one that can do a lot of things for you, he becomes very valuable for you.
Andrew Hawken, what he's been able to do in the two years here he's been a fullback, I think he played a fullback his first year as well, the first year we were here, three years of that. He's provided a guy that chips people on pass protection. He's provided an opportunity to be a receiver at times. We flex him out, move him out, move him around. He gap blocks. He does a lot of things for us. But he's an integral part of our running game in a lot of respects.
Q. Mark, you talked a little bit on Sunday about the inconsistent play of your team. How frustrating is that for you? If you could put your finger on why your team has played inconsistently, what would it be?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think it's always frustrating when you're inconsistent. If you're in math class, you get two As, all of a sudden you get a D, that's frustrating. So whatever job you have or whatever you do for a living, wherever you're at, if you have consistency, usually you're performing at the same rate and you begin to move ahead.
So the inconsistency to me is frustrating, but it's natural I think in terms of a football team, in terms of a season. I think a lot of people go through it. I think the one thing we have to understand, I've tried to come to grips with, our team needs to come to grips with as well, two weeks ago we were a team that was rebounding, a team that was playing to be 4-1. Two weeks ago, our thoughts were, Are we going to be in first place at the end of this week or not? Now two weeks later, we sit here and say, We have a whole different outlook on where we're at.
I think that's the thing that you have to recognize and realize, is that these things change very, very quickly, and they can change again and move forward again.
The inconsistency in our football team, I don't know if it's inconsistency. We're not winning close games as much as we want to win 'em. I don't think it's any one thing. You can point to missed opportunities, if there's one thing. But two games ago, those didn't catch us. They didn't sneak back up and catch us. The last two games they did. I'm talking about goal line. For four weeks in a row we played very well defensively, very well defensively. This last week we didn't.
Now, Minnesota gets some of the credit for that. I think their quarterback played extremely well. I thought they caught the ball in traffic extremely well. But, you know, there's always little things, I guess. You want to run the football more consistently. That's a natural thing that we want to be able to do.
But, you know, we're working at it. You see us do it okay. We haven't had a 200-yard rushing game yet, but you see us do it okay, enough to stay balanced. That's what we want to try and do.
So there are so many things I think that go into the game of football, coaching it and everything, and then there are some very simple things. Somewhere in there are the answers. Technique, hanging onto the football, blocking, tackling, catching it, throwing it. Then you have the complexity of a breakdown in terms of, you know, a coverage breakdown, an adjustment or a zone pressure gone wrong, a goal line adjustment gone wrong, whatever it is, or a quarterback with the wrong read, whatever it is. There's some complexities there, too.
Q. You began the season with as many as eight runningbacks. Now you're down to three or four. What's your assessment of the position, where it's at right now?
COACH DANTONIO: We're down to three or four. We've had some injuries. We've had some attrition there. I like our tailbacks that we have extremely well. They'll play well, the four that we have. We'll get it done. The four that we have, the two that we have, we're at the top of the depth chart anyway. We're still strong.
Q. You're going to face a quarterback who likes to throw the ball around a little bit. How confident are you your secondary can step up to that challenge?
COACH DANTONIO: I'm very confident. We've played very well against the pass before, against the spread before, against wide receivers. So I'm confident in terms of that. But we have to make a play on the ball. You know, we'll get back to business and we'll get back to playing technique, reaffirm.
I think the key thing, when you don't have success, regardless of what it is, as a coach, you have to be able to say, This is why you didn't have success on this particular play relative to technique, eye control, body, hand placement, balance, correct drop, all these different things. You have to show a reason why you weren't successful. You can't say, We weren't successful because we weren't good enough. I don't think that's the case.
Now, going back to what I said earlier, the other team has players, too. They're on scholarship. They've got good players. Everybody does. There's great parity I think in college football. If you took Blair White out of the game, if you took Blair White out of our passing game right now, I think we have wide receivers that can be difference makers. I think that's the case with a lot of people right now. There's a lot of players out there that can play.
The bottom line is, we have to execute and play very well fundamentally in all aspects, not just the passing game. We have to pressure the quarterback. That's a big thing, as well. Can't let a guy just throw on rhythm. There are too many good quarterbacks.
Q. Mark, you mentioned playing Western Michigan in the beginning of the press conference. Have you ever played a non-conference game this late in the season? If you do, how do you approach something like this or a game like this?
COACH DANTONIO: This is the first time we've done this here since I can remember. I don't remember doing this at this late time when I was here before. We did do it at Ohio State late a couple times. So you get yourself ready to go.
The environment that's outside there in that stadium, the opportunity to play out there in that stadium, what happened last week up in Minnesota, those should provide all the reasons enough to get yourself ready to go. The coaches talking to them, again, I want to go back to, you know, you're only as good as your last game. That's all you got. Really that's the reality of it. We can say what we want. I remember we were 11-1 or 10-1 one year, where I was at, and we lost our last game. We were bums. You know, but we were great the next game we won.
That's the nature of what we do for a living. That's the nature of what we do as a football players. Whether you're in the NFL or whether you're here, whether you're in high school, I think that's just something you have to be able to accept.
But we have all the reasons to play this Saturday, believe me. You want to look to the second game of the season, if you want a reason to play, look to the second game of this season. So we'll be focused. I don't think that's ever been a problem. I don't think our focus has been a problem. We certainly came out this past week, even though we got 14 points behind right off the bat, things happened. We came back, we fought back, we competed, we kept our composure, we kept our focus, we dug back in there. So that's not an issue.
So there's no lack of respect, from my standpoint, towards our football team. I think when I talk in terms of that, I think I talk as a total program in terms of outside people, how they perceive us right now based on, you know, the last two weeks or really just this last week.
But credit Minnesota. They were ready to play. They did a nice job.
Q. Can you talk a little bit more about Bill Cubit? Talking to him over the summer, he seems like a standup kind of guy, runs a solid program. Can you talk about him and the job he's done up there.
COACH DANTONIO: I think Western, I think this is his fifth year, I think they've raised the level of play there greatly. As I said earlier, they've gone into Big Ten stadiums and won. That's an exclamation point when you're a coach, when you're able to go in and do that on a consistent basis. He's done that every year for the last three years. I think that shows great coaching.
I don't know him as well, that well as a person, but I think he's an outstanding coach. What I've seen, I know he's an offensive coach. What I've seen from him this week schematically, conceptually, very well tied together. They know what they're trying to do. They ask the quarterback to do the things they do well, and they do them consistently. Any time you have a guy that's played that well as Hiller these past three years, you have a guy that's been coached to do that, a lot of the recognition goes to the guys who have coached him.
Q. The Celebrate the State series earlier this year produced a lot of strong opinions from both sides. Did your feelings change about it at all after the loss to Central this year? Is that something that's in the back of your mind this year when you're thinking about Western?
COACH DANTONIO: No, it hasn't changed my thought process on that at all. I think if it's good for the state, it's good for Michigan State. I definitely think that that opportunity to make it a big day at those particular institutions is well worth it. I think it provides a competitive nature, more competitive nature for us in terms of the Central thing, when it comes around again, you know, I'm sure we'll have talks on that, so...
But it doesn't change how I feel about that. I think it's a good thing. I think it's something that, you know, many people are doing. I would much prefer to do that as opposed to go play at Florida Atlantic. Makes a lot more sense to me.
Q. You said Sunday that you have probably four or five guys with head injuries from Saturday's game. In total, how many guys do you have that are banged up to the point where you're not sure they're going to see the field Saturday?
COACH DANTONIO: You know, I really don't talk about injuries. I think everybody will get back. But we'll see. We'll see on Saturday.
Q. You're 1-1 against in-state schools this year. How much do you think the loss to Central Michigan will provide motivation for your team this week?
COACH DANTONIO: I would think it's a wake-up call. I don't think that we came in unfocused. I think for whatever reason we didn't play as well as we were capable. Again, credit Central for what they did. They made plays.
We're here to win a football game this Saturday. That's our focus. For those people who have been around me as a person for the last three years, know me as a person, really doesn't matter who we play this week, we'll be ready to play.
End of FastScripts