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MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY MEDIA CONFERENCE
November 10, 2009
THE MODERATOR: With a recap of last Saturday's game against Western Michigan, and a look forward to Purdue, head coach Mark Dantonio.
COACH DANTONIO: Very quickly, I think we've talked about the western game a lot, but good performance by our football team. Had an opportunity to get to 5-5. We move from there.
We're looking forward to going to Purdue this weekend. Big Big Ten matchup. Similar football teams in a lot of ways. I think Purdue lost some games early in the season, went down to the wire, whether it was the Oregon game, the Northwestern game, the Minnesota game even. You look at them and say they're very, very capable, efficient in a lot of things that they do.
When you look at their personnel, I think you have to look at their defensive side of the ball. Ryan Kerrigan is leading the conference in sacks, up there in tackles for loss as well. I believe they have 28 sacks. I think 28 sacks as a football team or the now I think is three shy maybe of what they have done all time or certainly in the last 10 years. So they pressure the quarterback.
Senior-driven defense, four seniors in the secondary. Up front, good defensive tackles. As I said, Kerrigan, good defensive end. Linebackers are solid. They run, play hard.
Offensively when you look at them, two of the top 10 receivers in the conference, Smith and Valentin, wide receivers for them, outstanding, as well as Bolden, who I believe has run for about 835 yards, maybe number three in the conference in rushing. You combine that with Elliott, an experienced offensive front. Elliott is leading the conference in passing, in total offense. Has done a great job.
Their Achilles heel has been their turnovers. That's what has hurt them. They moved the football. I think Coach Hope has done an outstanding job in his first year. These games always go down to the wire. It will be an exciting opportunity for us. We need to go to there and get a win, make it number six, get Bowl eligible. That will be our focus.
With that, I'll just take questions.
Q. Does the dynamic change with two desperate teams, kind of both fighting for the same thing? Both kind of on the edge of the cliff here, so to speak.
COACH DANTONIO: I think certainly when you look at both football teams, we have an opportunity to play to the end of the season to get that number six win. They have an opportunity, they have to get both, this week and the following week.
It is similar, I guess. It's a playoff-type situation I guess you would say for both football teams. When it gets like that, you know, you get to a point probably where sometimes I guess you take chances. You have an opportunity, there's risk there obviously, but you're in a situation where you've got to win. So I think it's similar for both football teams.
I think our football teams are somewhat similar. There's been times where we've come up a little bit short, as I said earlier, and times when we put together good football games.
Q. Your defense is giving up almost twice as many points per game on the road as it is at home.
COACH DANTONIO: Thanks for that (smiling).
Q. What do you expect from the crowd there, it being Senior Day for them?
COACH DANTONIO: When we look at our football team, you try and get progressively better as you get through the season. I guess when you look at our road games, we played Notre Dame away, played Wisconsin away. You look at the Minnesota game, I guess the Illinois game. When you do look at that, it's obvious to me we have to make plays on the road. As a defensive football team, you have an opportunity to make a play, you have to make it on a ball in the air, you got to come up with some turnovers. We played well against Illinois. We're hoping to duplicate that, trying not to think about the other.
But thanks for your comments.
Q. How do you prepare for a Purdue team that's been kind of a Jekyl and Hyde team all year?
COACH DANTONIO: We look for them to be a great football team on Saturday, prepare for them to be at their best. That's how we'll look at them and how we will prepare for them.
You know, if the latter is true, then it becomes a reality, that's a good thing for us. But we certainly expect them to play well. They've got good players. They came over here last year, played well defensively. We played very well defensively, as well. I think they have a little bit different system now offensively and defensively somewhat.
They're a football team in their first year. I'm sure there's a lot of enthusiasm there, especially starting 1-5, now winning their last three out of four football games. They're on an upward trend, I would say.
Q. They were picked 10th or 11th by most people coming in. How have they improved through the season? What makes Elliott different and special?
COACH DANTONIO: I think they were picked that way because they had an unproven quarterback, fifth-year senior at that time, who had not played a great deal. I think they greatly underestimated his abilities, I guess his football savvy is what I would say, too. He gets out of the pocket, runs with the football when he has to, he makes throws, is lucid. They have some wideouts they do different things with, get them the ball an awful lot.
You know, when you look at them defensively, I thought they had a good nucleus for a good defense coming back. When you look at them offensively, they basically return all their offensive linemen pretty much. They have a young player playing that played a little bit last year, but other than that they're all intact. They found a tailback in Bolden that's doing a very nice job for them. I think they've gotten great play out of their quarterback. They have turned the ball over a little bit, but that was in certain games at the early part of the season more or less.
Q. Will making a Bowl game save your season or have you already reached your season goals?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I'll just let you answer that question.
Q. Why is that?
COACH DANTONIO: You think our goal is to go 5-7?
COACH DANTONIO: That answers your question.
Q. Will making a Bowl game save your season or have your goals already been lost?
COACH DANTONIO: You just phrased it a little bit differently than before.
Our goals are to win our last football games. That's certainly always going to be a goal of ours. I guess you have to systematically reevaluate your goals as you go. Right now, the opportunity is to go to a football Bowl game, a Bowl game. So that opportunity's going to exist as long as we win six games.
Do we take a step back from where we initially thought? I guess you'd say, yeah, we do. But, you know, you have to play the cards that you're dealt at some point in time and reevaluate your situation and move forward.
If we were an 8-5 football team at the end of the Bowl season, is it where we want to be? We want to win a Big Ten championship every year. I think that's everybody's goal. It's less than we thought, but it is moving forward. When you go to a Bowl game the third straight year in a row, I think it's moving forward based on the past.
Q. You have to go back to certain situations to remind your players what can be done. It's very similar with traveling to Purdue, being 5-5, then having Penn State. Are you going to look to some of the players that were on that team then? Talk about that situation going into this final stretch.
COACH DANTONIO: Sure, we've talked about it. It's a little bit different in the case that was our first year. We were trying to get to a Bowl game for the first time in three years at that point in time. So it's a little bit different now. But there are similarities. We have enough players left on this football team who have made that trip. I believe 31 that was on the travel team that year. We have some people that have been over there, done that. We look to try and repeat that.
But it will be a challenge for us. I think Purdue is a good football team. As I've said before, there's a lot of parity in this conference. You can see that weekly. There are a lot of close games. There are a lot of games that come down to the very last minute or seconds of the game that allow you to win or lose.
We've got to play well at the end of the game. We've got to do the things critical to winning that are necessary on a game-to-game basis, things that are critical to winning.
Q. Most of the guys at Cincinnati right now playing for their successful season are guys that you and your staff recruited. How did that experience there help in recruiting talent, developing it, evaluating it, how did that help you, and what do you think you gained from it there that you can use here, especially given these two games coming up?
COACH DANTONIO: I think in regard to how you recruit, regardless of where you're at, I think it helps if you make great evaluations. You're not always going to be right. If you can see a player play in camp or on their field in high school, you have a better chance I think of being right more often, you know.
But as far as the experiences, whether it's at Cincinnati or Michigan State or beyond that, you try and grow from every experience you have. I can't sit there specifically and say we are better at this because of this right now just off the top of my head. But I think you gain knowledge and growth from every experience, good and bad. And in some cases, you grow much more when you're really hard at critiquing yourself and you look at the reasons why you didn't succeed.
But they're doing a great job down there. I'm very happy for our football players that are still down there.
Q. You have Davis-Clark and Robinson on the first line in the depth chart. Did they win those spots last week or still some uncertainty with Hyde and Fortener?
COACH DANTONIO: Those guys are pretty interchangeable I feel based on how they play. So based on what personnel groupings we're playing, how they practice this week, we'll see how that all shakes out.
But all those guys have started for us. All four of those guys have started for us. All four of those guys have played well for us in the past. We don't make our final depth chart really till Thursday.
Q. How did those two play in the last game after watching the film?
COACH DANTONIO: I thought they played well. I thought they played well. We were in a lot of man coverage things. They got on guys. They did a nice job. Coverage was good last Saturday.
Q. We talked a lot about Blair in terms of his play on the field. What has he meant to this team in terms of perseverance, that other guys can look to? What do you remember about the day you announced he was going to get a scholarship?
COACH DANTONIO: First of all, I think he's an example of perseverance. You can look at Ashton Leggett as another example of that more recently, although Ashton has been on scholarship. But Blair is a guy that had gone through back surgeries, didn't know if he'd be in the 105 coming into camp that '07 season, didn't know if he'd play football again. He was able to, you know, transition back to what you now see, which is a guy that I think he has 58, 59 catches, leads the team in catches, been elected captain.
The thing I remember when we announced he would go on scholarship was a lot of people pretty emotional, it seemed like pretty emotional, in that team meeting room. A standing ovation. Didn't have to wait and ask for that standing ovation. It was immediate.
It's sort of like the underdog. He was an underdog in terms of where he came from, and he was able to get to the top. Because of that, I think he earned a lot of people's respect.
Q. Going back to your goals. Beating Michigan, how does that rank up there? Is that considered a successful season?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, that's a good point. You know, I think that anytime you win your rivalry games, you have to look at that as being somewhat successful. If we were 9-3, had lost to Notre Dame and Michigan, you'd have to look at that as we didn't get it all done.
I would agree with you there. Those are important. We have a lot of goals that we try and set for ourselves every year. Certainly that is one of our goals. So I guess you could say we reached that goal. Does that make the season successful? I think it does hinge on Bowl games to some degree certainly. If we don't go to a Bowl game, you can't cash it out, we gained experience and those type of things.
You're constantly evaluating and trying to build your program. Whether you're going into your third year or going into your fifth year, I think there's still building to do. College is different. There's a constant change in who's playing for you, some of those things.
Q. You mentioned the secondary guys being kind of interchangeable, but you also have four tight ends that all have touchdown receptions. Sims seems to be the goal line guy. Is Linthicum emerging as the best receiving threat?
COACH DANTONIO: I think all those guys have great hands. It really becomes who's open on the quarterback's reads, who happens to be in there. We're not exactly sending so-and-so in there to run this particular route. We're not doing that. So they're getting opportunities. They're making the best of 'em.
But I've said all along that Linthicum has great hand-eye coordination, great run-after catch. I think Gantt does, as well. I think Dion Sims certainly is a young player that has made big plays here in the time that he's been here. Garrett is a guy who actually played offensive tackle in high school, so he's transitioning to that tight end position. But he catches the ball well. He's had touchdown catches last couple years. So he's done a good job as well.
So all four of those guys become a strength for us. They're interchangeable. They can play at the point of attack. They can be move guys. They can flex out. Can do a lot of things with them.
Q. Without giving away a game plan, how challenging will it be for you to give three guys carries for this game this week?
COACH DANTONIO: I guess that's always a little bit of a challenge. But we look at the combined total. I think what you have to look at is the combined total to see where we're at in terms of how successful we were at running the football. That's what you have to look at.
But we're going to go with the guy who's hot, I'm sure. As the game continues, we'll go with the guy who's hot.
Q. Knowing how well of a transition Linthicum made as a transfer, can you see potentially this opening more doors for you, that other kids might look at Michigan State if they're considering a transfer? Are you a little more open to the idea of taking in transfers because of how well he's played, how that situation has worked out?
COACH DANTONIO: I think we're open for transfers to come to Michigan State when they fit the core values that exist here and also fit what we need. I think it helps when you've already known the person. In both cases, the guys who transferred here, in Keith Nichol, Linthicum, both had official visits here. I mean, Keith really didn't. He had been over here so many times, he knew the people involved here Michigan State. With Linthicum, Brian had been here on an initial visit. Had been around our players.
If people bounce to Michigan State, it's probably people that have been here in the past and have knowledge of us. If you say Trevor Anderson is a transfer, he had knowledge of us. He's certainly from the state of Michigan. That made it a positive for him, too. I can't think of anybody else right now, I believe, so... But all three of those guys have worked out very well.
Q. Leggett came out of spring as kind of a co-starter, then slipped down the chart. As you said, he persevered. What does it say about his character that he kept his head in the game? Did you have to coach him to do that?
COACH DANTONIO: I think everybody gets on a rollercoaster and it's hard. It's hard for a guy to stay constantly positive when things aren't going exactly like you want them to go.
I think it's a testament to his character that he continued to persevere into what amounted the 10th week of the season. That's a testament. Did he struggle a little bit? Yeah, I think everybody does. Just like a coach, he struggles when we lose some games. But you stay after it, you stay the course, you continue working. We've talked. There were a couple times where we talked. He stayed with it.
His attitude has been very, very good, especially the last two, three weeks. So he's done the job he needed to do. You know, I think last Saturday he was rewarded for that.
Q. This is the third straight time the home team in this matchup has their Senior Day. How much extra motivation do you think that's going to be for them?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, it's your last game at home playing in your home stadium. I think it's an emotional day. I'm not sure it's as emotional as playing your last football game. Your last football game I think is an emotional game. So, you know, I don't know how that's transferred to win and loss really. But it is an important day, especially for parents I think, to see their sons play and to maybe be there, have some type of ceremony. I think it's important for the parents. I think it adds some emotion to the football game for those individuals.
Q. Going back to the tight ends, how are those four pushing each other for playing time?
COACH DANTONIO: They all want to play. They all work hard during practice. We have quite a few different personnel groupings that involve these guys. But, you know, what they do on the field and their knowledge of things, their knowledge of things schematically allow them who's going to be the guys. Certainly Charlie Gantt has the most knowledge in that area. Then you go to a guy like Linthicum. (Indiscernible) was out for quite a while with a shoulder early in the season. But he played last year. Dion Sims is a true freshman. I think systematically you get guys ready for things based on their experience sometimes.
By now, you're going into your 11th game here, you're pretty well battle-tested in terms of what you know. They're pretty versatile.
Q. Brett doesn't seem to talk a lot about his setting records, accolades. How important is that to him from what you've heard? What are your thoughts on him being recognized nationally for what he's done?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, first of all, I think most of our guys are team guys. Given the opportunity to succeed is a team goal, whether it's a Big Ten championship or a Bowl game or whatever it is. I think their thought process, they'd rather do that.
After that, I do think that, you know, Lou Groza award, having an individual award like that, is special for a person. I think he's done a great job. I think he's earned those opportunities to be spoken in that vein. You know, the guy is the all-time leading kicker here in Michigan State history. That is a statement in itself because we've had some great ones.
What he does these next two, possibly three games, may allow him to go further than that. Had a bad hold last Saturday. Other than that, I feel like he's missed one field goal, so he's done an outstanding job.
Q. How big is it to get to the Bowl game to get those extra practices, to progress your program, to evaluate players?
COACH DANTONIO: I think it's very important. We've had the opportunity the last two years to have an additional 15 plus practices. Usually we have 15. Gives the young players an opportunity to get better. Keeps them on the field a little bit longer. We have certain parts of practice when we do go to Bowl games that are dedicated really to the younger players. We actually factor that into our practices, you know, whether we have short scrimmages or teach times or different things, pass skills that just have the younger players who haven't been worked with as much. A guy like Andrew Maxwell will benefit. A guy like Jairus Jones would benefit greatly from that. All of our freshmen, especially the offensive linemen. I think our freshmen offensive line would benefit greatly.
It's important we reach that goal. We'll certainly try and work towards it.
Q. How have you dealt with inconsistent play during the season, whether it's been from game to game or within a game?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think what you do as a coach, you evaluate things, you critique things, you try and get the message across that we need to be consistent. You also have to understand that the opposing players that we play have good players, as well. They're working very hard to get it right, too.
So what you want to try to control are the things that are controllable. To me, that's how hard you play. To me, that's do you have knowledge of what we're doing. Do you make mental mistakes or not. Those two factors are critical I think to being successful. Those are things we can control. We can also control what we ask them to do.
If we're not quite there, if we're making too many mental blows or something to that effect, you have to back off with what you're doing maybe a little bit. You deal with the inconsistencies I think as a football coach and head coach, as long as your players are playing hard, they're doing everything possible, and that's what we do. I think there's a point in time that you have to put your arm around the players and say, It's okay, let's move on to the next challenge. I think that helps get them ready.
The one thing I'm very, very proud of is that our seniors and our football team has not lost themselves when we've had an inconsistency. We've never lost ourselves, come back the next game and bombed. We've always found a way to come out focused, enthusiastic, ready to play. We've always basically fought into the fourth quarter with the football team, win or lose. I'm very proud of our football team for doing that because I think that shows commitment and I think that shows really what I talk about in terms of what we talk about in terms of team.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, coach.
End of FastScripts