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MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY MEDIA CONFERENCE
November 17, 2009
THE MODERATOR: To look forward to the regular season and home finale against Penn State, head Coach Mark Dantonio.
COACH DANTONIO: Just to finish up from last week a little bit, our Purdue game, I thought guys went over and played extremely hard. Typical MSU game in '09, very tight, very close, down to the end, last play. We wouldn't want it any other way.
I think it's indicative of this season, as I told our football team the other day, throughout every game in the fourth quarter, with the exception of one, we've led in the fourth quarter. Very, very thankful we got out of this one with a win.
I think when you look at it, after reviewing films, you look ott our special teams. Came away with a win on special teams, in particular. Two big kickoff returns. Keshawn Martin at the end, but also A.J. Jimmerson coming out at the beginning of the second half. Two big plays. Field goal block, Swenson's four field goals, great job in terms of just net punting. When you look at our special team's goals as a football team, we reached nine of the 10 goals, which I think is outstanding. When you point to why we won, you have to first look at that.
Explosive plays, Keshawn Martin, I think he had three. Cousins quarterback to BJ Cunningham, big play. Rucker, big play, explosive play on first play of the game. Explosive gains would be the next thing, then red zone scores.
We just keep finding a way, trying to find a way, keep scratching. That's been typical of our football team. Very proud of that fact.
When you look at where we're at, we're a 6-5 football team, 2-0 in the month of November, which we'll work to make it 3-0 this next week. It will be a challenge as Penn State comes in here. Bowl eligible team for the first time, three straight times, since '95, '96, and '97. When you look at that number 7, for the people here that are spiritual in that sense, understand the Bible, you look at the number 7, it means completion.
When you look at our football season right now, we have an opportunity to win seven games. That's important for this program. Final game of the season, finish. It's something we've tried to point to since last year. We've tried to make a big deal of that around here in terms of finishing this season with a win, which would mean Penn State, which is a big challenge. But understanding that was the focus all the way back in August. We have an opportunity to do that now. That will be exciting for our football team.
When you look at Penn State, Coach Paterno, what you see is a great football program. I think that program has been in existence for quite some time. Certainly he's been there for 40 plus years. The thing I admire about Coach Paterno is stability, able to stay even-keeled throughout the entire process, winning. I look back to my scouting report from 2003 when we were playing at Ohio State, you always look back, you got those things dug in there, at that point in time they weren't winning as much. There was that time period for two years, but he was able to stay consistent with what he was doing, stable in that environment, you have to be able to appreciate that as a coach. But an outstanding football coach, outstanding person, someone that we all I think look up to as a person.
Outstanding defense. When you look at Penn State as a football team, I look at an outstanding defense. A quarterback with great experience. A runningback that has been a thousand-yard rusher the last couple years. In particular, when you look at their defense, you look at their defensive tackles, Odrick, their linebackers, Navarro, Bowman, and Hall, Lee, three outstanding linebackers. You look at their secondary, very, very talented as well. They lost some wide receivers from last year, but I think their guys have filled in very, very well. Their tight ends are back. They return three offensive linemen, guys that have played quite a bit.
It will be an exciting game for us. I want to reiterate the canned food drive. I think it's something we can do for other people. With Thanksgiving around the corner, I think it's important we take a moment to reflect on what we have and try and give back a little bit.
I do want to just in closing before I take any questions publicly acknowledge Sylvia Thompson, who passed this past week, was laid to rest yesterday. A great Spartan. Many of us probably know her. I know that she was a factor in our lives, especially when I was here before. Always took the time to say hi to my children, my wife, everything. One of the kindest people, biggest Spartans you'll ever see. Just wanted to recognize that fact.
I'll open it up for questions.
Q. When you look at the emotion that came out in Coach Gill on the radio after the game, has that been the microcosm of the season as far as the emotions have gone? Has it been that emotional of a season for this team, for this program?
COACH DANTONIO: I think when you win or lose on the last play of the game, it's an emotional time. Your players play so hard to get to that point, to win. When you finally see that happen at the end of the game like that, you know, I think it becomes very emotional for a lot of people.
But that was a happy locker room. I guess when you look at our football season, it just gives you that indication, just stay with things. I don't care what you do for a living, what you do with your life, just keep pushing, just keep pushing. It's not always going to be perfect. That's what our football team has been able to do.
We have one more game this season, in the regular season. We'll certainly I think play in a Bowl game. That will be exciting for all of us. But, yeah, you sit back when you lose a football game, you go in on a day to watch the film, the coffee doesn't taste too good, things don't look quite bright. Even after a game where you may have not played your best football certainly, you go in, you've won the football game, Hey, we can take care of that, fix this. It's just a much more positive atmosphere.
Q. Everyone has a Senior Day, but how much bang for your buck do you get out of that emotionally? Does that really last past the opening kickoff?
COACH DANTONIO: No, I think that lasts a lifetime the way we do it here. I allow each senior to bring a parent, one parent, to our pregame meal. They're with their young man as they prepare for that final game. I think that's an emotional experience for not only the parent but for the young man.
I still remember the day I took off my jersey for the last time. That's an emotional day. So to have someone there to share it with them makes it special. What happens out here on the field, I think there's reflection there. We try to make it special for our guys, not just make it a symbolic gesture. That's what we've done, and we'll continue to do that and make it special.
I'd like to think our guys are going to play a little harder, you know, be a little bit more emotional about it. But again, you know, everybody has to play until they get hit, and then things change. It's about operating under those circumstances.
Q. What has Trevor Anderson meant to the team this year? A lot has been made of the halftime Saturday. What has he meant as a presence, despite not being a captain?
COACH DANTONIO: I think Trevor has brought stability. He's been a player since he's come here. Even that first year when he sat out, he was recognized that this guy can play football. He's about business. He wants to win. He does a good job in terms of preparing for a football game. He's emotional. He's quiet emotionally. He's not really a loud person on the field. He's sort of businesslike. But then he'll have moments.
But I think it was just something, you know, that just came out of his mouth. He wanted to do that. That's not a problem. So we allowed all of our seniors to lead and all of our players to lead. I talk to our players all the time about, You can elect captains, but in the end everybody has to lead at some point in time. That was his time.
Q. For someone like you that is a student of the game, talks about the history of college football, what is it like personally to coach against a Joe Paterno?
COACH DANTONIO: I remember when I was head football coach for the first time. We were playing Penn State. I was at Cincinnati. It was '05. It was a little bit surreal to walk out, you know, talk with him on the field. Yeah, it makes coaching special. It's something that I'll always remember because I think he is truly one of the icons in college football, all-time icons, not just now, but all-time.
Yeah, it makes it special. But, you know, in the end, still want to win, so...
Q. Mark, how do you see this rivalry developing, growing?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, when I was here before, I remember '95 playing right out here, I think Ingram was the guy that got in on the jailbreak screen with two seconds to go. I don't know how many of you remember that. I remember in '97 right out here when two tailbacks rushed for 200 yards apiece. Do you remember that? I remember '99, we went 28 to nothing, T.J. Duckett had two or three touchdowns, came back, tied it up. Richard Newsome recovered a fumble on the 50, we went in and scored and won. I certainly remember 2007, being down 17 points, Devin Thomas making the catch from Hoyer down in that end zone, us coming back. I remember JU's fake punt. I thought, Oh, no, bad call. He just willed his ways to a first down. His eyes coming off the field. JU Caulcrick.
I'm firmly ingrained in what happens here when Penn State comes to play. I also remember last year very vividly with an opportunity to go over and play for a Big Ten championship, a lopsided win by them. You know, it was over before halftime pretty much. It was 28-7 at half. I remember the times going over there before.
So, you know, difficult place to play, challenging program to play against and win. But we've won here before, and we look to win again. So I guess I've embraced the rivalry if I remember these things.
Q. How has Brett Swenson developed in the three years you've been here?
COACH DANTONIO: Brett Swenson was an outstanding kicker before we came here. Had an outstanding freshman year. I believe he was a freshman All-American. The first year we were here, his sophomore year, I thought he kicked well. Thought he kicked very well. He maybe missed a couple. Then he came back with a junior year and had an outstanding year. I really feel like he should have been recognized last year as one of the finalists or at least a semifinalist for the Lou Groza award. This year he's 18 out of 20. He's had a spectacular year really.
When you look at what he's done for this program, anytime your field goal kicker is getting around 90 points, at least in my time as a head football coach, which is six years compared to 44, I guess, but anytime that guy has gotten around a hundred points of scoring, that benchmark, 80, 90, a hundred, right there, it's spelled success in terms of a Bowl game for us. When he hasn't, when he's around 60, 65 or 70, it has not. So it's very, very important to the overall success of this football team that our kicker is successful and executes well.
I think the other thing he did this past week, he had four kicks into the end zone where they had him bring it out on the 20, which is something you can't really put a price tag on, to kick the ball 70 yards into the end zone.
Q. You inherited this senior class. They weren't beholden to you for giving them a scholarship, except for Trevor. What is the relationship like with these guys that didn't necessarily have loyalty to you but somehow developed it? Are you grateful?
COACH DANTONIO: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. We've had great senior classes from the time that I walked in here. Our players have given of themselves. They've been unselfish. They've done everything that we've asked. This group is no different. The thing that makes this group even more special, and will make next year's seniors even more special, is the time that you spend with the guys.
Now we're almost past our third year now with people. Over a three-year period, you develop strong relationships that you hope will last for a lifetime. I even look back to our '07 seniors, the guys that come back, Travis Key, Pete Clifford, Kaleb Thornhill, so many of these guys come back. I think it sends a message that we're doing things in the right way as far as how we handle people as individuals, outside of football hopefully.
But these guys are special. All you have to do is look to that. I think your seniors set the bar for people. I believe that your seniors are the biggest indication of what kind of success you will have that particular season, because experience means so much.
So when you look at this senior group, with an opportunity to win seven games, you know, I believe that would be quite a milestone for this group in terms of I'm not sure how many senior groups have won seven games for three straight years.
But, you know, they've done a nice job. They did a nice job collecting themselves. We could have won a couple more games. I understand that. I'm sure they do, too. But you deal with what's real and you look forward. I think they've done a great job doing that.
One thing I think you always want to do is be able to play for that last game and have something to play for. We've been able to do that. We'll look to see which Bowl game we'll go to and we'll have a great year. If we win our seventh game, win our Bowl game, this will be an outstanding season for us, to come back from the start we had.
Q. How do you determine when to use the wildcat formation? Could it be a fad eventually that dies out when defenses start figuring it out?
COACH DANTONIO: I think it's something people will adjust to as they move forward. We really haven't done much with it because Keshawn is a young player. But, you know, I think that using a tailback in that position is probably a little bit -- I mean, I see a lot of people using tailbacks there.
But, you know, certainly it worked that one. But we've gotten a lot of big plays off of some tricks and some different things we've done this year. You know, that's good coaching, but better execution on the part of our players.
I think the thing, the double reverse to Keshawn, was a huge play in the game following the blocked kick. Took us down to the 5, got us in. I think it tied the game at that point. Then the kickoff return. No, we went up by 3, then the kickoff return back down there.
He's been involved in some very explosive plays this year. When you look at a guy who is a receiver, has done the things he's done as far as running the football, kickoff return, punt return, those type of things, he's starting to become an all-purpose guy that's going to be recognized a lot of places in this conference.
Q. Talk about the rivalry. George Perles, when this first developed, he said he wanted this to be the main one in the Big Ten. The last two years now you've gotten the coveted 3:30 spot, that other game going on elsewhere is at noon. Does that mean as much to you as it meant to George Perles?
COACH DANTONIO: I think what it means is Coach Perles had a vision and that vision has become a reality. He and Coach Paterno obviously set this game up as a Land Grant game between two great institutions, two of the initial Land Grant institutions in this country. To have it be the last football game, you hope to play for things at that point in time. Last year was an indication of that. We had an opportunity to play for a championship. Even though we probably wouldn't have gone to the Rose Bowl, we would have been a co-champion team. That's what you hope for in that type of environment.
As far as the time that we play, again, that vision has become a reality. This is an important game. This is a game that people watch. You know, I think it's important for our university and for our football program to have this type of exposure.
We have a trophy case over there standing empty right now. We had to give it back last year. You know, good things can happen if you point towards things.
Q. It seems like we were just gathering in August, and for the media the season flies, at least this media member. Does it for a coach, too? Can you believe this is game 11?
COACH DANTONIO: It does go pretty fast. Sometimes it drags a little bit, if you come off a bad one. But it really does go pretty quick, especially when you don't have a bye in there. A bye can sort of tone it down a little bit I think. But when you play every single week and there's something to play for, there's reasons to play, it goes pretty quick. So, yeah, it has.
Q. A few weeks ago you talked about the need to regain some respect. Do you feel like you've done that now with the Purdue win? If not, how important is the Penn State game as far as regaining some of that respect and perception?
COACH DANTONIO: I think we've gained a little bit of respect back from winning number six. I think that is a little bit of a milestone there for most people. As I said earlier, it sort of sets us up for the month of November. It sets us into a situation where we can go to three straight Bowl games, which, as I said before, hadn't been done for a while.
I guess to me you want respect, win your last football game against Penn State. People start talking about you across the country. I guess that's the message to our football team. It will be a challenge. Good football team coming in here. This place will be crazy, I'm sure. It always has been. It will be a very exciting game, the last football game, last weekend before Thanksgiving. Should be a nice day. Should be a great crowd. We're excited to play.
I think, from my perspective, that number seven is important.
Q. Could you tell us about the Penn State defense, how good are they this year, and also the Penn State offense?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, Penn State's defense, very, very good. Not many people have scored very much on them. As I said earlier, anchored by an outstanding defensive line, linebacker group. They know what they're doing. They're very tough to run the football on. They get good pass-rush. Watch No. 91 as you watch this football game. Excellent defensive tackle, Odrick. When you look at them, they lose their two defensive ends from last year, but the guys they have playing are very, very good as well.
Pressure the quarterback. Do a good job against the run. They limit you with explosive plays. They're very sound in the secondary. They're a very good football team.
So when you look at them defensively, you got to find a way to be balanced, run the football, and grind it out some. You need to be productive on every down because they're going to give you some bad plays.
Q. Do you think we're only seeing a little bit of what Keshawn can do right now? How much do you think he can develop in the future?
COACH DANTONIO: He's a sophomore, so he's a guy that is just coming into himself I think as a football player overall. Remember, he was a high school quarterback at that point in time. So I think he's a young person that is developing as a wide receiver, gaining confidence with every game.
But I think he really reminds me a lot of Derrick Mason when I was here, when Derrick was a junior. A lot like Derrick.
Q. Last year's loss at State College, you said right after the game pretty much this team was physically beaten up. Obviously a lot of us could notice some pre-season that this looks like a big, physical football team. How do you think you physically match up a year later? You have 51 underclassmen, but a lot of newcomers.
COACH DANTONIO: We're going to find out how we physically play against Penn State because last year, when you look at it, last year we didn't win by any stretch of the imagination, whether it was at the quarterback position or whether it was at the runningback position, offensive or defensive line, we didn't win.
You have an opportunity every time you line up. So I think it's important we recognize that fact and understand that we did not put our best foot forward last year. There's got to be a little bit of a feel for that. You got to take that with you into the football game, I believe. I certainly will. But I'm way over the hill.
That's where we're at. Again, thanks, guys. Just tail end of things, you know, sometimes I think as a coach you get hit on things publicly from reporters. But I want to thank everybody here. You guys have always been very fair with this person and this program. Thanks.
End of FastScripts