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MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY MEDIA CONFERENCE
December 6, 2009
THE MODERATOR: We'll kick off the press conference. We have Mark Hollis, and we'll hear from the head coach and then from the captains.
MARK HOLLIS: Good evening. On behalf of Michigan State we're excited to be representing the Big Ten Conference in the Valero Alamo Bowl. We've had an opportunity to be there before, and we're looking forward to going back.
I think it's a great opportunity for Michigan State looking at three consecutive Bowl games, and we're very proud of that. Our program is in great, great shape. We're moving forward, and I can't think of a better place for us to go.
We'll be playing Texas Tech, which is going to be a great opponent. I know the coach their likes pirates. So he can have our pirates. And we have our mark, which is very good.
Without further ado, I'll bring up Coach Dantonio to talk about the game, and he'll take some questions and then we'll go with the captains.
MARK DANTONIO: First of all, thanks for coming tonight. Very excited about this opportunity to represent Michigan State in the Big Ten Conference in the Valero Alamo Bowl. It's going to be an exciting opportunity for us to go play Texas Tech. It's an outstanding football team, a football team that's played very well in the past years.
I had the opportunity to play Texas Tech one time against Coach Leach when I was at Ohio State in 2002. Very exciting offense. They bring a lot to the table in that regard.
It's outstanding opportunity for our football team. A chance to step back and rise up once again. As Mark mentioned, opportunity to go to our third straight Bowl game which is something we shot for as we moved into the mid-point of the season was to be able to get back to that third straight Bowl game. It's not been done here since '95, '96, '97.
The program is going in the correct direction in that regard, and we look to build on this and represent ourselves on and off the field in San Antonio. So I'll just take questions.
Q. Mark, obviously the weakness on your defense has been pass defense. That's what they make a living on. So do you look at it as just an opportunity to prepare and get younger guys that experience practicing against it? How do you approach it?
MARK DANTONIO: When you look at that, look at our football team, we've played against football teams such as Northwestern and played very well against Northwestern in regards to pass offense.
This day and age you watch football teams and watch how pass defense is being played and all the different offensive concepts you see against it, formations, and great football players.
So there are going to be yards. What you have to look for, I think, is yards per attempt, what are the yards per attempt. You throw the ball 61 times. Give up 300 yards and they have 70 plays, you're not feeling too bad about that.
So this is a game that is played every week. This is a Bowl game, so we have an opportunity to get ready for this. An opportunity to spend a couple of weeks, three weeks, to get ready for this.
So our plan will be intact. We need to execute our plan and get ready to play. But it's very unique when you prepare for a college football game, I think, because every game is a little bit different because every offense. It's not like the NFL where a lot of offenses are sorting the same things conceptually.
We'll look at those things and get ready to play but we're excited for the challenge.
Q. With the extra practice time, do you anticipate maybe putting in some new packages offensively or anything of that nature, maybe with nickel or just moving, improving on the wild cat with Keshawn, things like that?
MARK DANTONIO: Those are the things we have to talk about as staff as we move into the preparation here. I'm sure every football team has some wrinkles as they go into the Bowl season. The first thing we'll do is critique what we do and look for the reasons why we were successful or not successful and how we can change things and become a better football team.
Those are the things I think you do naturally. The biggest thing I think as a football team, when you go to play a Bowl game and had a month layoff, the most important thing you have to be able to do is tackle in space. You have to catch the ball and have precision and execution and timing.
If we can do those things, we'll play well. If you can't do those things, that's where I think there really becomes difficulties. So we'll look to do things mechanically and structurally sound, but focus on fundamentals especially early.
Q. Bowl practice, a lot of people get a chance to play. Are there any specific younger players thinking, not looking at the opponent, this could be their breakout opportunity or someone you want to now work into this rotation?
MARK DANTONIO: I think every football game there are opportunities for younger players or players, for example, Keshawn Martin is a guy that coming into the season he had some success last year. I think now he's become a guy, a featured guy. We can look to see how we can get the ball into his hands as we move forward.
I think we've been trying to do that. So you have that aspect of our offense. You have some other young players that have played very well. Linthicum comes to mind. Certainly we have Baker and Caper who are now really relatively sophomores now. So they're farther into the process. There's more things you can do with them. And we can build on those things in the three weeks we have an opportunity to do this.
So those are the positive things, I think.
Q. Because of your friendship with Bob Stoops, are you able to call him, maybe get some insight from him; he's done very well against them? Does it help you? Mangino is another one.
MARK DANTONIO: I talked to Bob, I think it was right after they played Texas Tech. He was down a little bit about that game. Mark Mangino and his staff there, Clint Bowen, defensive coordinator, along with co-coordinator Bill Miller, who used to be here, who I know very well.
Ed Warner is the offensive coordinator out there. We know a lot of people, not just in Kansas and Oklahoma, but throughout the Big 12. So I'm sure that's reciprocated on their end this way.
So over the course of time you'll have their entire schedule. We'll know them very well. Things will change as other things will change on both sides somewhat. But it will come down to who tackles best and catches the ball best and throws it best and runs it best. Usually that's what has to happen. You've got to play well on special teams. All the intricacies of an opening day game will be evident in a Bowl game. I think that's the important thing that we recognize.
Q. Two things, the shorter question is: Do you know or are you willing to share where you are depth-wise at wide receiver with the two players that are missing, beyond Blair, of course?
MARK DANTONIO: I don't really know because guys are playing different positions. So we'll sort through that and see where we're at and we'll experiment with some different things as well.
Q. That could still be determined in the practice?
MARK DANTONIO: That will be determined here in the next couple of weeks.
Q. What's challenging about putting together a game plan that you normally have for Sunday to do for a Saturday opponent and now you have three weeks to do and a team you're not familiar with?
MARK DANTONIO: Well, I think we'll look from A to Z on that football team. We'll look at all 12 games. So there will be a tremendous amount of things that we look at and then we'll have to focus and choose and focus on certain things that they do conceptually.
Now, in addition to that, whether it's offense or defense, you can look at the same thing, special teams as well. There's going to be changes that they bring forward, because you're going to have a football team that's not played for three or four weeks and they'll have the same amount of practice time.
So that's the challenging thing. But I think the real challenging thing, as I mentioned before, you've got to get yourself ready to play at game speed against great athletes, and you have to do that and practice that and not get anybody hurt.
That's the challenge. We've got to go hard here like we did the other day, we went for a, you know, two-and-a-half-hour practice. We went live in a lot of situations just to be back in that mode. But at the same time you can't get anybody hurt. So we have to be very careful how we approach this. But we also have to get game ready speed-wise and I think that's the challenge that most people have.
Q. This is your third straight year here going to a Bowl. What's the feeling like when you get the call with that bid and does that feeling ever fade?
MARK DANTONIO: No, that feeling never fades. I think that when you have an opportunity to go to a Bowl game, it says success. It paints the word success on the program.
And obviously the higher you go in the Bowl structure, you know, the more success you're going to have. I mean, that's human nature, I guess, as far as football is concerned.
But going to a Bowl game, being one of those teams that are playing in January at a Bowl such as this, which I think this is a great Bowl game. It's a marquee game in terms of the exposure that you'll get, media exposure from ESPN on a Saturday night, I think at 9:00 eastern time, I believe.
So the exposure you get from that and the opportunities that you get to work with our younger offensive linemen and do the things that you have an opportunity to do in that extra time are things you can't put a price tag on. It's extremely important to our program. So we welcome this opportunity.
Q. Texas Tech is a team that has a tremendous amount of overall team speed. Is there anything you can do or try to do to slow them down somewhat?
MARK DANTONIO: Well, we'll have to look at that and look at their films first and then make decisions on how to play things and get ourselves ready. But, you know, everybody has a plan until they get hit. I keep saying that. We better be ready to play. There's no doubt that we be ready to play and I think our football team will be focused and I think we'll come ready to play.
But me standing up in front of a microphone saying that, we'll find out January 2nd. So we'll just wait and see.
Q. You told your players after the Champs Bowl, no more Bowl rings if it's not a New Year's Day Bowl. Most 6-16 teams wouldn't get to a January 2nd. Will there be Bowl rings?
MARK DANTONIO: No, no Bowl rings, no.
Q. What does it mean to you to have -- this is only the third time that this program has gone to three straight Bowl games. What does that mean to you as a coach?
MARK DANTONIO: As I said earlier, we're having success. We're building success. We're starting to build the foundation here. And the foundation is it takes a while to build a foundation.
And sometimes you take steps up. Last year went to the Capital One Bowl. 9-3 football team. Had an opportunity to win 10football games that year, last year. But maybe we took a little step back in terms of the number of games that we won.
But I think it does mean that we are still moving forward because we're maintaining success. We haven't gone up and down in terms of whether we've gotten to a Bowl or not.
So if we can be a player in the Bowl picture as we move forward, that's a positive thing. And we'll continue to do that and continue to point towards things. And we're a young football team.
When you have a sophomore quarterback, or actually we had two sophomore quarterbacks. But when you have sophomore quarterbacks and neither one has started before, there's a great deal of experience that's drawn from games.
We now have a junior quarterback. That's the way I look at things. So, again, these are things we live and we grow. We had two freshmen running backs who were basically the focus of our football team for the second half of the season, certainly. So we're a young football team. And we're going to grow. So just hang with us and we'll be fine.
THE MODERATOR: Captain Ross Weaver. What was your reaction when you first heard the news? Then questions.
ROSS WEAVER: There was some talk going around. We never knew -- but when I first got the news of course I was excited to go to another Bowl game.
And to play a good team like Texas Tech, like any other player, you're very excited to play in a post-season game. But my reaction was basically let's get ready to go and get ready to take these guys on.
THE MODERATOR: Questions.
Q. Ross, knowing that they're going to come after you with the pass, and this team has struggled in past defense as a senior, as a captain, as a defense back, how much do you relish this as an opportunity to go out and make your statement?
ROSS WEAVER: It's a great opportunity not only because we know that they pass, but just to be a secondary, period.
You go into practice, you think we have to get better regardless if the team is going to come at you or the team's going to run the ball a lot. It's one aspect of the game that you constantly try to get better at.
Q. Knowing there's going to be some missing players in the back field, how much of a challenge does that put on you all to step it up even more? Who are some of the other players that can make an impact since the focus will definitely be on the back field there?
ROSS WEAVER: Of course, it's a challenge. But this whole season we've had injuries throughout the secondary, throughout the defense. It's more just one of those times where we have to knuckle up and get ready. When your name is called, be ready to play.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
Blair, what was your reaction?
BLAIR WHITE: Having the season we had, 6-6, you wouldn't think maybe we would be playing in such a big Bowl. But I guess the Alamo Bowl is supposed to be pretty nice. So we're excited to go down to San Antonio and play.
Q. It was two years ago that you kind of started to emerge on the scene, walk-on at the Champs Bowl. Do you go to some of the younger receivers knowing that you guys are down a couple and remind them of your situation in case maybe they don't know, about a Milton Colburt type, those kind of guys, just about this is their chance, their big stage?
BLAIR WHITE: Yeah, there's going to be guys playing that haven't played all year, with the guys we have now. So I think that's important for me to let those guys know that they have to go into the game preparing like they're going to play because they're going to have to.
And some of those guys can make some plays. So we'll be excited to see what they can do.
Q. Coach Dantonio has made a big deal a lot about the three straight Bowl games. How much has he stressed that all to you, just obviously getting to the third one and now that it's here, just what this means for the program?
BLAIR WHITE: Well, it's important for the program. And I think it is always nice to reflect back and see what you've done. But at the same time we've got to focus on winning this game, because in the past we haven't won many Bowl games. And we have a chance to do that this year against a team that puts up a lot of points, I hear. So we'll be excited to play them.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
GREG JONES: I'm really excited to be in a Bowl game, and we really want to give a good showing. We feel like there's another opportunity for us to go out there and represent Michigan State in the best way possible.
Q. Greg, you talk all the time about playing for pride. When you're going against a team who is going to attack you at your weak point, how much do you use that as a motivation factor for this game, or do you not need a motivation factor?
GREG JONES: It's motivation, but I think a lot of motivation comes from us getting another chance. And a lot of teams are great attackers, but we've got to be ready for that.
I think the focus this whole entire Bowl practice, the whole time we're getting ready just to get better and stronger, as a defense. I think that's some of the focus, too.
Q. When you talk about representing Michigan State in the best way possible, does that take on even more meaning just because of the other situations that have been happening and, of course, not winning the last two Bowl games, does it have a bigger meaning for you?
GREG JONES: No, we definitely -- we haven't won our last two Bowl games. And that's the point. We don't want to go there not just to make it, but to try to go in there to win. And no matter what may have happened in the past, we definitely represent, want to show up the best way we can.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, Greg.
THE MODERATOR: Kirk, same thing, just your reaction getting the news.
KIRK COUSINS: Very excited about being able to play in a Bowl game. Especially with the way I played in the second half of the last game, I'm just itching to get back on the field and compete again.
Blair and I were actually playing Ping-Pong Friday night, because we didn't have anything to do. We didn't have a game the next day. We were hanging out, playing Ping-Pong, good to be competing in something. Excited to get out and compete on the football field and thankful to have one more game here to finish the season the right way.
Q. Who won?
KIRK COUSINS: Played to 21. Have to win by two. I had a 19-16 lead. I blew it. He came back, I think it was 22-20 he won. But we'll play a few more times before we head down to San Antonio.
Q. With everything that's happened in the last couple of weeks, is this game about more than just a game in terms of the school's reputation?
KIRK COUSINS: I believe there's a lot to play for here. I believe we need to win this game. Since I've been here, we've gone 0-2 in Bowl games. It leaves a sour taste going into the offseason. It's a horrible feeling. When we go down there -- I think we've done a good job preparing for the last two games. I felt we played great football teams the past two years in our Bowl games. And we'll play another one this year. We need to come out with the win. But there's definitely a lot to play for.
Q. You mentioned the second half against Penn State where it didn't go the way you wanted it to. And you said after the game you very were adamant about the fact you were going to put the team on your back and do everything you possibly could to get a win. Has that process already started for your, or is it just getting rolling now with practice and what's it been like for the past couple of weeks?
KIRK COUSINS: We got going. Saturday was our first practice. But we've been lifting and getting back into it. Even over Thanksgiving break watching games, getting us ready to get back out there, start preparing.
We're getting ready to go. We've already been preparing, to answer your question, and there will be a lot more preparation now. We'll pick it up as we go into the weeks here and get closer to going down there.
Q. What does it mean to you that you're part of this team that's gone to Bowl games three straight years which has only been done twice before here?
KIRK COUSINS: It's a great thing. Great testament to what Coach Dantonio and our coaching staff are doing here. And I think it reflects on the way Michigan State is on the upswing. And we're constantly developing the program.
But this is something where, for us, Bowl games need to become the norm and it shouldn't be are we going to a Bowl game this year but which one. And the obviously the goal is to go to the BCS games.
Q. Going to the younger receivers, or guys that haven't played as much, obviously you're their quarterback. But you're also their captain. What are you saying to those guys about time for them to step up?
KIRK COUSINS: We've talked all season, when people ask us about our team, we say depth is a big thing on our team.
We'll be able to find out come this Bowl game about our depth, especially at the receiver position. So there are going to be a lot of guys who haven't had as much an opportunity to play or catch passes this season who will get that opportunity in practice and also in the game and I think that's a great thing. Those guys have been working very hard and have a great opportunity to do that. And I feel very confident in their ability when they get a shot in practice and in this game. And, again, like you were saying, it is my duty as a quarterback to make sure those guys are ready. And we'll get them ready.
Q. Kirk, is there a way, when you're watching film of Texas Tech, to gauge how fast they are and what do you do when you go against a team that has extremely quick players?
KIRK COUSINS: We'll watch a lot of tape and figure out, like you said, the speeds, certain talents of guys and what they do well. And we'll probably watch every single game from the season, all 12 games.
We have a lot of time to watch that much film and digest that much information. We'll get a good feel for them in the time that we have and just have a great game plan drawn up. The coaches will do their job there, and we'll study like the best we can and be ready to go.
Q. What's the feeling been like around practice the past two days?
KIRK COUSINS: Oh, there was a great feeling on Saturday. We were very excited to be back out on the practice field. Like I said, after my performance against Penn State it was hard to sit around and watch football on Thanksgiving weekend because I wanted to get back out and play.
I remember when the game ended on Saturday I wanted to get right back out there Sunday and practice to get the bad taste out of my mouth.
It was great to get back out on the field for the first time since that game to get it behind us and move on. I thought we played very sharp. I thought there was a great focus and intensity by the team. And we were back to work and it was a good feeling.
Q. You talked before about only was it five or six quarterbacks have won Bowl games. Did you kind of go back and really refresh yourself on that and kind of think about that more as this was announced?
KIRK COUSINS: Yeah, I believe it's six quarterbacks who have played at Michigan State who have won Bowl games. I believe our running back coach, Coach Enos, won two himself.
It's something that I take a lot of pride in. I think it's something that quarterbacks here need to do is win Bowl games. It's a great way to finish the season.
People remember how you finish. A great start is nice, but people remember how you finish. That's what I want to do, is make sure that the seniors leave out with that memory that people have of them finishing strong, especially of our season, the '09 season, and moving forward into the future. People are going to remember how we finished, and this is a great opportunity to do that, especially against a great football team in Texas Tech.
Q. Going back to practice. You went live for over an hour. What's that like after that week to get that first hit coming in? I know you were wearing a red jersey, but they like to tap you a little bit.
KIRK COUSINS: It's been great to be back out on the practice field playing, making reads, throwing the ball, getting bumped around, hit around a little bit, hearing the contact of pads. Giving your cadence, snapping the ball, being in the huddle with the guys.
Everything that makes me love the game of football we were able to do last Saturday. It was fun to get back at it, play football again. It's a game and it's fun. And we had fun on Saturday. And it's going to be great to get out and practice.
One of the big advantages of Bowl games is the amount of practice time you can have to continue to develop and get better.
Q. How tough have the last couple of weeks been on you with the outside extractions, as a member and captain of the team?
KIRK COUSINS: Obviously as a leader and captain on this team, it's a little frustrating because you feel like it's your job to be there and to make sure that those kind of things don't happen.
But my heart breaks for those guys because, first and foremost, those guys are teammates of mine and there's a special bond there when you're a teammate because many of those guys I came in with, Greg and I came in with together. And there's a strong bond there.
We've worked very hard together for two, two and a half years now. And my heart breaks for them. And they're teammates and I care about them. And so the fact that they're not there with us for this Bowl game will be, it will hurt. But at the same time there are other guys who we work with who have not had as much of an opportunity to play who will have that opportunity. And we're excited for the opportunity they'll have. And, like I said, we're all rallying around and ready to go for this game.
Q. Do you think that those factors you just outlined can also give this team as it is a little more resolve to leave a better taste on this whole situation, including the season because 7 and 6 is a lot better than 6 and 7?
KIRK COUSINS: Exactly. Like you said, 7 and 6 is a lot better. For us there's a lot to play for. And we feel we can take a negative situation and turn it into a positive.
This hasn't been the first time we've faced adversity this season. It's not going to be the last time. One more time we need to get ourselves up off the mat, dust ourselves off, and get back to work. And that's what we're going to do. We're excited about this opportunity, like I said, turning a negative into a positive.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
End of FastScripts