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VALERO ALAMO BOWL MEDIA CONFERENCE
December 18, 2009
COACH DANTONIO: First of all, going to our third bowl game in three years here, so it's exciting for us as a program. It will be an outstanding challenge. A great challenge for us this year. Probably the biggest challenge we've had yet due to the circumstances involved around our situation a little bit. The football team that we were playing, and all the things that go along with normally playing in a bowl game.
So when you look back at what we've been able to do here, played against a good B.C. game, B.C. football team in the Championship Bowl. They were second in the conference in the ACC. Played very well against a great quarterback.
Last year we played against a Georgia team that averaged over 400 yards of offense and had a chance to win that football game in the Capital One Bowl. So we're used to great challenges we'll accept this challenge and move forward.
When you look at where we're at as a football team right now I think first thing you've got to look at is our final exam situation. So it's sort of been a little bit crazy this week in terms of how we practiced. You actually have staggered practices a little bit. So while the defense was out meeting, the offense was out on the field a little bit, those type of things. We made it work though.
The key is to be able to have a great scout team, I think to work against your football team as well as developing depth. We certainly have some people working in some different positions and that type of thing. So we'll see how that moves forward.
We started our game plan in earnest last week against Texas Tech. You know, trying to balance recruiting. Trying to balance preparation for a football game. Trying to balance exams, all of it very, very difficult. But we're extremely excited to be back there, and I think our attitude has been very, very good and enthusiasm has been very, very good.
And I think you see a sense of -- I don't know what word I want to use here. A good feel for our football team moving forward to the next game. I think they'll accept that challenge and be motivated to play.
When I look out here and I look at Texas Tech a little bit, you look at them offensively. Second in the country in pass offense, 380 yards a game. That is the average that they give up. That is the average.
Offensively, you know, scoring offense 37 points, yards per Game 462. They have an outstanding football team, outstanding things conceptually. Split their linemen out from me to you, so they're very wide and they're going to make people play in space a lot.
Batch is an outstanding tailback, running back, I should say. Stephens, number 24 as well. He's a young player that is very explosive. Their quarterback situation I've been saying, the good news is Taylor Potts has only thrown for 3 thousands yards. The bad news they have a back-up that's thrown for 1500. So they've got a third quarter that they've used as well.
They're very well put together. Well designed wide receiver-wise. They have 45 guys, Alex Torres, for almost 800 yards. Detron Lewis, number 17, outstanding receiver. Of the go-to guys they move around a little bit and put in the slot formation. Swindall, you know, Leong, two other great receivers.
But they really use a lot of different receivers in there, lot of different backs, and make things work. They use concepts, and those concepts are repeated throughout the football game. You'll see that as you watch them in throughout the game.
You look at them defensively all like Narduzzi and Treadwell get a little more involved in those areas. But when you look at them defensively, outstanding pass rusher in Sharpe. All Big 12 cornerback in Wall. What they do is a little like what we do on defense.
Not so much zone pressure, but from a base concept, an overpackage, four-man front, quarters coverage in the back end. Play with a lot of enthusiasm, a very high tempo and a great deal of speed.
So as the defensive unit, I think they're number four or five or so, or second in the nation in sacks which we've been good as well in the sack area. But they'll pressure the quarterback, mainly when they're down four people, especially their defensive ends.
So that is sort of where we're at from that perspective. You look at our football team, Greg Jones, not a unanimous, but another All American team. I guess an AP All American, first team All American. You know, voted and being recognized on Saturday as the nation's top linebacker by the College Football Performance Awards group which sort of look at something, look at all the facets that go along with statistics. Who you play, what they do, what their record is, all those things. And computer-wise come up with an All American team. So I think that's a great award for him.
We've got quite a few guys that have graduated this fall. I think it's important that we recognize those guys. Rocco, Adam Decker, Danny Fortener, Andrew Hawken, and A.J. Jimmerson, Brendon Moss, Joel Nitchman and Jeremy Ware all graduated at midyear.
We're on track to have all 21 or 20 of our 20 seniors. Josh Roush will return again next year. 20 of our 20 seniors graduate by the end of the spring. So that will be exciting for this program.
With that I'll take some questions and we can go from there and I'll try to fill in the blanks.
Q. Former Texas Tech lineman told me that what makes defenses struggle with their offense is they don't even know what they're going to do. They come to the line, and offensive linemen have no clue. How hard is that knowing they literally have no clue?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, they have a plan in place. When they come to the line of scrimmage, they're going to be given the offensive play from the sideline, from the press box, based on the look that we give them, based on the situation, based on what they maybe have run in the past.
They're going to run the full draw, so bang a center, and bring the guard around, run the draw and run the zone play. That is basically their two runs.
You know, they he get under center a little bit. Run the jet sweep and have some different things off of that. From a past perspective, a lot of perimeter type plays. Bubbles, and out routes and quick hitches, shovel screens, screens to the outside based off a crossing route. So they do a lot of things on the perimeter that really are passes. The ball comes out, but the ball comes out quickly. So it's a perimeter run game.
So when you look at them offensively, you look at them in five facets. What do they do? True terms of running the football. They run the zone. They run a little bit of full bubble, I mean, a draw. They run a pass game naturally. They run the three-step pass game, and they run the screen game.
And those are the things that you have to stop. They do those things over and over and over. As I've told our players yesterday to become proficient at anything, probably you need to do it about 10,000 times I think someone told me that's in a book somewhere. So they've done it 10,000 times. We've done it and played our defenses X amount of times as well.
But the trick in performing and playing and executing against an offense like this is being able to simulate what they do 1,000 times before we play them. So we're working on that. Whether it's film, whether it's walk through, whether it's pass skills, seven-on-seven or team situations, we're trying to work on those to get our team ready.
Then you have to execute against their speed and their quality of players. That becomes more difficult. But a lot of things can happen in the football game. Turnovers, lot of things can happen.
Possession time will be key in this football game. Turnovers, how we play on special teams, red zone offense and defense. And third down. Those are the things that are going to win a football game or lose it for you.
But we'll be ready to play. We'll be ready emotionally, and we'll be ready schematically. But if you look at them offensively, I think that's what you're looking at.
Q. I'm wondering if the word you were looking for might be resolve on your team?
COACH DANTONIO: That's the word.
Q. No, it isn't.
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I think it's true.
Q. But my question is do you think there is some resolve for the players to rise above the adversity to finish 7-6 instead of 6-7, and leave something with the taste going into next year than anything that's happened in the last month?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I think there's a lot of resolve in that from our coaching staff, from our players. The way we've prepared and the way we go about our work. I think that's a natural human reaction to adversity, regardless of where you're at in any situation. Whether it's a family dynamics this has occurred or it's something with your job professionally or it's something on the football team.
And a lot of times you look at a football team and it directly correlates with what happens in society sometimes maybe. But any time that you put up against a wall or you're put in the corner a little bit, I think it's human nature that you get yourself ready to go and you come out and get ready to play or get ready to respond to the work force. Or you get yourself up in the morning and put on a tie, put on a tie or whatever you've got to do to get yourself ready to go. That is the kind of resolve, I guess, that we'll have in this. And we'll move forward.
I think it's important, as I said a week and a half ago, that we handle this situation correctly. We not look back and distance ourselves from the people that we've suspended. We care for those people as well. But at the same time there have to be consequences, and we have to handle ourselves with integrity and move forward. And that's what we're going to do. We'll rectify the situation.
Q. Offensively you've got Colbert and Sonntag listed as your number two receivers. Are you thinking about doing anything different in terms of looking at bringing someone over from the defensive side. Would you use McKeith?
COACH DANTONIO: I'll say this, we have a football team full of football players. Without getting into any -- because I think we have to be able to use anything that we can to be successful. So we have a team of football players.
Many of our football players went both ways in high school and were outstanding performers. Danny Foretner was an outstanding quarterback. So there are all kinds of different ways and shapes that we can come to get ourselves ready to go. And the nice thing about this is we have time. We have time to implement what we want to do. We have time to practice what we want to do.
So we'll use people accordingly, and, you know, we have to be able to make it through here without injuries. That is important too. To look at how we practice, so that's also important.
We want to be fresh when we get ready to play. We want to be mentally ready and able to handle the challenges ahead of us. And all those things take a great deal of patience, resolve, and structure.
Q. In the past recently as you've been out on the recruiting trail, have you found yourself having to, I don't want to say defend the program, but talk about the stay of the program? And let youngsters know who you may be recruiting that things are okay at Michigan State?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I think you're going to always talk in recruiting about the state of your program one way or the other. Last year I was talking about it in this direction, this year you talk about it a little bit differently. The fact remains we're going to a bowl game. The fact remains we had a problem. The fact remains we're trying to rectify that problem.
When we talk about recruiting it's important, as I said to our recruits and our committed guys or the guys that we're actively recruiting that are coming on visits, this is an open book. This is an opportunity to get to see how we handle the situation. This is an opportunity to prepare us to see how we would handle. This is an opportunity for parents to see how we would handle their children and their sons if they were in a problem. This is also an opportunity for them to see how we're going to handle it if their sons are not in a problem.
But it's a great example of what this program and the direction this program will take if there are problems. But I maintain it's an open book for anybody to look at internally. Especially when they're deciding whether to come to school here. We've been completely up front with that.
I have found there's been a tremendous amount of support for where we're at. You know, parents will know what they're getting into when they come here. They need to understand that and know the truth. Paints a clear picture for them.
Q. Again, going back to wide receivers, are you also looking at just do more with the tight ends? Is it I know they've been a big part of the offense. But this is an opportunity for them to get even more. How do you look to utilize them in this situation?
COACH DANTONIO: I think our offense is predicated on personnel groupings. So whether we use two tight ends and two wide receivers, and I think Keshawn Martin and Blair White are established players for this football team offensively. They're both guys that can make plays.
You certainly look at Linthicum, Charlie Gant, you look at Celek, what he's done, you look at (indiscernible) what he's been able to do and his opportunities. Obviously, his role increases.
So there are different things we can do and many, many formations you can form by using various tight end formations and various other people and personnel, and that's what we'll do. Conceptually you have to try to remain somewhat the same, and you have to build on things.
But it will be important what our offensive line does, you know. And, again, we'll have to be able to accept the challenge.
I talked a lot about Texas Tech's offense. But when you look at them defensively, I think their coordinator does a great job. He gets them ready to play. They play a high rate of speed and great enthusiasm, and they know where they're going.
As I said, their defense is somewhat similar to ours, to our base defense. Maybe not quite as many zone pressures. But there are always going to be strengths and weaknesses of a defense and an offense, and it's important that we exploit those weaknesses and we'll go about doing those things.
Q. Did you consider or have you gone outside the football program to find any athletes to help you with this situation? And how, personally, is this secondary going to take this passing game that you address at the beginning?
COACH DANTONIO: To answer your first question, I didn't put an ad in the paper, no. I don't think we're there yet. But it's tough for a young man to come in and learn all those things that we would have to learn to be able to play at this level, I think.
You know, so we haven't done that. Nor do I really want to bring somebody into our program that I don't know who they are right now at this moment because of the other things that we've experienced. I don't think it's fair to everybody else in the program to bring somebody completely from the outside into an inner circle of people. So we have to be able to handle that.
The second thing that you asked, yeah, I would say that the secondary has to get ready to play. Obviously, they throw the ball like they do. If you said they throw for 300 yards, that's below their average. But to some people, 300 yards is a lot of yards. It is to me.
But in this day and age when an offense, so many offenses are throwing for that. Remember, we had the number one passing offense in the Big Ten as well. And I think we averaged nearly through 70 or 100 yards less than they do. But different conference, different things, you know. So somewhere in there is the -- will be the reality.
But we've got to get ready to play in the secondary. There is no doubt about that. It will be a challenge, and I hope our players take it very personal. I know that our coaches will.
Q. Do you anticipate having to dismiss or suspend anymore players before this bowl game?
COACH DANTONIO: I don't anticipate it, but you never know. If we have to, we have to. But, you know, we'll do what's right. We'll do what's right here. If we go there, the tough thing is you don't want to take a red shirt off somebody and play him in one game. Because we have some young men who can play and play well for us who are freshmen right now. But you don't want to do that, and we won't do that.
Q. Going forward, will you reevaluate your second chance policy or tighten it or just look at it?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, would I reevaluate it? I guess you always reevaluate and critique everything that you do. But I think it sends a message if you're given a second chance, it's a second chance, there are no thirds. But I do think it's important that we give people chances and opportunities here.
I think that's what this country has been made of. You know, I'm about winning football games here, but I'm also about saving people's lives. Not saving them, you know, but I'm talking about allowing them opportunities to grow as people. And I think college is one big indicator of success in a person's life.
If they can make it through college, if they can graduate from college, they have a chance to change their whole family background, because their children will probably go to school as well.
So I'm about giving people opportunities and see if people can change. And I think for the most part from my dealings with young people over 30 years and people in general over 53 years, I think that many people -- there are very, very few people that are truly bad people out there. Very, very few.
I think that what we have are people that make choices. And I've said many times a choice can impact a person for a lifetime. And that's a sad thing. It's a tragic thing when you look at a person or any individual who has an opportunity to play in this environment and the opportunities that will go along with that after the fact, whether it's going to college here or whatever the case, and they don't have that opportunity anymore. I think that's tragic.
So I know you want to ask me another question, but the short answer to that is I want to give people opportunities. I want to be a teacher and a mentor. I don't want to be a warden. I don't want to cash people out.
Q. I understand and appreciate the principle of second chances. My question is obviously there are certain transgressions that would not merit a second chance?
COACH DANTONIO: That's correct.
Q. Would you reevaluate what these transgressions are and expand the list at all?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I said before. You always critique what you do. Whether it's an offensive play or how you handle a player. The class you take as a freshman, the second semester. I think you reevaluate everything. And there are so many different things.
And I think the other thing that you don't really realize when you're on the outside looking in, you don't have a personal relationship with that individual. When you have a personal relationship and you treat them as a family member, then I think you do what you can as a family member.
Does a father give a son a second chance? I think he does. Does he give him a third? At some point he shrugs his shoulders and says, hey, you've got to deal with it.
But for the most part when you're dealing with a family situation, which is what I want our football team to be, you tend to look at things and say can we correct this? Can we correct this and not allow it to happen again?
And I feel bad for all the people involved and all the Spartans out there because this impacts a great deal of people. From the people on the west coast, the people on the east coast, all the people that have sent me letters of support. To all the people that have sent me negative letters. Maybe my guys don't give me the negative letters because I don't see them as much. I know we have a problem. We're trying to deal with it as would any other family deal with their problems. And I think that's important. I think that sends a message.
I don't think there are many college football programs in America that would not try to deal with things like that. Or many schools or principals or many teachers in the classroom. You know, you want to save lives in terms of allowing them to prosper and get better and be productive.
So everybody making mistakes, as I said earlier, I think it's about choices. You try and work through those things. But there is no doubt that it's set us back, and it's been a very, very unfortunate situation that didn't even have to happen.
Q. How has the last month changed you and maybe the trust that you put into your football team?
COACH DANTONIO: It's given me perseverance, okay. God gives you what you can handle. You know, I think in the long run it's given me more wisdom how to deal with the situation. You know, as a college coach, certainly, I haven't coached as a head football coach for 20-some years, so sometimes you're learning on the job a little bit.
But I think how has it changed me? It's made me ask myself more difficult questions in terms of the recruiting process. But these are young people, 18 to 22 years on old. One of the first things I say to people, when you go to college, mom and dad isn't going to have you in. You have to make sure you hold yourself accountable.
Just like I tell our football team all the time. When there is a problem, it involves two thing, a lack of discipline and a lack of maturity, and in either of those cases it's not good. Whether it's on the football field, off the field or in the classroom, there is going to be an issue if there is a lack of discipline and maturity.
So we'll continue to try to structure that. But they've got to be held accountable, as well as I should be held accountable. But, you know, has it changed me? Something good will come out of this. I promise you something good will come out of this. We'll get stronger. Our football team will get stronger. The head coach will get stronger. The position coaches will look harder. The players will look a little harder. Be a little more hesitant to follow.
Every experience you have changes you, so I guess it has changed.
Q. Given all the circumstances, you guys going into this bowl game shorthanded and Tech being a very dangerous looking team. How do you convince these players or get them to buy into the fact that this is a great challenge rather than thinking this is a daunting task ahead of us?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think that human nature -- human nature says the ball gets kicked off, you'll be ready to go. Human nature says you have a challenge ahead of you. You can either shrink back from that challenge or live up to it.
We have some strong leaders on our football team. They need to get ready to play. They need to impact other people. From what I've seen in practices, we'll be ready to go.
You know, game day is coming. The clock's ticking. But, you know, those last 24 hours you're going to have to answer some tough questions about yourself. About how you're going to play. The opposite team has to as well. That is the time you have to get ready. Those last hours you're going to have to check yourself.
But I feel good about where our football team will be at that point in time, because I think we'll have some guys that can compete and they'll step out. And, you know, we'll survive. We'll be fine. We'll get ready to win. Thank you very much.
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