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September 6, 2011

Mark Dantonio

COACH DANTONIO: First of all, I just want to congratulate our women's volleyball team on a great start thus far, so congratulations to Kathy.
Looking back at Youngstown State, you look at a football game, we had a chance to review the films, obviously. I think expectations coming into the game were a little bit higher than maybe we played; however, you get challenged with adversity, and that's the name of the game, I think, as a football coach and as a football player. You're constantly challenged as you move forward.
We've got a young football team. If you look at us, we've got really three seniors on defense, and the rest of them are underclassmen or juniors. So you know, you're sort of looking for leadership as you go, and you're going to be put into some tough situations and you've got to be able to respond.
I think our defense did that the second half. I think we limited them to six 1st downs maybe and 81 yards or so. But came out of the game with a win, six points, had an opportunity to probably shut them out, sort of that bend-don't-break type thing. But credit Youngstown State being able to -- 3rd and 5, they'd get five and a half, 3rd and 8, they'd get ten, whatever it was. So credit them a little bit.
When you look at us, you're looking for great execution, you're looking for an attention to detail here next week. I thought offensively in the game we probably didn't have the ball enough in the first half actually, but the second half played pretty well, had a 13-play drive and then missed a field goal.
So again, you look at the things that we can control. We had two series, I felt, in the first half, first series and the last series in the first half, where I felt like we had unforced errors. So we have to eliminate the enforced errors. That would be dropping a punt, that would be a hold, that would be jumping offsides, that would be offense or defense, those type of things, and clean those things up and get ready to play against Florida Atlantic.
But we're looking forward to getting out to practice this week. 28-6, I'm sure everybody would have liked to see a 40-6 shot and everybody could be happy. But we are where we're at. That's always been the MO here; no easy games out there. Just serves as another indicator what wherever you go, I don't care who you're watching, whether you're watching another football team or you're watching your own team, everybody is going to be ready to play, everybody has players, and everybody does their very best to compete.
I'll take some questions, and we'll go from there.

Q. You've talked about the importance of your kicker getting the ball to the goal line or in the end zone. You struggled with that last year a little bit, struggled certainly on Friday night. Is this going to be an open competition? Are people going to get a shot to find someone who can put the ball in the end zone?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, the first kickoff went into the end zone, the second one down to the 3. Muma has been pretty good. We had one go to the 12, I guess. We've got to have consistency; I understand that. But it's a 70-yard kick. There's not many people when you look around on campus at Michigan State that's going to be able to kick the ball 70 yards, probably including Dan Conroy or Mike Sadler.
But we feel pretty confident that Kevin Muma is going to be able to get that job done, and we'll watch him again this week. He's got added experience, he's got -- he's a bigger person now so he has more power. Like I said, first went in, second one down to the 3, so we've got to just keep trying to do the best we can.
But I think basically inside the 5, if you get it around the 5-yard line you're doing pretty well. We can cover.

Q. On the offensive line I was wondering how important it is that you have a guy at left tackle going into that Notre Dame game, how important this week is for that, and then also if you can tell us is Travis Jackson close to coming back and where would that stand when he does come back?
COACH DANTONIO: I think the most important thing about our offensive line as we move forward is that we've got guys sort of solidifying themselves at all positions as we move into the third, fourth, fifth week, right around there. Certainly the left tackle position, that's the one that's maybe a little bit more up for grabs right now. Dan France, Fou Fonoti, Jared McGaha, all three of those guys could figure playing at the left tackle position as we move forward.
But I think it is important that we solidify the entire group as we go, not just the one position. Your left tackle has usually got to protect the backside of your quarterback if he's right-handed, so obviously that's an important position.
At center, Travis has an ankle. I thought Blake played pretty well in the game for his first time out there as an offensive center. He'll start this game. Travis if he's able to play possibly will play, would come in in more of a reserve -- probably reserve mode this week.

Q. Everybody wants you to win 77-0, especially when you play a lesser team. As a coach, though, is that a better teaching tool going into week 2 when you play another team that everyone thinks you should beat 77-0?
COACH DANTONIO: I think the teaching tool is these are the things we did wrong, here's the things we can easily correct, here's the things that are more difficult to correct that we've got to work through, for example, our offensive line situation. But some of these things we've been doing and should be corrected pretty quickly.
But you know, that's very easy to sit up here and say we have to do those things on the field. Everybody wants to win every single game big, but again, you go back, you credit Youngstown State, the ball got out of the quarterback's hand as soon as he got it. They were throwing on rhythm, very short passes, bubbles, speed sweeps, wide receiver sweeps, those type of things, jet sweeps.
But you look at it and you try and figure it out what happened, what went wrong, and try and correct those things as you go.

Q. Kirk and B.J. Cunningham seemed in sync with one another, particularly in the first game. Did you see signs of that throughout the preseason and can you talk about the career B.J. has had?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, B.J. has had a great career. I think they've always been in sync really. Kirk does a great job of spreading the ball around to all the different receivers that we do have. Certainly B.J. got nine of them this week and we've got to get the ball in Keshawn's hands and Keith's hands, as well, tight ends, as well. So we've got to spread the ball around. But certain things are -- come open to certain people at certain times based on coverage reads down the field.

Q. You've gone through the offensive line reconditioning like almost every year where you've had to replace two or three guys. Where does that stand in terms of just being coordinated in sync to the point where it's a unit that gels like all the lines you've had have done over time?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, first of all, I think the offensive line is a position where it takes the longest to get yourself on the field, then you've got five of them, so it takes the most time to have a group that gels. What we've done here, really what we've done or seen in the first year, we had a group of seasoned veterans, but they had to adapt to what we did. The second year, I think we had a couple guys that returned, and they played okay. We had a good football season. The third year we were relatively young, inexperienced, went through that again. Last year we had John Stipek and a couple other guys who had not played much for us, and they came on and played pretty well, and now this year is the first year, I think, that we've really -- looking at it, can say, okay, we have two young offensive tackles. We have a red shirt freshman, we have a guy who was playing defense for the past two years or year and a half, we have a new junior college player, and then we have Jared McGaha and Henry Conway, Michael Dennis who are younger players and Jared is a senior.
So we're relatively young at that position. So it takes a little bit of time. Our guards are older, our center, all young, first year Blake is playing offense, red shirt freshman in Travis, true freshman in another young man, in Jack Allen. So we're relatively young, so it takes time.
But the best teacher for all of us is going out here on this field and playing in that atmosphere with that crowd noise with a different defense against you every week, with a different type of defense versus you every week and having to adapt because that's what they have to do on game day, they have to adapt. And if one person steps wrong or steps underneath themselves and does not step with power or goes the wrong way on a pass protection, it can make the whole group look bad. Sometimes those are going to happen when you have younger players, but we hope to limit those at this point and completely omit those as we get into our fourth or fifth game of the season.

Q. There was a lot of attention to the linebackers coming in, a lot of not brand new guys but younger guys playing. Max had a good game. How would you kind of gauge their play overall?
COACH DANTONIO: I thought our linebackers played pretty well. They had to defeat cut blocks. This is the first time that really our guys were involved. We cut in practice in scrimmages but not -- it's not game-like. So this is the first time they had to do that on a consistent basis on the perimeter. If they had to do anything better, I felt like they had to adjust a little bit better on quick motions and things of that nature to get themselves in position to play with the right leverage, inside or outside leverage.
But Max Bullough had a pretty solid game I would say, 15 tackles. I thought that Denicos Allen played well, especially in the second half. I also felt like Chris Norman played pretty well, as well, got off blocks, made plays on bubbles. You eliminate a bubble for a four-yard gain, that's -- you're moving, you're getting guys on the ground, things of that nature.
Steve Gardiner was solid. I thought -- Taiwan Jones is going to be an outstanding player, he's a young freshman, and he's going to show up for us. When and where, you really don't really know, but I think he's a great athlete and he's got the right type of temperament.
Hammock came in and played a little bit at the Mike linebacker but was sick all week early in the week so had limited practice reps. But I thought he was -- he made some hits at the tail end of the game. That's sort of where our linebacker group is.
But I thought they played pretty well, actually, for seeing some of the things full speed that they had not seen previous. Remember, we're also working against a team that has a little bit of that element of surprise going against us, as well.

Q. You talked about the unforced errors and the play of the offensive line a little bit, but I was wondering if you could point to one area that you'd like to see the most improvement against Florida Atlantic, what that might be.
COACH DANTONIO: I would say that we have to start a little faster. If you had to say one thing, if you come out there and you start fast and end fast, you've got two -- you can sort of put a bookend around it. But I would say that we started slow on defense because they had an 11-play series. Again, they weren't big plays, they just sort of worked their way down the field. We ended up stopping them. And then the first series, we came out offensively and didn't play well.
After that I thought we played pretty well offensively until that two-minute situation, then again, we put ourselves in a hole, got out of the hole, but just couldn't respond in a two-minute situation which we have to do. So that would be one thing that I would say that we need to do.
The other thing would be just the unforced errors. Keshawn has caught, I don't know, 70 punts, 100 punts, in game-time situations. He won't drop a punt. That's not him. And then we have to be 100 percent successful on the holder and the snap on the kicks.

Q. You have Nick Hill listed as the kick returner. Are you switching that now and taking Keshawn off that?
COACH DANTONIO: I thought Nick Hill had a nice return in the game. That was a bright spot in the special teams play, that and the tackle inside the 15, tackle inside the 20. But no, we'll work with -- we'll go with Nick right now because I think he needs to have a place on this football team where he can flourish, where he can blossom a little bit. He's an exciting performer for us. He's not getting the touches at tailback right now due to the depth, but I think he needs to get the touches and he needs to gain experience.
I would say the other thing that we want to try and do against FAU is get some younger players experience as we move forward, especially on special teams. I think that some of our guys need to show up.

Q. What are your recollections of 9/11, that week during that football season, and do you have any plans to talk about it with the team or draw any attention to it in any way?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, 9/11 is very vivid in my memory. I remember working on that Monday and preparing for San Diego State at that time. I was at Ohio State when it all came crashing down. And more importantly what I remember about 9/11 is going home that day because we all went home and how crowded the streets were, the highways, and how everybody seemed to be letting everybody in and nobody was rushing and everybody was working together. And I think that's a message that it sent to all of us. From that day on we started working together a little bit more maybe as a nation. At least that's what I saw.
But it's very vivid in my memory, and I'm sure it is in many of ours. Our young people today, the guys who are in college, when you think back and ask yourself where were they ten years ago, you know, they were -- some who are freshmen were eight years old. Our seniors were 12. And it's a completely different time for them. They would be the age of my oldest, and my oldest I know we were going to try and pick up at the elementary school.
I'm sure it causes everybody to pause, and we'll do that again. We will pause.

Q. Back on B.J. Cunningham, I know back when you got him, I think he only had MAC offers. He hadn't played a lot of football. What did you see from him at the time, and did you envision that he might become the kind of player that he has become here?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, we knew he was a quick jumper, we knew he was a great athlete. He was a big-bodied receiver. I knew that he came from a great program in Westerville South. I knew the head football coach very well, Rocky Pentello. I knew that he was the MVP in a basketball league of 24 teams as a junior and as a senior, and so he had the ability to jump, go up and get the ball, and those are the things that we really sort of put our stock in.
We had watched him play in person and were impressed with him at that time, and when he committed to us at UC, he was one of four players that we really stayed on and offered a scholarship him to come to Michigan State because we felt like he had the ability to play in the Big Ten, and that has borne itself out.

Q. Back to Steve's 9/11 thought, I don't remember who Ohio State played, I know no football was played that weekend, but it seemed like when football was played again at the college and pro level, football was a healer at the time to the nation. Is that overstating it?
COACH DANTONIO: No, I think it was. It was played a week after, I guess, and we went to UCLA to play. I remember all the NFL games played that week, as well. I do think that it was -- it healed us. It allowed us to come together a little bit at a time when it was a difficult time for a lot of people.

Q. Were you disappointed with how little Maxwell got to play?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I was, but the way the game was unfolding in the first quarter, we didn't really have any plays. We only ran 19 offensive plays, I think, in the first half, and so it was -- we're trying to get Kirk his reps at game time, as well, and we felt like in the third quarter that we also had to go in that direction just because of the limited reps that he had taken.
It was just the way the game sort of unfolded. You know, our plan is to work him and get him in there, and I think he's an excellent quarterback, and I think he'll be a very good player for us in the future. He's had a great fall camp, as well.

Q. Give us an update on Jairus and LT.
COACH DANTONIO: LT is back in pads, and we'll begin to work him back to see what he can do. But right now to go and smack somebody to be able to play in a game this weekend, I don't think it'll happen. But maybe by next week.
As far as Jairus, he's working on the Achilles, so it's something that's -- it's a four-month injury. It's May, and he's able to run, but he's got to be able to go 100 percent and go full go back there if you're going to play in the secondary. You can't be a step slow, and I would say if he was playing a different position right now, he probably would be able to play, if he was an offensive lineman or a defensive lineman with that healing and speed, but in the secondary you've got to make too many quick movements.

Q. How about Bennie Fowler? Do you expect him back soon?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, we do expect Bennie back soon. Whether he'll make it this week or not, it's just a rest type thing with him.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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