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September 13, 2011

Mark Dantonio

THE MODERATOR: To preview Saturday's game at Notre Dame, head coach Mark Dantonio.
COACH DANTONIO: Just to clean up FAU real quick, I think we took necessary steps in game two to omit some of the problems we had. Obviously this next football game will be against our best opponent to date.
Notre Dame's a rivalry game for us, exciting for us. When you look at that, we're a 2-0 team, they're where they're at. You really have to throw out the records. I remember since I've been involved in this series, I think it's been 1997, there's been great games, very close games, exciting football games. We'll look again to do that.
When you look at Notre Dame, I think they have an explosive offense, 10 starters back on the offensive side of the ball. Rees obviously has the start. I think both quarterbacks do a great job executing their offense. Made some mistakes obviously in the first two games.
When you take in their whole and you start looking at them all last year, you watch their work, their entire work, very positive players.
Floyd obviously is a great player. Makes a lot of plays for them. I think they have a great runningback in Woods. Four starters back on the offensive line. Tight end solid. Mismatch type guy. They've got weapons.
When you look at them defensively, they've got eight starters back. Six guys starting now, but eight guys starting in the past. Experienced defense that plays hard, make plays. Based out of a 3-4 a little bit.
Solid special teams.
Away game for us. We played well down there in the past. Look forward to going down there again. Always our first away game. We went to play Cal in '08, but other than that when we do play Notre Dame on the road it seems to always be our first away game.
It's a challenge for us to get ready for that, go through that process. We're going to have to play well away from home this year. This will be the first test for us. Excited to play.
I'll take some questions and we'll go from there.

Q. Mark, what was more disappointing to you, seeing Michigan win that game at the last second or knowing you're facing a desperate team here?
COACH DANTONIO: I just watched the game as a fan, so... Got to play every one of them. We have respect for both those programs. Tough to answer that question.

Q. What is the challenge like for your secondary this week with Riddick and Floyd?
COACH DANTONIO: They do a great job spreading things out. I think they're packaged together. They got a good scheme. They do a very good job getting the ball out quick. Tough to pressure at times.
When you look at Floyd, the guy has all kinds of records there. He's a big-bodied receiver, catches the ball well. Riddick is a great run-after-catch guy. Make plays for them. Equally impressive.
If you overload one side, they're going to hurt you with the other side. You got to be able to play them both. That's the name of the game. I think T.J. Jones is a good player as well. He's hurting people as well. Eifert has done the same thing. Cierre Wood, same thing. Weapons. Over a thousand yards of offense in two games.
They're going to spread you out, do some of the things they do, no-huddle offense, all the things you see them doing week in and week out, so we're going to have to play well.

Q. I'm sure you're not going to declare any bravado. Your team has had success against Notre Dame in that stadium. Does that give you any air of confidence because you've had the kind of success you've had know matter what year in that stadium?
COACH DANTONIO: We've gone down and played successfully as a program down there, whether it was when I was here as an assistant coach or when Bobby was here or Smith was here. We went down there in '07. We also lost in '09 down there.
I think whether they come here, we go there, there's going to be a great football game. That's what I've really seen in my time here. There's not very many games that have gotten lopsided. They've all been close, had comebacks, had great action, exciting plays. I guess that's what I would expect, is a great football game.
I think the rivalry goes back to the '40s when it really got intense. I know Notre Dame was very involved in getting us into the Big Ten Conference when they agreed to play us home and home back in the '40s. I think there's respect in that area.
I also think, like any rivalry game, there's a little bit of animosity, as well, which is good.

Q. How did you evaluate Dan France's play in the last game. Had you set with the starting five going into this game?
COACH DANTONIO: I think a lot of guys played very well in the game on Saturday. I thought Dan France played pretty well. Fonoti played well. Right now Dan France would be the guy that starts there.
I would anticipate all of these guys are going to continue to get better, these young guys are going to continue to get better as we move into this next phase of who we are. I still think we're trying to find out who is Michigan State 2011, what is our identity as a football team. I think that's normal. Anytime you go through any football season, you find that identity as you move forward.

Q. Since you lost on that final drive two years ago, Kirk Cousins probably seven or eight times on his own has brought that loss up, that it still eats at him. Is there a danger of a guy being too motivated or do you use it all you want? How do you handle that?
COACH DANTONIO: For me, myself, I remember I think I got a case of pickles that week because I said he acted like Willie off the pickle boat. The pickles came to the office. Still have a couple jars (smiling).
I think he did a great job in that game. I think he had one bad pass. At the end of the game he forced a late throw over the middle and it was picked off. Other than that, he took us right down the field, had us in position to win the football game.
That's what I measure a quarterback by, his entire work, what he's able to do, what is his leadership role. I think he's proved himself to me and this program as a guy we can count on. Whatever he needs to motivate him. I think everybody, faced with a challenge that maybe they hadn't finished, will look to try to finish that situation. So I think he'll be in a good, positive frame of mind.

Q. How have the first two games this year helped you prepare for the Notre Dame game?
COACH DANTONIO: I think every game, every snap that you take throughout a season helps you prepare for the next challenge that you have. Certainly we've got some plays. We've had some success. We've had some things where we had to overcome a little adversity, as well.
We played in our stadium. This next challenge will be to play away. I know there will be Spartan fans down there. It will be an away game for us.
I guess the answer to that question is that every scenario that we're thrown in, every practice, you should learn something from and you should continue to get better. The biggest things we learn from is game experience. So we're going to find out about that, answer that question.

Q. Can you reflect on the Notre Dame game last year and what you went through after it, the impact it's had on you in the last 12 months?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I can reflect on the game. It's a little bit surreal watching it because you know what happened at the end of the game. I'm completely healthy. I feel great. In terms of 12 months, there's a lot of good that's happened in 12 months and there's some things that were negative. I think that goes along with life in general. You take the good with the bad.

Q. Does it feel like a year or longer than that?
COACH DANTONIO: It feels like about two months really or a month or a week sometimes, and other times it feels like two years. Depends what kind of frame of mind I'm in, I guess.
I don't know. I haven't really thought about that too much, what it feels like. I just make sure as a person there's a lot of people out there that have problems and suffer right now. My thoughts and prayers go out to Coach Kill in Minnesota right now, what he's going through. But get yourself fixed up, get back out, get ready to go. That's the way we do it.

Q. You mentioned the importance of playing on the road, obviously not just this weekend but this year.
COACH DANTONIO: We've talked a lot about that as a program really since August, really even in the spring, because we knew our road game schedule was going to be a difficult one as we moved through the season.
This is our first test. This is not the exam. This is our first test as we move through this. We played well on the road, played well at Notre Dame, Michigan, Penn State. We'll try to mimic some of the things we do and get ourselves ready to go.
Our intentions will be good and I think we'll be motivated.

Q. The play 'Little Giants' that won the game last year, how big a play do you think that was for this program and how often do people bring it up to you?
COACH DANTONIO: Obviously it was a big play because it won the football game. Had it not won the football game, it would be a bad big play, I guess.
But because it won the football game, but other than that it was a fake field goal, it was a trick play. But because the circumstances in the game, all the circumstances after the game, the whole thing, it probably took on a little bit more of a meaning.
As far as where I'm at, what I'm doing, believe it or not, it's not brought up that often to me. But it's just another play at the end of a game that either you win or sometimes you lose. I guess that's the way I'll always look at it. Just glad it worked.

Q. Will you try to downplay the success you had down there over the years?
COACH DANTONIO: No. We speak to that. I think you have to speak to your successes and try to build on them. Regardless, you can flip it the other way, too. You challenge yourself if you've not had success in certain situations as well. I think it can go both ways.
But I think we want to have our players have confidence going down there. The fact we've gone down there and won before gives us confidence.

Q. You mentioned how talented Notre Dame is, 10 returning starters on offense. The fact they're 0-2, do you buy that makes a team much more dangerous?
COACH DANTONIO: I think whether they're 2-0, 1-1, 2-0, they're going to be a challenge to play down there. My feeling is they don't really care we're 2-0. It makes no difference. We all are what we are right now. You take the next step to try and better yourself by going 3-0, 1-2, whatever it is.
I just know that within a program, within a team, you have to get yourself ready to go. I'm quite confident that they'll be ready to go. I'm quite confident that we'll be ready to go.
Now, you have to block, tackle, catch the ball, do all the things fundamentally, right play call, right defense, all these things. There's a lot of gray area there, a lot of things that can go wrong on either side.
But I think the motivation for both teams will be just fine. I think that's their MO. I've never seen Notre Dame not play hard, never seen that. I have respect for them from that standpoint. Our players are going to play hard as well.
Should be a great football game like I said initially. When I came up here, they've always been close games, they've always hung on a play or two. They've always sort of flipped one way or the other at times, too. You look at '06, you can go back, there's a lot of examples. I know when we came off of losing to Oregon in 1998, we were 0-2, they were 2-0, they came here, I can't remember the halftime score, but it was 31-3, something like that, us. It can flip both ways.
I think both teams will be motivated. I think that's the way this rivalry thing works. You throw out the schedules, get ready to play, have respect for your opponents. At the same time you understand that both teams are going to play extremely hard and do everything they can to win.

Q. Never mind that the opponent was Michigan Saturday. As you did watch that game, is it harder to play a team that's come off two gut-wrenching losses or don't you buy into that stuff carrying over?
COACH DANTONIO: I don't buy into that because I think by Tuesday that's usually off their plate and they're on to the next thing. I don't buy into it. I think they're going to play very well. If a guy throws an interception, fumbles the football, something happens, I don't buy into he's thinking something happened last week. The players make plays, the game of football is that way, it goes back and forth.
We need to get ready for a football team that in my mind is a 2-0 football team. They play like it. They made some mistakes, but that's happened to us before, too. So they'll be ready to play.

Q. So many of these games come down to one or two plays. With this game in particular, there's so many that come down to one play at the very end. Is it almost weird that it happens like that so often?
COACH DANTONIO: I don't know the answer to that one. When you're involved in the rivalry, you understand when you talk about football being a game of inches, this is really the epitome of that. These games can swing one way or the other. So many have been like that. It's a game of inches.
Attention to detail, all the little things make a difference. They just do. All the little things make a difference. It hinges on whether the ball is a tip, or a tip and a touchdown, tip and an interception.

Q. Can you talk about your running game, where it stands right now.
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think as our offensive line continues to get more experience, as we continue during the season, those things are going to bear out a little bit more. We ran the ball for almost 200 yards Saturday. We had a lot of touches. We ran the ball almost exclusively in the fourth quarter. We were pretty generic in what we were running.
It's a little bit tough to say that right now I think until we get into games where you have to run the football, this is the way it is, you have to establish the run to win. We'll see how that works as we get deeper into our schedule. But I like our runningbacks. I think they have big-play potential. I think we're coming.

Q. I don't know if you noticed point and spreads. You're 2-0, they're 0-2. They're a five- or six-point favorite down there. Is that something you notice, care about? Why do you think it is?
COACH DANTONIO: I heard that little stat yesterday. Why do you think that is? I don't know. I guess, as I said before, do we expect a challenge? Absolutely. It's a tough one, guys. I'm not a gambler, so...

Q. You said you watched that Michigan/Notre Dame game as a fan. As a fan, what were you thinking when you saw that and knew you had to go against that next week?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, as a fan, I was sitting there, just going back and forth. The game was pretty much in hand, all of a sudden it sort of flipped. That's the game of emotion. That is the game that football is. Hinges on a lot of things. There's some crazy things that happen in the game of football. That's all I can tell you.
Why do I think that is? Ball is shaped weird. I don't know. But you have to give credit to Michigan that they never stopped playing. You also have to give credit to Notre Dame in the same respect because they came right down the field at the end.
Guys are playing as hard as they can play. I always go back to that little statement that President Roosevelt made about people in the arena, being the ones that really know what's going on. They're fighting, playing as hard as they can play with great effort. You have to appreciate that and respect that when you live in this game, you make a living at this game, been in this game for 30 years. You appreciate and recognize that.
But it did take you back a little bit, too, when you see things happen on TV. I have respect for both teams, the way they played.

Q. When teams turn it over 10 times in two games, as a coach do you say they're due for a mistake-free game or is there a trend you can exploit?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, let's hope not. Hope not. I think our job is to get turnovers, create turnovers. They just aren't handed out there, they're created a lot of times. That's our job to try to win that battle. We have to win that battle. That's something that really determines wins and losses, as you can see. We've got to win the turnover battle.

Q. Do you really watch games as a fan when you have to play both teams? Are you sitting there with chips and dips, or in your case carrots and celery?
COACH DANTONIO: I was sitting there watching the game, listening to the commentators. They have a pretty good perspective on what's going on always, right (smiling)?
Yeah, I enjoyed it. I just watched it. I figured I couldn't lose and I couldn't win. It's where I sat. Who was I going to root for? Who was I going to root against? I couldn't figure that out. I just was a fan.

Q. Since we're off track a little bit, what do you think of the new pro combat jerseys?
COACH DANTONIO: I like them. That opportunity came to us when Nike -- actually a player approached me about that and asked me about it. I was going to see some of the Nike people. I just threw it out there. They came back with a product and I asked our players if they liked that. Our players were very, very excited about it. So I like it. I think it's cutting edge. Going to wear them for one game. It will make a statement for one game.

Q. (No microphone.)
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I think they look good.

Q. Who was the player that approached you?
COACH DANTONIO: Will Gholston came to me. I initially bounced off the uniforms to our Unity Council, if they wanted to make changes about it. They were all in, excited about it. I think we did that with our administration as well, to show them. We were all onboard.
In this day and age, this is about recruiting, this is about young people, this is about being on the cutting edge of things. This is about change sometimes, not change for the long haul, but it's also about tradition and those type of things.
I thought what Nike tried to do was take everything that we were as a Spartan and try to take that and mold that into this uniform. So I was very happy and excited about what they came back with.

Q. The game Saturday night. Seemed like Notre Dame had trouble with under-thrown passes in the defensive backfield. Seems like more teams are using that or did Notre Dame have a particularly tough time with those kind of plays?
COACH DANTONIO: I think that's something that people that do it at times. Sometimes it happens naturally, a back shoulder throw. Very difficult to defend from a defensive back perspective because a defensive back is turning his back, cutting the receiver off, then the ball is thrown short and behind him. Difficult to pass and defend.
You see that happening a lot throughout college football. It's most noticeable in a big game like that where a couple of those plays had pronounced effects on what happened in the game.

Q. How pleased are you with your offensive line and defensive line play? Do you expect anything different in the upcoming game?
COACH DANTONIO: Right now, based on the last game, very pleased. Couldn't run the football. We were able to run it. We protected our quarterback pretty well. Got off their quarterback.
As I said earlier when we first started this press conference, this will be our biggest challenge to date. This is our toughest opponent to date. We'll find out more about ourselves as we go through the season.
We're two games in. We're looking for an identity. That's what we have to do. We have to challenge ourselves, who are we. We're not last year's football team. Who are we in 2011? What's going to happen? Challenge ourselves and continue to try to press on.

Q. What do you want that identity to be?
COACH DANTONIO: Identity is to have a great defense that is very tough to run on, to throw on, creates turnovers. Have an offense that has balance, big-play perspective, turns it over. Special teams that can dominate. All the good things. Everything that's good in football. That's what I want our identity to be, Christmas every day.

Q. Did you pick an honorary captain?
COACH DANTONIO: Frank Kush, honorary captain. He'll be a great one.
Thank you very much.

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