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October 11, 2011

Mark Dantonio

COACH DANTONIO: First of all, I just want to first of all publicly thank Tom Izzo for their generous gift to athletics. I think the majority of that was earmarked for football.
I talk to our players a lot, and I've often times heard about people talking and the way they look at things. Some people look at life through a straw in terms of how it affects them. This is a great example of someone looking at an overall picture and really giving to an entire athletic program, and giving to a sport other than his own. I think that makes a tremendous statement for the Izzos as people, and just want to acknowledge that and appreciate it very much.
Also want to congratulate our hockey coach, Tom Anastos in his first win as MSU's hockey coach. I know there will be many, many more.
With that, it's Michigan week, so excited about it, as always. Michigan right now is a 6-0 football team, ranked number 10 in the country. They're a football team with, I think, ten guys on the offensive side of the ball who have starting experience, seven on the defensive side of the ball that have starting experience.
I think they've blended together with Coach Hoke, and thus far they're having an outstanding season.
When you look at them offensively, obviously it all starts with Robinson. I think that goes without saying. He can dish it to wherever he needs to go, whether it's wide receivers or running backs. They have guys back, talented people. The offensive line is talented with four starters back. Impressed with their center. They've got tight ends back as well.
I think what they're trying to do is incorporate power football along with the spread when you look at them. So they are running some power type football, but they're doing it out of one-back sets in some various different ways.
He's going to make it work. He averages 340 yards a game total offense, which is huge. Red zone, they're scoring in the red zone. I think there are 22 out of 27 opportunities in the red zone have resulted in touchdowns, so obviously they're getting it done there.
They've not turned the ball over. Right now they have turned it over some, but overall turnover margin, they're plus six, which right now is number two in this conference. Doing a great job.
Defensively, I think they've settled in. They're playing with confidence, they're playing extremely hard. They're coming up with turnovers, and they've got a lot of players back. So they've got a lot of players that have been in a couple of different systems defensively, and I think they've adapted to Coach Mattison's defense, and they're pressuring the quarterback and doing some great things. Specialists are both back, so I think they're hitting on all cylinders.
With that being said, this football game's a little bit different. I think I've said it many, many times, when you grow up in this state, you're usually blue or you're green from the onset. Sometimes you're unfortunate enough to have people in your own family that go one way or the other, which makes it interesting, I would think.
But in the end, this is a players game. This is a rivalry game. This is a game that's going to be played out there between a bunch of white lines and the players are going to take control of this football game.
The coaches certainly, and I, feel very humbled and proud to be part of this rivalry as a head football coach. Obviously, it will be the first one with Brady, but still, the coaches have something to do with this game, and they're going to have it all lined up and things ready to go.
But it's a game of execution. It's a game of emotion, and there is no question in my mind that this game belongs to the players, to the current players that are playing in it, and to the past players that have played in it.
I don't have that distinction. I've coached here before. I have a great feel for this game, and we're going to be ready to play. But the game belongs to the players, so we'll honor accordingly. I'll just take some questions and we'll go from there.

Q. When you came back, you inherited a poor defense, and Brady had to do the same thing when he went back to Michigan. Can you talk about the challenges of trying to rebuild the defense for the short term to make it respectable as soon as possible and then for the long-term to try to make it dominant?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I think the first thing that happens when you -- when any defense, whether you inherit it or it's happening as you're currently there, if the defense isn't playing well, the first thing you have to do is rebuild their confidence as people. You have to rebuild that to some extent in terms of them playing hard and having attention to detail and being able to execute. I think you go back to basics to do that.
Everything I've seen of Michigan from the spring on, you know, they've gotten back to basics, and I think it shows. It shows when they play. They're playing extremely hard, and they're playing confidently. I think those are the things that you have to change first and foremost.
Not so much usually about what you're doing, it's how you're doing it. When we came back here, we put an emphasis on blocking and on defense and tackling and space, and getting off of blocks.
The name of the game on defense is pressuring the quarterback. You've got to be able to do that. You have to affect the quarterback in some way, and you have to make a team one dimensional. But I've been impressed with the job they've done.

Q. You talk about how proud you are of these players that they put this program in a position to match a school record with four in a row, and how they've responded to how you have treated this rivalry with dating back to the countdown clock and when it got personal with Mike Hart and just that whole dynamic?
COACH DANTONIO: That whole dynamic, huh? Some of it I'm proud of, some of it I'm not, I guess. You know, I just believe in making things -- the things that are important that people hold great value in, which I believe this game is one of them. I believe in making it important, and doing certain things to try and put an asterisk behind that game.
Because, first of all, when you play in this game, I think our freshmen right now maybe understand a little bit of T maybe their freshmen understand a little bit of it, but when you play in this game or on the sidelines in this game, you've got a different feel for it. That's a beautiful thing. That's what rivalries are all about, whether you're playing in this game or a different rivalry, it's going to be the same. Those become very special.
As far as what we've tried to do since coming here, we put a countdown clock up, because from day one, when we walked in here we pointed toward that's, and there were others that said that we couldn't. So we wanted to make a point. I think we've made the point and we'll move on from there.

Q. What are you not proud of?
COACH DANTONIO: I don't like to stoop to that level. I don't want to, I guess, some of my comments after the '07 game. But, hey, I was emotional, so, it happens.

Q. You talk about this as a different game. How do you notice it from the field, the fan, the loudness of the crowd? How is it different from a Wisconsin game?
COACH DANTONIO: I think everybody's coming. When I say you bring your A-game to this game, everybody's coming, bringing their A-game. The Spartans are out here in this stadium, they'll bring their A-game, I promise you. I think the Wolverines that are fortunate enough to come will probably have their A-game on too.
But I've heard stories walking into this stadium, just people walking up to other people and saying things out of the blue. I think people come -- they come with a mindset to this game. It's not just any other game. This is a special game, not just to the players, but to families, for friends for a lot of different people in this state.

Q. You've seen a lot of good defenses over the years. How good is this one this year? Are there questions you have about it?
COACH DANTONIO: I think you have to evaluate a football team after they've gone through an entire schedule. I think they played well. Our guys know what they're doing. They've tackled well in space, and we'll find ow how well on Saturday. The chips and the stakes will get higher as we go.
You know, the evaluation of the performance is going to get more complete as we go. But, thus far, we've passed the test. Now will we pass the test of time here throughout the season, throughout the 2011 season, but we're coming. We're a confident football team as well, so we'll lay it out there.

Q. Just going to go back to '07 once more. Did losing that game in your first year back here and the circumstances that surround it, did that recharge you for this rivalry?
COACH DANTONIO: No, I was already pretty charged up for that rivalry, for this one. It just sort of retapped some energy, I guess. But, no, I think everybody's ready for this. Even when I was an assistant coach, you were ready for this game.
You just know too many people wherever you're at, you know too many people, you come across too many people that that make it personal for you. Whether it's past players or past coaches or being in the game yourself or whatever it is, it makes it a little bit more personal, I think. You tend not to forget what's gone on in these games.

Q. How has Denard changed as a quarterback? Is their challenge about the same as it was a year ago going into this game?
COACH DANTONIO: I think it's about the same in terms of the challenges. He was extremely productive last year. He was a run-pass threat last year. It was very difficult to get down in space. So he's matured another year because he has experience, and the experiences that you have are going to carry you forward.
I think if anything he's probably better because of time spent. But they're doing a lot of -- they're incorporating a lot of the same things probably in their own way, but they're still giving him options to run. They're still giving him options to pass. You see some of the same schematics playwise. You see different ones as well, but they're still giving him the ball equally as much.

Q. Even though there are two headliners at quarterback in this one, rushing a football has pretty much been the deciding factor often in this game. How much do you emphasize that this week? Is it true more so in this game than in any other?
COACH DANTONIO: In terms of rushing the football? I think you obviously have to be able to stop the run. You have to be able to control explosive plays are huge in this football game either way, I'm sure. Turnovers are huge in this game. Those two factors, I think.
Red zone, how you're playing in the red zone, those are the factors that win or lose football games. In the end, you start looking at tweaking those things. Certainly you've got to have a great game plan, and you've got to be able to be in control of certain facets of the game, and I would say that's one of them.

Q. Coach, do you think the bye week may have helped Kirk Cousins as much as anybody to give him a step back to reevaluate and get back to fundamentals, what have you?
COACH DANTONIO: I think our entire football team were able to step back, reflect on where we're at and what we have to do in the next football game. So that remains to be seen as we move forward.
He'll be sharp. He'll be ready to go. As much as anything, we've got some people back and healed up that I think are in a little bit better shape physically right now in terms of playing with injuries. It wasn't that they were out, necessarily, but they would play injured. I don't think that's the case right now.

Q. Now that you and Michigan are in the same division in the Big 10, both undefeated in that division, this obviously this game takes on a little more meaning as far as that's concerned.
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, it does take on an added meaning because of the tiebreakers and all the different things that go into it. I also think the winner of this football game obviously goes on to 2-0 in the Big 10, and 2-0 in the Legends. So we'll see how well that plays out with everybody else. But it put that's particular team on top right now.

Q. You've referenced in the past this game and its impact on recruiting. How does it impact recruiting?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, recruiting has become so accelerated that everybody's sort of lined up already for this year, but I think what it does is it impacts those guys that are ninth and tenth graders at this time, maybe 12th, 11th graders as well. But I think it has a bearing on the future. So it's critical in that respect.
Although probably for this state in particular, like I said, you're growing up one way or the other usually. Maybe it doesn't have as much as we think, but you certainly feel like it.

Q. I know it hasn't been that long since we last asked you, but is there any clear picture at this point on Fowler and Hoover? And I know you mentioned when Treadwell first got hurt you were hoping he'd be back this week, is he any closer?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, Hoover and Treadwell will not play. I think Benny will probably play. That's my take on things right now. But right now Tyler and Blake are both guys that are out probably for three, maybe three weeks or plus more, and maybe candidates for red shirts.

Q. Can you talk about your relationship with Brady and his brother? How you got to know them?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I got to know his brother John very well when Don Treadwell was a very good friend of John Hoke's. So I got to know John through that, and John Hoke coached over at Kent State with when I was at Youngstown State. So I knew he and his wife, and I sort of met Brady through that.
But don't know him nearly as well as I do his brother. But I've always had respect for him and the job that he's done and where he's been as a college coach.

Q. Last year Tony Lippett did an excellent job mimicking Denard in practice and the scout team. Did you go back to using him or some other player?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, we've used a variety of players. Mitchell White's a guy that we slide in and out of there, even though he's a back-up corner for us. He's played, but he was a quarterback in high school, quick-footed. You know, we'll use Tony a little bit in that area.
Spencer Elliott's a young freshman that's played quarterback. A very good athlete. So he's played in that area as well. So we sort of take our practice and divide it up in terms of when we're going against scouts and when we're going against a little higher profile scout -- not scout team, but take our best players and put them in there and implement them into different situations that he would do.
Obviously, we can't do that throughout the entire practice. We have to be careful not to get people injured. But we need to see game speed as much as we can, as best as we can simulate it.

Q. The stars are aligned for a huge weekend around here with the '65-'66 team back, midnight madness the night before. I'm sure you have a zillion recruits here. How big is this outside the game just to keep this momentum going and show the world?
COACH DANTONIO: Obviously I think it's big. It's a football game though. Obviously, after this game, regardless of what happens, you have to gear up for the next one, and the next one's Wisconsin for us. So regard less what happens, you need to move forward. That is the take.
For myself and I think for our coaches and probably for our players a little bit, we do live in a bubble. We really do during the season. In some cases we live there pretty much the whole year. So you're dealing with what you can control and dealing with things that are affecting your football team right now.
One way or the other, we've got to get up and go to work on Sunday, and there's going to be a way we're going to have to address our football team. So does everything else -- it's all window dressing to me. What's important is the next game. That will be important next week. What is important right now is this game.
This is an important football game. I've never shied away from that, and I'm never going to. We'll be ready to play this football game. But at the end of this week, we need to turn our attention to the next challenge because there is something else just waiting for us. One way or the other.

Q. You guys were the first to really slow down Denard Robinson last year. What did you do well there and how much can that give your guys confidence going into this one?
COACH DANTONIO: I think we've played well the last two years against them. Really the last three, '08, '09, and '10, we played well against them. Some of the thing that's we do, we try to change up some of the things that we do.
Maybe more importantly, as I said, our players have come ready to play, we've been able to tackle in space pretty well, and we've come up with turnovers and done the different thing that's you have to do to win a football game, so they haven't scored 30-plus points. That's always a big, contributing factor there, so that's what we've been able to do thus far.

Q. If your seniors are able to go 4-0 against Michigan, is that something they'll probably celebrate for the rest of their lives and how much would you en courage that?
COACH DANTONIO: I'm encouraging it, that's for sure. I think 4-0 is great, 5-0 is better. But we'll keep working towards it. Right now the main emphasis is on the next game. What's happened, what's done is done, and we have to play these one game at a time.
I think that's something that our football team and our players can look at and embrace as they move forward. I think that is the case with any rival game though too.

Q. Coach, Brady Hoke and the Michigan players talked about it being the hardest hitting game on the schedule. I know you want your team to be physical. Do you have to impress that upon them this week or does it happen naturally?
COACH DANTONIO: I think it's just going to happen. It's a physical game. Football is a physical game, and usually if you're playing more physical than your opponent, you have a greater chance to win. So that goes without saying.
I think our ideals this week have to be bring it to Saturday. Bring whatever you have to Saturday. Don't bring it on Tuesday, bring it on Saturday. That's why we want to make sure we're in control of ourselves and getting ready to play. This is very much a game of emotion, but it is very much a game of execution as well.
You've got to be in the right place at the right time. You've got to have the right things called at times, but players are making plays out there. Like I said, the game does belong to players, but it's important that they execute. Attention to detail is critical in this game as it is in every football game, I think. Margin of error, though, when you're playing a guy like Denard Robinson, the margin of error is very small.

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