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November 8, 2011

Mark Dantonio

COACH DANTONIO: Sorry I'm late. First of all, just to recap Minnesota very quickly here. I thought our football team did a great job responding to the situation. I thought Minnesota came out. Give them credit. They came out very emotional, but we responded very emotionally as well in the second half.
Great job by our offense, I felt, responding after the first touchdown with a big play to B.J. Cunningham from Cousins, then again in the two minute situation going down the field and scoring right before the half and then again in the second half as well.
Defensively, two big interceptions by Trenton Robinson, again, response after they had scored in the second half and really a shutout in the second half other than seven points; and I think the seven points came early. Obviously, I think on the first drive, actually.
So special teams played very well as well. Sadler putting the ball down inside the 10, I think three times. Kickoffs very, very good. Great coverage by Stevens. Rangers were our punt return team. We were very concerned about the fakes in this game, and getting the ball back. Then Conroy, a big field goal in the game.
Great job. Puts us at 4-1 right now, top of the conference. A very competitive conference as we know. The next challenge is up. We've not won in Iowa City since '89. So an opportunity to go out there and do something that hasn't been done in a while, so we're very excited about it.
We've got 40 players who last season went out there with us when we were undefeated and I think ranked fifth in the nation at that point in time, so didn't respond very well. So we've got some things to prove.
But we've got 40 player who's have been in this situation before in terms of having to come back and play in an environment such as we did last year against Penn State. We were 3-1 last year on the road, and what I would consider a championship type season.
You know, we've got to be able to continue that and be identical, I guess, at this point. Everything is in our court, and so we look for that opportunity.
As far as Iowa, I think it starts with, obviously starts with toughness, I think, when you play Iowa. They've got a great offensive line. Quarterback has been impressive. Vandenberg is second or third. I think he's third in the conference in passing yardage. He's an efficient passer. He doesn't throw a lot of interceptions.
Coker is the leading rusher in the conference right now. He has I think 1100 yards of offense. Defensively they're playing well in the red zone. I think they're second in the conference in that area. Obviously, defensively, Shaun Prater is a guy that is a great corner. They've retooled a lot of their stuff.
Binns is still back. Daniels is back. They've got six starters back. Offensively, McNutt, obviously, number 7 is a huge target for them. He had nine catches last week for 100-plus yards, so a big play receiver for them.
Then defensively, six guys back as well defensively with Micah Hyde and Prater in the secondary and the corners and they had a big game last year. So we'll look forward to that opportunity to get ready for them.
Obviously, when you go away and play, I think turnovers, special teams, how you play on the road and really defensively, how you play in the red zone is going to be key to us. So I'll take questions.

Q. It would seem that the interview is what happened with Cousins and what happened there last year? Are you trying to take him out of the fray a little bit? Is that what it's about?
COACH DANTONIO: As much as anything, it's for our entire football team. I think the focus of our football team -- I just think that there is a lot of pressure on them. Lot of pressure on the quarterback regardless of what team he plays for or who you are, but a lot of pressure on our entire football team. I just felt like we need to move away from that and concentrate on ourselves.
We need to get ourselves emotionally ready to play. They've had an opportunity to be interviewed at length these last few weeks, and I just felt like we want to go there fresh. As much as anything, we want to be fresh. Anything we have on our mind needs to be focused on that football team, so I felt like it was best at this time.

Q. You're saying you don't have any reminders in the locker room of the final score of last year's game to make sure they understand that not showing up as they did a year ago would not be acceptable for this season?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, we have cut-ups, our films. So every time a cut-up is played, particular plays, whether it's on special teams or defense or offense, that scoreboard flashes. So they've got a reminder every time they watch film of us last year there is a reminder there.
There is also a reminder of the '09 season, or '07 season, or '08 season if we want to go way back. But we'll deal with recent history. But we certainly had our game in there last year.
Yeah, it's something that we've talked about. Turnovers can have a big effect on a football game, obviously, and we've got to be able to respond on the defensive side of the ball as well. But as I remember last year there was a lot going on that week as well going on emotionally.

Q. After the game Saturday, several of the players talked about they were probably overlooking Minnesota, talent gap, bad week of practice. For you, does it help that maybe this is in Iowa this week where the intensity goes up a little bit?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I felt like we needed to have that. I talked about our intensity all week last week, and I think I mentioned it here that we need to match their enthusiasm. Loose plays are going to be a big part of how we played against Minnesota, and that's exactly what happened.
Marqueis Gray did an outstanding job. He kept plays alive. We limited their tailback to 42 yards of offense, but he scrambled around. Some had designed quarterback runs, but you need to show up on every single Saturday.
To me there are no excuses. You can say all of that in hindsight, but you better be ready to play, because basically I think you're -- everything that you -- your reputation is at stake every single weekend. So you're only as good as your last time you played. Whoever said those, give me a list, and I'll talk with those guys.

Q. Kirk Cousins has admitted in the past that he grew up an Iowa fan and has had fondness of that program. When you look at him having played them twice before, was it just another game for him at this point on the schedule or is it a different game for him?
COACH DANTONIO: I think the game's magnitude can be referenced in terms of where we're at as a program and trying to do as a team. I think it's much farther than him individually competing against Iowa. It's more about our football team because he is the quarterback of our football team. There is so much he has to do. When you have a position like that the chips are higher.
But I think the concern or the focus has got to be what we have to do to stay on top of this division, this legends division, as we move forward.
To me, if there's anything beyond that it would be exciting and fun as opposed to challenging. The challenge lies in who we're playing and what's at stake from a team program standpoint.

Q. Winning on the road is difficult, but in the three road games that you've had trouble offensively, specifically putting points on the board, is there something you've noticed or been able to point to that has made it difficult for the offense on the road this year?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think offensively on the road we've seen three pretty good defenses. We critique everything that we do. We're constantly doing that. We're constantly asking, why didn't this succeed? Why didn't this work? Why didn't this work? Who we have playing? So we just continue to do that.
I guess I say this all the time, this is a game of chess. It's a game of execution. It's a game of schematics, but it's also a game of physical dominance too. So we've got to try to right that situation.
I do think that the Ohio State game in turnovers are the things that really hampered that. Otherwise, we would have gotten more points in that game, because I do think that we moved the football down the field on a very good defense.
I do think the Notre Dame game, we tried some things schematically that didn't come to fruition, and it hampered us. The kickoff return against us sort of set us back, and we never could really get going.
I think the Nebraska game, as I said earlier last week, for whatever reason, we couldn't catch fire. But it's a team thing. We've got to feed off each other.
I don't know any other way to say it, other than you do have an impact on your teammates. But defense has an impact on offense, and vice versa, and special teams and we have to feed off each other, especially when you go away to play because you're in an environment where everybody's not cheering for you.
But that should create a sense of excitement for you as well. When you go away and play an away game and they don't have many people in the stands, I would rather play in front of a packed house that's screaming against you.

Q. How important do the first few series become? Last year you didn't start very well at Iowa, started very well at Penn State. Do you tense up a little bit if things starting to wrong in a place you haven't won in a while?
COACH DANTONIO: I don't think we tense up. I think it's just the way the game usually rolls, but I don't see us tensing up. We started fast against Iowa in 2007, it was 17-0. We ended up not playing well in the second half.
I think you have to play through the tough times. You have to play through the storms. I guess you have to do that. You have to do that in life as well, and that is part of it. The more experienced you are at handling these things, the more opportunities you have to go in, the better you should become. So we should be getting there.
We've had to do this numerous times. We've played on a national scale and a big-game type atmosphere before. We've done that now twice this year away from home. We haven't succeeded in those two. We've done it another time on a national-type stage, and we've performed and won.
The bottom line is, do we win or don't we win? That is just the bottom line. So the more you do it, the more opportunities you have, the better you should become at it.

Q. Do you have an indication whether some of your injured players, Norman, Jackson, Dennard, Sims, Caper are going to be available?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, they'll all be back. They'll all be practicing this week. We held them out last week. I think I said that earlier in the week. We held out Chris Norman. He probably could have played. Travis was okay to play. He was okay late in the week, but he was okay to play as well was Darqueze and Larry. So we'll get all those guys back. So there are five players that we did not have that we'll have back.

Q. You had said you thought you would have Norman last week. Was that a situation where he was medically cleared to play but --
COACH DANTONIO: He didn't practice. He wasn't able to practice. So it was sort of like maybe could have possibly played, but he hadn't practiced for really for ten days. Best thing was to try to give him through the weekend to rest, and then get him back practicing as well.
So that was the decision that we made. It was great to hold him out. It was great that Ethan Ruhland had an opportunity to play at center. We didn't have to take the red shirt off of Jack Allen. That was a big consideration, so we did not do that.
That is a positive thing for Jack Allen who is a red shirt -- a freshman we're trying to red shirt who will be a very good football player for us. So that was a huge thing for us not to have to do that. So we got through this game without having to do that.
So we'll just continue to move forward. But everybody's got these problems right now with injuries. I mean, it's late in the season, so it's how you're going to perform as a team. So everybody has to come together and do their deal.

Q. So many players are dinged up at this time of year. They have various injuries, but they'll still play through it. Do you have to address that point to guys that even though, yes, you might be a little dinged up, you're not totally injured or anything? But you have to play through it, and do you address that at all?
COACH DANTONIO: I think football players in general as a whole, every team has their guys doing that. If you look at our injury list, and I go through it every day, it's long. It's 20 guys. It's more than that some of them.
But for the most part, our guys are answering the bell at game time. They're able to get back in there and perform. They may go through half the week with no contact. Another one may have issues with an ankle or something, but somehow they're getting through the game.
That is the case with everybody in the conference or everybody in college football. This is a tough game played by tough people. Guys are going to rally at the end of the week, and they're going to make it.
If they can make it and play, they're going to play. So guys that can't play with concussions, I think that you have to deal with that, and be very careful with that. So we decided we made a staff decision, I guess, or I did, not to play those guys unless it was going to be just an emergency situation.
I think that was the best thing for them especially when some of these guys are younger players. At a younger age, concussions are more susceptible coming back when you come back as a freshman as opposed to being a senior from all the data that I've seen.

Q. You referenced after the game being the first step in this playoff month that you have, how have you seen the players respond to that kind of thinking that each game is a step along this playoff ladder that can ultimately get to you that Big 10 championship game?
COACH DANTONIO: We've done it every single year, really. If you look at '07, the last two games we had to win. To make it to a Bowl game, we had to beat Purdue and Penn State, as I remember. Same thing with '09, we had to beat Purdue on the road and went over and won.
In 2010, we had to win our games at the end of the season. We had to go 3-1 or whatever it was, or 3-0 after Iowa to get through and become at least co-champions, and we were able to do that. So it's something we've stressed every single year we've been here.
I think if you play well enough to get yourself in the thick of things coming into November, you've got a great case, and you've got a lot of opportunities in front of us. You've got a lot of things to play for, and that's what we're looking at. We've only met our players. We gave them off yesterday. So Tuesday is the day we'll get back together with them in practice. Sunday they were excited. You know, this is what you play for. Right down the line, we'll play this one, then the next one will be important. Then the last one will be important.
But we've got everything in sight, and our goals are in sight, and that is a positive thing. Again, our goal right now is to play 14. Even though we're going to a Bowl game, at this point, the fifth straight year we're going to a Bowl game. Just a matter of where.
But if we can play 14, we know we've at least won this division, and we have an opportunity to play for the Rose Bowl. And that is our challenge.

Q. How does Coker compare to guys like Burkland?
COACH DANTONIO: Coker's a downhill runner. He looked at him the other day and said he looked like Jerome Bettis to me. He's got two hands on the ball. He's got his uniform on, and he's a downhill runner. You better buckle up, because if he gets through the line and he's not touched, he's not trying to go around you. He's trying to go through you so he's a very physical runner.
Burkland had much the same, but he had a little depth to him. Not that Coker doesn't have that, but he hunts you up a little bit. He's a good player, leading player in the conference right now. We recruited him out of high school. Hope he doesn't remember that.

Q. I know you're focused on using Baker, Bell, Caper everybody in the back field. Can you talk about Le'Veon and how he's made the most of his opportunities recently?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, Le'Veon, I think he's coming. I continue to say all three running backs are very good players, and they all have the ability to be the starting tailback if they get hot. For me to say he's the starting tailback, if you're not hot, you're not going to get the most carries.
But I thought he played well this last week. Big run in the fourth quarter, exciting runs throughout the football game, and he did a nice job on the kickoff return as well. So he's a guy that can make things happen with the ball in his hand as are the other guys.

Q. You say you like to go with the hot hand. Going back to Nebraska, Le'Veon kind of went away with it. How do you determine the rotation there? Le'Veon, certainly, you stuck with him?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, Le'Veon we did, but we didn't have the depth. You know, Le'Veon, I don't want to -- we had two freshmen. We had younger players, so we went with Le'Veon and gave him the ball 339 times or whatever it was.
But with our players we try to have equal footing for them early in a football game to see who is, how everybody's doing, and then as the second half progresses, we sort of move to one or the other. So that's why you usually see one guy use a 2 to 1 ratio in terms of carries.
But we've got to be able to run the ball. We've got to run the ball more effectively. We're dealing with some injury aspects and some different people in there. But we're schematically or whatever it is, and sometimes they've got a defense that calls to take certain things away.
But we'll keep trying to hammer that home. We've got to be able to run the football. Also we've got to be able to throw it. I thought Cousins throws for almost 30 yards last week, which is great. But there are times when we have to get the tough yards on third and two, or third and one.
You can't throw it every time. You just have to stay balanced otherwise it goes one way or the other. Too much pressure. We have to protect our quarterback. The best way to protect your quarterback is to have the ability to run the football.

Q. On the same topic, why keep going with a guy who fumbles?
COACH DANTONIO: I think the answer to that is that we've seen him carry the football, I don't know, he's been here in practices and everything else, 900, 1,000 times or more. So he's not a fumbler. He may have fumbled three times down here, but in my mind he's not a fumbler. So that's why.
He's doing that in practice, then that shows out, then we make decisions on that. He's not a guy who fumbles. He's a guy who fumbled, but he's not a guy who fumbles. If you look back at last year, you wouldn't characterize him as a guy who fumbles the ball.

Q. How much of a weapon is Todd Anderson becoming on offense?
COACH DANTONIO: Todd Anderson? Well, we haven't given him the ball yet. I guess they might know that. But we may this week, who knows? He catches the ball very well. He's tough. He's at the point of attack a lot in our offense. He does a lot of other things in special teams as well.
He's got great leadership skills. You know, I think that's his role in this football team, but he's a tough guy, big, physical guy. He's 265 pounds, downhill-type guy. But in order for us to run the football consistently, our tight ends and our fullbacks, it's not about the offensive line, it's about our wide receivers. Most people nowadays are playing such defenses where their safeties are down in the box, and run support position.
Our wide receivers sometimes have to dig those guys out. So it's about all of us doing our job. It's about us in terms of play calling as well. But Todd's a very effective player. He's had a great career for us. He's played a lot of football for us on the defensive side of the ball as well. A good football player.
Just on a side note, I want to just wish our basketball team the best. Coach Izzo has them going out to San Diego. That will be very exciting. We plan on watching that game 7:00 o'clock Eastern out at the hotel as a team. So go Green. Thanks.

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