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November 15, 2011

Mark Dantonio

COACH DANTONIO: Just to recap the game, as John said, against Iowa, big win obviously versus Iowa. To go out there and get it on the road takes us one step closer to our goal of playing 14 games this year, and when you look at it, I think a road win, it gives us great confidence, gives us more confidence I should say, and puts us in a situation where it's 35 wins I believe for our senior class, which is the second straight year that we've been able to take a class and make it the all-time best class in Michigan State history in terms of total wins, which speaks to, I think, foundation of our program as a whole.
But when you look at this football game, I thought it helped us control our own destiny. We went there as a team and we won as a team, and I think that's what the most important thing is. There's two to go for us in our regular season, and who would have thought after our Notre Dame game, I guess it was the third year, that we would be sitting here now, because a lot of people sat and looked at the stretch that we were going into, and I'm sure many people had doubts.
We are sitting at the top of our division, and we're the only one-loss team -- that's not true, but we're the one-loss team in the Legends Division.
Specifically when you look at us offensive, we went to play away, I felt we needed to be opportunistic on offense, and that's exactly what we were. When you look at the football game, we went down the field and scored with our first series, got a pick, got in the end zone very quickly there, so we got the ball on the 20-yard line or so and got in. Great catch by Baker.
And then you look at the end of the first half, defense holds them, punt return to the 30, Le'Veon Bell is in the end zone, I believe, the next play or so. They fumbled the kickoff, we're in the end zone two plays later. So our offense really took advantage of the opportunities given them and performed very well.
I thought we ran the ball more effectively. We, again, got huge, explosive plays from many of our players, and I just think B.J. Cunningham, Keshawn Martin, Brian Linthicum on the end of Kirk Cousins' passes, I thought that Bell ran very well, I thought Baker ran well, and all of those guys had explosive plays. We protected our quarterback. The offensive line did a nice job running the football and protected our quarterback, again, with zero sacks. Anytime that can happen, the quarterback makes great decisions and great things are going to follow there.
Defensively I thought we went into the game with a relentless type attitude, and big plays in the game, obviously we stopped the run. The leading rusher in the conference coming into the game, I think he was limited to about 60 yards rushing and probably 20 of those were in two-minute type situations where we were playing a 30 front and playing more for pass situations.
Coming out situation was big, stopping them there, and getting the ball back for our offense, coming up with two turnovers and a 4th down stop were also big. We also blocked a kick.
Really when you look at the football game, again, when you're looking at specifics on it, our special teams, again, had a huge, huge impact on a football game, and I thought we played excellent in that area except for one play, and we were superior from that area, but when you get a punt return back to the 30, when you get a blocked kick on a field goal, when you have a punter that averages 42 yards and drops it down inside the 5 like he did, we fake a field goal, we kick the ball into the end zone three different times, but special teams obviously had a big play in this game. We recovered a fumble on the kickoff the one time, which led to a quick score in the first half at the end of the first half.
All in all, played very, very well, got off very fast, and then sustained and handled adversity in the second half.
Credit Iowa and credit their fans. I was very impressed with their fans. I'm not sure too many people would stay; down 31-6 at the half and not one person left, and they stayed in the game, and Iowa battled back, and credit them for that. And they made it a game. I felt that that game was still in question with three minutes to go when they were down by 13 points.
But with that I'll take some questions as we go, but we're heading in the right direction. Lorenzo White will be our honorary captain for the Indiana game, and Indiana is a football team that's 1 and 9 right now, and having the experience that we had in 2005 at the University of Cincinnati where we played -- I remember looking out on the football field, playing Penn State, and said, hey, Pat, Pat Narduzzi, hey, we've got seven true freshmen playing right now on defense. And that's what they're going through a little bit. They have 29 freshmen playing or have played for them.
They get off to a fast start usually. They play with a lot of emotion. Schematically, again, they're very well tied together. It comes down to execution. They're using a freshman quarterback now. He's been productive in the last four games. So again, we need to be prepared for Indiana as they come here because 1 and 9 is one thing, but they're getting better and they're playing their best football I think at the end of this season, and anything can happen in this game. So we need to make sure that we're squared away.
I'll leave it for questions.

Q. With Sadler, you guys have talked about that he has strong legs coming in and all, but it seems like one of his strengths has been keeping the team inside the 20-yard line; he's helped you a lot of times in this way. Is that something he's really developed here, or was he always pretty good in that area?
COACH DANTONIO: I think he's developed that here. I think in high school you punt a lot for distance, but he had the opportunity to sit and watch Aaron Bates. He's developed Aaron Bates' ability to kick the ball end over end at times in pooch punt situations and he can hang it up there. He's got an incredible leg, and he's very accurate, got great get-off times. And exactly what we hoped for happened when he decided to come here and sit one year. It was going to give him a little bit more experience than a normal freshman punter and then it was going to allow him to learn, but he's got a tremendous, tremendous ability, and again, he will be the punter here for the next three years, as well.
Really felt like when he decided to come, that was solidifying our punting position, our punter position, for the five years because of Aaron Bates having one year left. He was as big a catch in that recruiting class as anyone.

Q. Speaking of recruiting, the three senior captains you have right now weren't exactly thought to be star recruits when they got here, and as you mentioned, now they make you know the winningest class in school history. What does say that about their careers and the leadership and example they've provided for the rest of the team?
COACH DANTONIO: It's a huge statement in terms of just persevering through tough times, and the fact that what you begin with doesn't always mean where you're headed in the end result. Tremendous amount of hard work, work ethic, attention to detail, just the way they've gone about their business and the way they've performed under adverse situations at times and grown, and you just never know. Recruiting is not a science. It's a -- almost an abstract thing at times. You look and you try and evaluate people on a football field, but you have no idea how far they're able to come because of the intangibles that people have as humans, really.
I think they've done an outstanding job, and they've added to our chemistry of this football team and really helped shape it in a lot of ways. They've been through tough times, they've been through good times, they've learned, they've endured, and they continue to push through, and their ultimate goes are at the end of this season, and it's close to being there. Our goals are ahead of us. We control our own destiny.

Q. Give us an update on a couple of injuries, Denard and Strayhorn, Foreman.
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, our guys -- I used to never talk about injuries, and my wife told me, hey, I see where so-and-so has got such-and-such. I said, who told you that. She said, you told them that at the press conference. I said, I did? I said, they tricked me. So we're going to refrain from answering those questions.
I will say this, though, that Stray is probably out for the next two games with a knee situation, so he's probably -- he'll have to get arthroscopic surgery. But Denard should make his way back.

Q. Although the final chapter will not have been written about the senior class, how do you think that they should be remembered?
COACH DANTONIO: Pretty much what I just said, a group that came in here -- the majority of them that we're talking about are '07 recruits. Not too many played as true freshmen as I think off the top of my head. I guess Keshawn and Trent did a little bit. Trent a little bit, Keshawn a lot. But a class that sort of has endured.
When you look at our football class right now, the last four years, where we're at as a program, we're the second winningest Big Ten team in the conference. We're 22 and 8 in four years in Big Ten games, and I think Ohio State is 24 and 6. I think that's a huge statement in terms of what those young men have been able to do, and it speaks to where this program was and where it's headed.
We've been able to persevere through some good times, tough times, and then also learn from some good times and sustain. But I think our feelings are it's a great senior class. They've already broken that record, and we still have two, three games to go.

Q. Back on October 25th I asked you about your assistants' salaries, and there are three defensive assistants at Ohio State that make more than Pat Narduzzi, the Michigan defensive coordinator makes a base 500 grand more, as much as 700 grand more, and it's like that with your other assistants as far as pay disparity. I know you said you want to address that, but how important is it to fix that because with success of the program you're going to have people come and want to --
COACH DANTONIO: I would say this: First of all, the success that we have is dictated by, number one, continuity, being able to have our same assistants in place, doing the same thing, teaching the same techniques and schematics, so obviously very, very important to retain our assistants. Obviously there's monetary factors that enter into that. That's for our administration to address. I think it will be addressed, as I said, on October 25th. I think it will be addressed.
There was a salary freeze for the 2011 year at the University, and these are tough times. So I do understand that. But I think it needs to be addressed. I think it will be addressed. We bring it to full focus now at this time. I think it's a good thing for people to understand that.
I want to say that I think our assistants are being paid a fair wage in terms of what I believe is fair in the past. However, things are escalating in certain programs, and we have to always be able to keep up with people, whether it's from a salary structure or whether it's from a facilities standpoint. We have excellent facilities, and people continue to build, and we're going to have to continue to do different things in our area, as well.
So we hope that that can be addressed. I feel very strongly that our administration will address that and has addressed it, but we need to get people in line.

Q. With people wondering about the ability to win a big road game and the way that the Iowa game had gone a year ago, to come out and play the first half you did, what did that mean to you, and what did it say about the way the program has progressed?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, what it meant to me was what you emphasize you get, as players and as coaches, and we've put a big emphasis on this football game about, as I said after the game, really about weathering a storm, knowing how tough it is to play at Iowa, or in fact becoming the storm when we went there, and there was a little bit of both in that, there truly was.
I also can tell you that the difference between winning and losing, even by a large margin such as that first half, if you just looked at the first half, the difference in that is still inches because they lost the ball on a fumbled kickoff return, we got a pick, a couple picks last year, lateral, whatever, and it's in the end zone or a misstep on 3rd and 2 or they're in the end zone on a 3rd and 1 play. So the difference between winning and losing, even by large amounts, is not as far as people would believe, and attitude makes up a lot of that and preparation. I think it's a statement in terms of how we went to focus, and as I said earlier when I opened this up, it gives us confidence that we can play on the road. That's a big step.
You know, when we looked at our football team and said, okay, after the Central Michigan game, the next three games, four games we were going to have these road games coming up with Nebraska and with Iowa and with Ohio State, it looked like a pretty formidable task, but our guys have won two out of the three. Would have liked to have played better against Nebraska, but it is what it is, but it shows that we're maturing, and we're getting used to maybe going into tough areas and into tough environments and winning. That's a maturity statement in terms of your program, I think, and if we can continue that, there are really great things in store for this football program, but we have to build consistency with that. I don't think we're consistent in doing that yet, but we're building it.

Q. Well before you got here, Michigan State was known as kind of being in the middle of the pack, winning five or six games, then maybe every four years win eight or nine games. When you came here, what was the foundation that you wanted to build or have built to make sure Michigan State was above that and it didn't revert back to being mediocre and peaking every four or five years?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I was here for six years -- when I looked at our success when Nick Saban was here, and it was just as you had said, really. We went to Bowl games, but we were in that range there.
Continuity gives you that opportunity to stay consistent, and so when you go back and you talk about continuity, you're not talking about facilities; you're talking about individuals; you're talking about your individuals on your football team. We don't have a lot of players that leave our team. We did after the '09 season, we did have a transition year. Sometimes that just has to happen. We had an unfortunate incident, and sometimes that happens. But for the most part, our classes have remained pretty strong in terms of their -- we haven't had a lot of attrition.
Specifically we've not had attrition in the coaching perspective. We've got continuity. And when there's continuity you have a chance to always get better. You don't have somebody else coming in and saying, okay, that was broke and let's recreate this and this is all new now, and then your players are back to square one again.
We lost two coaches, we hired a coach that was really in the same system that we were using this past year, Terry Samuel, we promoted an offensive coordinator from within, our defensive staff has remained consistent for eight years, has not lost one coach since I've been a head coach, and so when you have that type of consistency, you're always trying to build and get better as a program, and I think that's the two underlying factors.
And then the other thing is we've taken good, young people who will work understand the value of hard work and they come to work every single day. You can't underestimate having a quarterback -- we've only had two quarterbacks here. We've had Brian Hoyer for two years and we've had Kirk Cousins for three, and Keith Nichol played in there a little bit and we went in this direction. So we've had continuity and leadership on the football field, as well.
And I think that makes a big difference when you look at it. You know, we're not in here switching quarterbacks in and out. There hasn't been a big quarterback controversy. We've just sort of -- we've just sort of continued along that path and didn't deviate from it. Those, I think, would be the biggest reasons.

Q. You talked a little bit about the senior captains, but Trenton Robinson in particular, he was always a guy that was pretty vocal, but this year it seems like he's cranked it up another notch, the Michigan game in particular just as an example. Is that a quality that you've seen in him from really the get-go since he got here, and how valuable of an asset has that been?
COACH DANTONIO: Trent is an emotional guy, and the other thing that you need, I think, in going back to the previous question is you need different people. If everybody was like me, we wouldn't have as much success. If everybody was like Pat Narduzzi, we wouldn't have as much success. You need people to play off each other. You need a group of people that relate well together, like each other, but also play off each other and have different things that they bring. Trent Robinson is another example. He's a leader in his own right. He's a different leader than Kirk Cousins. He's a different leader than Joel Foreman. He's a more emotional guy. Sometimes that's good, sometimes that's not so good.
But I think he's done an outstanding job here. He comes to work every day. He'll come out this week and practice as hard as he plays on Saturday, and he knows what to do and he's not afraid to stand up and tell others, hey, we've got to do this, we've got to do that more efficiently, so he's done an outstanding job.
I sort of felt that once he came here in -- he started playing regularly in 2009, we sort of felt like that's what we were going to get from him as a player. In 2008 we brought him up, played him a little bit as a true freshman. He wasn't ready to play. Really now you wish you wouldn't have played him, but at that point in time in 2008 we needed a guy to go in and play a certain -- we just weren't as deep at certain positions. And he played so hard and practiced so hard that we felt -- and was so aggressive on the scout field that I felt like he could help us win, and that's why we played him a little bit as a true freshman.

Q. If you win Saturday, you'll clinch the division. If Michigan beats Nebraska, can you root for Michigan for a week?
COACH DANTONIO: Nope, sorry, I can't. We just have to do it our own way. I'd be letting too many people down if I did. But we're in control of our own destiny, and we're not going to worry about what goes on in another game right now. They have their issues -- both those teams have their issues that they have to deal with and their goals. We have to take care of ourselves and not look to the right or to the left. We have to look right down the middle forward, and that's where we're looking, Indiana.

Q. The offensive line, I wanted to ask you about the offensive tackles and their development, especially with Burkland going down earlier in the year. Also, what happened with all those fumbled exchanges on Saturday?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, first of all, Fonoti's birthday today, so wish him happy birthday. But our offensive tackles, Dan France and Fou, were not here last year. To think about that, that's a huge statement, I think, to say Dan Francis is playing on the defensive line, and he's in the cut-ups playing, so he had no offensive coaching last year at this time and had never played on the offensive line ever. He was actually an outside linebacker in high school, if you can believe it.
And then on the other side, Fou was a junior college -- was playing at Cerritos Junior College last year. So both those individuals really have really come on, I think, as players and have had a lot to do with our success. As I said before, we've had numerous games where we haven't been sacked. We've running the ball more effectively now, so we've seen great growth in those two players and our offensive line in general.
As far as our fumbled snaps, tough to say whether the ball was getting up or whether the quarterback was pulling out a little bit. The thing that we have to address is that it happened, and it can't happen, and it's not been something that has happened around here. In fact, I would say those three fumbled snaps were probably more than we've had in five years that we've been here. I would say that's pretty accurate.
I'm leaning towards consistency and performance, and as we've been consistent, I'm trying not to worry about it and trying to move forward.

Q. You've talked about your senior class. Just a little different direction. Beyond the 34 victories and the championship and the Bowl games, because you had a change of culture here and they had to buy in, what endears you personally to this class beyond the victories?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think the longer you're with people, the more affinity you have for them as individuals, and they came here when I first came here, the majority of them, and so they had to take a step when there was no new facility. Same with the '08 class. That facility was being built. So they had to believe in us as individuals, and they had to believe that we were going to succeed long-term, and we went into their houses and we went in just like everybody else did, does, and sold the fact that we were going to win championships and we were going to go to Bowl games and they were going to have great experiences here. They had to believe that and they had to trust us for that.
And so that trust had not yet been earned. That was just basic trust just on our word. We're recruiting for, what, two months. We didn't have them in camp, we didn't have them -- we didn't go to their schools in the spring. So a lot of those guys were just meeting us for the first time in December. So because of that, I think there is a more -- I don't want to say more, but there's a great deal of respect and affinity that goes with this class.

Q. In Kirk Cousins' five years here, can you talk about the lasting impact he's had not only on the football field but in the community as far as community service?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I think he's done an outstanding job, first of all, on the chemistry in our locker room, has done that from day one. He's climbed a mountain, and this is his own words at one point in time, he's climbed a mountain, even back in '09 climbed a mountain but then found there were other mountains to climb, and I think that's the way it is in general with life, and he continues to climb and scale his mountains.
He's four touchdown passes away from being the all-time leader or tying the all-time leader in touchdown passes. He has 57 touchdown passes right now in his career, which is unbelievable. He's been the quarterback here, and he's led us to more victories as a quarterback than any other Michigan State quarterback in history.
And then when you look at the things he's done off the field, and some of the things that you see such as his testimony and different things, but the majority of things you don't see are the things that he does in the community, and you can't put a value on that. He's, I've said it many times, he's a giver, he's not a taker, and he'll continue to do that for the rest of his life, and he's a person that has a great impact on others. And he has the ability to walk in a group of people, whether they're our freshmen or whether they're our seniors or whether they're our players in general or whether they're our coaches or whether they're our media or whether it's the Big Ten luncheon, he has the ability to walk into a room and make everybody feel comfortable with themselves, and then walk out of that room and people just say, wow, that guy is special.
That doesn't come along too often, and that's aside from his football abilities. Football is giving him -- has given him a platform. There's no question about that. Playing at Michigan State as the quarterback here has given him a platform. But the end result is the quality of person he is and what he's done for people. He's done an outstanding job. He'll be long remembered here not just for his football ability but for his abilities as an individual to impact so many people.

Q. Does each class have a personality, and what would this class's personality be, whether it's classic overachievers, fun-loving goof-offs?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I think each class does have a personality. You can look at that class, every particular class, and you're going to say that was a good class, that was an okay class, how did they perform when they were seniors. Usually what I've sort of been brought up as a coach, your greatest years -- if you're going to have your greatest years, your senior class has to have their best year. And when I go back and I look at the '08 season or I even look at the '07 season, our seniors at that time Kaleb Thornhill, Jonal Saint-Dic, Erwin Baldwin, those guys, they had their best year in 2007 that they'd had.
In '08 Brian Hoyer, Javon Ringer, those guys, they had their best year that they had had their entire career. Last year, Greg Jones, All-American, some of the other guys, they had a great year, and they had their best year. Now this year our senior class. I've already talked about Cousins, but B.J. Cunningham sets the record for the most catches ever. Keshawn Martin, you can make just a highlight film of him over four years, how many plays are we talking, guys? 50? Just an incredible number of plays. So our seniors, you look at our seniors, Trent Robinson is having a good year, I think Pickleman is having a good year for a senior.
So when you look at our guys, and there's only 14 of them, they may be having their greatest year, as well, and I think you look at it in terms of classes. We lose 14 guys, so I'm sure at some point in time in February they'll say, wow, Michigan State, I don't know how good of a recruiting class, they only recruited 16 or 17 guys or 14 or 15 or whatever it is, but the future is very, very bright because of the young people we have in this program right now.
We've only had to play one freshman aside from our snapper as opposed to Indiana playing 29. So you're looking at 20 guys being red shirted who are very good football players. So the future is bright here.

Q. Just back to the Iowa game for just a second, Linthicum had a career high in receptions and yardage. Was there a concerted effort to get the ball to the tight end, or was that more a match-up result?
COACH DANTONIO: No, it's just really how it happened. It's not like we go out and say, hey, we're not going to throw to the tight end this game. We're trying to make yards and throw to whoever. But his read takes him there or on the reverse pass it was a play directed to him, but the other ones were -- Cousins had options and he was the option he went to.
So while they have not gotten as many catches maybe as they had last year as a group, as a total group, that position remains very viable I think in the success of our football team. We can go to them at any point in time. Brian Linthicum is a go-to guy. And when the game is on the line, he wants the ball, there's no question. He's got great skills, great hands. But it just happened this particular time.

Q. Talking about the seniors, Joel Foreman started almost every game his career, almost the most starts in school history. Just talk about the impact he's had on the program over four years.
COACH DANTONIO: Well, the impact he's had says it all when we go to I think it's the Youngstown State game, and he has Arthur Ray start. So that pretty much tells it all right there. He's a very unselfish man, not a young man anymore, very unselfish and very tough. You know, he gets banged up and he makes it to the next game, just like all of them. We're going into our 11th game. Most people are banged up, and we're no different. Everybody has got their nicks and bruises and they make it to the next game, and Joel has been that guy. He's been a consistent player on our offensive line for four years straight. Tremendous contributor, I think role model for the rest of our football team in terms of toughness, and I'm sure he'll come to play on this last game at Spartan Stadium.

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