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November 22, 2011

Mark Dantonio

COACH DANTONIO:¬† Just to recap Indiana very quickly, senior day I thought our guys came out‑‑ it's an emotional day on senior day.¬† As I said after the game.¬† I think our guys came out and played very well and brought their AGame, really.
Big plays in the game, obviously you guys know the big plays, but I thought Cousins had another outstanding football game.  Zero sacks again, our offense line protected him very well.  Big throws to Keyshawn and big throw to B.J. Cunningham, as well, couple throws to Cunningham and a couple touchdowns by Keyshawn; a big interception return by Johnny Adams, two punt returns by Keyshawn Martin, a big kickoff return by Nick Hill.
Defense played tremendously.  Stopped the run.  Limited the passing, came up with two turnovers and played outstanding.  I thought we came out and played with a purpose which is what we needed to do on an emotional day for a lot of people.  But a lot of guys got the call, got to play.  We were able to run the ball effectively, as well, and get win No.9.  So we were excited about that.
Secured the Legends Division Championship, which is a positive, obviously.  And while it takes a little bit of pressure off of us in terms of this weekend in regards to the Championship Game, our focus remains on Northwestern and on finishing the task at hand, which is finishing this football season.
You know, we want to be in charge of this division, we want to be the champion, the one champion not sharing the co‑championship or anything of that nature.¬† We want to make a statement to that effect, 10‑2; the BCS format plays into this.
Probably as much as anything, what we have tried to do since we have been here is conduct ourselves as best as possible as we continue to move forward in a mature way and handle situations.  Whether it's an adverse situation or whether it's a positive situation, we need to try to handle it and be mature about it and move forward, and that's as big as anything in terms of how we go into this football game, from a maturity standpoint, game momentum as we go into a championship week.  But the focus has got to stay on Northwestern and the way we'll keep it.
Northwestern themselves, I think they play extremely hard.  This will be the fifth time playing them in the five years I've been here.  I a lot of respect for what Pat Fitzgerald is doing over there.  A lot of respect for Pearson and so many of their other players, Ebert, their entire group of players that they have Dunsmore, guys that have played there for quite some time.
Defensively they are going that play extremely hard.¬† Peters is a guy that makes a lot of plays for them, No.10.¬† They are on a four‑game win streak and that's where we are at.¬† Another road game.
And at that point, I'll just take some questions.

Q.  Talking with Coach Fitzgerald yesterday, he talked about going against somebody like you who does it right, doesn't cheat, the respect he has, and how it makes these games more enjoyable for him.  Do you feel that way when you go against people you know who do it the right way?
COACH DANTONIO:  I would like to think that everybody in our conference is in that nature, but I do have a lot of respect for Pat Fitzgerald and what he's been able to do there and building that program and sustaining it.
Every game we have played against them, an extremely tough game, all over the place, back‑and‑forth type games and very physical type games, as well.¬† So with that comes respect.

Q.¬† And got word Monday that there had been ‑‑ addressed the assistants' salaries.¬† Can you talk about that, please?
COACH DANTONIO:  I'm not going to name the amount of money but we have a substantial amount of money for our assistants that we will be able to give raises to our assistants beginning February of next year.  Should put us in the top three from what I understand in the conference, so that will be a great thing for our assistants.  Thank you.

Q.  If this was the NFL and you had a playoff berth clinched, you would probably rest or limit your top players this week.  Did you consider that at all?  What do you consider the pros and cons of doing that?  Do you just not like the message that it sends or how do you look at it?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† Well, I don't really like the message that it sends for our group of people in a 12‑game schedule.¬† And I do think that you have to gain momentum.¬† So if we go out there and don't play our best players and get shellacked and go into the next week with a negative mind‑set, I don't think that's good for our football team.
Plus, I always think you're either getting better, or not, one way or the other.¬† So we want to continue to try to build the steps towards what we want.¬† 10‑2, there is a difference I think between 10‑2 and 9‑3, especially in this conference, being 6‑2 and the possibilities that might have.
All of those things indicate to us‑‑ and we have always talked about, you finish the job, whether it was in winter work outs.¬† It wasn't so much how we came into a winter workout or running the first interval test.¬† It wasn't so much how you ran interval No.1; it was how you ran interval No. 20 or how you finished the drill running through the line.
I think we want to keep that mind‑set with our football team, especially our young players.¬† Obviously some things could happen where we could rest some players at the end of the game or something of that nature, but I don't expect it, because we are going to play to win.¬† And I'm not going to sit here and alibi the situation if we don't win and say, well, we didn't play as hard as we could.¬† I don't think that's acceptable or fair to anybody involved in this.

Q.  You touched on it earlier when you mentioned the BCS, do you talk to your players at all going into a game like this of the significance of staying in the top 14, staying ahead of Michigan, that sort of thing?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† No, I really haven't talked about that, but I think it's out there enough where we have a chance to finish‑‑ I think we are No.10 maybe in the Coaches Poll and No. 11 in the AP.¬† So if we win the football game, we have a chance of either moving up or staying the same and being a Top‑10 football team, which is a statement.
So those are the things we look at, but more importantly, I think we look at having control of this conference, and taking any kind of, you know, conversation out of that.  And then also, the fact that we want to have momentum and we want to finish and we want to come away with this football game feeling positive about it, not in a negative light.  Regardless of what happens, Sunday we'll start preparations for our next goal, next challenge.

Q.  Since the Nebraska game, the offense has picked up.  Do you think at this point is it mostly the players just playing well, is it Dan Roushar getting more comfortable with his system?  What would you point to?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think we all learn from our experiences, whether you're a player on the field or you're coaching.  I think that that's just human nature; you're learning from every experience that you have, if you choose to do that.
So continue to say we critique everything.¬† I think from a player's perspective, the more you play, the better you're going to get.¬† Travis Jackson is a red‑shirt freshman center.¬† He's having a great year but he's still a red‑shirt freshman and Fou is still a guy that's playing in his first year at right tackle and Dan France is still a guy at left tackle.
So those guys are still‑‑ there's still a large curve in terms of every game, every snap allows them to get more comfortable with themselves and critique and move forward.

Q.¬† You seem like a coach that takes a lot of pride in setting benchmarks and achieving goals and checking them off the list.¬† How important is a back‑to‑back ten‑win season for the program?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† I think it's a big statement, much like I said earlier.¬† It has BCS ramifications.¬† But it's another statement for when you look back and you leave here, you're a senior, you're part of a program that's won ten‑plus games two years in a row, those type of things.
We want to continue to work hard and win out November.  That's a statement, as well.  You always point to how you finish.  Well, how did you play in November?  That's the best indicator of how you finish, regardless of what your final record is, how did you finish in November.
So we do take I think great pride in sort of checking off our goals.¬† We have goals going into a football season, individually and group.¬† We ask our players to write them down.¬† We go over them during the off‑season.¬† I sit there and talk with every player about their goals whether that's in the classroom or off the field or whatever it is, socially, family, different areas of their life, and I think it's important that they be able to reach those goals and understand that dreams do come true and if you work hard, you can make dreams come true.
So that's sort of our assessment of the situation.  It's just keep moving.

Q.  Kevin Pickelman, a guy who came in here, another member of the class who was an underrated recruit, came in 240 pounds; talk about his transformation physically and also maybe being able to be healthy this year for the first time and the impact that's had and the impact he's had on the defense.
COACH DANTONIO:  He's one of the toughest guys physically, but mentally, that maybe I've been around as a college coach.  It's not that he's not nicked up.  He gets dinged up but he goes back in and he fights through the pain.
He's a guy‑‑ he's a foxhole guy.¬† He's a guy that you want with you.¬† You knew that from the day that I sat down in Marshall High School with him and talked with him when I went on my visit, my one‑time visit to Marshall, and sat with him and talked with him during the recruiting process.
He's an intense person.  If you have interviewed him, I'm sure you come away with the same type of thinking:  Very intense, very goal driven, very driven to be successful, and he's had an outstanding football career for us, an outstanding season for us.

Q.¬† I'm wondering where in your goals national respect comes in.¬† You talked about gaining respect the day you were hired and now you're a player in the BCS, you uttered the word "National Championship" the other day.¬† First time I've heard you say that.¬† Where does that play in your list of goals in terms of being a nationally‑respected program?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† Oh, it's up there, it's pretty high up there.¬† I think we always‑‑ we talk about things, and I don't think you can never set your goals too high enough.¬† You have to set your goals within your limits as you move forward.¬† You have to be realistic with your goals.¬† But at the same time, you have to have dreams out there.
And you know, in some ways, whether you're a quarterback on this football team or a running back or head coach or assistant coach or athletic director or a president, you become a dream maker a little bit and you have the opportunity to make dreams come true.
So, you know, you want to try and point towards those things and try to continue to climb those steps.¬† I don't think that‑‑ I do remember when I was first hired, because it was exactly to the day, that we beat Penn State last year.¬† It's exactly to the day, four years, to the day.
So somebody showed me the article and what I had said, and it was something like:¬† "I didn't come here to be dragged into the graveyard or to be 6‑6, we came here to win championships."
It was nice to feeling that feeling at that point time, but where do you go from there?¬† You either go down or you go up.¬† You don't stay the same.¬† Still haven't been to the Rose Bowl.¬† That's the next thing that we need to check off.¬† Because of the new format, the championship‑type game, we restructured our goals to include that Championship Game as the next check‑off, because you had to win that before you could go to the Rose Bowl.
So that's sort of the way we are doing it, I guess the way we are trying to challenge ourselves and trying to move forward.

Q.  The National Championship, is that on your list?
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, it's on my list.  I've been there before.  Once you've been there before, you want to return.  You want to return in a different light.
So I do think it's possible.  I do think that we have got good players coming here.  I think there's a lot of parity in college football.  I see it in the Big Ten Conference.  I see it in the divisions.  There's no team that cannot beat another team.  There's no givens out there.  Just like this weekend, there's no given.  You'd better be ready to play, but if you have special people on your football team that are geared towards success, there's opportunities for you.
Last year's team, we lost one game‑‑ we lost two games, and we lost them decisively.¬† But, you know, we're coming.¬† So we'll just keep trying to move and keep trying to push our way forward.¬† I think that's everybody's goal, everybody in this conference has that same goal, I'm sure.

Q.¬† How would you rate Tony Lippett's play so far?¬† Not the ideal situation but how valuable‑‑
COACH DANTONIO:  He's extremely valuable, we said that all along.  At one point he moved over, and he was our fourth wide receiver and we pushed him and played him at wide receiver and he had about four or five catches this season.  He has the ability to go in there and play.  He has the knowledge; we still practice him over there just to keep him a little fresh in that area.
But with the secondary as it was, I think he's played almost three full games at corner.  He can bend his knees.  He's got great speed.   He's got tremendous ball skills.  He's got great knowledge of what's going on, and he's calm.  He can play at a fast pace.
So, I mean, he's a very good player and the great thing is he's got three more years.  So we'll probably be able to play him either way next year.  He'll probably move back to the wide position in the spring.  That's our plan based on the numbers.
But at this point right now he's a full‑time corner.¬† I've said it all along, he's as good as any‑‑ he's a starter for us.¬† I feel like that about him.¬† Now, he didn't play as many plays as we wanted him to play early on, and that was just trying to find the right time, the right place.¬† And we got experience at wide receiver and we had experience at corner, as well.¬† So it was a good situation, but there was no doubt in my mind, he was a very good player.

Q.  The other day Coach Izzo made a reference to respecting the game.  How much, aside from all of the rankings and all of this other kind of stuff does just the game matter, respecting the game and playing just to play?
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, I have a huge respect for the game of football.  I have a huge respect for the job that players and coaches are doing on a daily basis out there because it's extremely hard.  I've said that many times standing up here.  It's very hard to win.
You may walk away and win, you know, 30‑14, but that didn't mean it was easy.¬† It is difficult.¬† And you've got a ten‑point lead or a seven‑point lead or a 14‑point lead, I can tell you, when you're sitting on that side of the lead, you're not comfortable and when you're sitting on the other side, it's not comfortable.
So it's difficult to win.¬† There's a lot of planning that goes into this.¬† There's a lot of practice time.¬† There's a lot of out of season time that goes into this, and it's a‑‑ it's not only a job for us, but you know, it's basically a full‑time job for our student athletes.¬† They are working 20 hours a week during the season and the off‑season, working eight hours a week and the summers, taking up a lot of time.¬† Everything they do is focused around football.¬† Their weekends are taken up.¬† It sort of consumes them and their whole family.
So you have to have respect for this football game when you put that type of work into it.  You also have to respect the way the game is played.  And I know things sometimes get out of control in a football game because it's very competitive, but for the most part, you want to play the game with a great deal of effort and toughness, and that's what we have always preached here.

Q.  I know you are not going to rest anybody and you are not talking about injuries, but when guys are banged up, does the position you are in allow you to be more cautious than normally?
COACH DANTONIO:  The guys that are banged up or can't play or nicked up, that will take care of itself.  But with Northwestern's tempo on offense, we have to play a lot of guys on defense, so that's going to happen.
On offense, we tend to play‑‑ we substituted our offensive line a little bit last week to give them some experience.¬† I think Reynolds played a little more, and McGaha can slide in there, as well.¬† I think for the most part we used interchangeable tailback, we are using different people, at wide receiver, we are using different people, tight ends, different people.
I think everybody is going to play.  I don't know if I'm answering your question.  But I just see us trying to win the football game, and whatever it takes.  It's really, from my standpoint, it's whatever it takes.  We are not going to sit back and say, well, I don't think we should play this guy, because he might get hurt in these last ten plays and the game is on the line; he's playing.

Q.  I know you mentioned a few weeks ago that Giampapa is going to get a scholarship but for a true freshman at arguably the position you say is the most important played in football, are you shocked at how well he's done?
COACH DANTONIO:  Yes, he's come in and early on, Steve Moore and he were both sort of neck and neck, and he started doing a little bit more consistent of a job.  He's been tremendous in our football games.  I don't think he's had one bad snap.
He does a nice job covering.¬† He's even made a tackle.¬† You know, he blocks when he needs to.¬† So he's done an outstanding job with that, and it is a critical position in the game, and it's an art, just like punting.¬† It's an art.¬† There's not a lot of people that can shoot that ball back there in point six‑sixths or point six‑sevenths of a second. ¬†And he's able to do that.¬† His times are very, very good and he's on the money.
Without him, Sadler becomes‑‑ he's reaching in, he becomes a slower punter.¬† You see that every week in some places.

Q.  Ones assistant play, Pat Narduzzi, he's had some opportunities before, do you expect people to be coming at him after a year like this?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† I would think that all of our coaches will have the opportunity some day to become head coaches.¬† And I would think that Coach Narduzzi is a guy who has been here, he's been with us for eight years.¬† He's defensive coordinator.¬† He's the next guy in line as far as sort of assistant head coach type of internal‑type title.
I'm not saying he's the next guy to become the head coach but he's done an outstanding job with our defense and is becoming nationally known.  So do I expect people to come after him?  Absolutely.  I would help that we provide a good working environment here, and he's close to the players and all those type of things.
But in the end, you have to make decisions that are going to be the best for your family and your career in the end.  It's tough.  I know that when I left here after the 2000 season, it was very, very difficult for me to leave, but I had to go, because that was the next step.
So a head coaching position I would think would be the next step for Pat Narduzzi, but who knows.¬† They are playing astronomical money some places for coordinators, so I can't say.¬† But I think he's done an outstanding job and will continue to do so and I think he's all‑in here, and he's got great relationships and deep relationships with our players.

Q.  There's been a lot of talk about potential changes in the Bowl process outside of the Championship Game, and allowing conferences to have more than two teams; would you support something like that?
COACH DANTONIO:  So like having four teams go to a Big10 Championship?

Q.  No, the BCS Bowls.
COACH DANTONIO:  I know that last year, it would have helped us out.  Last year we would have been in a BCS Bowl.
This year, obviously it would help out the Southeastern Conference.  But if they deserve that, then I think that they should have an opportunity to go.  I think when you step out you and take that 16th or 17th ranked team and because they win their conference, they go, and you pass on a fifth team, a team that's ranked fifth, I think that's difficult.
But, you know, again, I'm not in charge of those things.¬† But I know it's a difficult situation for the people that get left out.¬† But you know I'm not qualified to speak on it.¬† I'm just saying that when you are the team that's left out, you wish you had that‑‑ I can understand it.¬† I can relate.¬† Not that we have got to play better in Bowl games, period.¬† Next challenge.¬† Next goal.

Q. ¬†Last year's score was 35‑27; seems like Northwestern and Michigan State always play 40‑something to 30‑something, before you were here and since you were here.¬† Something about these teams that you approach it, like, we have to outscore them?¬† Does it affect how you call the game?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† No, it really doesn't.¬† It sort of happens I guess.¬† They are a no‑huddle, speed‑it‑up type of offense, and they are going to be an empty‑‑ they are going to be in all these different formation sets, and they have got skill; and they have guys we put in position of space and we have to tackle well in space.
We have to play under control and we have got to play‑‑ because of the hurry‑up‑type offense, you have to work at that.¬† A lot of people are doing that now so it's not as unique, I would say, but you still have to maintain your conditioning throughout the entire game.
So it becomes difficult.  I don't know how the game all plays out.  Sometimes it just seems to play out like that.  I can't remember even all of the scores the last four games, but I know that we sacked a quarterback eight times last year and we played pretty well defensively as well but the score ended up like that.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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