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November 29, 2011

Mark Dantonio

COACH DANTONIO:  Really to wrap up the Northwestern thing a little bit, I thought our team showed great focus and maturity in finishing.  That's what we want to do.  I think you get great satisfaction from finishing anything that you do, so I'm very, very proud of our football team.
The championship game, obviously, I feel like clearly the two best teams are participating in that, and it's an opportunity, obviously, to move on and go to the Rose Bowl.  And that's a tremendous opportunity and one that we've worked for since really last February since the end of our last bowl season.
So we're very, very excited about that.  It should be a great environment down in Indianapolis and a packed house and everything that goes along with it.
I want to congratulate our players in terms of those that made the All Big 10 Team, both the media and the coaches.  I think we had 11 guys be able to do that first or second team.  I think consensus first team guys, certainly you guys know that Foreman and Worthy and Trenton Robinson and Johnny Adams split with one each, and we had guys become second team and you have the numbers on that.
You look at Wisconsin right now, great football team, great game.  The last time we played them we had great games with them.  We've been able to win three of the last four.  I think, again, that gives us confidence as we move into the next phase here.
When you look at them and start to break down Wisconsin, you have a team that's first in scoring, first in rushing, first in turnover margin, things of that nature.  They've got a great quarterback as well.  Great running back.  Lot of record there's and everything.
Defensively, when you look at us, you have a team that's first in sacks, first in rushing defense, first in total defense.  Our football team is second in turnover margin in the conference, so a lot of different things.
We protect our quarterback.  Second best in the conference, so there are a lot of similarities towards strengths, I guess, of each team.  We have two receivers in the Top 10 in Cunningham and Martin.  They have two in terms of Toon and Abbrederis in the Top 10 receivers.
So a lot of characteristics of this football team and our football team seem to match‑up.  So it should be very, very exciting opportunity for both football teams.
We have great respect, I think, for the University of Wisconsin and what Coach Bielema has been able to accomplish there in his short time there.  In a lot of ways whether it's them, Iowa, Michigan State, some of us face the same battles that we deal with on a regular basis.  But how they go about their business, how they play on the field, they do it with toughness.  They do it with effort.
Defensively they tackle very well, very difficult to score on as well.  So special teams are solid on both football teams.  It will be a great game.  With that, I'll take some questions and we'll go from there.

Q.  Can you expand on that a little bit, Mark?  You said you, Wisconsin, Iowa, you face the same battles.  Can you expand on that a little bit?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think traditionally both programs have had tradition.  I think every football team really in this conference has tradition.  But that tradition may have been broken up along the way a couple times and then it resurfaces, and I think that's what's happened.
They've got great fan support; I think we have great fan support as evidenced by I think it took one day and we sold out our allotment.  I'm sure that they did the same.  So there is great fan support in that area.
We both are in a conference, I believe, that I don't know how they really pick the conferences, but they pick the two teams, the Top 5 teams in each conference and split them away based on longevity of wins, I guess.  Then you have a couple other teams that are up there whether it be Wisconsin, Purdue in one division, or Iowa and Michigan State in the other division.  But I think there are some similar things that exist there.
I'll go back to what I started the whole thing with, clearly this is a new era of football in this conference with the addition of Nebraska and formation of the different divisions.  So clearly it's a new era and clearly this year and 2011, Michigan State and Wisconsin are the two best teams in this conference.  That is without question, I believe.

Q.  When you look at a player like Montee Ball from Wisconsin, is there going to be any concerted effort to limit him or is it just business as usual?
COACH DANTONIO:  There is always a concerted effort to limit a team's ability to run the football.  You know, Ball's a great player, and two years ago or last year, I guess, James White had a big game against us a little bit.  So they're both very good tailbacks.
Ball, obviously, has gotten the most pub right now, most carries, most yards, most touchdowns.  He's a jump cut runner and spin runner, very quick to contact, great acceleration, can catch the ball as well.  So obviously he's a great threat.

Q.  You've beaten them three out of four, you've beaten them most recently in big games and yet I guess you're a nine‑ or ten‑point underdog.
COACH DANTONIO:  It's not all bad.  It's not all about.  We're the little guy.  Everybody wants the little guy to win, so have a come more people sitting on the fence maybe sway our way and make a little noise.

Q.  Does this surprise you or provide any motivation to prove something again?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think a lot of it tends to be what they were‑‑ what the perspective was maybe coming into the season.  They were number four at one point in time until they lost to us, I believe, and so that's the way it goes.  There are certain things you can change sometimes.  Certain things you have to continue to earn.  We'll do it the hard way.

Q.  How appropriate is it that this first championship game is going to be between two kind of old‑school, smash‑mouth teams that kind of symbolize what the Big Ten's always been about?
COACH DANTONIO:  Well, I think that there's no question that College Football, there are so many different ways to get the job done in College Football.  Whether it's with the spread offense or different defenses or whatever it is.  Everybody has a way of doing their deal and trying to be successful.
At the end of the day, I think everything runs in cycles.  I've said it here before.  I think you somehow return to certain elements of football that are most important.  The most important elements of football are blocking, tackling, catching the ball, running with the football, punting, those type of things.  Usually whoever does the best at those things are going to be successful.
Ultimately, I think the question that you asked ultimately is that you see more teams moving back towards those basic elements.  That you see a two‑back offense or two tight end offenses, and they're still going to be in empty seat sets, and we'll be in one back sets and pass sets and those types of things.
But at the end of the day, you do what you do best, and I think that's what both of us do very well.  When you can run the football, and we're trying to become better running the football this year, but we still put a premium on that.  But when you run the football effectively, you're very difficult to handle.  When you combine that with throwing the football and stay balanced, it makes you a very good football team.
When you stop the run, conversely, you're able to win a lot of football games.  Or when you play good, solid defense, and you hang your hat in one area, you're going to win a lot of football games.  I think that's what both these teams have done.
Really Wisconsin's defense has had a tremendous amount of success as well in terms of points giving up and a lot of their things statistically as well.
You look at them again, and they're No. 1 in third‑down conversions, or No. 1 in opponent third‑down conversions.  So there are a lot of things that their strength plays to our strength in some areas.

Q.  All year your message to your team has been to finish.  Just want to get your comments on once again sending that message this week knowing that if you finish one game, 60 minutes, you're going to the Rose Bowl, a place this program hasn't been since 1988?
COACH DANTONIO:  Well, it's very exciting for us.  It's one of those one shot things.  We've got our best shot.  I'm sure they are too.  That's what's so exciting about this championship type format is whatever you've done up until this point, it's on a resume and you can talk about it.  But you're going to play in this particular game and have an opportunity to settle in on the field.
So two teams that are tied like last year, and I understand this year it might have gone our way because we've got the one loss.  But, in the end, this is probably the best way to decide a football game or who is going to represent the Big Ten.
I think it's going to be exciting.  I think our players are going to be emotionally ready to play, got to stay loose and do all the things we've done in order to get to this point.
But we've proven we can go and play in big games and win.  We've proven we can go on the road and win.  So this will be a little bit of a home game‑away game I guess sort of.  It will be a great challenge for us.  I understand that, all of our players understand that.  But we have a great football team.
We have an outstanding football team, and our confidence is there.  We have a lot of confidence as a football team, and we have confidence in the players rising to the occasion as well and playing through adversity.

Q.  Can you talk about the play of Max Bullough now that you've had a whole season to see him as a starter and replacing an All‑American the way he did?  Second team, all Big Ten, led the team in tackles, talk about evaluating him this past season and his future going forward the rest of the season and the next couple years?
COACH DANTONIO:  Really, our defense as a whole is pretty young, really.  If you look at the all‑conference selection, you've got three guys, four guys that are sophomores in there with Isaiah Lewis and Max Bullough and William Gholston, and I think Denicos Allen, if I remember.  That is exciting for our defense.
As far as Max is concerned, the guy lives and breathes football.  He's got that old‑school mentality in terms of getting people lined up, handling the situational huddle.  He's a leader on the field in that capacity.  He's a heavy hitter.  He goes near 250 pounds, he's got great hands, and he's going to be in the right place where you want him 90% of the time, and he's going to bring it every single play.  That's why he's good.
The fact that he's a true sophomore is very exciting for all of us.  He's only going to continue to get better and better and better.
He will, I think, solidify himself even more so as a leader here in the next years to come.  If you go out there and watch him run around in winter conditioning, he's going to be one of the most athletic, big skill guys we have, and one of the hardest workers as well.  And that impresses people, his work ethic and his demeanor that he brings to the football game.

Q.  This being the first Big Ten Championship game, we're kind of new to it.  It seems it presents opportunities at Rose Bowls, but also obstacles where a loss could drastically change where either team goes to a bowl game.  You are seeing the same thing with LSU and Alabama in the Southeastern Conference.  Does that change your opinion of the winner‑take‑all nature of a conference championship game?  Does it bother you at all that you have to beat a team twice to get to the Rose Bowl?
COACH DANTONIO:  No, not really.  Confident we can do that.  I guess the thing that I would say is I've tried to figure out in my time in my life that there are certain things you can change and certain things that that's just the way it is.  Why worry about it?  It just creates more‑‑ it just creates problems if you worry about that.  So I really haven't focused on that.  I've focused on the task at hand and winning this football game.  That is all that's important to us right now.
And after that game‑‑ so I'm not going to look to the right or to the left like I've come in here before and said‑‑ I'm going to look straight ahead and focus on that challenge, defeat that challenge, and move forward.  For us to look over here and over there and say we'll worry about this team going instead of us or this team or whatever, or why aren't we doing this, then I think the best thing you can do in any profession or anything in life is really just deal with the problems that you have and try to address those problems.  Put all your focus there, and you have a better chance of accomplishing your dreams and goals.  So that's what we've done.
I think our players have done that as well, and I think they've got a good handle on that and how to try to take the next step.  We lost to Nebraska.  We can't deal with Nebraska.  The best thing we can do is go on and play well for the next team and that's what we were able to do.

Q.  Since a game like this has never been played in the Big Ten before and there is nothing to compare it to.  Are you doing anything unique or special to prepare your team for the atmosphere of the Dome or anything that makes this unique?
COACH DANTONIO:  We're going to turn up the heat in the indoor, so that's a good thing.  We're going to do some different things as we get down there, I think.  But at the same time we want to keep it as normal as we can and not make it like‑‑ well, it's a big deal and it's very exciting.  But at the same time, we have to stay controlled.  It has to be controlled excitement and controlled emotion.  We need to get ready to play a football game.  So it needs to be a little bit right now business as usual.
We played this team in the seventh week.  They've played five games; we've played five.  So we'll look at the past five games as well.  We'll look at the previous seven and all different angles to this game.  How they played us the last five times they've played us.  So there is a lot of time spent looking at what they do.  But inevitably they'll probably change and do something different and we've got to adjust.
I think the best thing we can do is stay focused, as I just said.  Change up things that keep us fresh.  I think it's important that we stay fresh.  It's a long season.  Going into our 13th week plus two‑a‑days, so it's been a long time.  Stay fresh, stay excited and understand there is going to be adversity, understand we're going to have to weather the adversity and push through that.

Q.  Earlier the coach and some of the players talked about that Hail Mary play, as the team that's on the winning end of that, what's it do for a team to win a game like that?  Do you run with it or focus more on what happened before that last play?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think you can take a couple viewpoints of that game.  They got out 14‑0 and we turned the ball over on the first play of the game, and they scored and they held us.  They went down and scored and it's 14‑0.  At some point in time they scored another three points and we rolled off 31.  To me that gives us a great deal of confidence.  So it was a 31‑3 run there.
Then it flipped the other way, and they came back and rolled up another 14 points in the end, but we were able to drive the last 1:42.  With 4 seconds left we were able to hit the pass.
You know, you've got to be fortunate, obviously, or blessed if you're going to get that pass.  But at the same time, it's a play.  They all count, all of those plays count.  So that's how I see it.
It's no different than the year before.  We controlled the football game the year before in the second half.  So it gives our football team a great deal of confidence in how we measure up here.  I'm sure they have a great deal of confidence as well.  I hear they do.

Q.  What is it that makes Kirk Cousins such a great leader.  And what is that one quality you'd like to bottle up and put in every captain you've got in the future?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think the thing that he does best is that he's great for team chemistry.  He can relate to people and come forward with ideas and relate to coaches, relate to administrators, relate to his teammates.  It's very, very real.
On the field the things that he does tremendously and he's very gifted at is getting us in and out of the right play.  I think he handles adversity very well on the field.  He's got an extremely strong arm, and he can get out of problems and make a play with his feet.  So he'll need to do that some this Saturday.  That will be a positive as well.
I think whatever it is, he's just got it.  When he steps in the huddle, he makes everybody around him a little better.  Makes everybody around him feel more successful, and that is the true sign of a true leader, I think.  He says, "Let's go and who is with me?"  and everybody seems to follow.

Q.  Have you ever coached against a team twice in one year?  How is it helpful to have game planned for them once and see them firsthand once?
COACH DANTONIO:  I don't think I've ever coached against a team twice in one year.  I think in the 8th grade we played each team twice and that's about it.
But in terms of what I said earlier, I think the preparation is very deep because you've already been through an entire week of preparation.  So you have an opportunity to go back and critique what you've done.  And that's one of the things that we always do is we write down everything that we've done in that pass game, good, bad or indifferent, so we can lean on that for the next year.  So we're able to lean on it again this year, but with the knowledge that things are going to change out there as well.
I think offensively and defensively and special teams, there are things that are going to be changed that we're going to have to adapt to.  But we have a system.  They have a system.  Probably the majority of what they do and we do are going to be within that system.  Probably 75% are going to be within that system and 25% are going to new things that have maybe gone on in the past five games or maybe 10% or 5% are new things.
There is not too much you can change in one week and three days time that says you can revamp this whole thing.  So we are what we are, as well as them, and you get ready to play.  And you play on emotion, you play things conceptually, and you allow your offense and defense, and special teams philosophies and concepts to push you through and be successful, allow you to be successful.

Q.  How large a role have your defensive ends played in containing quarterbacks with speed throughout the year and how significant will it be that Gholston will play this time and missed the first meeting?
COACH DANTONIO:  He didn't have an opportunity to play the fist time, so he'll play Wisconsin at least once.  He's excited to play.  I think everybody's excited to play in this game, because it is this game.  It's not that it's against Wisconsin.  It's exciting because we're in this game.
As far as our defensive ends, Rush, Gholston, Drone, Freeman, they're going to have a challenge because Will can move in the pocket.  He's very calm.  As I said five weeks ago, he's extremely calm and doesn't get rattled back there and can make you miss.  You can get on the edge and throw the ball down the field.  We don't want to jump at him when he's running down the field.
But, obviously, we can run at that position, we have tracked people down and there are games, very last game was an elusive quarterback.  We played Robinson out here, a very elusive quarterback, we had six or seven sacks, so it can be done.  We'll put a focus on trying to contain him and limit his opportunities.

Q.  Since you came to Lansing, you've been clear about the Rose Bowl being a goal here.  Just wondering what the emotions are you being one tangible year away from a five‑year mission?
COACH DANTONIO:  I would say our football team and our program probably shares about the same type of emotions that I'm having probably focus.  When we get there, and we will get there, off the field, a great deal of satisfaction.  That's just the way I'm built.  I was excited last Saturday.
I'll be very satisfied and content and feel like job accomplished.  What is the next goal?  What is the next focus?  That's just the way we've been doing things here.  We're very excited to share the emotion, but that will pass and it will be the next thing.  It's the same way when we won the National Championship.  It was very exciting, and felt a great deal of contentment and satisfaction, but a week later you were recruiting and you were on to the next thing.
I think that is the norm here for everybody.  You don't have long to sort of sit there and say, wow, I did this and here I am.  You move on.  You tend to move on and say what's the next job?  In this game of college football, it's "what have you done for me lately" and you see that every year.
This is a tough week for a lot of families right now.  There are quite a few jobs that are open.  So you understand that as a college coach and you recognize that and you move forward.  I will be excited, I promise you that, but we'll bring it back in and refocus and do it again.

Q.  The Rose Bowl is like holy ground around here.  It's been 24 years.  Your athletic director talked about it when he introduced you.  Is that everything behind your message this week or do you try to stay away from that?
COACH DANTONIO:  It's behind our message.  I believe if you want a dream and you dream big, you've got to talk about it.  You can't ignore the fact and say well, we didn't go.  We didn't talk about it enough or I didn't want to put our guys out there.
There is risk and reward in everything that we do, whether it's a particular play or blitz or whatever there is.  I would say the same thing when you're challenging your players and talking with them.  There is risk involved in talking with them about dreams as big as a Rose Bowl or dreams as big as a National Championship.  But if you don't do that, who will?
Certainly nobody sitting in this room did five years ago, but here we're all sitting here talking about it.  So somebody had to step out and talk about it from within.

Q.  Nationally sometimes the Big Ten perception‑ wise takes a little bit of a beating.  Do you think this can change now with the championship game.  Two big, strong teams that can score points, Nebraska's here, Urban Meyer just arrived yesterday.  Do you think these two teams can start to change that perception?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think it's all related to can you move through a conference undefeated?  If you can, this conference is extremely competitive, as is all these conferences.  If you can move through these conferences undefeated, then you'll have a great chance to play in a National Championship Game.  I would say that would be the same right now.
There are only two undefeated teams.  Well, I guess there are two others.  No, there's not even two.  There are three.  There are two others, but they don't play in the same type of environment from a media perspective.  They've got good players.
From a media and big‑stage‑type of situation they don't play in the same environment.  They're very good football teams, but the Norm right now is extremely tough to go through your conference undefeated because the competition is so high.  The bowls play out.  We had a tough draw last year against Alabama, but Alabama is where they're at, and they lost five first round players, I think.  So they were a good football team last year.
So that's just the way it is.  But I think that, yeah, if we can push through this.  We're 10‑2, and I would say we lost Notre Dame, we lost Nebraska, but if we played them over again we could win.  We have a chance to win.  I would think we have a chance to win.  So I think it is possible, yeah.

Q.  In regards to the Ohio State hiring, what is your reaction to having Urban Meyer in this league right now?  People are equating this to getting a quote unquote rock star as a head coach?
COACH DANTONIO:  I look to it right down the middle.  I'm not looking over here or over here.  I look right down the middle.  We have to deal with our problems here and our challenges and our focus.
I'd say it's a great job.  He's a great football coach.  The success has been there in the past eight years is a challenge, because if he's half as successful as that, he's going to be very successful.
My focus is all right here.  We'll deal with Ohio State next year, and that's when we'll do that.

Q.  Does it make the job that much harder for the other teams in the conference?
COACH DANTONIO:  No, I don't think so.  I don't think so at all.  It is what it is with every football team in this conference.
The programs themselves become really bigger than the coach that is coaching them.  I believe that.  If Mark Dantonio's not here, somebody else will be here and they'll be pushing Michigan State forward.  Same is true down the road or same is true at Notre Dame.
It's a difficult challenge as it is, but our focus right now is on Wisconsin.

Q.  You had a good night offensively against Wisconsin, and the worst week of the year the next week in Nebraska.  Do you feel like since then there is more confidence in the offensive line and the offensive staff?  Do you feel it was something that was maybe a turning point, that little period there?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think any time you play a football game it's about match‑ups.  How you're matching up against this, what they do.  It's the first time playing Nebraska.  There wasn't much history in terms of how we played Nebraska.  We went into a stadium and didn't play well enough to win.  End of story.
Turned the ball over early in the game.  We did that against Wisconsin as well and were able to pull out of it.  I don't know why things happen sometimes.  Sometimes they just do.  But in the Wisconsin game we played with a lot of emotion and were able to continue that throughout.
In the Nebraska game, we went there feeling like we would play with a lot of emotion, but we just never caught fire in that game.  We didn't win it, so I don't know if it had anything to do with‑‑

Q.  How about since then?
COACH DANTONIO:  Since then we played pretty well.  We played very well against Iowa and got back on track and won our football games.

Q.  In watching a lot of the film this year, last week especially, you see Cousins to Cunningham has been a heck of a combination.  Where would you rate them?  You had a good one when you got here, Hoyer and Thomas.  Where would you rank that quarterback‑receiver combo and what you've seen?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think it's probably the all‑time leading quarterback here at this point, and he's the all time leading receiver, so I would say pretty good and the best we've had here at Michigan State.
Right up on top, they have a good feel for each other.  Kirk will make a tough throw.  B.J. will make the tough catch.  We've seen those over and over.  We got the ability to spread the ball around the tight ends and various other receivers as well and to our backs.  So we're trying to get everybody involved.  We've got skill guys.  They all have to be able to touch the ball and make plays.
You look at Keshawn Martin, and you just can't talk about the number of big plays he's made in his career here.  He had 122 all‑purpose yards last week, and another touchdown on a punt return.  So huge, big play guy as well.  He's catching the ball very well down the field as well.  Linthicum's getting into the action, I think, as a tight end, catching the ball well this last part of the season.
You see Le'Veon Bell with big catches as well out of the back field.  So we're trying to get as many guys with touches as we can.  We've got good skill, and we need to utilize that skill.  They need to get in space, obviously.  When you're in space, big things can happen.
So we have to have explosive plays.  I don't think there is any question in that area.  We're 37‑5, and we have eight explosive plays in our time since being here.

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