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MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY MEDIA CONFERENCE
October 16, 2012
THE MODERATOR: To recap last Saturday's game against Iowa and look ahead to this Saturday's game against Michigan, head coach Mark Dantonio.
COACH DANTONIO: Really just to recap Iowa very quickly here. Obviously double overtime football game. When you go down like that, there's a lot of opportunities that you look at after the game and hope for better.
So you just have to pick one of those, you come out a winner. Same old story. I guess we've lost two close games like that. But we continue to live on and try and get better in terms of that.
Michigan game up this week. Big rivalry game. I think it's good for our football program, football team, to have an opportunity to go down in a great environment, very challenging opportunity for us. Sort of go from that.
I'll just take questions today since this is one of my favorite days of the year. Go ahead. I'll try and do my best. Fire away.
Q. Obviously this is a pivotal game in the season. Take one game at a time. How much would a fifth straight win over Michigan mean historically to the program, to these players?
COACH DANTONIO: First of all, I think it's always a pivotal game regardless of what the records are and those types of things. We've never backed away from the challenge since we've come here. We'll always maintain that approach.
I think it's a great opportunity, a good rivalry game, good for the state of Michigan, good for college football in general from our perspective.
So in terms of this time, this year, obviously a win's a win. They all count one. So it would be very big for us in that respect just in terms of where we're at. It's game eight. Game eight is two‑thirds of the season for us.
As far as long‑term, you say it hasn't been done before so I guess that's something that you look at and you would savor later on in your life. As far as what does it mean in 2012, it means one win, where we're at in the Legends race, and obviously it's a rivalry game. You always point to those.
You keep track of those for the rest of your life, you just do. I think you do that regardless of where I have been in rival games. Regardless of what college I've been at, that particular game, you've always kept track of them. So we'll keep track.
Q. Dion Sims, not on the depth chart. Can you tell us anything about his status for Saturday?
COACH DANTONIO: We'll know more about it this week. Basically really truly where it's at. We'll know more this week. Obviously he hasn't practiced yet this week. We'll find out more as the week continues.
Q. (No microphone.)
COACH DANTONIO: He's a big target for us. He was our starter, leading pass receiver for us. He's a firm blocker. So there's a lot to it, getting him back. With that, other people are growing and continue to get better. We need to continue to go in that mode as well.
But I think obviously Dion is a very good player so hopefully we'll get him back, but we'll see.
Q. The bandwagon fills up when you win. Are you disappointed at how it empties when things aren't going well? I'm talking about the empty seats Saturday. I know it was raining. Does that disappoint you at all?
COACH DANTONIO: I'm more concerned about the ones who show and what we're doing on the field. I appreciate the support that we get. I think that far out‑numbers the other aspect of it.
I think that goes with college football. That goes with society today. It's a fickle society. There are a lot of things going on in a lot of people's worlds. Football is not the end game for a lot of people, and that's okay. I'm sure it will be this weekend. It will be the end game.
But I have to worry about our football team and how we play, how we handle ourselves. Obviously sense frustration. When the game comes down to very small things, you can sense the frustration. You know, you deal with it.
Q. Aside from the rivalry implications and everything at stake in a game like this, in terms of getting to Indianapolis with tiebreakers, how important is it now for you to take care of the other Legends teams?
COACH DANTONIO: Obviously very critical. Very, very small margin of error and we need help as we move through this. Usually you get help. The conference itself is very competitive. There's a lot of parity. I think there's a lot of opportunity for players to play well and teams to rise up and win against anybody really.
So we just got to play them one at a time and focus on the present. That's all I can tell you. I do think if we take care of our business, we've got opportunities ahead of us. But we need to take care of our business first.
Q. Brady Hoke took a different approach talking about rivalries. Doesn't say a ton. Why is your approach from the beginning so different vocally?
COACH DANTONIO: That's a good question. I don't know. Just people take a different view of different things. Maybe it's depending where you're at at the time.
My background, my coaching background, brought me in here '95 with Coach Saban. So we experienced some things back then. I guess it is as it is sometimes.
I've never made the rules here. Just playing the game. So if you follow my drift, I've never made the rules here. These rules were established a long time ago. I'm just playing the game. I'm just involved in the rivalry. I'm just a small little player in that rivalry.
Q. For a coach, you've been involved in rivalries in other places. To win that game consistently, how important is that for a coach, for not only the way you're perceived, but for job security, when you come into a job taking care of a rivalry?
COACH DANTONIO: I can't really answer to that because I'm not hiring and firing, I guess. I don't really know how to answer that.
For me it's important because we've made it important. For me to say it's not important would be to disrespect those who have played in this football game before. It would be disrespect to the people who have been involved in this program when I was here before and the people prior to that.
That's what I'm going to do. That means nothing to anybody else really. It's just what I'm going to do. I have a great deal of respect for Brady Hoke. To be honest with you, I think Brady Hoke handles himself at times much better than I do, okay?
I have a great respect in how he handles his job, how he's gone about his business there. I just go about mine and hope that other guy doesn't come out in this press conference, so...
Q. As a long‑time defensive coach, how much more pressure does it put on a defense when your offense is 11th in the league and is having trouble scoring? If there's one thing you could fix this week about the offense, what would you like to see change?
COACH DANTONIO: I think you said it: we'd like to score more points. Been there before, understand that aspect of it. The reality of the situation, we have three players on offense that played last year on a constant basis for us, whether it be injuries, graduation, whatever it is. We have Dan France, Chris McDonald, Le'Veon Bell playing for us. The rest of our guys are new. They're gaining experience as we go. They've made some plays.
The most important thing is we don't split this football team into offense and defense. Our offense had an opportunity to win a football game this past weekend, played well throughout the game, but we didn't win the football with the fourth‑quarter drive. The Ohio State game, we lost by one point. We had a chance to get the ball back, we needed to get the ball back.
Games hinge on how they end. They get played out during the entire game. But winning and losing comes down to how you play at the end of the football game.
We just got to continue to play together and pick up the pieces, get motivated and come back ready to go. That's always a challenge when you lose a football game. But I think our football team has always recovered from that. We've got good chemistry, good leadership on our football team, and we'll be ready to play.
I understand how it goes. I've been involved in that before. But you cannot divide the football team and say this group is getting it done, this group is not.
Statistically speaking, you can take all angles and look at those and say, If this were happening, these things would be better. You can always build another case around statistics.
Q. What kind of improvement have you seen from Denard Robinson, now in his third year as a starter? You've had some success slowing him down a little bit.
COACH DANTONIO: I think the Denard is a tremendous football player. He is a central theme in whatever we've done defensively, is to try to stop him. I think a lot of things center around a quarterback like that, whether you're playing Braxton Miller or him because they're such play‑makers. They can take a bad play and make it a great play. That's what we've seen him do through his four years there.
How we play him, I guess it's a little bit game planning things, those type of things, a little bit more technical. But I do know we need to make sure we know where he's at at all times, that 16 is on the playing field. He can make a play at any given moment and turn a game around. He's been a great football player at Michigan and he'll always be remembered as that.
Q. What did you see from Kittredge and Drummond that puts them on the top of the depth chart?
COACH DANTONIO: I thought Kittredge did a great job on Saturday, played very well. He's active in there, competitive. He's got three years to play, two more years after this. So he's a young player. I think he's getting better and better.
Kurtis Drummond is a guy that is, again, a young player, a redshirt sophomore. He's a guy coming up and making plays, those type of things. They'll get the start. The other guys will play around them. The other guys are good players as well, whether it be Micajah or whatever. But they've got to play a little more consistently.
Q. Last year after everything that happened with Will, you told us he probably got a bad rap publicly. Have you seen it change him at all in the way he played, especially this week?
COACH DANTONIO: I think he's grown from that. He hopefully needs to grow from that, understand he's got a lot of people watching him on a daily basis, whether it's on the field or off the field, that he needs to handle himself accordingly. He needs to be able to play through adversity.
You're going to get involved in certain situations that are going to bring out certain instincts in you. You have to be able to control those things. Again I'm sitting up here as the poster boy for that sometimes.
I think he's grown from that.
As far as how he presents himself as a player, he'll come ready to play on Saturday.
Q. I'm sure the officials will be talked to about how physical this game gets, especially coming off last year. Will you address that with your team, about how important it is not to get involved in the extracurricular and the emotional?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, we will. But it's a physical game, too. There's no question that football is a physical game in general. There's no question that both teams are going to go after each other. I don't think there's any question about that.
But we've got to keep the game under control. We can't let it get out of control. I'm sure the officials will make that known during the game and we have to play within the confines of the rules and take care of ourselves on this end.
Q. About how Brady has handled talking about this better than you have, Michigan has something in its weight room that you said about we're going to continue to win, there's a picture of that all over the Internet. Can you go back and explain what was going through your mind at the time.
COACH DANTONIO: The other guy was there. The other guy was talking, I don't know (laughter).
Q. You were asking about Michigan's recruiting, coming back. Is it things like that that get you fired up because you feel like you have achieved some things and people overlook it?
COACH DANTONIO: I don't know. I didn't come to the press conference to talk about that today, so you caught me off guard. Next question (laughter).
When I talk in terms of Coach Hoke, I think he does a good job. I think he does a good job maintaining his level of composure. That's what I meant by that.
Q. (No microphone.)
COACH DANTONIO: It's my heritage.
Q. There's going to be tremendous pressure bearing on both sides in this game. They're going to be under pressure to break this losing streak, so on. You're going to be under pressure to keep it going. How do you turn that pressure into your advantage or how does a team deal with that pressure and make it work for them?
COACH DANTONIO: I've always said that pressure is good. We've always talked to our football team about pressure being good and stress is bad. So the important thing that we have to do is not stress about what we're doing, don't stress out about this, and understand there's pressure.
It's a TV game, another big game, all these type of things. There's things that go along with winning and losing this football game obviously.
Pressure is good. It helps prepare you, keeps you on edge, keeps you mentally sharp. That's how we'll approach it.
But we'll come ready to play, enthused. I'm sure they will, as well. The big thing is you have to be able to keep your momentum and keep your composure throughout. That's part of it. At the same time it's got to be played very physically and emotionally.
That's why football continues to be such a great game, because you can take all different aspects of science and physics and the psyche as well, they're all intertwined.
Q. You've been on the other side of the rivalry with Michigan and Ohio State, how big that is. Something that was asked of Michigan players and coaches yesterday was, If you can't handle the rivalry in your own state, at some point can you no longer claim the other game is your biggest rival. What is your take on that, if you can't handle your business within this rivalry?
COACH DANTONIO: I guess I would say I'm not qualified to speak on that because that's not the situation for us. That's their business. They're our main rival in state. Notre Dame would be out of state for us. I think we have to try to handle both of them. I'm not qualified to really speak on that.
Q. I know you say they all count one. In a rivalry game like this when the season hasn't gone the way you expected, can it be a jolt to put the season back on track and be more than one?
COACH DANTONIO: I think it can be a defining moment for us. I think it could be a rallying point or a moment where we can start going in the other direction.
But I think any football game, I think this last football game we played, could have been that moment as well. When you lose close like that, like I said opening this up, there are many different things you can point to and say, If we would have done this, if this would have happened, if that were called one way or the other, those type of things.
But it is what it is. You have got to deal in the present. That's all I can tell anyone. You can't look in the past. You can learn from the past, but you have to deal in the present and prepare for the future. That's what we're going to do.
Q. Obviously this rivalry has gone back and forth. It's been your way more now. With Brady in place, you in place, both programs seem to be in good shape. Do you feel this could be the best era of the rivalry moving forward in the next few years in terms of competitiveness?
COACH DANTONIO: I think Michigan is certainly back, okay? We're going to I think win and be a leader in this conference. Again, that's pretty far in the future. We can worry about it, think about it, that's down the line. Look forward to it, look forward to competing against them yearly.
Q. You have a young quarterback, young wide receivers. You've had a couple road games. With all due respect, Mt. Pleasant, Bloomington, those guys haven't played in an environment like they're going to play on Saturday. What do you think the key for them to be successful will be?
COACH DANTONIO: The key to success will be executing down there obviously. But it is a different place to play. But it's like when Michigan comes here. I don't know how they find their way into this stadium, but they do. When we go down there, I don't know how our people are getting in that stadium, but they do. There will be plenty of them there, we'll hear them, and it will help us.
Q. Take another shot at injuries a little bit.
COACH DANTONIO: Give it your best shot.
Q. L.T. I think played one play and Niko didn't play at fullback. Do you expect them to play a little bit more this week?
COACH DANTONIO: Yes, I do.
Q. I guess I have to confirm this. Are players not available today?
COACH DANTONIO: Players are not available today.
Q. Is this the same as Ohio State or is this because of Michigan, you don't want players tempted to say the wrong thing?
COACH DANTONIO: I think it's threefold. I think there's a lot of people. Certainly we don't want anything up there. Probably be something I said that goes up there. Hopefully not, but probably.
I think also there's not a lot of separation geographically between the two. We really don't want anything about injuries out there, anything of that nature.
Also I just think it's about just get yourself together. People in our room, people on our football team, the coaches, just sort of sequestering ourselves, getting everybody ready to go. That's the best way we've done it before. That's what's worked for us before, so that's what we'll do.
Q. How much have you seen Keith and Aaron begin to separate themselves at receiver over the past couple weeks? Does there come a point you say these are our three, four, or do you keep rotating guys in and out?
COACH DANTONIO: I think it depends on practice this week. I do think Burbridge and Mumphery have made plays last couple games, Fowler has made plays in the Indiana game as well. That's a positive for us.
As we practice through the week, whoever looks like they've done the job, that's who's going to be coming with us.
Q. You've been humble today about the rivalry, more than you have been in the past.
COACH DANTONIO: More than usual?
Q. Yes. You've said it numerous times now.
COACH DANTONIO: You threw that at me (laughter).
Q. Is it because things are not going well?
COACH DANTONIO: That has nothing to do with it. I always try to come up here and be who I am. It's you guys that stoke that fire. Nobody's done that yet, so we're good (smiling).
Q. Dare I ask why this is your favorite day of the year?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I was being facetious.
No, I understand this is a big day. This is Media Day. This is the day it all sort of starts for the weekend. So it's a big day. I'm excited about our football team, very excited about it. We're going down with great intent. We'll be ready to play. I just get all kinds of different questions on this day.
You try to keep it in check, so... I may make it through, but I don't know.
Q. Do you like the 'circle the wagons' type of effect that presents this game for your team?
COACH DANTONIO: Anything that can bring your football team closer I think benefits you in the end, regardless of what you go through. I think tough times, when you go through tough times, it creates a higher toughness for yourself and football team. You learn how to handle adversity better. In the end there's some point in time you later use that. I think that's natural.
I think how you handle your problems is key to success in life, period. I don't care what problem you have. It doesn't mean that it doesn't knock you down because it's going to, but you have to be able to get back up from it and be a survivor.
That's what we talk a lot about around here, so we have to be able to do that, whether it's on the football field or away from the field. I think that's a key to being successful. In the end, this is more about being a football coach, it's about being a mentor, a teacher. We're teaching life lessons here, not just X's and O's.
Q. During the four‑game winning streak, how have you seen the attitudes of in‑state recruits change, maybe be more open to a Michigan State, how have you seen them respond in that situation?
COACH DANTONIO: I've seen them respond in that situation prior to the four wins. When we came here in 2009, we've gotten some great players. 2007, 2008, we got some of the top players in the state of Michigan who chose Michigan State.
I do think you are green or blue in this state by the time you get to age 14, maybe 10. Some may argue earlier. So I think recruiting has become so accelerated, guys are making their choices earlier. It's a hard swing when you do get involved with that player, one way or the other.
I think that's just the way it goes in a state like this where you have such a passionate following on both sides of the fence. Usually that's how it ends up.
But we have some outstanding players that go back. I think about Edwin Baker making the decision to come here, Chris Norman in '09, Maxwell, some of the other guys. I'm sure I start naming names I'm shorting out some people. Gholston making the decision to come here, L.T. Thomas, guys that were recruited by everyone. That's just a couple that I've named.
Q. Statistically it wasn't Maxwell's best game of the season. Was there something that Iowa did defensively that he wasn't doing as well against them?
COACH DANTONIO: It was a tough weather game. I think the weather had something to do with it. Iowa, as I said coming in, has always been a stingy defense. We've always had very competitive football games with them. We've lost two now in double overtime on them, one on the last play, one won on the last play.
They're extremely disciplined in their back end. I thought they played well. We had some issues just like where there's protection, whether it's a route, a throw, just like everybody.
But I don't have the answer totally to that question other than he continues to be our quarterback and I think he's growing. He's got to continue to gain confidence and this is a part of it. This is a part of growth in the college football game, especially at that position, when you're so involved in every aspect of the game.
Q. Michigan is approaching its 900th program win. Is there a sense you don't want to let it happen to you?
COACH DANTONIO: There's a sense we want to win the football game. 900 doesn't really factor into us. It's a lot of games, though.
Q. As you've gone and done your self scout for the Iowa game, have you taken a look hard at what happened at the end of the first half and put some measures in place to make sure that doesn't happen again?
COACH DANTONIO: I knew that question would be coming.
It's just one more opportunity in the football game that was a missed opportunity. Yeah, we put things into place to make sure that does not happen. But a lot of emotion, a lot of energy, got chaotic. Some people ran out on the field. I tend to think it's a long field goal into the wind, into the rain. That keeps me sane (laughter).
It was one of the things you're never going to take for granted again. We have to have everybody, the kicker, snapper, holder, they didn't come out on the football field. Everybody was there. Obviously the coach ran out on the field. Wondered what he was doing there.
All I can tell you is the best laid plans of man don't always work out. You just need to continue to stay composed and make sure we have enough people. We just got to work it more, I guess. But I have thought about it.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports