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October 23, 2012

Mark Dantonio

THE MODERATOR:  Here to recap the Michigan game and look ahead is Wisconsin head coach Mark Dantonio.
COACH DANTONIO:  Real quickly, obviously disappointed with the loss at Michigan.  Very proud of our effort, our intensity we went down there with, the energy we brought.
Right now I guess as a whole we're a 4‑4 football team.¬† We've lost some extremely close games, down to the last play of these games.¬† My focus is on now.¬† We're being tested a little bit.¬† We have to understand that.¬† Through those testing periods, we're going to see great growth.¬† Under adversity I believe you get stronger and stronger as you go.
The game itself I thought was a tight, well‑played football game.¬† Zero turnovers really.¬† You look at the one that we got right before the half, sort of insignificant.
But it was a well‑played game, especially on defense.¬† If you look at us defensively, I thought we played very, very well.¬† But we got to come up with the stop at the end and we have to come away with some turnovers.
We were just talking today over there, last year we had five turnovers for touchdowns, let alone the number of turnovers we had in general.
Offensively we got to be more opportunistic.  We got the ball around the 50 four times.  We've got to score points, there's no question about that.
Special teams, our special teams had obviously the one big play.¬† But we have to be perfect on special teams and we were not.¬† With that, we lose some opportunities.¬† But we come away 4‑4.
Looking forward to Wisconsin.  Wisconsin brings the next challenge up in Madison.  I think we've had some great games up there obviously.  Got a lot of respect for what they've done up there.  The consistency with which they performed under, the winning they've done, really the championships they've won.
Montee Ball is an outstanding player, jump cut guy, 13th in the nation in running.  They have James White playing extremely well.  Melvin Gordon, another young man, a young player, but also is another guy they're using up there a little bit as well.
Defensively they're a top 20, 25 defense, depending on what stats you look at.  Chris Borland, Mike Taylor head that group up.  It's going to be a challenge for us as we move up there.  But we're looking forward to it.
I'll take questions.

Q.  When you look at the offense, how far short of your expectations has this offense performed?  I know there are a lot of factors, but lay out the different things that have led to this.
COACH DANTONIO:¬† Well, I think first of all, I expect to win, period.¬† Doesn't really matter how many points you get as long as you win.¬† I've been on teams that won 13‑7, 14‑9, et cetera, et cetera.¬† The bottom line is winning, and that cures everything.
Had we won these three very, very close games, we'd be sitting here 7‑1 talking about more positives.¬† But That comes along with winning and losing.
In terms of our offense, you watch the Big Ten championship game, because we're dealing with Wisconsin this week, and you watch our last year's game right now here with them, it's execution.  We're scoring plenty of points.
A lot of what we do is very, very similar to what we've done in the past.  We're inexperienced.  We've lost some players on the offensive line.  Quarterback that's growing, receivers that are growing.  I'm not going to stand up here making excuses, we got to get more points.
In terms of expectations, I expected there would be a learning curve, that we would be maybe beyond where we're at right now, but I knew there would be a learning curve for our football team.

Q.  Mark, I think I've deducted it's a game of inches.

Q.¬† But seriously, the two years you've won almost every close game.¬† This year you've lost the close ones.¬† Can you take solace in the fact you're six points from being 7‑1?
COACH DANTONIO:  No.  You know what I take, I look at the fact that our football team plays extremely hard, and at the end of the day they give everything they've got.  That's good enough for me as a coach.  It's not good enough for everyone all the time.  We critique what we do.  But you have to look at the effort that we get, you have to acknowledge the effort.  If you don't, then you start backsliding even farther.
If you look at our football program as a whole I think since coming here, we lost some very, very close games in '07, we won those games in '08.¬† We lost some close games in '09.¬† We won those close games in '10 and '11.¬† But it was a maturity process of our young players, especially on the offensive side of the ball, that grew from 2009 ‑ or 2007, but 2009, really with Kirk Cousins and B.J. Cunningham, Keshawn Martin, those guys, Edwin Baker, Larry Caper, Dion Sims at the time.¬† Those guys were all freshmen or sophomores.¬† We grew.
That's what we have to look at.  We have to hope that we grow during the season, progress, win football games.  That's the end result.  That's what I mentioned before.
At the same time you have to acknowledge the effort and the intensity, the confidence, how we come out and go to work every single day.  Then we'll do the same thing.  Our football team will not crack.  That's what a program is.
Games can go either way.  Credit Michigan, they played a great football game as well.  They won some close games this year.  That's where we're at.

Q.  How much more do you expect to use Dion Sims this week in terms of where he's at?  The one combination you haven't had yet is his Aaron Burbridge and a healthy Dion Sims?  How much are you anticipating seeing those two together?
COACH DANTONIO:  Dion played the first half, then we held him the second half because he really wasn't a hundred percent.  This is the first practice we have.  I would anticipate him playing more and more.
As to where his health is, normally don't want to talk about it, but don't really know either.

Q.  (No microphone.)
COACH DANTONIO:  There's no question that he brings another dimension to our football team as a blocker and as a pass receiver as well.  There's no question he improves our football team.
Gives you more choices and hopefully more production.

Q.  Can you address the Wisconsin situation.  They had some big turnover on their staff this year.  Can you imagine losing that many assistant coaches at one time?  Also can you address the firing in season of their coach, the offensive line coach.
COACH DANTONIO:  First of all, they had transition on their team I think because one of their coaches got a head coaching job, et cetera.  People change and move.  They'd been together quite some time.  If it happens here, you deal with it and move on.
I think they're playing very well right now.
In regards to anything else, that's not my program and I don't think I'm qualified to comment on anything because you really don't know everything that's involved.  So I'm speaking as an outsider, have no knowledge of it really.

Q.  Mark, when one part of the team is struggling like you have offensively, the defense has been playing well for the most part, not perfect, but when you talk to the guys after games, they understand it's a team game.  Do you find yourself ever paying a little more attention, making sure they don't get frustrated, the defensive guys, when they feel they're playing well?
COACH DANTONIO:  As a head football coach, any coach on this football team, you want to make sure this remains a team, that we're cohesive as a group, we don't split, we don't divide.  That's the most important thing about a football team.  That's more important than winning and losing.
If you have a team that's going to divide, you're not going to be successful at some point in time.  It's going to happen.  When it does happen, it's going to go south in a big way.
I think it's very important we stay together, we don't point the fingers, we accept the responsibilities that come with coaching and playing in every aspect, special teams, defense, offense, and we continue to move together.
Everybody shares in the wins and the losses.  It's just as disappointing for a defensive player on Saturday as it was for any other player.  There were a lot of very disappointed players in that locker room.  There's certain losses that stick with you, and this one will be one.

Q.  I know you were talking earlier about the effort.  I don't think anybody will question that.  The execution, where do you feel your quarterback is at as far as his ability to execute, make key decisions in the game at this stage of his career?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think Andrew is growing as a player.  I think there's going to be times where he plays very well and times where you make a mistake.
The average person doesn't maybe understand the mistake isn't made by the receiver running the route, it's made by the protection, by the quarterback, then there's the execution of the throw.
Also quarterback is not about throwing the football, it's getting in the right plays, remaining confident in the huddle, being encouraging to other players, getting you in and out of different plays, then execution as well.  It's also about taking a bad play and making it a good one.  Sometimes you have to grow in those areas.
I said it before, the one thing that's difficult to practice in the spring and the summer, unless you're going to go live out there, which you can't do with your quarterback too often, you can't provide that live action and that different defense, those different blitzes on a week‑to‑week schedule.¬† You can't provide that.¬† You have to get that during the games and during the season.
Wisconsin's defense is different than Michigan.  Michigan's was different than Notre Dame.  Ohio State is different than Iowa's, et cetera.  It runs like that.  Every week you're preparing different people, different coverages, pressures, fronts.  All those things accumulate for an individual and they just sort of continue to roll up.
So there's a lot to think about, a lot to do.¬† You add onto that the pressures that are our young college people, a 20‑year‑old young man with bloggers, Twitter, all the other stuff.¬† The quarterback is going to get the most criticism and the most praise.¬† You have a lot of things a young man is dealing with at once.
From that perspective with all those things involved, I think he's played very, very well.  Sacked once, drove down the field once.  We'd like to do it more.  Hey, Michigan has a good defense, too.
Talking about inches.  We tried some deep shots.  Inches away from hitting on them.  Again, I just think it's very important that we continue to give our players confidence and we stay the course.

Q.  Mark, now that you had a chance to look at the offensive line Saturday, what did you think of Donovan and Blake?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† Yeah, I was very encouraged with Donavon Clark's play first of all.¬† Thought he played very well.¬† Redshirt freshman getting thrown in there.¬† Really Friday morning it was, Okay, he's not playing.¬† Actually Saturday morning, Okay, he's not playing.¬† At that point in time, Donavon had to step up and play.¬† I think he was drawn off‑sides on one penalty early on.¬† So you live with it.
Other than that, I thought he played very firm in there, had good double‑teams.¬† His pass protection was good.¬† He's athletic, tough.¬† I thought he was very calm under pressure, very sure of himself out there.¬† It was very exciting to see him perform at that level.
Blake Treadwell played solid in there.  Has to run the ball more effectively, but that involves everybody, tight ends, fullbacks, everybody across the board, runningbacks, et cetera, so basically against what pressures you're getting in the defense as well.  But I thought he played solid as well, especially for the first time back.  We just have to be more productive, as was mentioned before.

Q.  You mentioned earlier about scoring points.  Knowing that you're struggling this year, will it make you maybe take some more risks in red zone play, going for touchdowns more than field goals?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† Well, you know, you're asking about the last fourth down?¬† If you're asking about that one, I felt like it's fourth‑and‑one‑and‑three‑quarters to fourth‑and‑one‑and‑a‑half.¬† So it was an iffy situation.¬† We'd faked a punt on our own 23, had a big play, captured the momentum.¬† We said all week long the momentum was going to swing back and forth in that football game, which is very, very important.
With five minutes to go, we had momentum.  I felt like we needed to take the points and keep that momentum.  That was extremely important at that point in time.
We kicked the ball down there, kicked it out of the end zone, they're on their own 25.  We hold them down there, get the ball back.  It's a different football game.
As it was, they moved to the 50, pinned us down.¬† We stopped them.¬† Didn't feel like it was the right thing to do to allow them to kick a 50‑yard field goal when they made a 47‑yarder with room to spare.¬† We got to get a first down, so you have to play the game.¬† You just can't go in the bag and run it.¬† You have to play to get the first down.¬† We didn't get the first down, yet we come back and have another chance to win the game object defense.
From my perspective, there's three chances to win the football game after we kick the field goal.¬† We will go for it on fourth down.¬† I think you understand that.¬† We've gone for it on the 50, on the 40.¬† It's been fourth‑and‑one.¬† We do what we do.¬† But with five minutes to go in a football game that we've only been down there a couple times, really once, I felt like we needed to take and continue to keep that momentum.¬† I thought that was very important that we go ahead in the football game, that we not waste that entire drive.
Even though we might have got the ball back, their punter was punting very effectively.  Keep in mind I have 15 seconds to make this decision.
That's the decision we made, that's what we have to believe, that's what we have to go with.  Hindsight is 20/20.
I think that question needs to be answered.  But we're going to go for things out there, take chances.  We're going to play to win.  I think we sort of have proven that, we will play to win here.  But it's very, very tough.  I continue to see that all the time.  It's hard to win.  It's not easy.

Q.  With Andrew being your only experienced quarterback, have you told him be judicious when you run the ball, in the situation toward the end of the game, trying to get a first down, when he throws it away...
COACH DANTONIO:  I want had him to make plays.  But vision is experience, especially at the quarterback position.  Vision is experience.  Having vision of an entire football field as opposed to having tunnel vision is an experience thing with the quarterback.  I haven't played quarterback since the eighth grade, okay?  But that's what I would say as being a coach.
You have to be able to see the whole field, know the dynamics of what's going on, feel it.  There's a couple of opportunities he had to run the football.  He needs to take those opportunities.
As I said earlier, there's a lot going on out there.  You try very hard not to make a mistake.  Sometimes you just have to let it go.  At that position, the main thing you want to do, I don't want to make a mistake, I don't want to be the one that jeopardizes our football team.  The more experience you get, the more you've been in the ring, the more you go to the fair, as I call it, the more at ease you are winning the prize.

Q.¬† I'm guessing you're not a big Internet message board poster.¬† Dan Roushar seems to be taking the blunt of criticism on Twitter.¬† What has been your assessment of the play‑calling?¬† Do you have discussions with him when there's that much criticism?
COACH DANTONIO:  I have discussions with him every week.  We're in the offensive meeting rooms throughout the entire week.  Then on Fridays, we sit down and talk about the different things, as a head coach would with his offensive coordinator.
As I said earlier, just got through watching the championship game last year.  We scored, what, 39 points, 29 at halftime.  We scored against Michigan last year.  We scored in the bowl game, even though it was a tough bowl game.  We've had plenty of big plays.  It's explosive plays that move the ball, explosive plays.
We had explosive players making plays, Keshawn Martin BJ Cunningham, again.  Guys with extreme experience.  If you go back and take the time to watch that championship game last year, talk to me about Kirk Cousins, he was phenomenal, phenomenal.  As was Keshawn Martin and BJ, as was Edwin Baker, as was Le'Veon Bell.  It's about players making plays.
The offense really hasn't changed.  Play calling, you're trying to help guys make plays.  But my impression of the whole thing right now is he's tucked right under here under my wing.  If they want to criticize, criticize me a little bit because I'm in charge.

Q.¬† Four games left in the regular season, how have you refocused your season‑long goals with your team?
COACH DANTONIO:  We win the next one.  We focus on the challenge at hand.  We look forward.  We don't look back.  We continue to try to learn from our mistakes.  We go to Wisconsin to win.  That's the only way I know how to take on challenges.  You have to take on challenges straight on.  You can't look to the right or the left.  You have to look right in front of you.
Wisconsin is in front of you.  Go play that, deal with the next challenge after that.  We can't look, How are we going to play against Minnesota?  We can't worry about that.  We have to worry what's on our agenda.  That's the only way you have to deal with your problems or challenges, whatever you want to call them.
I think our football team will be ready to play.  I think our football team, if you really want to know the truth, is pretty resilient, like all young people.  Our football team understands they're one play away from winning these football games, one play.  18 seconds this past week.  A tip the week before.  Whatever it is.  You can find those plays if you look hard.
That's what's so frustrating about all this because you don't have to look hard.  You can find the plays, there's no questions about that.  You can find the situations.  That's what's so frustrating about it.
But with that being said, it also brings you a great deal of confidence.¬† If you're losing 45‑0, 28‑3, there's a whole different mindset there.
We're still a football team that has to be handled, has to be reckoned with.  I think defensively we've given up nine touchdowns the entire year, which I think is tied for third in the country.  We've got a top 20 defense, top 10 defense, lead the Big Ten in three or four different categories.  We're not getting the turnovers or sacks we had last year for whatever reason.  But when they come, they'll come in bunches.
You remember the games last year, we had four turnovers that we would get and six or seven sacks.  When they come, they'll come.  Things sometimes go in cycles.
The main thing we have to do is continue to be positive and continue to move forward and not flinch.  We can't flinch.  As I told our football team on Sunday, we're being tested.  Sometimes under fire, that's when you'll grow the most and become the strongest.

Q.  You talked about last year's team, its ability to create explosive plays.  This year not quite as many opportunities for that.  Seems like when your running game was clicking, you had that thunder and lightening, Jehuu Caulcrick, and then you had someone who could take it to the edge, Javon Ringer, or last year, Edwin Baker.  Are you missing that element this year?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† I would say we're missing the explosive plays right now.¬† We've been battling some injuries in the offensive line.¬† Those hamper some different things.¬† Le'Veon has been nicked up a little bit in and out.¬† We're not using the two‑tailback system for whatever reason, because we're just trying to get the ball in Le'Veon's hands maybe more.
But I guess the answer to your question, yeah, we're lacking it.  I don't really know any other way to put it out there.  Yeah, we're lacking the explosive plays.
I do think those things come.  Last year, we won 11 games, we kept talking about our rushing offense, how we continued to win, was at the bottom of the Big Ten Conference, but yet we had explosive plays.
Sometimes you can tweak the stats and make them look like what you want them to look like.  The bottom line is, are you winning.  This year we've lost the close games.  Sometimes things turn a little bit.  We have to stay focused and paced on staying the course in terms of what we're trying to do.  It will come back.

Q.  Talking about explosive plays in the running game, Wisconsin has two backs with Bell and White.  Can you talk about how they complement one another and what you need to do to stop them?
COACH DANTONIO:  They're both outstanding runners.  I would say Melvin Gordon is of that type, too.  James is a smaller back, very explosive.  They use him certain ways.  Montee Ball, great jump cutter, physical, vertical runner.  I don't know how many touchdowns.  I've lost how many touchdowns he's had, over 60 in his career.  Outstanding football team, outstanding players.
As I said at the beginning of this thing, I got a lot of respect for how they've gone about and done business in terms of get it done on the ground, play‑action.¬† Abberderis is an outstanding receiver.¬† Quarterback is doing a nice job, not turning the ball over very much.¬† Big physical offensive line.¬† Sort of retooled, tight ends play well defensively, solid, very solid.

Q.  After the Michigan game you mentioned on your final possession, you jumped in and said, Let's go for the first down.  How often do you jump in before offensive series and have you found yourself doing it more this season?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† I've found that since being a head coach, it's very difficult once you start talking.¬† Don't say another word.¬† I think it's very difficult to interrupt people.¬† They're in their train of thought, have 15, 20 seconds to make a call, 40‑second clock, 25 seconds to make a call, he starts to say something, I say, Whoa, don't call that.¬† You can't do that unless I'm going to make the plays, which I'm not going to.¬† Our offensive coordinator calls the offense, our defensive coordinator calls the defense.
That's why we have those guys here, because I empower those guys to do the job.  It's very difficult.  What I will do is I will say between the series, If we come back, come back with this.  Robredo, don't do this.  On a timeout, No, I want to see this.  No, want to run it here.  No, don't do this.  Call timeout.  Whatever.  I will call the timeouts.  I'm the guy that's going to call the timeouts.
I always know what play is being called, always have a thought process as to go with that play.  I'm not going to be interruptive.  I think that's extremely frustrating for that to happen.
Why did you call that?  We got enough people to do that.  We don't need more.

Q.  (No microphone.)
COACH DANTONIO:  Yes.  What I do between the series is I get with the defense, find out what's going on there.  If I have to walk over there for a minute to talk about something, we do that.  Then I talk to Pat about something, we do that.  Then I flip with the offense and I'm with the offense the entire time.  Between series, we got the opposite way.  It's never been different.  This is what I've done for nine years now.

Q.  I guess I hear a lot of what's left to play for.  Doesn't it go back to what you said before, kids play 40, 45 games.  Isn't every game a precious entity whether you're playing for a championship or a trophy?
COACH DANTONIO:  Every game is precious.  Your bonus is a championship or a bowl game at the end of the year.  You play every single game basically for the experience to play in a major college football game.  You play every game like that.
At the end you look and say, We've won enough to get this, so we get that.  We've been able to do that five years running here.  I fully expect to be able to do that again this year.  But you better be ready to play every game.  You can't look down the road.  There are no givens in this game.
As I recall, Florida was 6‑6 playing Florida State in the Gator Bowl, now they're undefeated.¬† This game, there's a lot of parity.¬† Things hang on inches.¬† A lot of things going on.¬† A lot of moving parts.

Q.  Maybe you haven't created the turnovers this year, statistically it's three points better than a year ago.  Can you quantify this defense?  Do you watch this defense sometimes and think, It's frustrating to have this group and not have the other parts?
COACH DANTONIO:  No, I don't ever look at that because I look at our entire football team and say, What do we have to do to win?  I try very hard to say, These guys are getting the job done, these guys aren't.
You can make a point.  As I said, we need more turnovers.  We come up with three or four turnovers, we make the tips, different situation, different game, different deal.  Robinson sticks that ball out there like that on the third and two, what if somebody knocks that ball off?  Different game, different game.
So you have to always critique what you're doing and try to get better.  I think that's on every side of the ball, including special teams.  Got to get better.
As far as where does our defense rank in terms of the defenses I've been around, I always look at that at the end of the year.  I don't look at it after eight games in.  We were an outstanding defense last year.
We'll evaluate this particular year, this particular defense versus last year's defense at the end of the year, not eight games in.  That's the way we have to do it.
But I think there can be great things for this football team. ¬†In some ways I look back to the first year in 2007, we went to 7‑5.¬† We played extremely well in November.¬† It was very gratifying.¬† That football team was very gratifying.

Q.  (No microphone.)
COACH DANTONIO:  Dan France, I think so.  We'll know more today because we haven't tested him.  My impression, he will.

Q.  Your history has been to go for it, especially in the first half.  It looked to some people that Le'Veon motioned he was a little banged up, wanted to come out, when you tried the field goal.  Was that something that influenced you?
COACH DANTONIO:  Tried the field goal?

Q.  From the 38 in the first half.  Was that something that influenced your half?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† I think it was close to 3‑0 at the time.¬† We had third and inches.¬† We didn't get the inches.¬† We were going to kick it.¬† At that point in time it became a yard, it was no longer inches.¬† At that point in time, kick the field goal, take the points.¬† That's what we were going to do.
I did not notice he was nicked up at that time.

Q.  Do you go wide typically once the season starts in practice and have the injuries affected your practice plans this year?
COACH DANTONIO:  We don't typically go live, we did a little bit last week, especially on the defensive side of the ball because we had to be able to tackle.  But we typically do not go live.

Q.  Obviously some of the games you've had with Wisconsin the last couple years have been big, close, exciting games.  Is it any different now, maybe not the same kind of implications they've had the last couple years?  Does it rekindle their fire this week?
COACH DANTONIO:  I would go back to saying what I said before.  Every game is extremely important.  You have to get up for every single football game.  We better be ready to play because it will be a physical football game in a tough environment.  That's Wisconsin.  We need to embrace that, go up there excited, jump around.
Thank you, guys.

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