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October 30, 2012

Mark Dantonio

THE MODERATOR:  Here to recap the Wisconsin game and look ahead to the Nebraska game is head coach Mark Dantonio.
COACH DANTONIO:  Just looking backwards at the Wisconsin game real quickly, I thought we came focused as a football team, which is always going to help.  Just kept playing.  Never lost our composure through the game.  Ended up finishing.  Continued to play with a great deal of energy and won a close football game which is important for this football team at this point in time.
Defense played outstanding.  Offense found a way at the end.  I think we grew a little bit in the offensive football team in the last drive.  I thought it was good to see Andrew Maxwell.  As I said after the game, it's every quarterback's dream to take you down to the end of the field and score.
I was happy to see our wide receivers, Fowler, Mumphery, Lippett, it was great to see them do that.
Regarding Nebraska, very good football team.  Always been impressed with Nebraska, their following, tradition, Coach Osborne, everything they experienced at that point in time.  I was at Kansas when he was there.  Then also came here in '95.  Was here in Coach Saban's first game here, saw all the red in the stadium.  Hopefully that doesn't happen this week, we don't sell our tickets to the highest bidder.  I know they'll come in in droves.
Disciplined football team.¬† Very good on the defensive side of the ball.¬† I think Compton, their linebacker, 51, is an outstanding football player.¬† Been very impressed with their secondary, their corners.¬† Last year, their defensive front as well.¬† Lead the Big Ten in sacks right now.¬† Basically a top‑20 defense.¬† Very, very good in pass defense.
When you look at them offensively, I think it centers around Martinez.¬† Does a nice job.¬† Run‑pass type of guy.¬† Can create.¬† Abdullah, Burkhead, outstanding tailback.¬† Bell, top receiver.¬† Two very good tight ends in Cotton and Reed.¬† Big, physical offensive line.
Be a great challenge for us.  I'll take questions.

Q.  I know you like to call those defining moments.  Would you go so far as to say that was a season saver Saturday?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† No.¬† It gets us to 5‑4.¬† We accomplished something we needed to do:¬† we needed to win a close game.¬† I think it was also impressive we won on the road at Camp Randall, which is difficult to do.¬† It sends a message:¬† keep playing, finish.
Under the circumstances would I say that's a game that's going to basically save our football season?  I think we've got three good football games left to play and we can have an outstanding football season yet because we can do some different things.  You never know how things are going to shape out.
Our focus needs to be on the next football game, which is Nebraska.

Q.  I asked you a couple weeks ago about Langford.  You talked about why he wasn't playing.  Just before the season, several of your offensive coaches talked about his speed.  You tried to put some speed game in with Nick Hill.  Wasn't successful.  Are you considering a limited amount of play to get his speed on the field or at this point it is what it is?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think when you look at Jeremy, he's a tailback by position.  That's what he's been.  We'll try to find ways to get him on the field at times, whether as a defensive back or wide receiver.
He's got to play his way through it basically.  You got to see that during practice.  I thought he played a lot last week in practice, particularly against the defense, simulating Montee Ball.  Then we tried to use him a little bit with different things on special teams.

Q.  Talk about the '95 game, how potent that Nebraska team was, what you remember about that day.
COACH DANTONIO:  I remember a lot of red.  I remember Tommie Frazier and I think Phillips going up and down the field on us.  It was a tough first game.
I can't remember quite the score.  I think we scored 10, they scored 50.  But it's sort of what I had experienced some at KU a little bit when I was at the University of Kansas.  We played them four times, two times up there, two times down at KU.
They were a very, very good football team at that time.  I thought Coach Osborne had his football team at that point in time No.1 or 2 in the nation quite often.  So an excellent football team.

Q.  I was wondering in that last drive in regulation at Wisconsin in overtime if you noticed a difference from Andrew.  He seemed to be more comfortable, confident.
COACH DANTONIO:  I think he's getting more comfortable.  I thought he came out in the second half and played better.  Created with a throw down the field to Mumphery in that series.  Also in that last drive I thought he turned it loose throwing the football.  I thought he cut it loose.  That's what you have to do.  You have to be confident in your own abilities.  At some point in time I think you get there.
You're seeing different defenses every week, different players, different things, exposure, a lot of different experiences you go through.¬† But, as I said before, I think he's done a tremendous job.¬† But you're always asking for more from your football team.¬† I don't care if we were 9‑0 right now, you would be saying, What is the next challenge, what can we do better, how do you critique this?¬† You're always looking for growth.¬† I think that's what he's doing.¬† I think he's growing.
He's going to be a very efficient, proficient quarterback here.  He's got the demeanor and he's got the tools to be able to do everything we want him to do.

Q.  Going into the year, you said you were happy how Andrew was able to read defenses.  Has that progressed this year?  Even the other day it looked like he went through his checks a little bit faster at times.  Has that been something he needed to improve on and have you seen growth there?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think you've seen growth there.  From my perspective, as a quarterback, sometimes you see the big picture, sometimes you look at a little bit tighter picture.  Depends on how much pressure you're getting at times, how the game is going, how you're reading different things.  There's certain things you're able to do maybe some games better than others, just like any athletic event.
But I thought he did well last week.  I saw he saw the field.  He made throws especially in the second half.  I thought he played better in the second half.

Q.  Can you talk about the job of your linebackers.  Obviously Taiwan had a good game.  Talk about what they've done so far as living up to their expectations from you as a staff.
COACH DANTONIO:  I think Max Bullough is an overachiever.  When I say that I say that with the greatest respect because regardless of what level of play you have, and he has a very high ceiling, if you can overachieve, understand you always need to get better, you're untapped as a player.  I think that's the type of person he is.
He is driven, very self‑driven.¬† He will always look for a way to get better as a football player.¬† He continues to be a centerpiece as a football player for us, not just in terms of his ability, but what he knows, his ability to think on the field and understand things.
Taiwan Jones, Chris Norman.  Taiwan stepped forward as a true sophomore.  Played a little bit last year.  I think he's got a great deal of ability, runs well, tackles in space, powerful.  Thought he had a great football game.
Chris Norman is a senior, had some injuries.  Been a little bit nicked up this season.  He's been in and out of it a little bit.  He's played consistent in there.
Denicos Allen can make a lot of plays for you, extremely active player.  Certainly last year was very active.  I think this year he's been active as well.
I think with those linebackers, they cover things and we've been very difficult to run on.  I think a lot of it is due to the run we run, maybe our scheme, the things we do.  They've been very, very solid in there.
Kyler Elsworth playing in there in nickel situations.¬† He's been a play‑maker for us, no question.

Q.  Every one of your Big Ten games has come right down to the end.  Talk about what the most important elements are in those types of games and if the quarterback is the most important element.
COACH DANTONIO:  I think every game we've had in the Big Ten, for example, you have that element of finishing.  Did we finish or did we not?  You could make a case for the Ohio State game.  We needed to get the ball back, we needed to finish.  They win by one point and run the clock out.  We need to drive the ball down the field, whichever way you tend to look at it.  The Indiana game, we finished.  We came back from a halftime deficit and I thought we finished, played very well the second half.
The next game was the Iowa game.¬† We have to finish on defense.¬† Again, the offense has a chance to move the ball at the end a little bit.¬† The defense's five‑minute drive, then the overtime situation.¬† So you have to finish.
Michigan, had to finish.  Offense has a chance.  Almost the same identical situation.  Offense has a chance to move the ball, get a first down.  One first down, the game is over.  One touchdown at the end, the game may be over.  Defensively you have a chance to stop them and end it.
Then this last week, we just concentrated on playing the next play, focusing on the task at hand, keeping our energy, not splintering.  I thought our football team did an outstanding job.
It's indicative of our chemistry on our football team to recognize to know the Michigan game is an emotional game for us.¬† We understand that, whether we win or whether we lose.¬† In the last six years, we're 6‑0 after that football game.
That to me gives our football chemistry credibility.  You're on an emotional rollercoaster throughout the season.  You're going to be very emotional for that football game.  To be able to sort of regroup, get it back into context, whether you win or you lose, play the next football game, to me sends a message that we're not complacent, that we're going to continue to focus and bring energy to the next game.

Q.  (No microphone.)
COACH DANTONIO:  Obviously the quarterback is very, very critical to your success as a football team.  You can point around the country and look at that aspect.
You have the ball in his hands.  He's going to make decisions at the line of scrimmage, under pressure.  He's got to deliver the ball, throwing the football or running the football, has to create.  Again, I thought Maxwell did a great job of scrambling at the end of the game to get the first down.
So the quarterback situation is obviously very, very critical to winning and losing.  He's the leader on the football field by virtue of his position alone and the intangibles he's going to bring.

Q.  How much of an emphasis was November when you came in and how proud you are of how you played in November?
COACH DANTONIO:  It's been a big emphasis for us.  September you're out of conference.  October you're in conference.  Then you have to finish.  The same thing I mentioned.  November has been sort of what we've tried to say around here is for contenders.
We understand where we're at right now, but let's see where we're at at the end.  Let's focus on the next game, not worry about things too far in the distance.
We have played well in November around here.  We need to continue doing that.  Again, I think it gives credit to our players, how they've hung in there regardless of what season we've had.  They've hung in there and played well down the stretch, which is a positive thing for us.

Q.  There was some video of you doing a little dancing with your team.
COACH DANTONIO:  I heard about that (laughter).

Q.  What kind of dance was it?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† Just an up‑and‑down deal.

Q.  Do you do it often after big games?
COACH DANTONIO:  No, that's the first time.

Q.  Does it say anything about the chemistry or the makeup of your team to where you would participate?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† I said last week we had to go up there and jump around.¬† They took me for my word.¬† At the end of the third quarter, they're playing their jump‑around song.¬† We're down 7‑3 but we were having fun.
I think that's what football should be about.¬† We have a good time with it.¬† I may be an ultra‑serious person on the sidelines, who knows, may be depicted as that.¬† That was a great feeling after that football game.¬† Everybody was just doing their deal.¬† Can't beat 'em, join 'em, so...

Q.  Back to the linebackers situation.  Obviously Chris has been in and out of the lineup like you said with the injuries, with Taiwan playing as well as he had.  How has he handled that and how important has that been for the defense?
COACH DANTONIO:  Whether you're Bennie Fowler, Chris Norman, a quarterback, regardless, we're going to try to play the best players.  When another person has an opportunity to step up, whether it's an injury, some other reason, if that individual performs, then he's going to have an opportunity to play a little bit.  That's what's happened there.
I think Chris has done a tremendous job with that.  Came back, had a good game against Michigan.  But he's done an outstanding job with that, being a captain as well has added weight to that responsibility and even more pressure.
That's why he was elected captain.  That's why he's an outstanding young person.  He's able to take things, put them into perspective.  We'll see him play football again and play very well for us.
But you have to credit Taiwan in what he was able to do this week.  I think he made the first three to five tackles.  If you're doing those type of things, there's got to be an opportunity for you.  That's sort of how we're laying it out there.  It's an either/or thing.

Q.  From a program standpoint, can you talk about why Nebraska has been so effective running the football for so long and can you compare Taylor Martinez to Braxton Miller and Denard Robinson?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† From what I understand about Nebraska, they had such a systematic approach to how they practiced, it was so built around the G option, some of the things they were doing, players they had at the quarterback position, which created run‑pass conflicts for a lot of different people, I think they were just sort of manufactured it.¬† My wife used to call it the Big Red Machine every time we went up there to play.
I think he just created that.  Coach Osborne created that.  Maybe Coach Devaney created that before him as well.  It's a dominant football team.  Running the football back then was the way you did it.
In terms of Taylor Martinez, he's very, very much the same type of caliber of football player that Braxton Miller is and Denard is.  They're the number one offense in the league right now, number one scoring offense, number one rushing offense.
When you take into consideration who is running that, who is creating some plays, doing the different things that they're doing, he's right there with them.  Does an outstanding job.

Q.  Do you get any extra motivation for your players or for this team to be the first Michigan State team that could beat Nebraska?  A lot of these games were 100 years ago, some were 10 years ago.  Is there something to be gained by that?
COACH DANTONIO:  I don't know if it's that so much as last year we didn't play very well against them.  That was probably the one game, especially in the Big Ten Conference, that we didn't come and play as well as we had previously.  I think our players want to atone for that a little bit.  They look back at that game and say, We can do better.  That's the main thing, the main focus.
As far as where we would be collectively as a team, I guess it's something we could point to.  I've never really thought about that in that direction.

Q.  I know it's not Tom Osborne on the sidelines, but do you think beating Nebraska would capture some type of natural respect because of the name, the program?
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, absolutely.  I think Bo Pelini does an outstanding job, he's an outstanding coach.  Again, I'll go back to saying what I said before:  We focus on the challenge of Nebraska, what it means to this football team at this point in time.  Let other people worry about that other stuff.
But our focus needs to be on how we played last year and then again on what this does for our football season right now.  We've only got three losses.  So who knows how things shape out.  I should say we have three losses, not 'only'.

Q.  The '95 game, when you think of that Nebraska team, can you rank them against teams you've seen over time that you played against, where they would be?  To me, seems like one of the more dominant teams I've ever seen.
COACH DANTONIO:  I haven't really done that too much.  People ask me about this team or that team.  I think maybe I can do that later in my life.
I just know they were going up and down the field.  I know it was a very, very talented team on offense and on defense.  That's what I remember.  But that's what I remember from KU, the time there, too.  It's not something that I had not seen before.
They were a very good football team.  Very talented.

Q.  You briefly mentioned Kyler Elsworth for a moment.  He keeps making plays.  Doesn't look the part necessarily, but he just make plays.  Will you expound more on him.
COACH DANTONIO:¬† He was a non‑scholarship player when he came here.¬† I think he lost twice wrestling in his life.¬† I'm not sure who that was to.¬† He was about 195 pounds when he came here.¬† He's about 230, 227 now.¬† He's been active on special teams now.¬† Third year as a special teams standout.¬† We've even put him back there for kicks this past week.
Outstanding football player.  He's also now made his way onto the field as a linebacker in nickel situations.  Very comfortable playing him at mike or any of the other linebacker positions.
He's had some big plays out here this last year and this year as well.  He's a guy that will drive you to the ground, play a hundred miles an hour.  Very athletic, gifted.  Was a wide receiver in high school.  Can run.

Q.  What percentage do you think Dion was in this last game?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think he was probably about 80% last game.  We really didn't know how much he would be able to play coming into the game because he had not practiced very much.  He practiced some.  The amount of plays he did play, we sort of got him in there, made him the regular guy, regular tight end as the game progressed.  Was sort of surprising to us that we were able to do that.  He's all set to go this week.

Q.  This is probably the second latest in the season that you've had a bye week.  You've come off of really physical games with Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin.  How is the team physically going into the Nebraska game?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think we're as good as we've been in the last three weeks.  We've got guys back.  The guys who were going to come back, I think we're as good as we've been.  We're healthy, looking forward right now, which is positive.  We're not looking back at what happened last week.  We're looking forward.  That's a big positive for us.

Q.  You touched a little bit on Taylor Martinez.  Can you talk about where his growth has been this year, specifically how he's improved as a passer?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† I just think the more experience you have, the better you become.¬† He's been under center there for quite some time now.¬† He's just a guy, if it's not there, he can pull it down, make a play.¬† Their design quarterback runs for him to make a play.¬† On the edge, can make a play.¬† Has a quick release down the field.¬† Great receivers to throw to as well.¬† Big‑play type guys.
A lot of things they've designed, their philosophy offensively, is to create situations for the quarterback.  When you can run the ball, Burkhead, Abdullah, and No.5 Heard is an excellent player, gives you a chance to run the football, creates other dynamics of an offense that can be used as well, such as quarterback runs, boots, things of that nature.

Q.  You did a good job on Martinez.  Burkhead got loose a couple times in that game.  He's questionable for this game.  How important is he to their offense?  Who would you compare him to as a runningback?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† They're still moving the football as evidenced by them statistically.¬† But I think he's a tough‑minded player, an emotional player from what I see.
Who do I compare him to?  He's a very good football player.  Again, I don't really think it's a 'he's like this guy' too often.  He'll catch the ball, block.  He's a complete football player.
When you see him in person, very physical‑looking guy.¬† I think he's very confident.¬† So I think he brings that dimension to the football team.¬† He brings that toughness dimension to them as well.

Q.  Another tough game for you running the ball on Saturday.  How much does that hurt the offense with the balance you strive for?  Can you point to those big games against Ohio State, Notre Dame and say, We didn't win because we didn't run the ball?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† I think it sort of goes hand‑in‑hand.¬† If you can't run the ball, you need to be able to throw it very, very well and throw it a ton.
We've been fluctuating, let's say.  That's a kind word.  But we need to get more production from our running game, there's no question about that.  I think that's something we need to look for.  We try to find every single week.  I think that's what everybody tries to find.  In this day and age, defenses, just like offenses, they're cutting edge, try to do certain things that other teams may do this, this team may do that, some teams feature more pressures than other teams.  But it's important that we have more balance because the more balance we have, the passing lanes tend to open up.
We've got a big, physical back, needs to run downhill.¬† Pure and simple.¬† Need to break tackles, run through the smoke sometimes.¬† We also need to get on people and stay on people.¬† We can't have MAs and go backwards with penalties.¬† That's part of it as well.¬† Get run down to the four yard line, we get a holding penalty.¬† We jump off‑sides, the whole thing from the 10 yard line back.¬† Can't happen if you're going to win football games.¬† We were able to overcome that because we played so well on the defensive side of the ball and got it done at the end of the game.
But you have to look at things, look at them for what they are, too.  So we have to be successful doing that.  That's what we've always tried to do.  Even though when you say last year we were at the bottom of the league in rushing offense, we threw the ball very well.  But we still tried to run the ball.
The games that we played very well in, Iowa, for example, we ran the football.¬† Michigan, for example, we ran the football.¬† Even Ohio State, winning 10‑7 down there, we ran the football effectively and gave us short chains.
You look back at the Big Ten, the year before, against Penn State, we ran the football.¬† Usually when we're able to run it we can throw it.¬† I think that's football.¬† That's the way it is everywhere.¬† If you become one‑dimensional, pressure the quarterback, bad things start to happen.¬† We have to be able to have that mindset as we come in.
I go back to the Notre Dame game, look to see how we played that.  My fault because we didn't stay with the program late in the third quarter.  We went in a different direction.  Don't know what would have happened, but we needed to stay the course, do the things, be the people we are.  That's the message to our football team:  Be who we are and come to play.

Q.  I know it's sometimes hard to carry momentum over from one game to the next.  What kind of confidence do you think your offense will take into this Nebraska game?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think, as I said after the game, hopefully this was a defining moment for us a little bit offensively and as a football team.  We won a close game.  That was important.  We played very well offensively when the pressure was on.  Pressure was always on, but when it was on at the end of the game, it was crunch time, we made the plays.  Not only did the quarterback make the plays, but we ran the ball effectively in overtime.  The wide receivers also made the plays.  We did the things we had to do which I think should give us a huge boost of confidence and give us some momentum going into this football game.
Every game is different.  You have to rise to the occasion and get ready for this challenge.

Q.  Burbridge didn't have a catch, first time since he was a starter.  Why was that?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think Aaron had a tough game, had a bad read on one thing, sort of took him out of the game a little bit.  He's a freshman.  Sometimes you take two steps up, one step back.  I think he took a little step back.  Now he'll surge back forward again.  He'll recognize what he did and didn't do.
He's a young player.  Got confused on a couple route concepts.  I don't think he let that go for the rest of the game.  Sort of bothered him.  He was a little out of sync maybe.  He'll respond.  He's a competitor.

Q.  Last year Nebraska's secondary played extremely aggressive.  How do you create some space for your guys this year?
COACH DANTONIO:  Well, there's no question about that, I thought they played very well last year, Nebraska, and they did take things away from us.  We'll have to work that out.  I can't give you the whole game plan.

Q.  One more thought on Maxwell.  I don't want to overstate one throw because he made such a clutch throw to win a game, defining moments again.  Can that be one for him and how he plays, almost like a kid diving into the pool for the first time?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think we're going to find out the rest of the season as we go through this.  He's played very well out here and had some great throws.  But to do it at the end of the game like that, to do it on his arm all the way down the field, that's what was impressive to me, how he handled it, managed the game, how he handled himself.  Those were the impressive things to me.  The confidence that that should bring should be huge.
I thought Kirk Cousins got that same feeling in '09 when he went down the field against Notre Dame at the end of the game.  But then we had the pick.  But he had that same feel.  He went down the field at the end of the game with an opportunity to win it.  The same thing happened to Kirk at that point in time.  He sort of became of age.  He threw the ball.  He knew he had a bad throw or bad decision, but he also knew he made the plays to get down there.  Because of that I think he flourished from that point on.

Q.  You talk about when you burn redshirts, they better know they're going to get significant time.  Macgarrett is not.  Is there an injury there?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† You have to be able to operate within the context of the offense, whether it is routes or whatever it is.¬† The advantage of being up on that end, even if you're not playing, is you're getting coached as if you're playing every single week.¬† He has big‑play ability.¬† We need to find a way to get him there.¬† But he has to take himself there, too.
We're giving him opportunities, but you have to play yourself onto the field as well.  He is a very good player and has explosive abilities.  You have to operate within the context of everything.  Tough for a young player because you're seeing different things and things change every single week in college football based on what coverages you're seeing, the game plan, et cetera.  You have to be able to adapt and adjust, and that's tough when you're a young player.

Q.  I don't know how much you've been following the NCAA stuff with the new rules that are being brought up for head coaches with more accountability.  Can you go into that a little bit, what your thought is.  Do you think that's a good thing for head coaches to have a little more responsibility in terms of actions of their assistants?
COACH DANTONIO:  I did see that really today in an email.  I think when you're the person in charge, you have to make sure that you're doing everything you can for your coaches to follow the rules.  I think obviously there are some rules, so many rules first of all, and I think they will probably deregulate some of those rules, but certainly the ones that are the higher extremes.
You asked me to put myself on the line here (laughter).
I think the head coach should have some responsibility in there.  Obviously you're not there all the time.  You have to have a staff that's going to follow your direction.  Obviously if the coaches don't follow your direction, that's out of your hands.  I don't know what you can do about that.
THE MODERATOR:  Thank you.
COACH DANTONIO:  Thanks, guys.

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