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December 20, 2012

Mark Dantonio

MARK DANTONIO:  First of all, I guess the opening statement would be we've had seven practices.  I think our players are in great condition.  Injuries are at a minimum, and we should have everybody back at game time, so if we do have a guy nicked up‑‑ I thought our guys have handled practice very well.  We got through exams.  I think our cumulative grade point average is as high as it's ever been as a football group, so that's promising for us, and we're excited to play.  So we'll bring everybody down with us and we're at full tilt.

Q.  Coach Roushar said you guys have installed QB mobile emphasis plays that whether or not they get used in the Bowl game is going to depend on execution, how they go in practice.  Would you give us your evaluation of how that's going?
MARK DANTONIO:  Well, I think everything offensively, it's always‑‑ and really defensively and special teams, it's always about execution, I think especially in Bowl games.  The teams that executes the best, the team that does not turn the football over, doesn't make mistakes, can tackle in space, those type of things, play great fundamentals I think is usually the team that comes out on top.  What we have to do I think is work within our foundation, get some wrinkles offensively and defensively, change a little bit, but then be able to move forward.
But from where I'm at, we've done some live quarterback drills with tackling and with them running the football, so we'll see how it all works.  But it's going to be the right time, right fit.

Q.  Sometimes Bowl games are like icing on the cake and sometimes they're more season makers.  Would you term this as more of a season maker?
MARK DANTONIO:  Well, we've talked a lot about this Bowl game sort of being a legacy for our seniors as we leave.  We've only got nine seniors with Fonoti and Hoover both coming back next year, so we're a young football team, and it gives us an opportunity to sort of move forward, I guess, in 2013.  We look at this as a way to‑‑ we're going to live on this game for the next eight months, there's no question about that.  We saw how it went last year with the Outback Bowl, we also have seen how it's gone in the past when we haven't done so well in the Bowl game.
I think it's important that we're ready to play and we're focused, not just ready to play physically but also mentally and fresh, and we'll keep our guys fresh.  We'll go down ‑‑ we're not down there that long in terms of the practice time.  So before you know it we'll be playing ‑‑ really a week from Saturday we're playing.  So it'll be exciting for us.

Q.  You mentioned the quarterbacks being live, and Andrew said he has just been able to tell in the last week or so that he feels like he's going to be a little bit more game ready with that being live.  If you could give us some specifics about what you've seen from him and some of the other guys about how they've reacted to being able to be hit in practice.
MARK DANTONIO:  Well, we try to do basically drills as much as anything where they were going to get more than one rep.  That's all of our players.  I think it's important that we hang onto the football.  I also think it's important that we try and rip the football out.  Those are two things that you have to do offensively and defensively.  We sort of constructed drills relative to that, whether it was with our quarterbacks or tailbacks or wide outs and went live on them, and there's a little bit of a Catch 22 on that because you're a little bit nervous when you have to work like that.
But we made it through, and we held our breath a little bit.  We made it through, but they were impressive running the football, both he, Cook and Tyler O'Connor, they were all very impressive running the football.  They're all 215 pounds or more, and they've all got good athletic ability, it's just a matter of them putting that at game speed.

Q.  Other than the position switches with Hammock, Thomas and Caesar, is there anyone else you're looking at?
MARK DANTONIO:  Well, I think right now Hammock is a guy that will see reps at fullback, LT will definitely play defensive tackle probably and fullback.  The third guy was Juwan Caesar, he's been a tight end for quite a while, but he's a guy that is not in the two deep right now.  But he has been at tight end really throughout.  Kyle Kerrick really has been at defensive back throughout the entire fall.  Thomas will play both in the game.  I think he's got the ability to do that, and he's been impressive at the defensive line position.  He's an athlete, very athletic.  He's a red shirt freshman, it's just a matter of him getting used to the position that he's going to play and staying injury free.

Q.  Could you give us your assessment of LT, how he's done on the line, and has he repped?  I know you said he'll play, but has he repped at both sides of the ball?
MARK DANTONIO:  He's repped at both sides, but more defensively this Bowl practice.  We felt like we needed to get him up to speed offensively throughout the season, and now this is an opportunity to take that defensive aspect and put it into use.
But he's got quick feet, he's powerful, he's 290 pounds, he's got great feet, he's got great balance, he shoots his hands.  The thing that you have is a guy‑‑ remember he's a guy that was recruited here as a linebacker so you've got a guy that can run like a linebacker playing up front for us.  He is play defensive end, he can play defensive tackle different type situations, as well, so I think he's a guy that can do a lot of different things for us.  He's going to be a great player for us in the future, and it's our intent right now to use him at the defensive line position, but also because of his background now having played fullback for pretty much 10 games, he's got that ability to adapt and be able to play in and out of that position, as well.

Q.  When you guys are watching film and preparing, I think Kansas State came up as a team that was similar to y'all offensively.  How much did you learn from that Kansas State‑TCU tape?
MARK DANTONIO:  I think you learn a little bit from every game that they play because every game is a little bit different and you watch the players they're playing against.  The K‑State game, a lot of the film is broken down, you look at offensively, defensively and special teams, so it's broken, so you're watching cut‑ups and then you're also watching the game film.  What you see is a great K‑State team and you see a TCU team that's sort of hanging in there with them that really turns the ball over, and really that's what is the bottom line in that football game I feel.  I feel like they're playing pretty well against them, but they turn the football over, and when you turn it over it's tough to win, and that's what happened in that football game.

Q.  Off the subject of your team, I know you've sung Kirk Cousins' praises before, but have you talked to him or did you watch his game Sunday and what is your impression of what he's done the last two weeks?
MARK DANTONIO:  Yeah, I watched his game in and out because we couldn't get it here in Michigan, believe it or not.  I looked all over the place for it.  But nice haircut.  I see he's got a haircut now.
We text a lot.  We text back and forth a lot.  It's not surprising to me.  He's extremely competitive; he's got a great attention to detail; he's a gamer when things are on the line; he's got great leadership skills in the huddle; he adapts very fast; and he's got great athletic ability.  He's a good athlete.
So when you see him perform and you see him have success, it doesn't surprise you.  But I've always said that really anything that Kirk does doesn't surprise me because he does it at the highest level.  Very, very happy for he and his family and for Michigan State and for the Redskins and the things that he's been able to do.  But he's a tremendous person and a tremendous player, and I've always said that as good a football player he is, he's a better person.  It's enjoyable to watch.
I caught highlights from all the games.  I watched his interviews and I've got all those TVs in my staff room, so I've always‑‑ when he gets on there, that thing is getting turned up and I'm just watching.  It's unique, I think, that he and Nick Foles will be playing against each other, or their two teams are playing against each other this Sunday, this weekend.

Q.  From both a coaching standpoint and a personal standpoint, what's your favorite part of this extra month of practice that you guys get?
MARK DANTONIO:  I think from a practice standpoint, the best part is to see your players move forward.  To have the opportunity to play in a Bowl experience is a positive experience any way you cut it for your football team.  They have a chance to play on national TV against a team from outside the Big Ten.  They've got a chance to go and visit a different area of the country and be a part of that community a little bit and sort of spread who Michigan State is.
And you also have an opportunity to work with your young players and see them participate in play, and you sort of work threes on threes or threes on twos and you get your young players playing.  Demetrious Cox has been extremely impressive this Bowl practice, as some others have.
You see those things.  Obviously I don't think the season has gone quite like we expected it to or wanted it to, but usually it's a reward, and I think in this case it's a reward in terms of how we've handled adversity and kept battling through.
You know, it's our seniors' last football game and you hate it to end in a regular season game.
For me personally, again, it's another opportunity to see your football team grow and mature, and you just continue to build a foundation, and as you remember when you first come to a place, six years ago we hadn't been to a Bowl in four years, I think.  Now this is our sixth.  So any way you cut it, we're building a strong foundation of who we are and what we're trying to do.  And the game hangs on inches, I've always said that, and sometimes the inches didn't go our way this year.  But regardless of that, we were resilient and kept battling, and those are the things that are important to me.
And you see our program grow.  Because you don't win every single football game does not mean your program is not growing; it doesn't mean it doesn't have growth.  And our football team is growing and continuing to have high expectations.

Q.  You mentioned to us about going live on the quarterbacks in the spring and then you ended up doing it into the Bowl.  Had you gone live on QBs in the Bowl, and was the reason because you wanted to speed up the maturation because this was kind of a young and inexperienced team?
MARK DANTONIO:  Well, I wanted to make sure our young players ‑‑ we were taking advantage of this opportunity right now to do that, and I also wanted to make sure without having played in games since Thanksgiving weekend that our quarterbacks have been hit, that they're not going into a football game without having been hit, and I think that was very important, that they had to be able to hang onto the football when they were hit, they had to be able to scramble when they had problems, they had to be able to run with the football when they needed to, and I just thought that was something that we needed to do better.  Maybe it wasn't missing as much as we just needed to do better at that aspect.  I thought we'd try and address it and have the drills for us, so we did that pretty much every day.  We did it yesterday, as well.
I think playing in space helps the defense.  So whether you're‑‑ especially putting wide receivers and tailbacks in space and asking the defenders to make plays on them.  So we went live on that, and they got a lot of reps at it, and that's where the game is going to be won or lost I feel.  TCU is going to spread you out offensively.  They've got a quarterback that's going to create in the pocket and create downfield.  We've got to tackle in space, there's no question about that.  Tailbacks, as well.

Q.  Darqueze and Pat both said that they remind them a lot of Northwestern.  When you look at them do you see the Northwestern similarities?
MARK DANTONIO:  Yeah, you see Northwestern.  I think you see that from their passing game sort of and some of the things that they're doing spreading you out.  You've got different type of jet sweeps and some misdirection.  You see a little bit of Nebraska in that, as well, some of the things that they do with their quarterback runs.  So you see a little bit of‑‑ they're their own personality, they're their own football team, but you see a little bit as you watch through the games.
We'll continue watching and we'll have watched all 12 games in their entirety again by the time this thing rolls around.

Q.  You had a couple guys who were going to apply to the advisory board just to get their feedback from the NFL.  How do you balance that with keeping their focus and your ultimate discussion with them about leaving or not?
MARK DANTONIO:  Well, our football team has always sort of been able to stay in the present, and I think that's what they've done.  They've concentrated on their exams first, they did well, they come out of the exams, and now we concentrate on the Bowl game, and after that you worry about the future.  We'll address that, I'll talk to some people down at the Bowl game.  The first thing we need to do is get back from the advisory committee where they're projected at, and then from that you try and build a basis of what to do, what's the best thing to do.
So we spent a little time doing that at the Bowl game.  That's what we've done with Greg Jones, that's what we did Jerel, that's probably what we'll do again.  But we've had conversations a little bit with all three or four of the guys, and they're excited about being here at the present, and that's what's important.
We want to make sure as I said before in one of these press conferences, I want to make sure that as a football program we're not selfish, that we don't just say you've got to come back, you've got to come back, you've got to do this.  We have to look at both ends of the spectrum and be fair to our football players and be fair to their futures.
With that being said, I think education is very important, but I also understand the monetary value of people as it progresses.

Q.  Le'Veon and Will both told us they applied to get their assessment.  You mentioned three or four.  Who are the others?
MARK DANTONIO:  I know that Dion applied for that, as well, and I'm not sure if Darqueze did or not.

Q.  A little off the beaten bath, but I had an opportunity to talk to Lorenzo White and of course he had a 2,000 yard season here a couple decades ago.  Back then it appeared Michigan State couldn't win a Heisman Trophy even with a high‑caliber back.  Do you think that's changed now?
MARK DANTONIO:  Yeah, I think if you see a freshman winning the Heisman Trophy, anything is possible.  Here's a guy that really was an unknown coming into the season, but because he led his football team to I believe it was a 10‑and‑2 record, he's on the front page.  I think you can look at Kansas State, as well, and what Colin Klein was able to do, and you saw some other people fade, obviously.
But I think anything is possible.  What you have to do is win, and you have to be a primary player on that football team.  But you have to win first.  I think all the people that were at that ceremony were probably guys that were on extremely successful football teams this year, and so we're poised to be able to do that.  We've done it before.
Right now Le'Veon is the third leading rusher in the country.  He'll have a name for himself, he'll be projected.  So there's a lot of advantages to doing something like that, but there's got to be value in that; value for him is what I'm talking about.  And again, I go back to what I said earlier, I want to be fair to him and not be selfish with our program.
But there's pluses and minuses on both sides, and at some point in time you have to make decisions.

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