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September 17, 2013

Mark Dantonio

THE MODERATOR:  To preview Saturday's game at Notre Dame, head coach Mark Dantonio.
COACH DANTONIO:  Excited to go down to Notre Dame, South Bend, this weekend.  It's probably the sixth time I've been down there as a coach, two times in the '90s, once in 2007, then '09 and '11.  Great atmosphere.  I think our players are going to be excited as well.
When you look at Notre Dame right off the bat, you see a very good football team.  Very impressed with their personnel.  You're also impressed with their coaching aspects.  We expect a great football game as we go down there.
Our first opportunity to play an away game.  A little bit different for us.  I think it's good for us at this point during the year as we begin to go on the road in the Big Ten Conference.
Sunday night, also a high‑profile game for us.¬† Probably one of the first we played, one of many in the Big Ten Conference.¬† As I said on Sunday, we're going to find out a little bit more about who is who in our football team as we move forward.¬† It's going to be exciting to see that.
Offensively you look at them, experienced offensive line back.  Lost some tight ends a little bit.  But two very good tight ends, sort of runningback by committee right now, but talented players.  Very impressed with No.10, DaVaris Daniels, obviously with Jones, No.7.  I think Rees is throwing the ball very effectively.  Making big plays.  Big plays is what has kept their offense moving, I believe.
Look at them defensively, they're stout.  You see what happened down here last year at Spartan Stadium.  We need to be able to play there.  A lot of guys coming back on the defensive side of the ball as well, especially up front.  We'll have our hands full, but we're looking forward to the challenge.
Special teams, impressed with their kicker, punter, field goal kicker.  Prince has done an outstanding job.  A guy from Michigan.  So we'll look forward to that challenge as well.
I'll take questions.  We'll go from there.

Q.  Mark, on the defensive side of the ball for you, Tommy Rees does a terrific job with the presnap read.  Doing a better job of masking blitzes, not letting him do that, very critical for you this week?
COACH DANTONIO:  Obviously he uses the clock a lot, checking a lot, doing those types of things.  The ball can be snapped at any time.  That's what is the tough thing about it.  Sometimes you have to show things, get out of things, make adjustments.
But he does a great job doing that.¬† He does a great job throwing the ball down the field.¬† I've been very impressed with him standing in there and taking a hit, getting out of a bad play, getting into another one.¬† But that's experience.¬† You see that happening.¬† Strong‑arm quarterback, deep routes.¬† He makes it happen.
I agree with you.  The guy does a lot of things at the line of scrimmage.  But I think that's their system, too.  They've been asked to do those things.  That's coaching.

Q.  What does this rivalry mean to you, to your team?  How do you think it's viewed nationally?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† For me personally, it's always been a big game, very big game.¬† I this I've said this before.¬† There's certain games you sort of point at and say, What is your record over a period of time?¬† You may have to stop and count a little bit, if you've been into it long enough.¬† You get a sense of, Okay, we've done this so many times.¬† We're 3‑2 down at Notre Dame when we've been down there.¬† We've won when we've been down there, but not the last two times.¬† It's going to be challenging for us.
I think it's one of those games you take stock.  After your career is over, you say, this is what happened there.
It is a game for a guy who grew up in the Midwest, Notre Dame, you recognize Michigan State, you grew up with a lot of traditions that were involved before you got here.
So just very humbled to be part of the process and part of the tradition.

Q.  What have you seen so far from Notre Dame's linebackers, especially Jarrett Grace?
COACH DANTONIO:  Their linebackers, they got two guys that are back, two guys that are younger, also I think Shumate played last year.  Jalen is a guy that is a true freshman that was a national recruit, very good player.  He's active.  For a true freshman, he knows what's going on out there, very active.
Calabrese and Dan Fox are in there.  Jarrett Grace is in there as well.  They're playing different guys.
They're thumpers.  I see those inside guys being thumpers.  They have to get up on guards when they're playing their 30 front with their heavy techniques.  Nick sort of makes it happen, 326 pounds, probably on a day he's dieting, it looks like.  But he's a big, firm guy that takes on people and controls the center box.
We have to be mindful of that because you've got to be able to run the ball.  I believe you have to be able to run the ball against these guys, so we got to find a way to do that.
Grace is a very good player.  We recruited him out of high school.  A lot of these guys we recruited out of high school.

Q.  You talked about your history with your family and Notre Dame.  Did you ever go there to watch a game?
COACH DANTONIO:  Only with Spartan green on.

Q.  What was that first experience like at Notre Dame stadium when you walked out there and got a chance to enjoy the atmosphere?
COACH DANTONIO:  That was 1997, as I remember.  Eric Morris, Sorie Kanu, Amp Campbell, 'Naldo Hill were playing in the secondary at that time.  We had some good players.  We won down there.  I can't remember who was coaching them.  It was a great atmosphere.
The thing that you recognize about these big rival games for us is there's going to be 10,000 people that are down there that are Spartan fans.  That's reality.  Our band is going to be down there.  That's exciting to see them right there on the sidelines.
It sort of brings together, much like when they come here, a lot of Notre Dame fans when they come here.  You're not down there by yourself.  So you sort of feel that.
It gets you going.  It's exciting.  Great atmosphere to play in.  They don't have a mascot at midfield, but they have nothing painted at midfield.  One of the few places probably in America.  Just try and figure out we're on the 40, not the 50.

Q.  Looking at Notre Dame's center, their defensive line, it's amazing.  Two players weigh like 680 pounds together.  Did you ever foresee the game coming that way?  How do you counter that?  Talk about what those two players do.
COACH DANTONIO:¬† Well, Nick and Tuitt, they're big, firm guys.¬† They control the center box.¬† They control the C area at times.¬† They two‑gap you.¬† You saw what happened last year.¬† Although we went away from the run a little bit in the second half a little bit too early.¬† They controlled our line of scrimmage last year.
Is it hard to believe?  Yes.  680 pounds, yeah, hard to believe, two guys.  Have to put three together.  But that's the state of the game today.  When I played back in the late '70s, players weren't that big.  I think into the '90s, players were big.  We had some big guys, they had big guys.  280 pounds or so.  Those were big guys.  280, 290, those were big guys.  Now it's 310, 320.  It's probably upped itself in the last 10 years, probably the last 15 years.
Players are bigger and faster.  There's more power involved, more velocity.  I think there's people that are training differently, eating nutritionally, believe it or not.  Lay off those biscuits.
But I just think it's maybe the nature of things getting better and better, faster, more high‑tech I guess a little bit.¬† Everything that we all do.

Q.  I noticed that at tackle Fou is listed as the number two.  Is that because he's still not quite 100% or are you happy with the Clark, Conklin?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† You look at who you play against and ask yourself who is going to be better suited to play against these good people.¬† Jack Conklin is 320 pounds himself.¬† We have some big 300‑pounders up there as well.¬† You look at that and the aspect of Fou coming off of injury.¬† This was really his first time he played a lot, last week.¬† Conklin played well.
We'll go with that.  Donavon Clark also played well.  He's a firm guy.  You look for things that people do, you try and I guess match your guys up with their guys.

Q.  You talked last week about the importance of finding a quarterback before the Big Ten season started.  How important was it to find the guy before this game?  What does having a starter do for this game?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think it was very important for our total team we had success passing the football.  That was a combination of guys catching the ball, like on those 50/50 catches I talk about, or great throws.
So, again, we're growing as a football team.  We've got a young quarterback in there who is a redshirt sophomore.  This will be a great experience for him because he's going to have an environment to play in that's going to simulate really what a lot of Big Ten environments are going to be from this point on.  That's going to be a period of growth for him.  An exciting time.
I want our guys to have fun down there.  I want us to compete.  Connor Cook is going to do that.  No doubt in my mind he's going to do that.
But we can't negate the fact we've got to make the plays running the football, as well.

Q.¬† The growing pains you've gone through offensively are in the middle of wherever that is.¬† Is there some comfort in knowing this may be something that once it's developed, it's a three‑year thing based on a lot of the age of players?
COACH DANTONIO:  College football runs in cycles.  Anytime you get a young guy who is playing well, regardless of who that is, regardless of what position, sort of sets you up for the future.
Especially when you come in and you're sort of dealing with it on a grass‑roots level, you're starting to build from here, I think great things can happen for you.
Obviously you want a guy that's got experience, as well.  But I do think it sort of sets us up for the future.  We have young quarterbacks, with the exception of Maxwell.  I think they all have talent.  We've talked about Damion Terry.  I gave him an opportunity last week.  I don't feel like he's ready yet.  Tyler O'Connor came in, he will continue to see a lot of growth.  I think Connor Cook is in his third year and you're starting to see some maturity on his part.  Good things will start to happen.  Gives you the ability to run the football as well.
I can't say enough about Andrew Maxwell because of the way he's handled the situation.  His opportunities are going to come well.  Something is going to happen where there's going to be an opportunity for Andrew to make a statement.  I don't think he's done here as a Spartan.  He's handled things amazingly, just like I knew he would.

Q.  Blake Treadwell, how you're handling the center position.
COACH DANTONIO:  Blake has been solid, consistent throughout.  Tough guy.  He's been a great leader for us on the field and in the locker room.  Our center position, Travis was out last week.  Jack came back.  We'll see how we practice this week in terms of who is playing where as we move forward.  We'll probably just experiment a little bit with that.
But there's no question we have two good players at that position.  We can move people around.

Q.  You mentioned last week Lawrence Thomas was close to returning.  Wondering if it's possible this week, definitely going to be on defense when he returns?  Injury question, what about Lewis and Taiwan Jones also?
COACH DANTONIO:  First of all, with Lewis and Taiwan, they will be I guess you'd say probable.  They'll be able to practice this week.  We'll see how well they practice relative to what's going on of the.
In regards to LT, right now he's still out.¬† When he does come back, and he will be back, he'll come back on the defensive side of the ball.¬† The idea is he does know certain aspects of our offense and can play in there a little bit maybe part‑time.¬† I want to see him playing football when he comes back.
But I would say it's too early for that right now and we hope to get him back hopefully maybe after the break or shortly thereafter.  That is our hope.

Q.  DeAnthony Arnett not on the depth chart.  What is the likelihood he could redshirt?  When do you think about redshirting guys who haven't played?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† I think that's something we deal with, didn't want to play him in a game where there was a blow‑out because of the potential to do that.¬† We held him on that.¬† He's a good player.¬† But he's got to do certain things a little bit better at certain places.¬† That's just the nature of it.
But if we can redshirt him, we probably will.  We took the redshirt off of R.J. Shelton, he gives us a different dynamic in there a little bit.  So you can't play them all.  He's not an X, he's not a bigger receiver.  He's more of a Z, more of an F, which is the slot receiver, which is where Macgarrett Kings is playing, and Macgarrett is playing very well.
You got some different people playing at that position with Mumphery, Bennie Fowler, R.J. Shelton.  DeAnthony would be the third or fourth depending on how you shake it out.  I want to make sure if we play a guy, we're going to play him a necessary number of reps.
He has a great future here, but there are things he needs to do better at, like all of our guys.  That's sort of where that is at right now.

Q.  Any reaction to the 'Go Blue' sign that hovered over your stadium before the game?
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, my high school coach was here.  They had the Blue Devils.  I figured somebody did that for him.  A lot of money to do that if you're from Zanesville, but they did it.

Q.¬† I've been to some nasty venues, where even as a media member you get nastiness because you're from Michigan.¬† I don't feel that in South Bend.¬† While this rivalry is intense, it's almost more respectful than most of your deep‑rooted rivalries.
COACH DANTONIO:¬† Yeah, I think probably it is.¬† I think it has something to do with going way back with Notre Dame really bringing Michigan State onto their schedule, home‑and‑away basis.
I'll start to call it the U of M would only play Michigan State, from what I read, at their place.¬† They would never play them here.¬† That never did happen until Notre Dame started playing us home‑and‑away.¬† We basically said we're not going to play them anymore. ¬†That's from what I understand.
So I think there's an affinity for Notre Dame on the part of the Michigan State people.  Maybe there is or isn't from the Notre Dame people.  But there's always been a great experience when I went down there.  I think a lot of it's because we have so many Spartans down there as well.

Q.  With all the attention the defense and offense has gotten, Ron Burton as a coach has had remarkable improvement.
COACH DANTONIO:  He is doing an outstanding job with the players.  We've seen growth from guys like Damon Knox who is in his third year.  Damon is playing good football, going to be a good football player for us.  Kittredge is going to get back in a little bit more this week more full time.  Have Tyler Hoover and Micajah Reynolds playing in there.
We've been tough to run the ball on.¬† We're going to see how we play now.¬† You also have Scott McCarron in there, who is solid as well.¬† Five defensive tackles.¬† Our defensive ends have been play‑makers, obviously Rush and Shilique.¬† When Joe goes in there, he's very firm on the other side there, Denzel Drone is solid, as well.
We've got guys we can play in there.¬† They're all playing.¬† That's the beautiful thing about it.¬† The more they play, the better we get, the more competition there is.¬† They know where they're going.¬† They play at a high level.¬† I think they're very well‑coached.
I think that has been the history here.  I want to say that as well.  I think that has been the history here.  I think he's getting a little bit more effort from them at this point in time.

Q.  You talked about the importance of running the ball in this game.  You've had some key injuries there the past two years.  Do you feel this is the best shape your front five has been in at this point in the season in a few years?
COACH DANTONIO:  Probably correct.  We seem to have gotten those injuries right around the Notre Dame game.  The Thursday before last year with Fou.  Then we had Blake Treadwell and Schuyler, we lost them both in 2011, I believe.  That's been the nature of our offensive line situation.
Keep them healthy this week, we'll be all right.

Q.  When you were growing up and watching college football, who did you watch, who did you root for?
COACH DANTONIO:  I watched on Sundays a little bit.  I watched the Notre Dame broadcast on Sunday.  I watched those guys.
So I rooted for those people some.  But didn't know much better at that time, I guess.  There really wasn't a lot of college football on back then.  One or two games on Saturday, then the NFL.  But I did watch Notre Dame.  Hopefully it will be even nicer when we go down there.

Q.  I know it's only been a couple of days since Youngstown, but have you noticed anything different in Connor, seeing him in the meeting room or practices?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think he got a boost of confidence from his play.  I think that's a positive thing.  We really work him on Sundays a little bit.  A lot of meeting times and such.  Then yesterday didn't really see him much.
But I think I'm sure his confidence is boosted.  I'm sure he's looking forward to the opportunity.
Connor Cook is always a guy that moves forward.  He's not going to back down from a challenge.  He's pretty light in terms of how he approaches things.  Going to do the best he can, have fun with it.  I think that's good right now for his mindset as he goes into his first big away game.  Marquee football game.

Q.  The Youngstown State coach said Brian Kelly and Butch Jones owed you a percentage of their bonus of success because of what you were able to build at Cincinnati.
COACH DANTONIO:  Haven't gotten it done.

Q.  When you saw Cincinnati take the next step after you left there, did you take any satisfaction in that?  Also, just your thoughts on Brian Kelly in general as a football coach?
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, I thought it was positive.  A lot of those guys are players I recruited.  It was great to see those guys have success.
I don't know Coach Kelly that well except on the field.¬† That's really the way it's been.¬† I think he does an excellent job coaching.¬† I think he's won wherever he's been.¬† They have good personnel.¬† Well‑coached football team.¬† I don't see a lot of guys that have bad dynamics or fundamentals.¬† Most people are pretty well‑coached.¬† There's a lot of thought that goes into coaching.
He's done an outstanding job.  Played in the national championship game last year.  What he did at Cincinnati, he went to Notre Dame, sort of turned the program there.  It's hard to turn a program because they have a national image there.  But he won big.  Obviously we've had some great football games with Notre Dame in the past.
That's all I know.

Q.  Mark, when you look at the film of last week, you talk about moving forward, finding out about this team, how much did you find out?  Are you able to equate what was actually fixed and what are you still uncertain about?
COACH DANTONIO:  You're always finding out about your football team every week.  I don't think there's any question about that.  You are going to find out how they handle adversity, how they play away, look for matchups here, how do they play in crunch time in a close game, which we really haven't had that yet.  All these things you're going to find out a little bit more about your football team.
What I saw last week, we've seen our defense play well, come up with turnovers, play excited.  Last week I saw our offense play excited.  I saw us execute and have some big plays, which was good for our football team.
Hopefully we caught fire a little bit.  It's important that we continue in that vein.  Hopefully we caught fire a little bit and we develop some confidence.  We're a young team in some aspects, as people have said with our quarterback, maybe a couple wide receivers as well.  But I think it's a start.  I feel like we got off the dime a little bit.  It's a start in the right direction.  Now we need to see that move forward, come to fruition in this game.
It's very important in the fact we can go 4‑0, set for a week, get in the Big Ten Conference.¬† We play an away game.¬† We have to go to Iowa for our next game after.¬† Prepares us for the environment, even though the environment is different.¬† It's an away game.¬† Gives our guys a chance to play in what I would say is a more marquee game, which is what we're going to be seeing beyond this game.
All those things I think we can learn from.

Q.  Talking about Shilique Calhoun, seems like after the last game he talked about how he's hungry, tried to get three sacks a game.  What is his leadership now compared to last year?
COACH DANTONIO:  Last year as a redshirt freshman, he was primarily playing in a backup role.  He didn't have as much success as he's having now.  Completely different person.  He has more confidence now.  Still a redshirt sophomore.  He has a lot of charisma.  You've talked with him.  That rubs off on everybody else.  He's a very positive thinker.  That rubs off on everybody, as well.
When you're in a position of leadership, you've got to be playing well.¬† I think he's playing well.¬† Last year, like I said, he was just sort of feeling his way through things.¬† First‑year player, redshirt freshman.

Q.  Your defense is highly ranked nationally.  This will be the first test against a national opponent.  How are they approaching this in terms of establishing themselves or making a name for themselves?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† Our defensive staff will prepare as hard against Notre Dame as they have every single week, or I should probably say it the other way around.¬† Whether it's Western Michigan, South Florida, Youngstown or Notre Dame, they're going to get ultra‑prepared.¬† Preparation will be at the very highest level we can make it.
Our defensive football team do a great job of not taking anything for granted and adjusting to who they play every week.  I think that's experience.  That's a level of confidence.  That's being in the same system.
So all those things I think are very, very positive for us.  How we take the next step, we're going to find out.  Like I said when I first came up here, we're going to find out a little bit more about who's who.  When I'm talking about that, I'm talking about our football team.  A little bit more about us as people, as players, as coaches, the farther we go in our schedule.
You make a determination how we play defensively over the course of the year, not of particular games.¬† You have to look at the big scheme things long‑term before you can make those decisions about how we played over a period of time.
But very excited about our defense.  I know they'll come to play.  We've got depth.  I think they're a confident football team.  They like to play, they like playing on a big stage, which is positive.

Q.  Tight end has been a very important position.  Looking at the tape from last week, with the improved tight end production allow other players to do some things or was it because of those upgrades that allowed the tight ends to surface?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† I think we're trying to play younger players at that position.¬† Has an upside.¬† There's a learning curve there.¬† They have to continue to get better.¬† Moved Lyles over there.¬† He's moving in that direction.¬† I think he can be a better player.¬† He's almost 250, quick body guy.¬† I think gentleman sigh a price has excellent hands.¬† Has Lithicome‑type hands.¬† Does a lot of good things.
Mike Dennis there is a big guy.  Paul Lang, functional.  You have Gleichert in there, very functional.  Was the starter, but was nicked up a little bit last week.  We'll see how he is this week.
We have five guys we can play in there.  We need to have production from our tight end position, whether that's running the football or catching the ball.  They need to be a weapon and they need to be a factor running the ball as well.
We've had that.  We've had great tight ends here really since '07.  Just like everything, things run in cycles a little bit.  We have a couple redshirt freshmen, Lyles and Price.  They're going to be around three more years past this one.  Exciting for this position.
If they become more of a threat, it takes a little more pressure off other people.

Q.  Would it be best for Damion Terry and people who have never seen him play to put the redshirt on him now or aren't you there with him yet?
COACH DANTONIO:  I don't think you're there with anybody as far as the redshirt until the end of the season or until you get past the six games.  You just don't know what's going to happen.
Based on his practices last week, you become limited in what you can do because of his knowledge of our offense.  He missed the week before, he missed some summer camp.  He's got a lot of athletic ability, but he's got to be much more consistent, much more controlling in terms of what's going on offensively.
It's not fair to put him out there in that situation because I think what you'll see is a lot of pressure coming at him.  He's got to be able to operate under pressure better.
He makes plays.  He'll work our scout team this week.  We'll travel him.  He can be functional to some degree if we need to play him.  I don't foresee playing him at this point in time.  This may change, though.  Who knows.

Q.  Can you talk a little bit more about the runningback situation with the three guys there, when way you think you're going, what you've seen from them thus far.
COACH DANTONIO:  I think Langford is a guy that can pop a big one.  You have to do that.  He has that ability.  He's had some good runs in there.
I think Nick Hill has played pretty well.  Gives you a toughness dynamic even though he's not the biggest guy.  He's a good zone runner.  He hides behind the blockers, bursts in and out.  Runs through tackles.
Riley Bullough, he's played three games.  Split reps.  See how far he can come.  But he's a guy that's learning how to play tailback.
Whether Gerald Holmes or Delton Williams plays, a little bit bike the Damion Terry situation.  I don't know where they're at.  We're not going to say never until we get into six games.  They have to really flash because their opportunities are going to be limited, so they've got to flash in they're going to play.  We'll see.  They're good players.

Q.  You talked about tight end youth, but haven't mentioned Evan.  Is that somebody that will look at a position change?
COACH DANTONIO:  We've moved him to defensive end and he's been impressive there.  He gives us another guy that's getting up near 260 pounds, using his hands well.  Good football player.  We made that move last week.
You got to progress as a football player.  You can't stand and watch.  The name of the game, if you're going to get better, you got to play.  He's not obviously in the rotation yet to play on game day, but he's doing some good things.  I can see him being a player for us.  He's another guy that is a redshirt freshman.  He's got a lot of football left.  He's tough, active, firm.

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