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October 1, 2013

Mark Dantonio

COACH DANTONIO:  Coming off an off week, obviously, first Big Ten game of the season for us, so very important game, big challenge for us.  I think when you go out to play Iowa or when they come here the last six games, four of them have been extremely close games.  Any time you start the Big Ten season, your first game is going to set you up for the next game and the next game.  Challenges get bigger and they get more important as the season looms on.
But when you look at Iowa, I think first of all, you look at who they are as a coaching staff and a program.  Right now I think they've always been a very strong program, a program that's been built on toughness and built on a scheme, a concept, and they continue to work those concepts and they're very, very good at them.
Over the course of six years, you look at them as you remember them or look back, a lot of the things remain the same.  Some things changed, but the integrity of their program remains constant in terms of what they do.  So they do what they do as I said earlier last week.
Our opponent, when you look at them defensively, they have three linebackers coming back, outstanding linebackers.  They have a safety and a corner back, the two other guys are playing very well.  Got a couple of defensive linemen back as well.  Statistically on defense they're in the top 20 in probably almost every category.  Second in the conference in quite a few as well, but top 20 nationally in quite a few.
Outstanding punt returner, had a lot of success with that.¬† Turnover margin is good.¬† Offensively, Rudock, their quarterback the red‑shirt sophomore, I've been impressed with him.¬† Kevonte is very, very good, No. 11.¬† And I think they've got a very good football team.¬† So going to find out who they are as we move close to them.
Weisman is a big, firm back, they want to run him, and Coach Ferentz is a guy that wants to stay balanced, but he's going to set the ball down and run it, and I think that's been their MO.

Q.  A few kids from Michigan contributing a lot for them.  Carl Davis is a guy that you recruited pretty hard.  You mentioned Kevonte.  How hard did you recruit him?  He was a little bit of a dark horse recruit, but can you talk about those guys and what they do for them?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† Yeah, I've been very impressed.¬† Probably a lot like B.J. Cunningham coming out of high school.¬† Played for Brother Rice and Coach Picasa.¬† We had him in our camp.¬† At that time I think Coach Treadwell was still here, as a matter of fact.¬† I believe he was a red‑shirt junior.¬† So I'm sure‑‑ he's a very good football player.¬† So obviously wish he was here, but he's not, so you deal with it.
Carl Davis, another guy that we recruited.  A good football player.  Big, physical, reminds you a little of Jerel Worthy in some ways, the way he's been playing, especially thus far here this year.  They've always done a good job recruiting in Michigan, I think, and I Phil Parker is a guy that's played here obviously, and he's got ties here, so they've done a nice job going in that direction.  Desmond King is a freshman that's playing for them as well, from Detroit, and a guy that we looked at as well.

Q.  Since the Notre Dame game and practices, I know they've been limited, have you gone live with the quarterbacks at all, is it all three of them?  How do you handle that?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† We've not gone live with the quarterbacks.¬† We've been, as I say, active.¬† So whatever happens, happens.¬† But we've tried to protect our quarterbacks and we've done that with all three of them‑‑ really, all four of them.¬† So I don't think you do that necessarily in the middle of the season.¬† We've tried to be active in terms of having people at their feet or in the framework of their bodies so that they've got as realistic a picture as they can get.
We didn't play last week, so we've been able to regroup a little bit.  But at the same time, you want to be able to continue to progress so you've got to play a little bit, as live as we can possibly be.

Q.  With Jamal Lyles did you ever consider in the spring moving him over.  You said it was after that first game for him.  Can you talk about the conversation that's led to that decision?
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, I just always am trying to look at our football players as much as I can, and what gets them on the field the quickest.  He was the fifth defensive end.  He'd be a good defensive end.  He can play, and he can still go in there and play in a necessity.
But at the same time, I felt like we needed an athletic guy, a little bit more of a mismatched guy at the tight end position.  I knew he played a lot of different positions in high school.  I was impressed with him at that point in high school.  I felt like that was the direction we should go with him, much like we did LT the year before.  We needed something that was just a little bit different guy at that position just to add to the group collectively.

Q.  (No microphone)?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† It's something that I thought with as a red‑shirt, he was a true freshman last spring.¬† I felt like he needed to get his feet on the ground.¬† Much like we did Bullough.¬† We worked bull log as a defensive player and then moved him over to the offense to basically learn that part of our offense systematically in the process.¬† But I think you've got to be able to hang your hat on something, and he was recruited as a defensive player, actually, as a linebacker, so we wanted to make sure he had an opportunity to play that position as well.
Plus, we were a little bit‑‑ we were a lot of different people at the tight end position at that point in time, and wanted to give them opportunities as well, especially our young tight ends.¬† Evan Jones we had over there.¬† He's since moved to defensive end.¬† So we sort of traded those two guys.¬† I think it will be‑‑ it doesn't mean that Evan can't play tight end or Jamal can't play defensive end, but right now I think that's the positions that best suit them to help this football team the fastest.

Q.  I don't see them on our depth chart.  Has the extra time off given Thomas any progress?
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, he is making progress.  We'll see where he's at this week, but he is making progress.  He's working out.  Can he get in pads this week?  That will define whether he makes the trip or not.  But he's getting closer, so we just have to progress him now.

Q.  That sounds like probably not for this week.
COACH DANTONIO:  I don't know.  We've talked about it today.  I'm just not sure.

Q.  Realizing they all count one, how big is this game in shaping the stretch of this season goes in?
COACH DANTONIO:  Because they all count one, you're exactly right.  It's very important because it's the first game, and it sort of sets the tone for you.  Especially when you're going away, you're playing in a tough environment.  You come home, play in the next couple of games home.  So positive in that respect.  Sort of begins to set the table for you as a Big Ten contender and in the Legends Division.
Obviously, every football game is big for us, but there are certain ones that you sort of point to.  But we've always tried to take that next game and make it a big game.  I think our players are excited about playing.  It gives us an opportunity to go play on the road again, prove ourselves again on the road.  Another opportunity, I think, for Connor Cook to grow as a quarterback and our football team to grow.  So looking forward to it.  It will be a good challenge.

Q.  What did you learn about your team during the bye week?  How is it a better team than it was nine days ago?
COACH DANTONIO:  We'll answer that question come Saturday, first of all.  But I think we're a better football team.  We've been able to regroup a little bit.  I think anytime you have the opportunity to collect yourself after a contest, a test, anything in life, anytime you have a chance to recollect yourself, you'll learn from that experience and maybe be able to move forward.
I think we've gained some confidence in certain aspects of our football team from our experience down at Notre Dame.  I think that's a positive.  As I said, it was the first real big game that Connor Cook took under his belt.  I think that will prove to be, I think, a valuable experience for him as a quarterback.
So we're having that happen all the time.  Even Bennie Fowler, when I talked to him yesterday, he was talking to me about the Notre Dame game.  It was the first time he played away at Notre Dame because he was out in '09.  It was the first experience he had playing at Notre Dame in this rivalry.  The Michigan State Notre Dame game, it's a game that's been talked about.  It's a game that links us to the past.  So I think it was an important experience for him to have as well, even though he's a fifth year senior.
So we're all continuing to grow.  I think that is the nature of humanity.  We continue to grow and try to get better at what we do.

Q.  You talked about Iowa being somewhat similar to you guys in doing what they do.  How similar do you view these two programs in terms of brand and philosophy and all that stuff?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think there are a lot of similarities in it.  It's a program that prides itself on toughness, which I think we do too.  There are some aspects of it that are related to Coach Perles, with Norm Parker being there and Phil Parker being there.  And there are some aspects that are tied to Coach Perles in his time here.
So there are some similarities there in the type of defenses that they did run and some similarities, not totally.  There are differences.  There are definite differences.  You can tell when you watch the two defenses schematically in what they play.  There are some things that they're going to hold true.  The ability to tackle in space, pressure the quarterback, stop the run, those type of things.  They're going to play their defense.
You're not going to see them going in and out of their defense and changing from year to year.  They're going to be who they are, they're going to be good at that, and they're going to master that craft.  I think on the offensive side of the ball, they do the same thing a little bit.  They say this is who we are, this is what we're going to do, and try to do it to the best of their abilities.  They've sort of shaped their program like that and they built some tradition there.  At the time when Coach Ferentz got there, I believe they're a little down, and he raised them up.  Had tremendous success there, I feel, 13 seasons.
There are some similarities when you came into the big in 2007 and I looked across and saw Iowa and said that's who we can be.  They can play with anybody, anytime, at anyplace, and that's who we can be.  I think that's what we tried to emulate somewhat, and I think that's the case.
Other than Nebraska we've won away from home at every venue in this conference.  There is not one football team that we've not beaten in an away game.  So we've proven ourselves in that capacity to want to continue to try to raise the bar.  We've set the tone, set the standards for championships, and that's what we're chasing.  It goes through Iowa City at this point.  That's all we know.  We've got to move our football team.  We've got to move our rock or our foundation to Iowa City to make it happen.

Q.  Are those similarities part of the reason you guys have so many close games?  Also in Iowa City, is that the closest fans are to the field as you have encountered as a coach?
COACH DANTONIO:  I used to think at Michigan State they're on top of you.  I still feel like that.  They're right there.  But they're all similar.  Purdue is similar.  They're right there on top of you at Purdue.  But Iowa City, they're nice and tight there.  We'll show them a couple plays from the sideline, probably.  They can probably read them right off the board.

Q.  (No microphone)?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† The close games?¬† Yeah, I guess, maybe.¬† I just think that we probably value some of the same things collectively as football coaches maybe.¬† But I don't know the answer to that.¬† There are games when we were up the first year 17‑3 and they came back and we came back and it was double overtime, had two double overtime games.¬† We had the '09 game down here.¬† So they've been close games.
You had the '08 game down here.  We've had a lot of close games with them.  I guess four of the six have been extremely close.  So that is the nature of it.  So that's what you'd expect attention to detail in the inches make the difference.

Q.  When you've had this week off to review the first third of the season, what were some of the pleasant surprises?  And my second question, you've talked about big plays throughout the season yourself.  Do you think that the lack of big plays is more related to scheme or would you say that's a personnel issue?
COACH DANTONIO: ¬†Well, the thing that you're excited about when you look at our football team, obviously any aspect relative to the defense you're pretty excited about.¬† Ranked No. 1 in the nation in a number of categories, and No. 1 in the conference in a lot of categories.¬† Anytime you lead in passing defense and in rushing defense, basically good things are going to happen.¬† Very excited about that, and I think we have a championship‑type caliber defense.
When you look at our punting game right now, punting the ball very well.  Down inside the 10, I think, eight times, which makes it difficult for a team to go the length of the field.  The chances of them doing that are slim based on our defense and based on the factor of where the ball starts for any football game anywhere.  So those things are positive.
I think where we've got to get better at times, I think our kickoff team, we need to improve it somewhat.  Obviously, our kickoff return team needs to be improved.  I think punt return we're doing okay.  When you look at us offensively, we've been down in the red zone.  We've got to get the explosive plays because that's what leads to those things.
Is it scheme?  Is it players?  It's a combination of everything when you look at things.  That is probably the easy answer.  But there are certainly opportunities to go deep, but you have to take those opportunities at times.  Those opportunities have to be open at times to give the quarterback the read to go there too where the receiver has to get loose on those things.
But there is no question that explosive plays are a factor, and we're trying to create them and work towards them.  But I think our players are very capable of being able to make those plays.  Again, we're going to find out as we continue to move through this season.  But we've obviously got to score more points.  I don't think there is any question about that.

Q.¬† With Lippett and Fowler now listed as co‑starters, how much of an emphasis was there on competition at the receiver spot during the bye week and this week?¬† What do you want to see from those guys as they look to get into the starting lineup?
COACH DANTONIO:  I consider about six receivers as starters.  I don't care who plays.  Because a guy are runs out to be the starter on game No. 1, doesn't mean he's going to play the most.  It's just roll them in, factor them in, give them opportunities to make plays.  I have confidence in them that they can make plays I see it over and over in practice.  Whether it's Tony or Fowler or Burbridge or Macgarrett Kings or whoever it is, I do think that they have the ability and I think they can factor into us winning football games.
But I sort of see them all as starters.  They have an opportunity to be in there and make big plays.  So any one of them can make one.

Q.  (No microphone)?
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, I've been impressed especially with Tony Lippett these fast few days, and I think that Bennie Fowler has played well the last two games.  So I think we're coming there.  We're getting there.

Q.¬† When Tyler O'Connor had played in South Florida, one of the things he made a mistake was in play calling.¬† I'm just curious, are you happy with Connor Cook's play calling, and second of all, Tyler, do you expect him‑‑ is he still in the depth charts this late in the season.¬† Is he competing for that number two spot?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† First question is in a football game things are going to happen, they happen.¬† You have a first‑year quarterback and plays are coming in, you may get twisted up and you may call the wrong play.¬† That's going to happen at times.¬† When that happens, you have to survive the down sometimes.¬† It still may be a three‑yard gain.¬† You may call it right, and it might be a one‑yard gain.¬† You just don't know how it's all going to shake out.¬† I think that's one of the problems that you have to try to correct whether with schematically how you're getting that play to him or whatever the case, because of the experience factor.
But I think he grows, as every game goes, he grows.  I mean, it's put yourself at Notre Dame, first time start, big game, it's on the table.  So there is a lot riding there, and there is a lot of anxiety, I'm sure.  So you have to be able to get used to that.  I think thing those things are happening.  In the answer to Tyler O'Connor, is he the number two, is he the number three?  It depends on how he practices and what the situation is probably in the game.  I would say that.
But I'm impressed with Tyler as well at times, but the consistency, and, again, he's a red‑shirt freshman, so you ever some of those same problems with him.¬† So you have to simplify maybe and do those type of things.¬† I don't know if I'm answering it, but...

Q.  Just one question a little bit outside your box.
COACH DANTONIO:  Oh, that's good.

Q.  We're in week five, six, two coaches were fired this week, another prominent alumni Coach and the firing of another, what's that say about your profession and where we are now?
COACH DANTONIO:  I guess it says that just win, baby, first of all.  But it's a fickle society.  We all know that.  Patience is a virtue.  I really, I just keep doing my job.  I think that's all we can do is work your job the best you can.  The things you're out of control on, sometimes you can't worry about, even if it costs you your job.  Sometimes you can't control everything, even though you try.
You do your very best, and I think those two people did their very best, and try to remember the good things.  The good times.  It's difficult.

Q.  When you talk about the need to get touchdowns instead of field goal attempts, what is the big difference between teams that are successful in the red zone in getting that done, and the ones that come up short?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think in the red zone you're going to see more blitzes probably, more pressure, the field shrinks.  So the ability to make a play and play in the quarterback position becomes probably even more important and that's what you see.  So as your quarterback makes quicker decisions with the football, that's a way of creating.  If he does it with his feet, that's a way of creating.  If you're able to run the football down there, you're able to create without that aspect.  But if you get in third down, you're going to see pressure.  That's the nature of it for the most part.
Everybody's got to be exact.¬† From the lineman, to the blitz pick‑up, to the catch, to the throw, to the route, you've got to get loose and make plays down there.¬† You can move it all the way down the field.¬† But that's where you make your money down there in the red zone.¬† We've got to just get that done.
You look at the reasons we lost the Notre Dame game.  I feel like if we score in the red zone we're obviously going to win the football game., if we come up with the turnovers on the ground or the two that were taken away in that situation, we've got a chance to win the game.  Those are the things that we can control.  Everything else is beyond our control, but those are the things we could have controlled and done better.

       Q.  I wondered if you heard from Le'Veon Bell or if you got a chance to watch Brian Hoyer over the weekend.
COACH DANTONIO:  I saw Brian's touchdown throw on Sportscenter, and I heard Le'Veon scored twice and just missed it though because I was doing something else and I missed it.  I heard it, flicked on the TV in my room at the office.  I haven't talked to Le'Veon in the last couple of days.  He stayed pretty busy as probably they do too.

Q.  King is the guy that's going to kick and punt return as the depth chart says?
COACH DANTONIO:  He's at punt return.  We'll see if he is at kick return this week or not.  We'll make that decision later in the week.

Q.  (No microphone)?
COACH DANTONIO:  Got to make better decisions back there and kick it out.  First of all, got to make better decisions back there, and we're looking for an explosive play.

Q.  (No microphone)?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† Yeah, it's exciting to watch those guys.¬† It's exciting to watch some of our other guys as well.¬† You always point to the Spartans that are playing at the next level and sort of follow them.¬† Had Brian call in on our radio show this week, it's just exciting to hear his voice.¬† You can hear his voice and hear the excitement in his voice.¬† The things are‑‑ it's a long road.¬† It just is a long road.
You think about him being a rookie in 2009 and now it's 2013, and he's coming to a point where he's made two starts as an NFL quarterback.¬† You think about how many people in the world that can do this.¬† So I tell our players all the time, you're very, very special.¬† Not a lot of people can do what we do‑‑ can do what you do in terms of playing on a football field, in this environment or the NFL environment.¬† It's special when you can do that.¬† I think sometimes people lose sight of that.¬† Even the players that are doing it lose sight of it because they're in it.
But be a tailback in the NFL like Le'Veon or the different things our guys are experiencing.  Go to a Super Bowl like Celek and Robinson did last year as rookies, those things don't come around often.  It's great to see them having the success.

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