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October 8, 2013

Mark Dantonio

COACH DANTONIO:  I think the first thing we need to start off and talk about is homecoming.  It's the 500th game at Spartan Stadium, which I think is unique for us.  It sort of links this current football program with the past, and it's very unique in the aspect of when you look at long‑term tradition.  We're excited about that opportunity.
Also want to congratulate our women's volleyball team and men's soccer team in terms of their top ten rankings right now, what they've been able to do.
Our last Rose Bowl team is back with homecoming weekend, so that will be an exciting opportunity for them to all get together.  Jeff Monroe will be our honorary captain.  He's a long time trainer for us and has been our trainer here the last six years, as well, and was here when I was here previously, so he'll have an opportunity to come back and share some times with all those players.
Then we look forward to the Indiana football game.  I think it's very important we bring our focus with us like we had last week, and we have to maintain that as we move forward every single game.  And that's the challenge, I think, for teams in 2013 and beyond.
But Indiana is an improved football team, much improved from when they came here in the past, and offensively rapid‑fire, 11 seconds, 12 seconds, he'll snap the ball, obviously they'll have some times where they won't, they'll hang in there.  But high‑scoring offense, do a lot of things very, very well, and then when you look at them defensively, an improved defense, playing some young players.
Special teams they're going to have some different things that they do.  I've been very impressed with their kicker, the number of different type of kicks that they have relative to tricks and things of that nature.
I think that my thoughts are right now should be a great football game.  Our focus will be on just that, being focused and creating energy, and again, continuing this process, continuing to improve.  So the challenge is for our defense with an offense like that, special teams needs to be alert and win that aspect of it, and offensively we need to continue to improve and show consistency in that area.
I'll take questions and we'll go from there.

Q.  How do you prepare differently when their approach is to run plays so fast that you can't get subs in and sub people out?  Obviously this is going to be a whole different‑‑
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, when you look at every football team that they play, even when you look at last year's film of us as we play against them, you get the feel like things get a little sloppy on you.  That guy doesn't have great attention to detail or whatever.  But I think what ends up happening is the rapid play calling and the execution by Indiana creates a situation where as a defensive football team you just can't sustain.  So we need to work at that, just like what you said.
So it's much like preparing for an option team.  You work on the option, you work on responsibilities relative to the option.  In this case I think you work on as best you can simulating that rapid situation.
So that's what we'll do.  We'll work two teams at our defense and time it on the clock, and it's going to be as best we can, but there still is an adjustment period that goes on here on game day, and I think we saw that last year.  One thing that we do have, we have the experience at working against it from last year so our players know that it is real, that they're not going to blink when we're running at play at you every 10 seconds, so that simulates that aspect of it, but then the attention to detail and the technique that you use has to be consistent.
We need to work on that, and we'll have to adjust out here.  We were able to do that last year and we adjusted in the second half last year, but that remains to be seen this year.  Good offense, very well‑coached football team, and I think they bring a certain mindset with them when they come.

Q.  Obviously last season no wins in the Big 10 at home.  How much of that trend is something that you want to reverse and that you will‑‑
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, obviously we want to reverse that.

Q.  How much will you emphasize that with your team this week specifically?  Also did you see any reason for that, I guess, that links it all together from last season, or do you think it was more of a fluke?
COACH DANTONIO:  Well, prior to that the two previous seasons we had won 14 straight games at home, maybe 15, from the season before.  So that's never been a concern of ours.
Last year we lost some games at home and they were a double‑overtime game, there was the Nebraska game at the end of the game, Northwestern at the end of the game.  I can't remember who else.  But there were some very, very tight football games here, and we just need to understand that this is our place and we need to play up.  Got to play up when you're away.  Right now we're a 10‑3 football team in the last three years away from home.
I mean, that's outstanding, but we've got to play up, as well, at home, and we've got to bring that focus back home, which we've talked about quite often in the past year.  But what's real is the results that we see.
That focus will be there.

Q.  Nick Saban has said he doesn't think these type of offenses should necessarily be allowed, the tempo and not letting the defense getting set.  What are the advantages and disadvantages, and how do you not see it as advantageous for you guys to use some of that?
COACH DANTONIO:  Well, I do see it as being an advantage at times, and we have done it at times.  If you watch our games we've fast‑balled things and moved in that direction.  Not as much, obviously, not nearly as much.
But the answer to that question, I do think that there is the possibility of more injuries when you're tired.  Well, the goal is to get in condition, so you're not going to win if you're not in condition.  So we have to be in great condition, and we have to play all of our guys.  One aspect of our football team right now is I think we do have good depth so we can play, especially on the defensive side of the ball, so we're able to move people in and out a little bit.
As far as how you play against them and everything, right now I would imagine that if you'd look at it, three and outs, and we're one of the top teams in America at that.  Last week we had 10 three‑and‑outs on the defensive side of the ball.  Last year 60 percent of the series that we went against, they were three‑and‑out.  If we can go three‑and‑out and our offense gets the ball and can take time off the clock, those are positive things.
On average, I believe this is correct, on average I believe that they've‑‑ don't quote me right on the dime here, but I think 15 touchdowns of their 18 maybe is 90 seconds or less, their drive is 90 seconds or less.
You know, they're moving the ball down the field very quickly, and it only takes about three or four plays of you being tired and not being able to match up or not playing sound football or being lazy, and bad things can happen.  So that's the challenge for our football team.  It's not so much ‑‑ they're extremely well schooled, they're a very well disciplined football team.  I think they play with toughness on the offensive and defensive side of the ball, but where they get you is the rapid development as we talked about already, and I think what ends up happening is the defense starts to wear down and starts to not play as well.

Q.  (Inaudible.)
COACH DANTONIO:  Well, if you get off the field three‑and‑out, your defense is going to be on the field, and that's where the down side comes, I think.  Obviously if you've got a great defense and you're doing that, but the number of plays that they run per game right now I think is 77.  The number of plays we run right now is 74.
Possession time, we're number one in the conference with 37 minutes per game.  They're somewhere in the 20s.  So how do you equate that?  I'm not sure.  But our focus needs to be consistent to make plays, and to do that you need to execute.  I don't care whether you're going fast or whether you're being more methodical.  The deal is I do think you have to execute and make plays, players make plays.

Q.  You bring up a lot of the defensive stats that this defense has put forth this year.  Obviously against Iowa you held them under 25 yards rushing.  How much better can this defense get, and when you look at it in terms of the defenses that you've had here, how do you rate it right now?
COACH DANTONIO:  Well, again, I go back to what I said last week, so this is always good because if I can say this every week we're getting better and better and better.  But you evaluate our defense at the end of the year, not in the middle, because you really don't know what's going to happen.  The sky was falling when they scored two touchdowns last week.  That's a good sign.  They scored two touchdowns, and oh, my gosh, what are we going to do.
But I do believe this is an excellent defense that we have.  I do believe that there's a lot of pride there based on things statistically right now.  We're playing extremely well.  But the key is do you play well against every football team that you play against, I think, because every football team that you play against is going to bring a little bit different mentality or concept or the way they do things to you, so you have to be able to adjust every single week.  This week is going to be different than next week, is going to be different than Illinois, is going to be different than the following week.
You know, the ability to adapt and change as you move forward in your schedule I think is key to your success.  Thus far we've been able to do that.  I think we did that last year, as well, but the 2011 team had 49 sacks.  Very good statistically, five scorers, this team is on track.  Last year's team was very, very good.  John Lewandowski gave me a stat yesterday and I think we've been here 84 games as a staff or I've been the head coach here for 84 games.  40 of them our opponents have rushed for less than 100 yards.  That's pretty solid.
That means to me that there's been a lot of good defense played here, we've just got to continue what we're doing and try and answer the bell every week.  Got to answer the bell every week, and if there's a message to anybody out there, especially our football team, it's that, hey, we might not be there yet.  We can get better.  We can still get better.  I know we can.  So we'll evaluate at the end of the year, but I like the way we're playing and I like the way we come out and compete.  That's all I've ever asked our football team to do is compete and we'll be well prepared defensively, organizationally and schematically we'll be well prepared, but we've got to make plays.

Q.  Looking back at last year, what was the difference in the second half?  Did they do anything differently?  Also can you recall the last time you went to a press conference and talked only about defense and defensive matchups to this point?
COACH DANTONIO:  That's good.  No, I can't remember that.  It's been a while.  But I think last year we sort of regrouped at halftime.  We regrouped during the second quarter a little bit.  That first quarter it was 17‑0.  We slowed down them a little bit in the second half, in the second quarter, and then in the 3rd and fourth quarter we played very, very well.  Got off the field, made plays.  A lot of what they do is what I would call in the no‑cover zone, which is 10 yards or less down the field.  You've got to tackle in space, and we tackled in space much more effectively in the second half, and then the other thing that we did, we adapted to the speed of the game, and you didn't see us look like we were a tired football team.  In that first quarter, because we watch it over and over right now, you just felt like that we were poorly coached, poorly executing, all of that was very evident.  You know, we adjusted, which I think, again, it's an adjustment process out here, and you're going to see some of that probably this weekend.  That's the challenge for us.

Q.  The quicker thing, the weekly LT update, is he any closer?

Q.  Yeah.
COACH DANTONIO:  We're going to know this week.  We'll start doing a little something and we're going to find out just how fast he can progress.  Can he play this week or not, I won't know that probably through Thursday's practice.  He may.  He's in pads.

Q.  Iowa City was probably the high water mark of this season is for and with all the questions surrounding this team maybe from us, did the questions diminish with the team, too?  Do you sense this team is gaining confidence and finding itself heading into the teeth of this schedule?
COACH DANTONIO:  Well, you hope so.  We said all along, I really felt all along that when our offense makes some plays, confidence is going to breed confidence and things are going to flourish.  I think you saw some of that start to happen last week.  Was it perfect, no.  It wasn't perfect.  We could have done better.  But that other football team has got players, too.  There's nothing going to be perfect about it in any way sense, either side of the ball or special teams.  You need to adapt.  But I do feel like our players made a big step in the right direction.  When you make a change as we made a change, it's changes that evolve, make a change, it takes time to see that change come to fruition, I think, and for that person to have some success and confidence and those types of things.
I think we're seeing that, and we'll have another opportunity to grow, I think, again on this Saturday.  Again, we play Indiana.  They're a fast‑paced offense, so they're an offense that gets everything and does everything at the line with no‑huddle, so the louder we can make it in our stadium the better it's going to be.  If you're sitting back and watching this week, I would say that's probably a negative and that's not helping.  We need to get those guys, get our people moving in that direction, as well, pack this place and make it loud.  Should be an exciting atmosphere, 12:00 kick game, so get to bed early.  I don't know if that's possible for our youth of today, but get up early.

Q.  You talked about not defining a defense or a team until the end of the season, but just in terms of when you were watching them only give up 23 yards, how much joy are you taking out of that in moment when you see what happened at Iowa and they're 220 yards below their average or when certain things are happening that are exactly as you'd like it to be, especially somebody of a defensive pedigree?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think you take great satisfaction as a coach whenever you see something that's diagrammed up that you work on be successful, and then when you put an emphasis on effort and toughness and knowledge of what to do and you see that coming to fruition, you know you're going to feel good about it.  And then when you see the enjoyment or the enthusiasm, I guess, that's created by plays working well, it just makes you appreciate the job that you have, because that's what coaching is all about.  On the field, game day or practice, it's about seeing what you teach in the classroom become real.
So that's what you‑‑ it's very gratifying, and as a defensive coach I respect that extremely because I know how hard it is to do.  If you look around the country, it's not being done very often, and especially in this day and age with all the different offenses and things that go along with offensive football.
It's a big positive for all of us, but I think we gain confidence from it.

Q.  The red zone, and I know you're not going to complain about two explosive touchdowns, but there's been some woes there and I also wonder about the new pony set package you talked about.
COACH DANTONIO:  Well, the red zone is a point of emphasis, as you've said.  We've got to get down there and we have to score touchdowns.  So right now I think we're 8 out of 18 getting touchdowns in that area, in the red zone when we get into it, so we're kicking too many field goals.  Obviously we went for it on the one 4th down.  So we've got to come up with short yardage plays and we've got to hit plays we have an opportunity to hit.  We're off by inches, it's literally inches.  So those things will come.  We'll just keep working it, keep trying to do different things, and I believe those things will come.
But we're not going to measure up completely until we hit that button, as well, until we hit that‑‑ overcome that hurdle.  But that's the challenge.  Like I said, everybody has got challenges, everybody has got different challenges.  Some people are dealing with the defense, some people are dealing with the special teams.  I thought Mike Geiger's performance was very good.  The first kick looked like it was going right down the middle and then it tailed.  Our guys thought it was good, but they called it no.  So it must have tailed off right before the goal post.
But the other four were on target, and I think that's tremendous for a young freshman with his first real start in a big‑time game that means a lot.  He put us over the hump there when he made the one that put us up by 12.  That was a positive thing to see.
But the red zone is something that I think that needs‑‑ that's constantly addressed every day we're meeting.  In terms of what we'll do with it, there are other things‑‑ there are things that we can do, so we'll use everybody that we've got and try and get the thing remedied.

Q.  That last Rose Bowl team had to beat Indiana in '87 on a pretty wild Saturday as I remember to get there.  Since that's the supreme goal here, will you have members of that team address this team at all, either before the game or this week, or is that not in the plan?
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, we do consider that, and they'll be around, but we picked honorary captain Jeff Monroe this week.  I felt like that was important to honor him this week, and he can bring a lot of those thoughts back to us.  But those guys are always welcome here, the Rose Bowl team.  They may be out of practice if they get here early.  Some of them may be here on Friday, so giving them the opportunity to speak to us, and we're going to obviously take advantage of that.

Q.  With Allen over Jackson at center, is that strictly performance, or is Jackson still limited a little bit?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think it's a little bit limited, but Travis had a little bit of a setback last week, was out of practice.  But they're both very good players.  I feel like they're both starters for us.  But if they call to me who's listed as the starter right now, I listed Jack.  But Travis can play there, Jack can play guard.  They're really interchangeable.

Q.  And then with that interchangeable line and having seven, eight guys come in and play really well as a unit, has that changed any perceptions that you had previously about having to have that set five and kind of roll with it?
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, I've never thought we have to have a set five, we've just got to have guys that can play winning football at the offensive line.  You know, when guys change the guy all the way down to the end zone on the incomplete pass, we pulled those two guys out and we put two more fresh guys in.  I think that's an advantage for us.  I think it's just something that also obviously is going to help in an injury situation.  So it's an advantage.  We've got guys with starting experience.  We've got that in the secondary, got that at linebacker, we have that at defensive line, we've got that at wide out, and we've got it at quarterback.  We've got it really almost at every single position.  We've got it at kicker.
And I think in the end, those opportunities and those experiences only help you because you've got to be able to play in that environment out there, and it's different than practice.  So we've got guys with game experience and we're growing as a football team, and that should pay dividends down the line for us.

Q.  Damon Knox took a pretty brutal block.  He's listed as a co‑starter.  Is he going to be good to go?
COACH DANTONIO:  He should practice today and we'll see how he is.  I think he ran a little bit on Sunday, and he should practice today.

Q.  Obviously the offense played well, and special teams wise we all saw the fake punt, but do you think that special teams as a whole is maybe overlooked a little bit with king's big return on punt, Shelton coming close on kick return?  How much has that unit improved?
COACH DANTONIO:  Our unit is vastly improved.  We blocked a punt against Notre Dame.  We almost had a run back on a kickoff return, almost on a punt return.  He was in the house on a punt return.  It was one more block.  We've been consistent in that area.  We've got four or five out of field goals with the near miss that I talked about.  Sadler has been tremendous.  I'm not even talking about the fake, I'm talking about his punch down inside the 10.  I think the numbers are‑‑ I think the numbers are 16 or 18 times opponents have started down inside their 20 yard line.  They've scored zero percent touchdowns.  There's not been one touchdown drive from the 20 back yet this season.  In fact, I think out of 67, I guess it was critique time because I know these numbers.  Out of 67 possible possessions that people have gotten, four have turned to touchdowns from the 0 to the 40.
So we're getting field position, and it's tough to go the length of the field if you have the field position.  So those are positive things for us, and I think that's all related to special teams.  So I think we are playing better.  We have good players running down.  There's a sense of urgency among our players, and we've got to win that area of the special teams, of the football game.  We've got to win special teams.  There's a lot of big plays that hang out there on special teams.
Last week going into the Iowa game, they had I believe three punt returns for touchdowns.  We needed to make sure we negated that ass inspection.  This week Indiana has done a good job with special teams.  They've done things last year, they kicked a‑‑ had a pass, bloop kick for basically like a turnover on us last year.  They're an offense that‑‑ they're a football team that's going to take advantage and understand the realities of special teams, as well.

Q.  When you move a guy like Riley who had a chance to be a featured ball carrier to fullback, do you study similar backs like a Mike Alstott to see how he was effective, and does that mean the fullback will get more than one carry a year for the first time in a while?
COACH DANTONIO:  Well, there's possibilities of that, but yeah, I do look at that.  When we looked at Riley and put him over there, I felt like he was a guy a little bit like Weisman, he's a little bit like Alstott.  He hasn't transitioned as fast as we hoped he would.  He was limited in summer camp a little bit with an injury, so he didn't get as many reps.  But he's a football player.  We need to find a way to get him more reps on the field, and that's what we're trying to do.  He's very active in special teams.  If he was a linebacker right now he'd be a backup linebacker, so we're just trying to get him on the field as much as we can and get him game experience and allow him sort of to take off a little bit.

Q.  The quarterback situation:  Are there any‑‑
COACH DANTONIO:  You can always come back to that (laughter).

Q.  Is there any situations where you would use another quarterback?  I know you used Maxwell in the two‑minute, Cook hasn't really done a whole lot on the read option.  Is there any potential for another quarterback in certain situations?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think right now we're going to go with one quarterback, and that's how I feel.  I feel like Connor played well this last game.  We're asking our quarterback to create.  I think he created.  I thought he threw the ball very effectively.  The ball was caught effectively down the field.  He had a couple runs.  He's a threat to run.
With that in mind, I think we'll just go with that direction here, and I was extremely‑‑ I was impressed with the way he played last week.  Obviously if we put somebody else in there, we're going to have confidence in those guys, as well.

Q.  Mark Scarpinato said it's time to have an open conversation.  Evidently he's had some concussion issues and he said they've all come in practice, and in the NFL they only hit 18 times in practice.  Is that an internal conversation that you guys are having, or is that something that you're considering about changing practice habits?
COACH DANTONIO:  No, I think he means the conversation ‑‑ must be the lawyer coming out in him talking about long‑term.  I think maybe systematically as a college football environment, he's not had any of those conversations with me, so I'll have to ask him about them today, though.
But I do think that there's issues there, but you have bigger numbers.  It's a different game than the NFL to some degree, but I'm not sure how to answer that one really.  We just try and take precautions as best we can.

Q.  You've got a strong showing out of your wide receiver corps this weekend.  Can you talk about where that unit is and how they improve the confidence of Connor Cook?
COACH DANTONIO:  Well, I think confidence breeds confidence as I said earlier in this, and I thought that those 50/50 catches that I've been talking about a lot, they made those.  And I think with that, things are going to continue to move forward and soar.  We've got great play from Bennie Fowler, I thought that Macgarrett Kings has played extremely well, I thought Burbridge played well, I thought Tony Lippett played well, got a big catch out of AJ Simms.  That's five guys.  R.J. Shelton is in there and is a threat to play.  That's six.
I'm probably missing somebody.  Keith Mumphery has been good for us for four, didn't have as big a game last week because the opportunities weren't there, but he's made plays for us before, as well.  I think you have seven guys in there that can basically roll in and out, and I think that's a positive.  Hopefully it gives Connor Cook a lot of people‑‑ he threw to nine receivers last week, so that's a positive.

Q.  You mentioned the rapid fire earlier.  It's a little bit different type of offense.  Is this the type of match‑up that you relish?  Do you poke your head in the defensive meeting room a little more because this is a little different, this is a little inordinate?
COACH DANTONIO:  I like winning.  There's no question I like winning, and I enjoy playing great defense.  I'm going to be in the defensive room.  I'm not just sitting in my office watching CNN.  There's going to be a role that I play every week, whether it's in the offensive meeting rooms or whether it's the defensive meeting rooms, and I want to be knowledgeable what's going on in both, as well as special teams, so I'm in the defensive meeting rooms a lot.
I like just seeing our guys play at a high level.  I think that our coaches have been with us for a long enough time that I don't have to sit in there day in and day out.  I know what's going on, and I can walk back in and be caught up very quickly in terms of where we're at, in terms of whether it's offense or defense.
I'm going to get pulled away for certain things, and I don't want the process to ever just stop.  That's why it is what it is.
But Coach Narduzzi and the defensive staff do a tremendous job, and they're well on top of this.  You know, he makes the great calls, and that's the way it should be.

Q.  We know how you feel about Andrew Maxwell.  Where is his head these days?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think Andrew has handled this tremendously.  He's an extremely unselfish young man.  He'll do whatever is best for the team, and not that it's not tough to deal with.  I understand that.  It's tough to deal with.  But as I look at it, if that were a son of mine, I would be very, very proud of the way he's handled this because adversity is one thing you go through, whether it's on the field or whether it's off the field.  It's been tough to handle but he's been very selfless in terms of the way he's handled it, and my hopes in all honesty is as the season progresses, if there is an opportunity, when his opportunity does come that he performs in a tremendous way.  And who knows what the future holds for all of us.  Just don't know.

Q.  (Question regarding fist bump with daughter).
COACH DANTONIO:  No, she didn't, but she did say to me, dad, dad, don't forget, trickery.  I said, it's coming.  So after that got done I walked over and gave her a little fist bump.

Q.  (Inaudible.)
COACH DANTONIO:  No, that was Coach Tressel.  I said, how did you come up with that, and he finished the riddle, send Mike Sadler up the middle.  That's how it went.

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