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November 17, 2013

Mark Dantonio

COACH DANTONIO:¬† Obviously a big win, program win, taking us to 9‑1 puts us in control of our own destiny, and that's what the goal of this game was.
Our team came ready to play, and really we're focused from the time we left Michigan State.  So great things started to happen.  I thought our defense obviously came up with four turnovers.  We got the fifth on a punt, on punt fumble but came up with four big turnovers.
We're plus five in the turnover margin.¬† One of them coming on the 3‑yard line.¬† We saw almost an immediate score for us.¬† I think outstanding job.¬† A couple of place, those will be addressed and fixed but they're very fixable, credit Nebraska.¬† Got some guys that can make some plays as well.
I thought our offense responded with the opportunities with those turnovers, and scored and obviously but with the turnovers and everything else and the ability to drive the football at the end of the game, I think in the fourth quarter we were 11 minutes in possession time.  38 minutes of plus of possession time in the entire football game.
So, again, we do a great job in that area.  Another great job of no turnovers.  And I felt that we got great plays from Langford running the football, offensive line running the football and all the pieces that go along with it.  Pull back tight end and also huge catches on the field on third down which I've always termed those sort of 50/50 catches, when the ball is thrown right on the money and guys are hanging on you and you've got to make the play.
So saw that happen numerous times in the football game and I think that's a great confidence booster not only for our receivers but for our entire offense.
When you really look beyond that, you have to look at special teams, and obviously it was huge.  We had four punts down inside the 10.  Went away with one fumble on those.  Geiger is two for two on field goals and do a great job on kickoff coverage.  Obviously ran the one fake, which gets us in a position to score, and then have a great punt return.
But when you look at hidden yardage, which is where our offense starts on the first play of a possession, where their offense starts, and then you do the math and that, there's over 300 yards of hidden yardage that we gained there, which is a huge, huge number when you look at the overall bottom line in the football game.
And really I mean when you look at it, that's probably the biggest indicator for our win.  And that involves everybody.  So as we go forward, the stakes get a little higher, and I'm excited to be a part of this, and the next challenge up is Northwestern, which again will be a challenge.  Questions?

Q.  Wanted to ask you about Connor's play when you looked at it on film and some of those, as you well as you talk about 50/50 balls and willingness to hang in there against the pressure and throw against those what did you think of his performance and his progression this year?
COACH DANTONIO:  I thought that there's some things he can improve on early in the game.  We didn't hit our first four or five passes or so.  But it was extremely windy across the field.
East/west wind.  So I thought initially, I wouldn't say struggle is the right word, but it wasn't as effective.  And then as the game progressed, again he's extremely resilient.  As the game progressed, he got sharper and sharper, and the balls were right on the money, great throws.
Created a number of times, ran the football a couple of times for nice gains, creating situations, whether it be first down one time I think and another time getting it to a third and short.  But he did a great job of operating our football team and gets a winning performance from my standpoint.
But zero turnovers is the bottom line, again.  And throwing the football pretty successfully as the game continued on.

Q.  The other Friday night Coach Izzo mentioned Twitter and press clippings as getting into his guys' heads.  As you start to have more success and the odds grow bigger with you guys and the opportunity, how do you manage that with your players?
COACH DANTONIO:  Well, we keep talking about it.  We have 100 plus players.  We travel 70 to the game.  So very hard to control what they're hearing out there.
But I think the main focus is continue to try to be mature about how you handle yourself and you've got to handle success and that was one of the big things we talked about going to Nebraska.
There was a buzz that was created.  Nationally, Game Day was here, did a piece on us.  And The Journey was here from the Big Ten Network, did a piece on us.  I initially felt maybe we shouldn't have them come in at this point in time.  But if you are going to be good want to be good and prominent in this country as a sports team you're going to get national headlines.  And you've got to be able to handle both.
You've got to be able to handle those and play well half the fact.  I thought we did that in this particular game.  And it's very important that we can continue to do that as we move through this process.
But I don't have a real clear answer how he handled it except we address it when we see something wrong and we're very quick to try and address things when we do see it.  Now, we don't always see things, but we hope that their players are being mature in how they handle things.

Q.  Tony Lippett you told us about the talk you had with him about a month or so ago.  Is there something more there than simply a change of attitude for him and how rewarding is it as a coach to see a guy that's struggled like that early in the season and come on late and make huge plays for you?
COACH DANTONIO:  First of all, I think it's all Tony.  I mean, when we sat down and talked, just a mutual conversation, just on a Monday.  But Tony Lippett has turned his game around.  I think first thing you gotta fix is how hard you work, sometimes, in practice and how you go about your business.
And then the second thing, which I believe leads to a success now, he's extremely confident.  And confidence breeds success.  And you're not worried about dropping the football.  You're worried about making plays.  You're used to the situation.  You're used to playing in the big games, used to playing on TV.  And that's all a part of the process here.  And I continually say to our players that what people see are the product.  They see Michigan State product on the field and they analyze and evaluate that.  But there's a process how we get there.  And that process sometimes, there's positive things that happen and there's things that happen where you have to regroup a little bit, too.  So it's part of the process, I guess, is what I'd say.

Q.  Obviously Nebraska gassed you guys pretty good on the ground.  I don't know how much of it was scheme.  But Max Bullough was saying he didn't think his initial indication before he saw film was that he said usually when that happens the team is not physical enough.  Do you think maybe the lightened practices may have had something to do with, I know you said back off those injuries, but do you think that was a contributor?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† No, I don't.¬† We practiced one time in our off week.¬† But we practiced three times, went live last week.¬† I think it was basically a product of them having some things that we had not seen on the big‑‑ one of the runs were‑‑ I'm not sure‑‑ 60 plus, 69 with a 60.¬† Close to 60 yards.
So there's a big ball‑‑ it split our safeties, the outside linebackers to the side that it was run to.¬† Took a wider alignment than he should have.¬† But wasn't able to come back in on it.¬† And our defensive end didn't close like he usually closes.
That was one of the things, and then there was a structural thing that was involved with that as well.  So a little bit physical, a little bit structural.  There's always a reason.  But if you take away the long run, two long runs, one of their other long runs is on a broken play, I think it was a broken play, that you end up getting off the field but you can't negate the turnovers.  You can play however you play, if you come up with turnovers, things change very drastically, our defense came up with turnovers.
I think the other thing that I would mention about our defense is people are now expecting our defense to stop people in their tracks and give up 50 yards a game.  That's not normal.  Most people are giving 130, 140 yards a game of rushing offense.  That's probably normal for most people.
We set a very high standard here and we're going to try to continue to chase excellence with that.  But things will happen, and we have to be able to respond and handle adversity.  And I think we did that on game day.  We kept playing yesterday and made the adjustments and things started to take shape.

Q.  To follow up, I know the wind's behind you now, but could that maybe even be a silver lining for your defense to maybe get the edge back, because now the national story line is hey Michigan State's defense isn't as good as it cracked up to be, they can't play with Ohio State?
COACH DANTONIO:  I don't know who is writing that story line, but I'll wait to read it.

Q.  I think USA Today.
COACH DANTONIO:  I'm not worried about that.  We'll cross the bridges when we get to it.  The main focus we have is to play well against Northwestern.  As I said earlier, we played ten games.  We played tremendous defense for nine of those games, and then the one game that we maybe had a hitch in our gearing up would be the game we come up with four turnovers on defense, and I'll probably trade that out.

Q.  Could you go into some detail about Kurtis Drummond.  He just happens to be anywhere near the ball on defense.  Seemed like one of his best games as a Spartan.  After seeing the field, could you assess it, please.
COACH DANTONIO:  Kurtis is an outstanding football player for us.  Obviously he was in a lot of plays if you look at special teams he caused a fumble on the punt.  And then he also downed that punt inside the 1.  And then we get a subsequent fumble on the very next play.
So huge plays in the special teams area.  But he's a guy that's very controlling in the back end.  He knows and understands what's going on.  He's a good tackler, has great ball skills.  And you're right he's around the ball a lot.
And Nebraska spread things out a little bit, which they'll do, and he was a part of the, a big part of the equation in stopping what they do and I felt he had a good game, probably not as good a game as he had but he had a good game, solid game.

Q.  You talk often about the all count one but some are different.  To go into that environment in the road and for Connor to have done what he did in the fourth quarter, I realize that the W is in the win column but for his maturation, could that be even bigger than one game just moving forward, that all games are going to be bigger?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think it can, because the stakes get higher, as I say, at the end of my statement.  With every game the stakes get higher and it's just another experience that he's had.  He's had an experience at Iowa, and then, which was a big time experience for him and played well.  Now he's come back and with Illinois.  Now he went to Nebraska and I thought he was very solid, especially in the second half of that football game.
And those things matter.  When you start to add them all up, having been there, done that, in the spotlight, been under the gun, been pressured, been blitzed by a good football team that leads the conference in sacks.  Having been knocked down, two times he was sacked on his back with really blindside hits, all those things count.  And it just helps in the maturation process I think as a quarterback.  And he's doing a great job, and he'll continue to get better.  That's the exciting thing, he'll become even better as we move forward.

Q.  Just on the protection, you mentioned that it obviously improved in the fourth quarter.  Was that some adjustments you guys made or was that more just execution improving?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† It's execution.¬† On the one‑‑ there were two problems, one was a mental error.¬† One was a physical error on the two sacks.¬† And just the bottom line is they should have been picked up.

Q.  In bringing Connor along as a redshirt sophomore, you stressed the development and maturation, does the playbook, does the leash get a little bit longer as far as how you call plays, the throws you trust him with.  Because decision making was something you talked a lot about in the spring with Connor and looks like he's starting to go vertical more and more as the season goes on?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† We really don't have any concerns about‑‑ we put it in the game plan and he can handle the entire game plan that we do put in.¬† If as the week continues on, if there's something that he can't handle, then we're going to take it out.
And I think we're doing a great job, outstanding job, offensive staff‑wise coming up with wrinkles each week that complement who we are.¬† And I think there's a definite difference in terms of who we are as a football team as opposed to last year relative to what we're running, what we're trying to do, the different things conceptually we're trying to do.
There still are the bottom line basic fundamental things foundation things we do but there's also some new themes and I think they've been implemented and I think they've been a very positive addition for us.

Q.  I was going to ask you, who was the brain child of that power I you used that a few times with guys in motion and a few different things out of that.  I don't think that I've seen that before.
COACH DANTONIO:¬† All the coaches, I'm not sure which guy, but everybody's always in agreement there and we came up with different ways to do different things, obviously, and like everybody does and that's the beauty I guess of college football, game plans seem to change week‑to‑week and you've got to be able to adapt offensively or defensively.

Q.  You have cited staff continuity as one of the reasons of your program's success and you have had assistants who could have made more money and chose to stay with you.  But they referenced your embracing of their families as a big reason for staying in a profession that often doesn't.  On the field, you had the coaches wives there in Nebraska the other night with you guys, can you just talk about how much embracing the families is just part of the culture you have built and with the loyalty you have not only from assistants but their families?
COACH DANTONIO:  We have a great staff.  That staff goes beyond our coaches and their families.  We have a lot of people that support us.  Obviously assistant coaches, graduate assistants and training and academics and the weight area and sports information and our administration.  So there's a lot of people that are involved in this program.
When we move and go one place to one place, you really get a feel how big the program is, because the number of people that travel with us.  And we've tried to create a culture here of caring and chemistry.  And that goes beyond our coaches.  But it permeates I think from, I guess, from myself down through our coaches but into our players and their families.  And I think that's the most important thing we do and I continually say, yeah, we've got some good players but we're winning because of the chemistry here, the chemistry within our staff, chemistry within our football team and their families.
And some of our families, they've been with us for 10 years.¬† Some of their children I've known since birth.¬† And it's genuine.¬† This is not something that just happens, and I think sometimes you have to go through the storms, storms with people‑‑ I haven't been very, very strong in terms of how we've handled our staff and I want these coaches with us.¬† So I'll stand by them in their storms as well.

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