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November 24, 2013

Mark Dantonio

COACH DANTONIO:  Basically from a big picture standpoint, just want to congratulate our football team on securing the Legends Division Championship.  We'll go to work on Minnesota this week and stay on the task at hand.  I think it's very important that we play well as we enter into this final week of the season.  Do what we have to do to try to earn our way into the Top‑10 as we move through the process here.
But when you look at our football team overall, I thought offensively we had great balance, ran the football effectively.  Obviously Langford has another big day with 154 yards.  We had 170 total.  But averaged 7.2 yards per play.  Had almost 300 yards of passing with eight different guys and zero turnovers, which I think is the big deal on the whole day with the wind and the cold everything and else that was going on.
Obviously Jeremy had two big runs, one at the beginning and one finishing the game and big catch by Bennie Fowler and another one by Price for TD's, and I thought Tony Lippett's catch was key at the beginning of the second half.
Defensively, three turnovers and two more on downs, when they went fourth down and done.  80 yards rushing, they threw it fast, shut them out the second half.  I thought Darqueze Dennard obviously played a great game with nine tackles, and Curtis Drummond played outstanding, as well, with two picks.  And obviously Darqueze had an interception as well.
Front wise, I thought we played very, very well.  And for special teams, Sadler has another big day.  He had 41 yards per punt.  Another one down inside the ten, and then I also thought that Deme was very solid on kickoffs relative to the wind and Tyler (ph) goes one‑for‑one, but we have to make that extra point at the end.
But we played very solid on the special teams, as well. I'll take some questions, but again, just pig picture thinking, excited about the opportunity that lies in front of us in the next two weeks but job one is to play well and win against Minnesota.

Q.  As the stakes get higher and the season goes along, have you ever allowed yourself to think back to the NotreDame game, if things had gone differently what you might be playing for right now?
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, I think you tend to look at the past and learn from the past.  But the reality is some things you can control, some things you cannot.  The things that we could have controlled in that football game were scoring in the red zone, rather than kicking field goals and we missed one field goal.  And then the ball went on the ground five times.
Now, two of them, it was because of calls, but three other times, the ball went on the ground and if we get any of those, you know, it was probably a different football game.  But you know, we learned something from the football game about ourselves and you know, that propelled us forward.
So you know, other than that, I really don't think about it other than missed opportunities.

Q.  I know that you constantly talk about teams have their best success when seniors have their best year, but I alluded to it yesterday with Jeremy and the maturity.  There's a lot of young players on this team that are growing up quickly.  Is that part of the success process, is that maturity in your young players?
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, I think it is.  We've got some guys that‑‑ we have an interesting chemistry, I guess, on our football team because we obviously have about 17 seniors.  A lot of them at starting positions.
But then we also have guys who are in their fourth year, such as Jeremy Langford, who now he's matured as if he's a senior and is playing extremely well.  We have some other guys like that, and guys that are in their third and second year.  Not too many freshmen are playing, which is indication of matured I think as a football team; not too many freshmen are playing.  But they are coming, you know, so that's a positive, as well.

Q.  Obviously everyone else is going to be talking about the game with Ohio State two weeks from now.  What do you do to ensure that your players stay focused on Minnesota and work toward that undefeated Big Ten slate?
COACH DANTONIO:  Well, it's our last football game at Spartan Stadium.  It's an opportunity to go 8‑0.  The stakes get higher when you talked about possibly getting into the Top‑10 with the win.  And you know, as important as anything, we want to play well in November, be playing our best football as we enter the championship weekend.
So that's probably as important as anything.  We want to be confident and hitting on‑‑ you know, hitting on all systems as we move into next week.  And I think it's important that we play well this week, and I think our players understand that.  I think we've done a great job in focusing on the present, and we need to do that this week.
But I think our players will be motivated.  They understand the stakes are high and continue to get higher, with every win we get a little more notoriety and all those things count at the end.

Q.  I know that you said yesterday, you can control what you can control, but you did mention that essentially you could look at this weekend as playing for a BCS game.  When you look at that situation, I guess, first of all, how much do you look at it, and how do you see the situation for you right now?
COACH DANTONIO:  I see that we are 10‑1, we are Legends Champions.  And as we go to this weekend, we have an opportunity to go 11‑1, which has not been done here, I don't believe, except for maybe two other times.
You know, those are things that are happening that we can look back, you know, 20 years from now and point to it and say, that was a great football team.  We don't intend to take second place in the conference.  We are going to play‑‑ we are going to‑‑ our goals are set high, so we'll worry about that next week.
But I do think that moving to the Top‑10 with the win, possibly, possibly, is another, you know, position that we want to put ourselves in. I just think that that's the makeup of our players and we want to continue to move forward.
But the biggest thing is we need to be playing well, as I said earlier, after we come out of this week; after Saturday, we need to be playing well.

Q.  I was wondering if you had a second chance to look at the hit from Lewis and if you still feel the same way as you did yesterday about that?
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, I have looked at it.  And I think it's a bang‑bang call.  It's very difficult.  So I'm not‑‑ I think it's a tough call to make.
But off a teaching film, if you're teaching, I don't really understand how you teach a guy to get any lower than he did.  I felt like he hit with his shoulder pad.  Of course, when you hit with your shoulder pad, your head is moving forward.  There's no possible way your head moves backwards if you're hitting with your shoulder pad.
So you're trying to hit on the rise; so he's as low as he can, trying to hit up and through a guy to generate power, which is the way you're supposed to tackle.
It's unfortunate that what happened, happened, on both ends of the spectrum.  We are not trying to hurt anybody.  And the other end of the spectrum is you don't want a guy being thrown out of the football game.  That's not our intent.
So again, you know, you look at things I guess and say, some things you can control and some things you cannot control.  I can't control that.  All I can control now is how we respond to it.
Obviously I was upset at the time it happened because I just turned and looked at it on the big screen.  But you know, it's a bang‑bang call and ultimately they have to make those decisions.
But I will emphasize, again, these are split‑second decisions.  The guys are coming at people at a very fast rate of speed and to ask people to control‑‑ to control their body, it's not possible.
So nobody was out to intentionally hurt anybody, but I'm not in that position to make that call.  That's not my responsibility.

Q.  That Denicos Allen, he's having a better year than last year.  He thinks he's playing much better this year than last year.  Why do you think that is?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think he has a renewed purpose.  I think he has a renewed purpose in based off of last year a little bit, just overall team‑‑ the overall team, how we performed.
Played very well on defense obviously, but as a football team, and I think he understands that being a senior, there's a larger responsibility.  And I think he's run with that, and I think a lot of our players have.  When they came back, they were determined to find the inches and we're finding those.  Part of it is maybe playing in a little bit more in tune.  I don't know if he can play much harder; he always plays extremely hard.
But playing a little bit more in tune with things schematically, being on the right page and those type of things; and he's a year older and he's a senior and this is his fourth year starting for us.  I think he understands that his time here is coming down to‑‑ when he walks out in Spartan Stadium this week, it will be the last opportunity for him to play there.
So these things are important to him.  He's a team person and very team driven, and I think that comes from his high school coach who has been a big factor in his life.

Q.  Looking at the stats, and I know you're not huge on stats, and I know you said a few weeks ago that some of the numbers the defense was putting up were unrealistic, but I think you are ten yards per game ahead of Louisville.  Would it be a goal or would it be special for your team to finish No.1 in the nation total defense, or is that not really a number you'll look at?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think that's something we look at the end of the year and point to it with pride.
But I don't think that's something that you look at relative to, you know, would you rather be 10‑2 or would you rather be 11‑1 and second in defense.
I think our players understand that they want to win games first and foremost, and then the individual honors and the hoop honors will follow.  But you've got to win games and you've got to play well to get that.
But I think that's something that you can point to and get excited about as a program.  That's a program recognition, an entire defense, our coaching staff, etc.

Q.  Following up on that, I asked you very early in the year, there were coach rankings and I had mentioned that four or five of the coaches in the Top 15, you had a winning record against and now you find yourself a finalist for Coach of the Year.  What does that speak to and if you can just give me your feelings on being one of the 16 finalists for the Maxwell Coach of the Year.
COACH DANTONIO:  It's humbling, first of all, but it's a staff‑‑ to me, it speaks about our staff.  We have had great continuity here.  We have had an outstanding staff and they do a tremendous job on the field.
It's the result of winning, and to me that's another program award; because I'm the head coach, they named, I guess, me.  But you don't get there without guys making plays on offense and guys making plays on defense and special teams.  You don't get there without coaches doing a great job with their players in spring practice and summer camp, and on game day making adjustments and on formulating game plans and recruiting and all that kind of stuff.
It's a program‑‑ there is no question, that is a program award and speaks to how well the program is doing and it speaks to the culture we've established here.

Q.  After watching the film, obviously right after the game, we get your initial comments but you are not upstairs and you don't get to watch the film.  After watching the film, was there anything that stood out that you that maybe you couldn't see from field level?
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, I think that for the most part, defensively our fits were very, very good.  They couldn't run the ball effectively against us, a lot of short passing.  I think once we got sort of settled down a little bit and tackled in space, we tackled very well in space.  We played the ball in the deep part of the field.
Then when you look at our offense, again, I think that we did some things and kept people off balance and did little tweaks that resulted in positive effects and it was a very difficult wind to throw in.
But I thought Connor Cook threw very, very well, had a nice touch on the ball and our guys caught the ball very well again, a lot of 50/50 catches, and obviously Langford ran the ball very effectively.  I thought we played a good football game.  When I looked at it, you know, we didn't leave anything to chance.  We were in control of the game.

Q.  I know you talked a lot about the chance to play for the BCS; do you have anyone on staff who kind of watches other games and scoreboards and crunches the numbers at this time of the year, or do you do that yourself?  And how important is that when mathematics play such a big equation in getting into that?
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, we do have Tim Allen, our operations guy, looks at all of that on a constant basis and looks to see who is where.
But we just do that just to be informed.  We try to make sure that everything here, we have dotted every i, we try.  I'm sure there's some that we don't.  But we want to make sure that we're informed and that we are doing our homework on our end so that as we move through the process, we understand what we need to do and who else is doing what.
It's just another gauge of, okay, this is how Michigan State is doing in the country right now relative to we are in the Big Ten or these type of things.  We look at the Big Ten stats, we look at the Big Ten Conference.
But we have him doing the bulk of that work, absolutely, and then I listen and talk to him a lot.

Q.  As a follow‑up to that, do you get into any sort of rooting interest in pulling for teams that might be able to help you, or what's the human element, I guess, that comes into play with that?
COACH DANTONIO:  Oh, pretty much I just watch the games.  You know, I guess you'd look at somebody and say, yeah, hopefully win or lose.
But the biggest thing that I try to concern ourselves with, is we'll have an effect on what happens.  That's the bottom line.  We will have a greater effect on what happens than anybody else will have an effect on us.  We've played our way into this situation.  We didn't back into it.
So we'll have an opportunity to do what we need to do and that's all we've ever asked for is that opportunity to play in that Championship Game and that's what we'll do.  So it will be exciting for us.  It will be a great opportunity.  It will be a great challenge.  Ohio State has a great football team, but we'll talk about that next week.

Q.  You mentioned some of the wrinkles that you put in that were effective.  The game film is out‑‑ there's no secret here.  But if you can explain, why did that draw against the grain work so well and is that the first time you've run that play this season?
COACH DANTONIO:  It is the first time we've ran that play this season, but you know, we've had it for a while.  Basically, again, it's timing.  It's, did we catch them and what defense did we catch them in, and a lot of different things of that nature.  But we felt like it was something that we could take advantage of this week.  Obviously one worked very well and one worked against for maybe two‑yard gain.

Q.  Tom Izzo talks about being a big football fan because it helps him when you're doing well.  How does it help you when they are the No.1 team in the country?
COACH DANTONIO:  It's very exciting.  You know, talked to Tom this morning.  They won the championship last night in Brooklyn of their tournament.  So to me, that's a positive.
Because anything that's‑‑ you can look across, as I said, many times, when you look across Munn Field and you see excellence, it just gives you an example of what to shoot for.  You watch ‑‑ go watch our basketball team practice and go watch how hard they practice.  It's impressive.  It's impressive how they communicate with each other.  It's impressive how important it is to practice well.  And those things help a lot I think in the way we go about our business.
The fact that they are the No.1 team and against‑‑ they will play North Carolina next Wednesday, this coming Wednesday, the following Wednesday; we'll have a practice that day and we'll have recruits in to watch practice that day and we'll have recruits into the game that night, just specific guys, so it will be a very small, selective group.
So all those things are very, very positive, because it sheds the national spotlight on Michigan State University.

Q.  I guess the question I was going to ask, and I know you haven't gone deep into the film, but Minnesota obviously runs the ball extremely effectively, but yet they wouldn't be charted one‑dimensional.  What is it about Minnesota that they have been able to win more games than they have in the 2003 season in your estimation?
COACH DANTONIO:  We'll probably talk about it on Tuesday more.  But I think the big thing about Minnesota right now, they understand what it takes to win; they have won.
I think they have great direction from Coach Kill and the rest of his coaching staff.  But I just think that they are playing very confident.  They have a quarterback that moves the football and can do different things.
But we can talk about more of those things on Tuesday I guess.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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