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November 26, 2013

Mark Dantonio

COACH DANTONIO:  Obviously big win last Saturday versus Northwestern to sort of solidify the Legends Division, so it was an exciting day for all of us.  Want to congratulate our football team, first of all, in that respect, and then also congratulate Darqueze Dennard being named a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, one of three finalists.  Very exciting for him, and he'll have an opportunity to go to those functions after.
With the Minnesota game, I think you look at what we always talk about stakes sort of get higher, you always have to have a cause to play in game, I believe that firmly.  There's got to be reason, there's got to be a cause.
To me this is an opportunity to win 11 football games, it's an opportunity to go 8‑0 in the conference, our senior day at the end of the season in Spartan Stadium and last time to play in Spartan Stadium for our football team, and just as importantly, an opportunity to probably get in the top 10 with a win, in the country, which would be something that you strive for at the end of every season, I believe.
Those are the opportunities that lie in front of us and the challenges that go along with Minnesota.
Minnesota is an outstanding football team, I believe.  They have a chance to win nine games in coming here for their last football game.  They have experience.  They have toughness, I think, that Coach Kill has brought that to that football program.  Coach Claeys has done an outstanding job as the interim head football coach, but I believe that everything comes from Coach Kill, the philosophy, the dynamics that are involved in that football team, the people, and then also the way that they do things.
They are who they are.  There's no question about that.  They play hard on defense.  They're going to press you on defense.  Hageman, No.99, is a force.  I think their secondary is very good.  They run very well, tackle well, play man coverage, linebackers will attack you downhill.  They'll pressure the quarterback.
On the offensive side of the ball, quarterback is a runner, both of them, so they'll present that possibility.¬† Cobb is a 1,000‑yard rusher, and he's a guy that hasn't started all year, a lot like our guy, and has sort of gotten his rhythm and has sort of really adapted to the situation, but a very tough runner.
Offensive line is big, physical, so they're a tough football team.
On special teams they block kicks and come after you.  I think they're a very good football team, and they'll be another challenge for us when they come to Spartan Stadium.  So with that I'll just take some questions and we'll go from there.

Q.  You have brief experience with some of what Jerry Kill has endured and gone through this season.  What does it say about I guess their program that they've been able to function that well with him limited the way he's been?
COACH DANTONIO:  Well, I think it talks about their staff, that they have an experienced staff.  Their staff has been with him for a very long time.  A lot of those guys, some guys for 20 years.  So you've got people that understand what he wants and basically been indoctrinated into his way of thinking.  So the transition is very smooth.
They've been able to adapt and continue on, and I think that's the thing that happened when I had a setback in 2010 there, or I had a step back.  I think the same thing happened with Coach Treadwell and Coach Narduzzi and our staff.

Q.  Obviously this senior class has I think a record amount of wins at this point, but going into the last home game with a lot of those guys that have won a lot of games for you, what are your feelings on some of these guys?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† Yeah, these guys, they've paid a tremendous price, sacrifice as they've come here.¬† They've gone through some reasons where it's been great.¬† Last year at this time, hey, we had a 5‑6 football team getting ready to play this last game, and striving forward.¬† You look at this season, now we're going for our 11th win.
It talks in terms of the difference between average and great is not all that much if you're looking in the right direction.  But our seniors have an opportunity to win their 40th game this weekend, which would mean that they would averaged winning 10 games a year for four years, which I think is amazing in that capacity, and then also they still have two more games beyond that.
It's really a benchmark for a program that's been in existence for 118 years.
You look at our football team right now, and you always look at the stats, and we're one game away from, I guess, finishing the Big 10, and you're one game away from finishing the season.¬† Statistically in my mind 12 games, but we lead the conference‑‑ and I think it's important to recognize the fact, we lead the conference in 15 categories.¬† Michigan State leads the conference, not individually, not individual people, but in 15 categories we lead the conference.
You can look those up and go through them or I can recite them.  But I think that's very telling in terms of where we're at as a program right now and the success that we've had.  You don't get there without doing good things.  It's been a team effort in a lot of ways.  We don't have the leading tackler in the conference.  We have a bunch of guys who tackle well at a high rate, and we don't have the leading rusher in the conference, but we have guys that are moving forward and progressing at a high rate.  We don't have the leading receiver, but we've got a whole group of guys who catch the ball very effectively.
We have a good football team that is achieving at a very high rate as a team, and when you look at us, I think we have the fewest interceptions.  We have the fewest turnovers.  We have the highest turnover ratio in terms of turnovers gained.  We have the biggest possession time on offense, and defensively we have a ton of statistics.  So all those things are very telling, I think, in terms of the success we've had and point to the individual success that our seniors have had.

Q.  How does crowd size impact you if you've got a full house here or if there are noticeably empty seats, and what's the importance to the program of having a big crowd here for Saturday's game?
COACH DANTONIO:  Well, you know, I've always tried to recognize the people that have come and not worry about the people that don't.  That's what I've always tried to do.  But I do think it's important to recognize our seniors this game.  It's the last opportunity for a lot of people to see the Spartans play in the stadium this year.  It's a season that has been special thus far, and it could become even more special.  So I'll go online as Tom Izzo does sometimes and say, hey, we need you there.  We need you there.  If you're a Spartan, you need to be there.
But I'm not going to be mad at anybody if they‑‑ but we need you there.¬† If you can make it, come on.

Q.  You've obviously, as Blake's godfather, been involved with him a lot.  Can you kind of talk about what this last game for him is going to be like for you, and just kind of, I guess, go back and chronicle everything that's happened?  I know you mentioned about remembering when you found out he was going to be born.
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, you know, the Treadwell family and the Dantonios go back a long way.  It's going to be very special to be out on the football field when Blake Treadwell walks out there, when Don Treadwell and Lola Treadwell are out there, as well.  That's going to be very special.  It's going to be a very special moment for all of us.  With Blake, I remember when he was born, remember the christening, remember when we lived in Kansas and they came and visited us when I was coaching the University of Kansas.  He had a baby bottle in his mouth as I was showing Tread around the campus.
When we came to Cincinnati, when we came here and he was brought here in '99, when Bobby became the head football coach and the time that we spent here.  And then also Cincinnati, and you saw him developing as a young man in every stage.
And now I've seen him grow in the last five years, I've seen him as a ninth grader and then saw him as a senior in high school and as a junior, and then when he came here.  But now to see him five years later and see the maturity that he has as a young man and the way that he's grown as a leader and as a football player, but the way he's grown as a leader and the way he presents himself to his peers and the way his peers respect him and hold him up.  It's a special time for the Treadwell family and for my family, as well, to see that.  He's been a great young man, and he'll do great things in the community and in his life.  Football, everything else.  He's just driven.

Q.  As the weather gets worse it seems like more games are decided via the kicking game.  Can you talk a little bit about Sadler's intelligence, kick plays aside, but his ability to kill the ball down inside the 10 and how much that's meant?
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, that's an art.  I think that's an art.  I think he's obviously a very intelligent football player and person, but it's an art that he's developed.  I think he's done that as well as anybody in America, if not better.  He's learned that turning the ball over and having it go end over end.  But he just has the right rhythm on it, the right spin, and he's extremely confident in getting it down there, and then when he has to step back and boom one, you know he's punting 55 yards or 60 yards.  He's a tremendous weapon for us.
We've got to have‑‑ if you're going to be a good football team you've got to have a good punt game.¬† You have to.¬† I think that's probably the most important single play in football because it has to do with most of the field position that can be gotten consistently.
You should pick up X amount of yards per punt, 40 plus, and we've been able to do that.  Or put them in bad field position.

Q.  After the win at Northwestern, you had said that there are a lot of stories on this football team.  Can you give maybe a couple specific examples or elaborate on that statement a little bit?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† Tough question.¬† Just out of the blue, I think everybody has got a story, first of all.¬† There's a story with all of us, and so that's one of the things that I always say to our football team.¬† Everybody here has a story.¬† You want to talk about Jeremy Langford, how he probably‑‑ we were the only people in the Big 10 to offer him.¬† Got a late offer from Colorado, had a lot of offers, but Mid‑American Conference offers, and then just having that journeyman approach.¬† I'm watching special teams from this past year against Minnesota, and two huge plays in the game Jeremy Langford makes plays on special teams.¬† So he's always been a good football player for us, but how he's sort of come on and become a very dynamic player for us.
If you look at Bennie Fowler, he's been hurt and couldn't play for two of his years.  He could actually get a sixth year if he wanted to, but he's been able to basically rally back at every turn, making the transition back to just playing, and now he's one of our leading receivers.
If you look at Blake Treadwell, he's a defensive lineman that he comes here and now he's an offensive lineman.
Fou Fonoti, highly recruited junior college guy.¬† It was Auburn, us, UCLA.¬† He chose to come here.¬† He starts one year, then has a broken leg, right before the Notre Dame game, and he goes through that year but now what a blessing that has become because now he's going to get his degree at mid‑year here and go off into the sunset after a great football season, great career here.
You know, so there's just a lot of guys.  Darqueze Dennard coming where he's coming from down in Twiggs County.  There's just a lot of people that everybody sort of has a story.  I think that's probably pretty true of most football teams because we have such a different group of people coming together from all different facets of life and different areas of the country, and I'm just basically touching the tip of the iceberg.  I think a lot of our players have gone through some trials and tribulations here, individually, group, family, team, and they've sort of rallied themselves.

Q.  You mentioned Bennie and a possible sixth year.  Have you guys discussed that?  Is that something you're considering applying for?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† I think that would be up to him.¬† Yeah, we would do that, but I think that he should graduate mid‑year here, and he should be able to probably go on with a future NFL type opportunity.¬† But we'll see.¬† Those are things you make decisions on at the end of the year.

Q.  Tom Izzo said in his radio show he's going to bring the entire basketball team down to Indianapolis.  You have commented often what it means for that support, but in the middle of a first place team to take them down there, what does that mean to you personally?
COACH DANTONIO:  Well, it just speaks to the closeness of our programs and the commitment to each other, both as people and as programs.  There's a new rule in place where now you can take your players and you can do those type of things, so hopefully we're going to be able to do that as well at some point in time, with our players, not just myself.  He's just been an unbelievable resource for me personally, but also a very, very close friend.  Always going to be there when things are difficult, things come down the pipe, but also a resource to talk to throughout the time here.
It'll be good to have him down there.  They're good young people.

Q.  Two things in quick order:  Given your regard for him and it depends on the game, will you make any special effort to give Andrew Maxwell any time Saturday just because of your feeling for him and his last home game, or can't you do that?
COACH DANTONIO:  I probably can't comment on that.  What I'll probably do is let the game play out as we go, and I obviously have a lot of empathy I guess I would say.  I don't have sympathy, I have empathy for what he's gone through, and the way he's handled it has been very, very positive.
But aside from that, I don't think Andrew, he's not looking for cookies.  I don't think that's his makeup.  So when the time arises and we can play him or when the time arises that he's to play, then that'll be the time.

Q.  The other thing is a year ago you were getting a lot of questions about whether your program had taken a step back, and you were pretty adamant that this is five points in six games, and this program hasn't fallen off the map.  How significant is it that you bounced back with this season given that?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† Well, those were my personal expectations.¬† I know this is a game‑‑ these are tight games.¬† I mean, just football the way it is, you win by 30‑6 on Saturday, but you never feel like until that last score, you never feel like, okay, it's done.¬† That's just the way coaches are.
It's a hard‑fought game, all those type of things, and it really does feel like that when you're in it.
But I had no doubt that we'd bounce back.¬† I said a long time ago that this was going to be a special football team, that I felt that because of the chemistry on our football team and the makeup of people that we have here.¬† Those were my expectations, and I've just sort of‑‑ like I say all the time, sort of live in a bubble and you sort of just live in the present.¬† Minnesota is up, it's the next one up.
We probably don't have an opportunity to reflect on that too much until after the season, although I did‑‑ you take out your scouting report from last year, your big, thick book and you've got your record on there last year at this time, we were a 5‑6 team trying to get to 6‑6 and go to a bowl game.
But since that time I guess we've won 12 out of 13 games, if that would be correct.  We started climbing at that point.

Q.¬† You touched on some players a moment ago.¬† A player I'd like you to talk about is Max Bullough.¬† He probably won't make All‑American, he doesn't have the statistics you mentioned, how it's been a group effort, but can you talk about what Max has meant both on and off the field?¬† I think he was the guy that made some statements at Minnesota that really seemed to get the ball rolling on this 12 out of 13.
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, Max has been an outstanding player for us, representative for us, tough, controlling figure.  Been a player since he walked in the door, backed up Greg Jones, played in his first year on all the special teams, played a little bit in nickel situations, and then three years as a starter.  So when you talk about guys that have won 40 games here and you say who have been those guys, who have been the most important guys, and you want to rank them one, two, three, four, he's got to be one, two or three.  Probably one, because of all the things he does as a linebacker out there, getting the calls, making the adjustments and being gap sound, and he's made a lot of football plays for us.  He's been an outstanding contributor, and we wouldn't be where we're at without Max Bullough.
Off the field Max is a solid person.¬† He's been tremendous.¬† He's been a spokesperson.¬† He's taken a leadership role on our football team.¬† Last year he was the one that stood up a lot, and there's always going to be somebody that has to stand up and be counted, and he was that guy.¬† This year it's a little bit more‑‑ it's still him, but it's a little bit more evenly distributed, I think, because we have a large senior class and people are now a little bit more‑‑ they're more comfortable with it, I think, probably because we've won.
It's tough to stand up there and be counted in that respect when you're not having the success that you want.  He's done a great job.

Q.  Sort of along the same lines, I guess, looking at your defensive seniors, and a lot of these guys are multiyear starters, how much have they meant these last three years or so to taking what was known as a good or average defense and catapulting it up to now where Michigan State is known as an elite defense across the country and building that reputation with these guys the last three years or so?
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, it has been an approach defensively that takes time.  It takes time.  I was watching today a film, you just don't become a great defensive football team in one year.  You just don't.  Because it's got to be done over a period of time.  You've got to have the right players, the right ingredients, the right knowledge, the right experiences, the right mindset, the right coaches, the right concepts that you're running, and you've got to change every week.  So it's not something that all of a sudden we say, okay, hey, we've arrived in 2013 and here we are.  This has been a process that they have started, our seniors started in 2010 when they came here.  In Tyler Hoover's case it was started I guess in 2008, okay.  He's been at it for quite some time.
So it talks about their sacrifice and their enduring and their growth and maturity, I think, in those areas, and their confidence, how their confidence grows.
We've had a good defense here for '12, '11, '10 could be argued, as well.  But really pretty dominant in '11, '12 and '13.  But it's been a process, and I go back to what I've talked about before; most people see the product, they don't see the process.  That's natural.  I see these cameras, I have no clue how they work, but somewhere there you guys figure it out and all I can see is what shows up on YouTube.  Hopefully positive.  Some not so much.
So people got to understand the process.¬† There's a process involved, too, and we grow.¬† But what's it say about them?¬† It says that they've just‑‑ we've built a culture defensively on this team.¬† We've built a culture of winning and sustaining.¬† Defensively we're playing great defense, but it just does not happen in one year's time.¬† Very difficult because there's a lot that goes into it, a lot of thought, a lot of preparation by all parties.

Q.¬† Do you look upon this game as a chance to make a BCS statement for this program in that should you guys not win the title in Indianapolis that this program is still worthy of a BCS at‑large bid?
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, I think those are the stakes that you have to play for as you move forward here.  You have to think about those things.  Certainly we have to win this game to even be in the talk in that regard.  And then the next thing you have to ask yourself is are the two best teams playing for the championship.
I think they are.  But we're going to find out after Saturday if that's the case, because we have an opportunity to challenge in Minnesota.
And then you worry about things as they shake out.¬† But I think that you make a case by getting in the top 10 and you make a case by winning this football game and saying, okay, we've won 11 games, now what.¬† But I also don't‑‑ next week you're not going to hear me talking about going 11‑2.¬† We're going to go 12‑1.

Q.¬† Do you feel comfortable having to campaign for your program, because people in Wisconsin are already saying that, you know what, if we go 10‑2 we should get the No.2 bid.¬† You guys got jumped a couple years ago after losing the Conference Championship game.¬† Are you comfortable if you're forced to have to campaign for your program?
COACH DANTONIO:  Oh, yeah, I'll campaign.  Yeah.  We beat Wisconsin the last three out of four years.  We can start with that, okay.  But we'll worry about that later on.  We're not going to deal with that now.
Our focus has got to be on Minnesota.  That's where it is.  Our coaches are preparing.  That's where I've been all morning.  So our focus has to be there.
So you can't really put things‑‑ I don't think we can put the cart before the horse.¬† We've got to deal in the present and we'll deal with those things after the fact.¬† I can tell also you this:¬† We lost by one point to Ohio State last year.¬† One.¬† So we'll be ready to play.

Q.  You started talking a little bit earlier about Andrew Maxwell.  He's from our area.  Can you talk about how he's handled this year and his role on the team, whether it's as a mentor or how he helps some of the other players?
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, Andrew has been a tremendous spokesperson for our team.  He's a leader on our team.  He has tremendous faith.  He's an outstanding worker.  He's a very good quarterback.  He has great knowledge of our system, and he's had to take a step back.  He's had to take a step back because we had to change in some areas because we didn't have a proven tailback when we came into the season, so we had to create some different things for our quarterback in terms of quarterback runs.  We had to do that in order to be successful.  I felt very strongly about that.
We went into this thing and gave everybody opportunities, so I felt like everybody has had an opportunity, and it took a little bit of time to work through that.  But I do feel like we gave everybody a fair shot.
I love Andrew Maxwell and always will, and I have a tremendous respect for him because of what he has endured.  In some ways that's much more difficult than losing a football game.  I know he had very high hopes coming into this season, and that's hard when you're the coach, because I don't like to disappoint.
He's a strong person, extremely strong.  You know, I wish we all could be that strong at times.

Q.  You joked a minute ago about what shows up on YouTube so I guess I've got to follow up.  You talked about letting the lion out of the cage.  Was the lion still out when the halftime interview happened?
COACH DANTONIO:  It might have got out, I don't know.  I don't know, it's a frustrating moment for me because of what had just happened on the field and it was seconds earlier, so I didn't handle it right.  You know, you move on.  There's other times that I haven't handled things right, too.  Hopefully I'm not judged by one moment, I'm judged by more than one.

Q.¬† Referring to the end of the first half there‑‑
COACH DANTONIO:  We opened up a big can of worms there.

Q.  When you're going down the stretch here and there are so many big games and big moments, you talk about those all the time, how big of an emphasis is it for this team to constantly sort of focus on the little things like that end of the first half to try and be the difference potentially in winning a Big 10 title and not?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† Oh, it's very important, but there's a‑‑ so we all understand the end of the first half, the wind is blowing 25 miles an hour.¬† We're against the wind.¬† So it's extremely difficult to throw the ball into the wind.¬† We can't kick a field goal unless we get to the 15‑yard line, and we're on the 30.¬† We don't want to give them back the ball.¬† We do have three time‑outs left and I wanted to use the time‑outs as we moved forward if we got a 1st down.
So there was that.  We thought we had the 1st down, then it was marked at 3rd and 1.  So then we thought we had the 1st down, so we were going to go two minutes, so we got that personnel group.  It just got all frustrated, sort of screwed up.  So yeah, it's important, but you also have to play to the situation of the game, and the situation of the game sometimes is challenging to say the least.  So yeah, our fault.  My fault.

Q.  You mentioned Darqueze Dennard earlier being a finalist for the Jim Thorpe.  Could you talk about when you first saw him play when you were recruiting him and how he's developed to now?
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, when we first saw him play it was off of film because we were late in the process.  I thought he was a great football player, but he played all over the place, played tailback, corner, safety.  Trae Waynes did a lot of that, too.  But he was a punt returner, so we went and watched him run a little bit on a track, I think, or something like that.  He was in track practice or something like that, or winter track.  So we decided to recruit him.
When he got here and he came on to campus in the fall, it didn't take long to understand what we had.  Some guy that was extremely special in terms of ability to concentrate, competitiveness, his knowledge of football, his ability to grasp concepts very, very quickly at the college level.
But he was competitive, and so when he finally did get an opportunity to play and start, which was at some point in time I think it was against Illinois in 2010, I think he had maybe two fumble recoveries or something of that nature, but he played a very, very solid game, and really he was a staple after that.  He was a mainstay after that in our program.

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