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December 2, 2011

Mark Dantonio


COACH DANTONIO:  Thank you very much.  First of all, it's great to be here.  We're very excited.  The city of Indianapolis is a tremendous place to host this, and this is an unbelievable environment and atmosphere that we'll play in tomorrow night will be tremendous.
Want to congratulate the University of Wisconsin on being here, being the champions of the Leaders Division, and to me this is an event that will take on national prominence as we move forward in the future.  So I'll just take some questions.

Q.  You guys have not given up a lot of sacks.  I think the total is 12 all year, and I know Kirk gets credit for some of that.  But can you describe how far your offensive line has come given the shuffling you had to go through earlier in the year?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think our offensive line has sort of reestablished themselves a little bit in so many different areas.  It all depends on defenses, how many people they got up the line of scrimmage at times and the different stunts and pressures that people use and those type of things.
But what's been impressive to me is exactly what you said.  We've been able to protect our quarterback, and that's where it all has to start.  You can't protect your quarterback if he's running around back there.  It becomes a pick‑up game at types.
They've done an outstanding job.  They're young players.  Dan France is in his first year as an offensive lineman.  Fonoti comes from a junior college, his first year here, and Travis Jackson, Joel Foreman, first team all conference pick, and Chris McDonald who is a junior three‑year starter.
So you have two guys that are very experienced, but the others are relatively inexperienced which that's good for the future.  Then I think also the tight ends and our fullback are guys that weigh into this as well.  So Todd Anderson has done a great job, and Garrett Celek and Dion Sims and Brian Linthicum are guys that are so important not only in protection things but the run game as well.

Q.  Mark, you like to use the past on how you do things in the future.  Would a BCS atmosphere this week, do you go back to the National Championship week the week before and how you plan this week?
COACH DANTONIO:  Well, we really did not because we had a week to prepare, so we try to keep this as an away game in a lot of ways.  I have reflected on that week because this is an exciting week, much like that one has been, with the media attention and things we're dealing with at that time.  So there's been a reflection there.
But we've been able to pretty much keep this pretty much normal, I think, as a football program.  I think John Lewandowski has done an outstanding job with us.  We have a conference call on Sunday.  We have our players with FOX on Monday.  We had a normal Tuesday just like a normal Tuesday back in East Lansing, then we sort of cut it off.
We've had great practices.  Our players understand the challenge they have, a tremendous challenge with the University of Wisconsin, but they also understand we've won before and that brings a great deal of confidence, I think, to our program.

Q.  Some your guys out there looked like kid that's candy store being in this big stadium.  Do you feel like going through the walk through today sort of loosened them up?  You guys had a little fun tossing smiles out there.
COACH DANTONIO:  Oh, yeah.  We hopefully pride ourselves in staying fresh and having fun.  I want to make this an experience they'll remember for a lifetime.  So that's what we tend to do.
I constantly talk about pressure is good.  I think you can succeed with pressure.  It makes you have a greater attention to detail.  You're more focused.  Stress is not, stress is the enemy.  So we don't want to stress out about this.  We want to just play.
Follow our leaders on the field, and all come together and have a great experience, and ultimately that involves winning.  But we certainly want to come here and remember this for the rest of our lives.  So I'm glad you saw some smiles.

Q.  You've been unwavering in your confidence in Kirk Cousins all season long.  Can you talk about him leading your team into this game tonight and tomorrow night?
COACH DANTONIO:  Absolutely.  Kirk is a guy that I've known since 2007.  So when you have known somebody for that many years and you've seen him time and time again rise to an occasion both on the field and in the locker room and in the community.  You get a sense of how much he brings to a football team and just how important he is.
You begin to, through the years, grow in faith in terms of what he's able to do.  That's why that faith has never been wavering.  It's about a football team.  We've got to protect and run the correct routes.  They've got good players on scholarship, whoever we played.  Sometimes things are covered.
But I think he's had an outstanding year.  Thrown for almost 3,000 yards, 20‑plus touchdowns, I think six interceptions, maybe, so we protected him very well as well.  I think 12 sacks.
He makes so many great decisions at the line of scrimmage that go unnoticed.  Just his demeanor on the sideline and in the huddle is something that gives you a shot in the arm every time you need it.
A quarterback's ability, really, in my mind, you're evaluated as a quarterback in your wins.  Can you lead your team to victory?  Can you win?  Over the past two seasons we're 14‑2 in this conference.  So at that point you start to have unwavering faith in him.

Q.  Friday nights are special for some coaches.  I know sometimes you watch a movie.  I don't know if you go door to door.  But how will this Friday night be special for you in any way?
COACH DANTONIO:  My family's in town.  But it will pretty much be the same in terms of how we do things.  We missed a couple meetings.  We'll have meetings back there at 5:30 and 6:00 and a pre‑game meal.  It's one of the highlights for me of the entire week because we just sit there with our players and basically talk.  Just sort of hang out and talk about all different types of things.
So it's been something we've done since 2007.  It's very at ease.  Everybody's very at ease with each other.  We just sort of let‑‑ we just sort of calmed down a little bit and deflate a little bit.  So it's good for our entire football team.  So that's what we do.
After that we go watch a movie together.  I don't know if we're seeing Home Alone tonight or whatever.  But it will be something that brings hopefully something back from their childhood, and that seems to help them.  We want them all to watch it together just to be with people.
My belief is if you get yourself ready, you affect one person.  If you get ten people ready, then ten people are going to get you ready so, it's sort of multiplies like that for us.
So we work on each other and make sure we're all in the right frame of mind and protect each other in what we're trying to accomplish.

Q.  I know you said Darqueze Dennard could have played last week.  Do you feel he's always the way back?  I know Jairus Jones has taken over for Drummond back there as the fifth guy.  Can Drummond play in this game?
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, both of those guys have practiced the entire week.  Darqueze will start and he's full go.  You know, Kurtis was held out last week because he'd had a head injury the previous week or previous two weeks ago.  So we held him out last week.  But he practiced this week as well.  He's been full go, and he was cleared as of Tuesday, so he's had three practices as well.
And Jones, I would expect Jones, Jairus Jones and Kurtis Drummond to play equally as much.  We feel they're both good players and they'll be in our nickel situations when we have five DBs in there, and both of those guys have been successful for us.
You'll probably see them both, but I think Coach Barnett will probably make those decisions as the game progresses.

Q.  Coach, your thoughts about having the game in Indianapolis and your impressions of Lucas Oil Stadium so far?
COACH DANTONIO:  That was my opening statement.  I think the game in Indianapolis is tremendous.  It's a tremendous venue.  Spent time with Coach Izzo this morning.  I've spent time with him all week.  He's a very good friend of mine.
But they've been down here so many times and I've been down to watch them, whether it's the Big Ten tournaments or whether it's been the Final Fours, and this is an unbelievable city.
This is a great city to host something like this because it has such a vibrant downtown area and there are so many different things that offer the people coming from both schools or all schools, so tremendous venue.  And then as far as this place, all I can do is really say is, wow, when you walk in because it's pretty spectacular.

Q.  Following up on that, did you want the game indoors?
COACH DANTONIO:  I just wanted the game, really.  I didn't care really where we played.  Just wanted to be in it.  We knew it was going to be in Indy, so it was really sort of out of context was an issue.  One guy called this week and said they might open the roof, so I checked that, but they're not going to do that.

Q.  Kirk Cousins had some good scrambles on first downs at Northwestern.  Looked at the stats and he hasn't done much of that.  What is the difference with that?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think things opened up for him and he's been confident in his running ability.  But he's had a little bit of‑‑ not knee injuries‑‑ but knee soreness early on.  I think that's all past now.  So he's in the best condition, I think, physically he's been the entire season.

Q.  You mentioned Coach Izzo a moment ago.  The Spartans and Badgers have dealt with quite a rivalry on the basketball court over the past decade or so.  Do you see the same sort of rivalry developing in football based on what's happened in the last five years?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think it's a great rivalry.  I can't make that rivalry.  Two teams, two programs make it I think over the long haul.
But I can certainly tell you every football game we play, we get ready to play, because they're all great games.  Certainly when we get ready to play Wisconsin we know we're going to be in for a great challenge, and we know we're going to have to play our best to be successful.
In that endeavor, coaches have reminded me we had to play them four times in one year one time.  So that's where we're at.  We've got to play them.

Q.  Coach, Isaiah Lewis gets to play in his hometown.  Can you talk as a second year player what kind of impact he's had being among your leaders in tackles?
COACH DANTONIO:  Isaiah Lewis to me is one of those guys that can take over a football game and be an incompetent pact player.  He's an outstanding football player and person.  He prepares very hard.  You have to pull him back in practice because he's going to go a hundred percent in practice and go after somebody, so you have to pull him off a little bit.
But outstanding football player for us.  There is no question he is one of our finest football players as a sophomore, and he has great things in store for him as a player in this league and then as a future beyond this league.
Tackles, great ball skills, great playability, and he will make some great plays out there tomorrow night.  I think it's tremendous that he's able to come back to Indianapolis after being from Ben Davis High School and starring there to be a part of this.

Q.  You lost some talent at the linebacker position after last season.  I'm just curious entering the season what your level of uncertainty was there?  Are you at all surprised of the overall productivity of that unit?
COACH DANTONIO:  Chris Norman was back.  We knew he'd had an extra year of experience.  We knew he was going to be a better and better player.  He was an outstanding recruit coming out of high school, very physically gifted, and he's played very well for us, No. 10.
Max Bullough is a guy that's a quick learner.  He did not red shirt last year.  He played a lot for us in nickel situations and on special teams.  He's a big thumper type linebacker with a great tradition, family tradition, so we knew he'd be a quick learner and be involved.
Then Danicos Allen is a guy that made a lot of plays last year on special teams.  He really is a guy that even though he doesn't play the same position that Greg Jones played, he's a guy that played a lot like Greg.  He's our leading production player.  I think Max is number three.  Chris Norman is down there in the Top 5 or six.
But all three of those guys have had big productions, big numbers, and we're going to have to play well.  We're going to have to run around, make plays, pressure the quarterback, got to be able to track him down when he gets out.  And then also we've got to be able to contain Hall.

Q.  Wisconsin is so dangerous on play action.  They hit you with some big plays in the first game.  How difficult is it to try to stop them?  Does it help having seen them once before?
COACH DANTONIO:  Well, it helps, but they always have new wrinkles.  I think Paul Chryst is one of the finest offensive coordinators in this country.  I've seen that over a period of five years and beyond.  Lot of respect for what they do offensively.
They're always finding a new way, a new wrinkle to do something that they've done before.  But it's always a new wrinkle.
The play‑action game difficult with Wilson because he presents the run‑pass conflict as well.  When we have trapped him in there, he's found a way to make a play at times.  I think one of the biggest things we'll have to do as a defense tomorrow is he's going to get loose at some point.  He's going to make great plays and take a bad play and get out of a sack situation.
We've got to play the ball in the deep part of the field off the quarterback scramble.  So when it does become like a pick‑up game or like flag football where the guy's running all over the place and the receivers are breaking the routes, we have to maintain our coverage and be able to cover.
Last time we played them, the one that got him back in the game, as I remember‑‑ or maybe the one‑‑ the last one was off the scramble where he was able to find a guy and we didn't maintain coverage on him.
So we've got to be able to do that.  We've worked at that, but those are broken plays, and sometimes he has the ability to create.  So we've got to be able to fundamentally play our rules.  We have rules within our coverages of when the quarterback scrambles.  We do these different things.  We have to play within those rules to make the play.

Q.  Will Gholston didn't play in the first game.  I was wondering what kind of impact he can make, and as a bigger guy, how does it help against Wisconsin's tackles?
COACH DANTONIO:  Will did not play in the first game, and we felt like we had good defensive ends and we recognized that.  Denzel Drone went in there and played pretty well.
But with Will Gholston, he's a bigger guy.  He's 6'6" plus, 280 pounds, he has extremely long arms.  So from just a passer standpoint, it's going to be more difficult to throw over him, I would think.  He plays extremely hard, he'll be very motivated to play, obviously he can track people down.  He's an outstanding football player.
When you're a dominant player and an impact player, you need to take over a football game somewhat.  So whether he takes it over or not, I'm not sure.  He's only a sophomore.  He has the ability to have huge plays and create a lot of problems for an offense.

Q.  I know the running game has been up‑and‑down all season.  How critical is it in this game and how do you feel heading in with your rushing attack?
COACH DANTONIO:  We've got to get our good players and our tailbacks touches in space so that they can create plays.
Obviously, if we get creases, those things could happen for us.  I feel better in this past month at doing that than we have previously in the middle of the month.  But we played some outstanding defenses, not that the ones in November were not.
But we went down to Ohio State, they played very well against us up front.  We created plays.  But we've got to stay balanced.
Probably one of the biggest things are we've got to have great ball security.  We've got to stay balanced, and then also we've got to have explosive plays.  The key with us has been if we get the explosive plays.  If we get eight‑plus explosive plays, we're 37‑5 as a program right now.  That's the X number, the certain number.

Q.  You're the only team that gets to try to contain Montee Ball twice in one season.  What are you telling your team right now?
COACH DANTONIO:  Contain Montee Ball, key to victory.  We've got to stop the run.  I think James White is an excellent tailback as well, and he hurt us the year before a little bit.  Had two touchdown runs.  But Montee Ball is an exciting player, he's a dominating player, MVP of this league.
They have a big, physical offensive line.  They've got to do different things to try to slow them down.  We've got to tackle effectively.  I think he's a jump‑cut guy or feels like he's a spin runner on contact.  So he runs through blocks on contact, a spin runner or jump‑cut guy, makes abrupt moves to the right or left.
So those are things we talk about in practice, but we've got to succeed with that tomorrow if we're going to take control of a football game.
I don't know that can you totally succeed on a player like that, but you have to limit his opportunities and you have to pad him in.  He may get the tough yards, but we've got to play very well on the perimeter.
If you get five or six yards, that's one thing.  But if it goes past that, your secondary's missing in tackle or they've lost contain, and we've got to be able to handle that situation.

Q.  You had roses put in the locker room this week.  You had other signs around the football building with the Rose Bowl logo.  Can you talk about what message you were sending to your team having that front ask center all week long?
COACH DANTONIO:  We've always had subliminal messages to our players, I guess, in our football program.  We've got Rose Bowl things up around our facility.  Felt it was something we should do this week is to put a rose in everybody's locker to just continually remind them about what we're trying to accomplish.
Coach Staten was out there recruiting in the summer, and he brought back a bunch of rocks from the Rose Bowl.  So we broke them up and gave everybody a little rock.  So we'll do whatever it takes to keep that focus in front of them.
Ultimately, it's going to come down to this game, how we perform on the field and how we're able to keep our emotions throughout the game.  Because both teams are going to be emotional and enthusiastic coming into the football game, but can we continue to keep that emotion as the game progresses?
The one thing I've found in watching both of our football teams, we've been able to respond.  To me that is a sign of maturity of a football team.  We were down 14‑0, and we went on a 31‑3 run.  They came back.  They were down by 14.  They came back, tied it up at the end.  We were able to go down at the end, so it went back and forth.
It wasn't close back and forth, it was when the game could really turn that other team came back.  So I think that's maturity.  That's basically something that I think champions do.
That's why I continue to say when I have a chance, I believe the best two teams are playing tomorrow, because we've been able to wade through things and handle the adversity, whether it's coming off a loss or whether it's coming back in a football game.

Q.  Coach Bielema has talked about this really evolving as a rivalry.  He said he'd even like with all the other trophies in the Big Ten, make it a rivalry game with a trophy.  Can you talk about how it's grown?
COACH DANTONIO:  Well, you know that we play them very well.  We've had great games with them, very exciting games with them.  Even when you go back to 2007, I think we're both 4‑0 going into that game, and right down to the end.  I think the score was 37‑34, so it went right down to the end of the game.
The next year '08, we won with two seconds left on the field goal.  After that they sort of had control of the football game, we scored in the end, but they were in control of that game.  Then the last two games were obviously very exciting.
I don't know.  You may need more history, but that's not up to me.  We're just trying to win them.
But the respect was there for the University of Wisconsin and how they play on behalf of the Michigan State Spartans.  We recognize they're a very big challenge for us, and we recognize they're always going to be up there.  They've got a great program, and they've risen up the ranks.  I think both our football teams are going to be on top for a while.

Q.  With all the success that you've had the past two years, including against Wisconsin, maybe not everybody thought you would be playing tomorrow.  You're an underdog tomorrow.  My first question is do you rally around that "underdog" tag, and secondly, what would a win do for this program and maybe the perception of it?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think we're changing perceptions as we go.  We are the winningest program in the last four years in terms of Big Ten Conference games.  We're 24‑8.  That is the winningest program in the Big Ten Conference in the last four years.  We're 14‑2 as a program in the Big Ten Conference in the last two years.  So hopefully we're erasing that thought process a little bit.
As far as being underdogs, we've been underdogs in six games this year, five or six or whatever it is.  So it really, we're sort of unfazed by it.  Don't worry about the so‑called experts.  The experts are in that locker room and we're the coaches.  We're the people that study that film, and go out and play it and live it, and Wisconsin's locker room, they're the experts.
So the match‑ups are there.  We understand the match‑ups and we understand each other very well.  We've got a five‑game history of playing against each other.  We've got the first seven game that's we played against that we've looked at them.  We've got the last five games that we've looked at them.
So there hasn't been a play I don't think that we've seen.  But it doesn't mean it's all going to be the same and there are going to be challenges out there.  But I've asked and our football team has done a great job out there.  Don't look to the right and left and worry about the window dressing.  Look down the middle and focus on the task at hand.  That's what we've been able to do so far.

Q.  You went through some of that history with the games over the last five years.  One constant seems to be most of them have been fairly high scoring.  Is that what you expect tomorrow or does the fact that you've played once already this year maybe change some of that or impact that?
COACH DANTONIO:  That's a good question.  I'm a defensive coach.  I hope they don't score a lot of points.  But they seem to be knockout affairs, countering affairs, where one team counters another team and they're sort of back and forth a little bit if you look at it.
But I think both teams have great defenses as well, and that is the thing that, obviously, maybe we're getting a little bit more publicity as a defensive football team.  But I think Wisconsin has an outstanding defense as well.  So if that enters into it, they rank number one in a ton of categories in the Big Ten Conference, and we rank number one in a lot.
So let the game begin, I guess.  We're going to find out.  But there are some interesting match‑ups.  Sometimes points can be put up on the board because I think our football teams have a way of rallying, and that is the maturity that I spoke to earlier.
I just think that they can handle adversity and they don't quit, neither team quits.  They play to the end of the whistle.  Again, that is the sign of a championship‑caliber football team.

Q.  How concerned were you this year with your heart health?  Do you worry anymore about it in a week like this where there is a lot more pressure on you and the team?
COACH DANTONIO:  That is the first question I've gotten like that in a while.  No, I'm not worried at all about that.  I exercise every day, do my deal.  But I don't worry about that.
I believe though pressure is good, stress is not.  So I won't be stressing.  Pressure will keep you focused.  Give you greater attention to detail, and that's what our football team will feel, but we won't be stressing, we'll be playing loose and fresh and so will their coach.

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