Tuesday Conversation: Mark Dantonio

Tuesday Conversation: Mark Dantonio

Transcript from Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio's talk with the local media on Tuesday.

COACH DANTONIO: Great to see everybody here today.

Eastern Michigan review. I think everybody got the gist of how I was feeling on Saturday evening. But I just really felt like the three staples, the three things that we really need to emphasize in our program the toughness, effort, the knowledge of what to do was inconsistent in the weekend, last weekend's game.

It's frustrating. I think it's very important that we play with great confidence in whatever we do. I felt like that was lacking a little bit. We need to get back to be able to do that.

Can't allow the crowd to take us out of who we are. Can't allow the crowd to affect you one way or the other, whether you're playing in an away stadium or in a stadium and you get a couple boos out there. That's going to happen in college football. That's all over America. But we cannot let that bother us. We have to be able to play through that and continue to remain confident. We have to do what we do and do our job. That's the main focus I think on our football team.

So with that, we move forward. I think when you're young, you've got to grow. When you look at our football team, basically we have three seniors on the defense in the top two deep, three seniors on offense in the top two deep. We're a very young football team.

Sometime it is like a bamboo tree give you my analogy that bamboo tree doesn't grow, and all of a sudden it may grow 40 feet in two months. We have to wait for our young players to grow. Can't give up on them. Have to nurture them and treat them with love. That's what we'll do. At times there needs to be tough love as well, and that's what we'll respond with.

The OSU game, a big opportunity again. Big game. Another great environment here, great event. It will really be a great atmosphere. I guess I would say I can hardly contain myself.

I think the crowd's got to remain positive obviously through thick and thin especially during the thin times. I think that's just the way you got to go sometimes. If you're a Spartan, that's what you do.

I know there's frustration out there, but we've won 16 out of 17 games in this stadium. We're certainly working at it. It's frustrating for all of us, as indicated by my press conference Saturday evening. Hope I still have a good relationship with the media.

Anyway, I think it will be a great football game.

When you look at Ohio State, I was looking at their personnel, I could go through all the names, but probably 70% of the guys that are starting on their football team are guys that we've recruited, guys we've known about through the recruiting process, whether you're talking Christian Bryant, Johnathan Hankins, Nathan Williams from years ago, John Simon, Storm Klein, or whether you go on the other side of the ball and talk about Braxton Miller, Devin Smith, Evan Spencer, Andrew Norwell. These are guys we know and we've recruited against.

There's never going to be any shortage of great football players at Ohio State. The expectations there are very, very high. They come there with great expectation.

We're looking forward to that opportunity to play against them. We also have a lot of Ohio players on our football team so it will be a special time for them as well. I'm sure we'll be energized and ready to go.

With that I'll take some questions.

Q. I'm wondering if your post game ire was due to anything in particular? Was it the boos? Were you upset getting bood in your own stadium?

COACH DANTONIO: I'm more upset in terms of the way we carried ourselves. I can't control that aspect of what's going on sometimes. That happens everywhere. I was at Ohio State last year playing and they were booing their team. I think it happens. It just happens. It's the society we live in right now.

When we did catch the one pass, it was a little bit, they gave you the Bronx cheer for catching the one pass, gets you a little bit. I guess it happens.

But, no, I'm not upset. What I do ask is if you're a Spartan fan, thick and thin. There's been thin, and there will be thin at times. But enjoy the experience.

You're not making it better by booing. I can handle it. Our players will have to handle it. That's part of growing up. That's part of the growth, being mature and confident.

But I can understand it, too. I can understand the frustration. Believe me, I can understand the frustration, okay? But use it as a positive and use it as a tool to get better and come out the second half. I thought we came out the second half, played much better, much more energized, too.

Q. You mentioned the Ohio guys. Last year they had big games down there. How big of a factor do you think that is for them? Hankins, do you expect him to have a little more for this game?

COACH DANTONIO: Reid Fragel and Hankins are both guys from the state of Michigan. I'm sure they'll be ready to play as well. I think it goes back the other way, as well.

I think it makes it an even more exciting atmosphere because when you are from that state or you are from this state, then you have your entire families. There's a lot going on there in terms of a lot of people that you know, things of that nature. You sort of play for respect from those areas. I'm sure it will be exciting on both sides.

Q. When you have a group that's struggling like the wide receivers, with limited NCAA time with those guys, not like you can spend an extra three hours with them, what do you do when one particular area is struggling so much?

COACH DANTONIO: You go back to basics, fundamentals, talk to them about playing like they practice. Inevitably that will happen. Our guys had great practices last week. We don't drop balls in practice. We don't drop 'em. But you got to catch them on game day when the consequences are there.

That will come. I think a little bit of that is just playing in that stadium, as I've said before, getting used to that. But we are young at that position. We just have to continue to nurture our guys, believe in them, I feel. But also there's tough love involved. There's consequences. But at the same time be there with them.

When they drop a ball, when we miss a tackle, when we miss a block, we don't throw the ball correctly, we do something wrong out there, drop a punt, I feel as much anguish as the guy dropping the punt or the guy missing the whatever. That's a direct reflection on us as coaches and everything else. We're feeling it.

There's frustration there. But we just have to continue to have great chemistry here, which we do, not blame people internally, try to be understanding a little bit, work through the problems. I think if we work through the problems, they'll solve themselves.

Q. Both Pat and yourself referenced after the game Will missing some practice, not being able to practice as much. Do you expect him to be practicing fully this week?

COACH DANTONIO: Yes. He was able to go in the second half, so... He'll be full go.

Q. You talked a little bit about the punt return situation. Can you address the frustration with Nick. Obviously on the depth chart they're listed as either/or. Also can you address any concern you may have on putting Le'Veon back there in terms of an injury risk.

COACH DANTONIO: Second question first. No, I don't have any problem putting Le'Veon back there because I think he's got great hands, he can make the plays, he's confident. I also don't have a problem with Nick Hill going back there. You guys have been out at practice. I have Nick Hill doing cartwheel, then catching punts. I have him getting up off the ground, spinning around three times, catching punts. He's a confident player and he won't lose his confidence. He has to make good decisions. I think he has to fair catch some of those balls he's taking chances on. We'll be okay with that. My anticipation is he will be our punt returner on Saturday afternoon. But we've got to try to make it as game like in practice as we can and have him catch 50 punts with people running down where he has to make a decision, Do I fair catch this or catch it? He's new back there. Keyshawn has been the guy the last three years.

He's a confident player with great skills. He's an exciting player when he gets going. When he gets that first step, he's a very exciting, quick bodied player. That's what we want him to do. That's why we recruited him here, to be that guy. He's very capable. Again, I do think there has to be consequences if something happens. Fortunately we dodged that one, so...

Q. Can you talk about the impact of a guy like Urban Meyer joining the Big Ten, his pedigree, what that does for the league.

COACH DANTONIO: There's a lot of great coaches in this league, a lot of coaches. The one who left two years ago won a national championship. So the Big Ten Conference has always had great coaching. It's just another great coach coming into our conference, doing his thing. I don't know what impact. It's a great conference. I just see it as another guy you got to compete with recruiting on the field, tied together schematically, doing a great job, good recruiter. There's a lot of that going on in this league.

To speak to the national impact, until a team comes out of this conference and gets in that national picture, we are what we are.

Q. Also talk about the logic of closing ranks this week, not having players talk to the media.

COACH DANTONIO: I felt like we needed to do that because we needed to come closer together as a football team. Has nothing to do with the press as much as it does with how we handle ourselves, our team, what we need to be dealing with and thinking about.

I sometimes think that media talk and pressure sort of gets them thinking in different directions. I wanted to close our group and concentrate on us, much like we did last year, concentrate on who we are, what we have to do to get done and close our ranks.

That's why we did it. There will be plenty of opportunities to talk to our players after the game, next week. They'll get interviewed. Plenty of opportunity for interviews.

I know that's difficult for you guys to deal with this week, but I feel like it's necessary. Maybe we still don't play as good or as well as we need to, but I think it's necessary for our football team to gravitate towards each other, I guess.

Q. When you moved Nick out and put Le'Veon in, Andre was number two on the depth chart. Was there an injury or...

COACH DANTONIO: Well, we were going to go with A.J. because he's very capable. I didn't think it was fair to him to put him out there without being on the field very much as a wide receiver and say, Okay, now go catch punts. I think whoever is in there has to be a guy that is used to catching the ball. Nick has been doing it. Le'Veon certainly has his hands on the ball a lot. I think he was more accustomed to handling the pressure of the situation. I didn't want to put A.J. in that situation at that point in time. He is very capable.

Q. When you look back at Braxton Miller, who played against you last year, you look at him on film now from this season, where do you see him being a different player and where has he made the most improvement?

COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think a number of things. First of all physically he's more developed. He's a bigger, stronger guy than he was last year. He was a true freshman last year. I think he was playing in his third game last year maybe, as I remember. He was a brand new freshman in a system. Now he has all of last year under his belt, a spring, summer practice, four more games, a new offense under his belt. He's a much more experienced player. He's more in control. He's seen more as a leader.

All those things are helping him grow as a player. You've seen immense growth in a year. He's a very exciting player, dynamic player, and he makes them go. He's a tailback that can throw in the backfield. He can make you miss, do a lot of different things, run with power and then throw it. He'll be a tough guy to defend.

Q. You were obviously on the staff in Columbus in 2002, a team that had a great defense, struggled at times on offense. Anything you can draw from that experience that maybe correlates with this team as far as doing what you need to do, winning games that will be close?

COACH DANTONIO: The only thing I can draw from that is you got to play well in three phases of the game. You have to play well on special teams, obviously, defense and offense. Can't turn the ball over. Got to make them go the long ways.

We've got players. They've just got to get moving. We had good players at Ohio State back then. Craig Krenzel was a good quarterback, Michael Jenkins is probably still playing in the NFL or just retired. So we had some guys. Nick Mangold is still playing, I think. You just need to grow. I think our offense is very, very capable. We have the second leading rusher in America right now, so we got some guys. We're talented at wide receiver. I think Andrew Maxwell can throw the ball very effectively. I think our offensive line has experience.

So I think we got a great tight end in Sims. So we have some things. We just have to put it together and play more confidently, I think, allow things to sort of flow.

Q. Where have you seen the biggest growth through the non conference season to now and the biggest area you still need to grow? You talked about young players needing to really grow. How have you seen Dion being someone that can be counted on and wants that greater responsibility?

COACH DANTONIO: Well, the second question first. Dion Sims, this is his fourth year here, he knows our system. Last year he had a broken wrist the majority of the season. He wasn't as functional in catching the football. Could block. So he's got great ability. He's a big bodied guy. He's grown in the system. He's always had great ball skills. Even as a freshman he caught the ball effectively for us.

First question is a good question. Obviously where we need to grow is in our passing game. I do think we've been able to run the ball. But we're going to play against an Ohio State defense, traditionally tough to run the ball against. They'll bring pressure, do different things. Very well coached. Luke Fickell is the coordinator down there, does a great job.

I would say our wide receiver position, the players with the least amount of experience, has to grow. So our tailback doesn't, tight end. Our offensive line is effectively okay. Can do better, but okay. We got to catch the ball and deliver the ball, much like I said the other day. We have to advance the ball down the field through the air.

Like I said, if you go out and watch the team pass, we can do it, we just got to do it out on the field. That will come.

Q. I believe this is the first time you faced Ohio State when the head coach wasn't a close, personal friend of yours. Do you prefer it this way? Ohio State should be the enemy, right?

COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, absolutely. It does make it easier. I know Urban, everything. Good guy, all that kind of stuff. It makes it easier when you don't have a real personal attachment 'cause it's tough when you play against your good friends.

Q. Considering the increased importance in recruiting Ohio players, for all schools in this area, can you foresee a time for this program where Ohio State becomes the most important game for MSU?

COACH DANTONIO: We don't play them for the next two years.

Q. When you get them on the schedule, because of impact on recruiting.

COACH DANTONIO: I think it's an important game from a conference perspective and all the different things that go along with it. I think it's always been a rivalry game up here for Michigan State. I felt that when I was here before. I felt that back even growing up when Levi Jackson was running the whole deal.

But recruiting has become so accelerated now that 2014 players are making their decision, you're recruiting 2014 players, some 2015 players. Yeah, it does have an effect, but home field is usually home field.

I do think obviously we've always had a good relationship with many of the high school coaches in Ohio. We got a lot of people from Ohio on this staff, then also playing here. There's been a tradition of Ohio players coming here. We had 29 on our team in 1998 when we played down there, 29 players from Ohio. So it's always been like that.

I think it's obviously important for us to play well and do the different things, yeah. I don't know if it's the end game.

Q. From a coach's perspective, when you have a position group like the wide receivers where you're constantly answering those questions, does that increase the frustration or is it something you understand and know is coming with that territory?

COACH DANTONIO: For myself?

Q. Yes, and as a staff.

COACH DANTONIO: No, I understand it. Those questions are going to come. Those questions have been coming since going into spring practice. B.J. and Keyshawn, Brian Linthicum, Keith Nichol, when you lose those guys, they accounted for 90% of our passes, our receptions. We lost a lot there. But we were very successful with those guys prior, too.

You can look at it two ways. We're glad we had those guys. Now we don't have them, we need to reestablish ourselves in those areas. Aaron Burbidge is going to be a great wide receiver. I think MacGarrett Kings has tremendous ability. When you look at Tony Lippett, that guy has been a tremendous receiver for us for two years, now he just has to do it in the game. Fowler has to get it going and play like he's played in the past. Keith Mumphery has had some good games and a couple guys where he needs to be better. Those are five guys. A.J. Sims has been consistent, he has toughness, probably has to get on the field a little bit more. Those are probably the six guys I would say right off the top of my head. But they all can catch the football. There's nobody I walk out there today and say, Why is that guy playing wide receiver, he can't catch, he can't run. They have it in them. We need to be confident, patient a little bit, understand there's going to be growing pains. Then we have to deliver the ball consistently. There's going to be growing pains there, too. That's part of being a young football team. I guess we are a little bit at certain positions.

Q. Notre Dame is ending its series with Michigan. What is the latest with your series with Notre Dame and how important it is to the program?

COACH DANTONIO: I don't know the answer to that question. I don't know the answer, how that is going to flow. Only thing that's important to me is that we win. That's important. We didn't win the last one or the one before it, so... But I think it's a great rivalry. Dates back a long time. I think Notre Dame was responsible, has a large responsibility, from everything I've read, in terms of getting us in the Big Ten Conference. I think there's a part of that tradition, there's a part of that culture and climate that is good for both schools. But those decisions will be made by other people.

Q. Your feelings on Dan Conroy. Struggled early in the year.

COACH DANTONIO: It's tough out there. It's frustrating, all those different things. Obviously it wasn't a good kick, the wind swirling. Wasn't a good kick, follow through wasn't good. The most impressive thing to me was how he responded after that. He made three straight. They were longer field goals, he made all three of those. I always look to see how people respond after they don't succeed. I think that tells you a lot about young people. It tells you a lot about older people, too.

Should be a confidence boost for him. He's our kicker. He'll be fine.

Q. Seems like last year your defense took a step forward with the game with Ohio State, figured some things out. Do you feel like this defense is in a position to have a game like that? How would you assess where you are defensively at this point?

COACH DANTONIO: I think that we have very high standards on defense here. I also think that we're playing very, very well. But with that we can continue to play better. I think there's always room for improvement.

We need to press the quarterback more. We're getting pressure on the quarterback. We need to sack him more, keep him in the gate, which will be tough this week as well. I think we're number six in the country in total defense, maybe number nine in scoring, et cetera, et cetera, 110 in sacks. We might have the number 13 best pass efficiency. How do you figure out all those stats? What's important? I don't know.

We're very good against the run right now. We got to live in the present. The present is right now, what's happening right now, what will happen on Saturday. A lot of those things can change.

But I do think we're playing well on defense. People have scored when we turned the ball over. I don't know that anybody has driven the entire field on us yet and scored a touchdown. I don't think that's happened. They scored a field goal. Playing pretty good.

We're going to be judged every single game. We have a big challenge this weekend with the skill that Ohio State has, the formations, the different things they do, the schematics, the no huddle offense. It's up tempo. They're speed it up, be on the ball in 10 seconds, 15 seconds. We have to be able to simulate that in practice as best we can. There's a lot of different things we have to look at relative to them. But it will be a great challenge for us.

Q. I know you don't get a lot of time to really examine a lot of things, but what you've seen from the Big Ten in terms of scores, some of the upsets, where is the conference right now as a whole?

COACH DANTONIO: I think it's a very competitive conference. I think college football is extremely competitive. So you see a lot of people throughout this country going into different leagues in the out of conference games, winning and performing well.

Big Ten Conference is a great conference. It will always be a tremendous conference. Great football coaching, great football players. In terms of other people, I'm going to deal with ourselves, I'm going to deal with who we are.

Q. Seems like you haven't gone down the field much with deep passes. Also in the spring game, Johnny Adams had that big catch. Any thought of putting him into that rotation?

COACH DANTONIO: There's been a little bit of thought to that. But we'll see. The answer to that question is, yeah, we need to go deep some, do different things. We certainly have it in our game plan. But that's a decision that has to be made by Coach Roushar at that point in time. We have to have time to throw it.

I think what we want to do is just get it going. We want to get it going, get people in sync a little bit and then expand from there. But, yeah, I'm in agreement with you.

Q. Unless I'm mistaken, Le'Veon did not start in the Ohio State game last year. Obviously he's come on the scene since then. Talk about where he's made his greatest strides in the last 12 months.

COACH DANTONIO: Le'Veon has always been a co starter in my mind. I think Edwin Baker probably started the game. He's always been a guy that was going to get the ball. I can't remember even what came first, the chicken or the egg sometimes.

But I think coming off our last game prior to the Ohio State game, I think Edwin had the hottest hand, so he was the starter that game. Le'Veon actually played more than Edwin did that game at Ohio State, and he became the hot back, gave him the ball the majority of the time if you look at the difference between the two.

It was different the following week against Michigan. Edwin got the ball and had 150 yards rushing. We'll always ride the hot back.

Where he's grown is as a complete football player. He's always been very, very good. But he's gotten bigger, stronger. The longer you're at someplace, the more nuances you know about that particular concept, that particular offense you're involved in. I think he's just grown with us. But he's a downhill runner. He can spin on you, power through you. He gives you a variety of ways at running the football. He's a very good football player, very good back for us.

Q. How important is it going to be to contain Braxton Miller Saturday and keep him within the pocket?

COACH DANTONIO: Well, I could say, Next question.

He'll be hard. He's that type of guy. He's a guy that's going to create loose plays. But he also has quarterback designed runs that are for him, certain different things that they do. I don't want to talk about things schematically. But there are designed runs and passes obviously, then there's loose plays.

It's going to be a tough job because he's like a tailback in the backfield that can throw it. He runs with power. He's a spin runner which means he'll spin on contact, he'll juke if you set up on him a little bit. He brings a different dynamic to the football game. A different dynamic that Everett Golson didn't do as much in our Notre Dame game. He's a different type of quarterback. Where Golson may look to throw first, he may look to run first.

We're only into Tuesday. We haven't watched every single thing on him. Try to watch as much as we can but there's a lot of plays to watch.

Q. You said earlier you want to see growth in the passing game, have seen growth. How much of that translates from Maxwell when you see a defense like Ohio State and Notre Dame?

COACH DANTONIO: You sort of lost me on the question.

Q. When you play a team, not to put them down, but a lesser team, like Eastern, Central, the progress you make in the passing game, how much of that translates for a first year starter like Maxwell?

COACH DANTONIO: I think when you have success, you have success, you grow confidence. This is our third marquee game out here. This is our third game that will be seen by a lot of people, national type perspective game. I think you grow with that. You're going to make some mistakes, but there's going to be positives you take from the game as well.

He's done a great job controlling and running and leading our offense, being resilient and composed, okay? Need to be a little bit more of a surgeon at times, open up his vision a little bit. He has certain things to tell him to go certain places certain plays, certain reads. He's doing fine. In terms of our wide receivers, just got to grow. I think however they do it. In terms of Eastern Michigan and Central, Central had a big game last week, like to congratulate Dan. When you watch how Eastern Michigan played schematically, what they did, you have to congratulate them on how they played, too, because they played us well.

Q. Sticking with the passing game. I noticed when you were naming off your receivers, you didn't mention DeAnthony Arnett.

COACH DANTONIO: I just named six guys. No, DeAnthony is still in it, too. When you ask about Johnny Adams, No.5, uh oh, forgot DeAnthony. That was just a slip.

He's in the rotation, getting reps. He's a young player. He's in his second year. Highly recruited young man. I just keep telling him, DeAnthony, just be the guy you were in camp, be who you are.

But there's a lot of pressures on people. The one thing that you cannot do is doubt yourself. You have to have a short memory at every skill position out there, whether you're a corner or a wide receiver or quarterback. You better have a short memory because it's going to be, I dropped one, got to get back on the field, make the play.

I mentioned the other day, Keshawn Martin is a great example of that. A guy dropped some passes here, but he made great catches. He'll be fine.

Q. You talk about defining moments or games. Do you see this as kind of a defining game? It's early in the season, people overreact. If you lose, the wolves are going to be out, if you win, the wagons are going to be full again?

COACH DANTONIO: That's usually the way life is, it really is. If you win, things are great, you can move on. If you lose, people think it's all over, okay?

The key will be how we respond whether winning or losing, that will be the key, not whether we win or lose. The key will be how do we respond to winning or losing.

If we win, can we continue to win? If we lose, can we win? It will all be about how do we handle success or how do we handle failure. I think that's so important in the whole big scope of things.

My main concern as the head football coach here is keep our players like this, keep our players together, don't allow them to splinter in uncertain times, when things get tough. Keep our focus, keep each other together, keep pushing forward to our goals. Regardless of what happens, be there for them. If we can do that, let everything run down my shoulders, we'll be fine.

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