First of all, just like to congratulate the families of Biggie Munn and Duffy Daugherty, and would like to celebrate their accomplishments this weekend coming into the Ring of Fame here at the Spartan Stadium. When you look at what the two have combined to do, six National Championships.
Really, Biggie brought us into the Big Ten Conference. He had the first African American quarterback to play in the Big Ten Conference at that point in time way back. And Duffy certainly brought us into what I would say and most people would say the modern era of football in the '60s, fully integrated MSU, did a tremendous job recruiting the South and everywhere else, really.
We just want to celebrate their accomplishments and really welcome their families back to Michigan State and make it a big thing for all of us. There are so many players that have been through here that have such a great respect and high regard for those two coaches. So we'll move from there.
As far as this past week, I guess you could say the tale of two halves. The first half certainly we did not play well and fell behind in the first quarter 17 0. The second half played very well. When you look at what we were able to do on the positive standpoint, I thought we were going to have to make a statement, certainly to come back in that game, there were going to be one of two statements made. Either it was going to be negative or positive at the end of the game, and we took the positive route.
But the second half defensively we played extremely well. 30 plus yards and two first downs and the last three series, three and out. Offensively controlled really the entire fourth quarter, 13 minutes and 30 seconds of the fourth quarter. The set and drive at the end of the game. The last two drives at the end of the game, a seven minute drive at the end, and then the previous one for the score really set the tone for the entire game.
Zero turnovers. I thought there were some great individual performances. Maxwell on offense played tremendously the entire game. Burbridge as a freshman, and Benny Fowler stepped up and played very well in his role, two huge plays in the game. And I thought Le'Veon Bell had a quiet 130 plus yards. So we go to 4 2.
I guess the difference between the two games the last two weeks, one, you win the past two weeks, maybe not so overwhelmingly as you wanted to, played in the first half to credit Indiana and what they were doing. Then you look at the week before and you lose by one point. Maybe you play a little bit better. But you come away with the win, and the win is the thing that we have to remember that points us in the right direction.
So it's important that we bring our emotion and energy to this football game against Iowa. It's always been a physical football game. You look at the last five years. Had some great football games between the two of us. They've gone down to the wire. The last two games haven't gone in that direction, but the previous three had. So we're looking forward to it and to that challenge. So I'll just take some questions.
Q. With the way you moved guys up and down the depth chart, you did nothing with Johnny. Is that a statement that you're happy how he's playing or maybe not as excited about Arjen and Tres?
COACH DANTONIO: Johnny was an all Big Ten performer the two last years. You know, it's a game of inches. The first one he's got a chance to get the ball out. If you look at the entire defense you would know that there should have been a safety back through the deep middle helping him or at least knocking the guy off strides a little bit. So there should have been some help back there for him, but there wasn't due to the rapidness of the play and the disorientedness that we were going through as a defense at that time.
So not entirely his fault. He got out of sync a little bit. But he's capable of playing very, very well. We've seen that, so we'll stay with that lineup.
Q. Understanding the ability to come back you've demonstrated, how disappointed or surprised are you with the slow starts and what do you do about that?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I was very disappointed with this last week's slow start. I think the Ohio State game got off to a fast start. Obviously a penalty helped them to get down there. I can't think too far beyond that. What is in the past is past. We'll try to change things up. All I can tell you is we'll try to change things up.
I thought our football team was ready to play. I think Indiana had something to do with that. Snapped the ball every 12 seconds. We got gassed. When you get gassed, things are not going to happen and we became disoriented, I really felt. But once we settled down and understood, it's very difficult to simulate that type of rapid play calling.
We do a great job, I think, for the most part playing against that. But we did not on Saturday early in the first quarter. Then they hit us with a couple of big plays beyond that. They nickel and dimed us and hit us with a couple of big plays.
But we on do try to change up things, bring it to our attention. As long as you focus on that, good things have a chance of happening. But inevitably, you have to make plays on the football field, and that's what we'll continue to try to do.
Q. You've come off two 11 win seasons and gotten in the top. Now you're trying to stay at the top. Talk about the difference between getting to the top and staying there?
COACH DANTONIO: They say for every team that has a great record one year, only one of those ten are able to really repeat. That's what people say in the NFL. So it's difficult to stay on top. There is no question about that. Sometimes you have a tendency, regardless of whether you try to say, hey, we're going to try to stay even keeled and not go too far into the distance, you see things and say why would somebody say that or why would this person project this image about your football team? We're not there yet. But that's the day and age we live in. People pump you up. You have to play the games. That's why we play these games.
Anyway you cut it you're never as bad as people say you are. You're never quite as good. We've lost to two undefeated teams, one of them by one point, which I think we should have won that football game. So we're sitting here 5 1 and ranked 15th in the country and everybody's singing a different song. It is what it is. We're at where we're at. We're 4 2.
There is a lot of parody in college football. There is a lot of competitiveness, and the game hinges on inches a lot of times and decision making, whether it be play calling or decision making by the people on the field. Whether it's checked to this coverage or move to this pressure or get out of this pressure or get into this particular play. So there are a lot of different factors. There are a lot of moving parts.
But I guess the positive thing is the expectations here have risen dramatically. The negative is that with those expectations come additional pressures. You've got to be handling the pressure. We need to keep the pressure on us, the stress is not. We don't want to stress about the things we can't control. We've got a Guy Hurt. We can't control that. The next guy has to get up there and play. That's just part of life. Everybody is dealing with those things right now.
That's why as you go through a football season you look for everybody, and you look at your ones and your twos. Your guys who are beyond that. You look for everybody to have value.
Q. Dion Sims is not on the depth chart. I know you said yesterday he's likely out?
COACH DANTONIO: He won't play this week.
Q. How likely do you think it is he could be back? Is it just a sprain?
COACH DANTONIO: It's a sprain. You get things out of me, but you just don't know how that's going to respond here in the next couple of days. I think he'll know more when he starts testing, but I don't think he's playing this week. That's why we fully cooperate with everybody.
Q. I know last week you said you wouldn't let this team go into a panic mode. On Saturday, what did you see in the player's eyes and what did their body language tell you down 17 0?
COACH DANTONIO: I would say their body language was stunned as did mine. We've not had 17 points scored on us in the first quarter, let alone the most was 20 at this point in time. We had too many penalties and we were hurting ourselves in every direction defensively, offensively, or special teams.
More than anything, it was just let's rally around each other. I don't know what I said. Probably they don't either. I don't know. We just needed to calm ourselves and start from scratch right there and start moving in the right direction. The main thing was all around the country you see people get behind. You see people just stay the course and get back into it.
I think one thing looking back at the Notre Dame game, that's what we should have done in the third quarter. That took us out of what we were trying to do. Not that it would have changed anything. Look around, look where you're at, settle down and get under control. We played better, and I thought we really regrouped at halftime as a football team, and came out much more focused and determined.
Q. You said after Indiana that we're a 4 2 team, but maybe not the 4 2 people expected. Is there a sense of urge see at the midpoint of the season that you can't be a young team anymore? Guys that have had some experience now have to start?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, everywhere in America right now every college football team feels a sense of urgency. We've always felt a sense of urgency. If we were 6 0 or 5 1, there would still be a sense of urgency. If you look, somebody's gaining on you, and that's sort of the way it is. You know you need to stay ahead of everything, whether it's what you do week to week, or whether it's a potential injury, how it affects you, or the potential shortness in the depth area. That's where we're at. We just need to continue to play through the storm. That's sort of where we're at. Right now we're in a little storm. We were in a little storm last year at this time. Just play through the storm and weather the storm, whichever you pick.
Q. What did you see against R.J. Williamson against Indiana that put him at the top of the depth chart now?
COACH DANTONIO: I thought R.J., first of all, played very competitively. He was able to play through that fast paced offense. Think he's grown as a player. He's a red shirt freshman. We knew he'd be a great football player based on his freshman year. Felt like he grew a little bit with the fast pace, et cetera, you've got to communicate, and he grew as a player and I thought he played well.
Kurtis Drummond did okay as well. I thought J.J. got hurt in the game. Got a little gas there in the first quarter, but he also took a hit. So R.J. will begin this week. Best player will start at the end of the week.
Q. If Sims is out for this week, how much, if any, do you have to tinker or change the offense based on the limited experience you have at tight end now?
COACH DANTONIO: We have limited experience, but they've grown Lang has played, Hoebing has played, Gleichert has played. So it's not like we're putting people in there that don't have reps. They know the offense. They know things conceptually. We have guys that can catch the ball, and we just have to do what we do, and understand things. Obviously there have to be some changes made, but they're not wholesale changes.
You can't make wholesale changes in the middle of the season. You have to allow your players to do what they know how to do, and that is the best chance for success. That's repetitive learning and habits create positive results, usually. But they've got to play. This is the big boy league. They've got to play. They've got to grow up fast.
Q. You talk about not making wholesale changes. But at punt return, that is the spot you've struggled with and had some issues with Nick. Obviously, Andre comes in now and gets a shot. Can you talk about what he's done to earn that shot and where you are with that spot?
COACH DANTONIO: I want to take the pressure off or the stress off of Nick a little bit. I guess the stress would be the deal. I want to take that off him a little bit. I do still have faith that he can go back there and catch a punt. But I think it's decision making at times A.J. has been consistent, but he's a red shirt freshman, so we try not to put him in that situation. We just want to allow him to flourish there. He's got punts already in games, so he's been good. He's a gamer. He's got a great deal of confidence, and I think Le'Veon enters that situation as well.
Q. Could you talk about what you saw from your receivers this past week? Bennie Fowler said he thought it was the best performance you've had all year. Do you agree?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I thought our receivers played well. Burbridge made great catches with people hanging on him. Again, Fowler makes a great decision, first of all, in what to run, breaking the route off, then also the run after catch for the touchdown, and then the big third down catch as well. He had a couple of other catches.
But Burbridge played very well for a true freshman playing in his first game as a starter, and we got some good play from the other guys as well. So I think they played well three quarters of the game they played pretty well. First quarter not much was happening anyway.
Q. My football brilliance tells me Andrew Maxwell looks a lot better when receivers catch passes. But can you give us a mid season report on your quarterback? Is he getting better in ways that maybe we don't see a hundred feet above the field?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I think he has a great command of what's going on in the huddle. I think he's growing. You're going to see sometimes when you have growth, just like anywhere, I think as a quarterback, you're going to have games where you take maybe a little step back and you take two steps forward. Then you take a step back a little bit, and it's going to be a process.
I think that's usually the case for most quarterbacks regardless of whether they've played for two years or three years. They're going to get hot, play well, and have other games where things are going to happen, pressure, drop passes, whatever the case, maybe they're a little bit off.
I thought he was off a little bit in the first quarter, and I thought he played pretty well beyond that. What we've got to do is take bad plays and make them good ones, and they start to occur. When things break down, you have to focus down the field and create plays. That would be the biggest negative, I would say.
But if he stands there in the pocket, he'll take a hit, and he'll deliver the football. I think he played extremely well against Ohio State, extremely well. And I think this past week along with a collection of other people, he played well in the first quarter. Beyond that, I would say he's playing well.
But always, the ultimate, for me anyway, I can't say this everywhere, but the ultimate thing you have to do as a quarterback is you have to create. You have to create with quick decision making. You have to create with a quick throwing motion or with your feet or with your eyes down the field at the end result. But that's what takes you to the next step.
I think he's coming in that respect. He certainly has confidence, and he's not afraid to step in there and throw under pressure.
Q. The center, left guard situation there, is it right now more about Blake maybe not being a hundred percent or are you seeing which of the three guys are playing best and go from there?
COACH DANTONIO: We're going to see how it shakes out throughout the week. But I think the decision was made that Blake wasn't totally ready. He was okay, but not totally ready after the first quarter, so we went the other direction. But, again, he's got another week to heal and another week to work in practice.
Remember now he hasn't been practicing either. But I think Blake Treadwell is an excellent football player and Jack Allen as well, and I think Keith has provided tremendous depth there for us. He's a guy that knows exactly what to do and gets people lined up. He's got five year’ experience at that position, so that's a positive,six guys with starting experience.
Q. Lang was very heralded out of high school and you got him coming back off an injury. What does he bring you as a healthy tight end?
COACH DANTONIO: He's getting better. This is a guy, Paul Lang is a guy that last spring he actually had to move home for four or five months and take his classes online here because of the therapy that he was going through for his back. We thought he probably wouldn't make it. Thought he was going to have to be ruled out. Through the therapy and extremely hard work he was able to bring himself back to a point where in the summer we were saying you've got to be able to push and pull on people and disengage on people.
So we went very, very slow with Paul Lang. He missed almost his entire freshman year. But he was an outstanding athlete in high school. He was quick bodied, he could jump, he could run, he has a great future ahead of him. But he's like a true freshman right now. He's back where he can play. He's healthy. He's getting stronger. He's getting bigger. He weighs about 260 now. So all of his play, all of the good things for Paul Lang I think are in front of him.
But it's been a tremendous story for him to even be on the field in fall camp. We went very slow in fall camp with him. So there is a period of growth there with him too. But it's a good thing, it's a positive thing. It's a great story, really, when you look at it. The things that he's had to go through and endure to be able to play football this year.
Q. On third downs, I understand your philosophy of play says sometimes it's better to get a couple of yards, punt it, and play defense. But third and seven seems to be you throw five yards, third and three, are you concerned there is not enough aggressiveness on third down?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, plays are plays and the players have to make the plays. But the 3rd and 5, throwing the slanted, the ball hits him in the hands at three yards, he's getting the first down. The quarterback has to make the correct decision. Some of that decision is on growth and inexperience. But the intent is to get the first down, and I'm highly frustrated when we don't.
Sometimes we run the ball on 3rd and 7 and got the first down, and I'm sort of scratching my head saying why are we running it here, but we get the first down. It's about the execution of the play that is important. And those reads, there are numerous players down the field. Some guys are covered up, some coverages take away certain things, and the read comes to the guy down low. We've thrown screen passes before and gotten first downs. We've thrown check downs. One of the biggest plays we've ever had was the night we beat Wisconsin out here, we throw a little check down to Keshawn, and he gets the first down.
So after the catch, the important thing is to get vertical with the run and fight for the yards and get to the sticks. Under no circumstances have I ever or will I ever say to my staff let's try to get three here and punt it. So that's backward thinking. We've got to execute.
Q. In regard to the six personal fouls, can you talk about how you coach the fine line between being aggressive and overly aggressive?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, that was frustrating to say the least. I mean, that's an understatement to say it was frustrating. I think right now there is a huge what is the word I want to use? The referees are taking it. They're trying to make the game safer. So it's a huge emphasis, I would say, on hits, and hits that would normally have been normally legal hits.
I saw it watching the Ohio State Nebraska game. Hits that are legal hits and other hits that are deemed well, he hit him too hard. To me, hitting him too hard is not a foul. So I don't know that that happened on Saturday. I do know we got hands in the face on a punt. I do know we roughed the punter, which is very poor on our part. I knew that there was one on another one where a guy on a bubble pass where Taiwan Jones flew over the guy, and it maybe looked like I don't know. He didn't touch the guy. So it goes back and forth.
I'm not complaining about the referees. I'm just saying there is a huge emphasis to protect the player right now because of concussions and all the different things that are going on. It is extremely difficult, I think, for officials to officiate the game. There is no instant replay on plays like that. So these are decision making calls that are tough to deal with from a coaching perspective, and tough to call from an official's perspective as well. So you have to shrug your shoulders sometimes and say let's move down 15 yards, ten yards and let's go.
But it's extremely frustrating on my part with our players, not with the officials on Saturday, but with our players. But I think there is some of that other going on in college football in general. But I can't worry about that. There is nothing we can do about that.
Q. You've used Lawrence Thomas a couple times in the passing game and one critical pass late. With Dion Sims gone, does he figure more into that?
COACH DANTONIO: Yes, he does. He does because he's very much like a tight end. So he's a guy, and I don't think I'm tipping, but he's a guy that is similar to Dion in a lot of respects. So it could go beyond that. He's been figuring in, and I think he's a guy that can make plays for us.