Coming off a win against Notre Dame the Spartans now prepare to host Wisconsin. Head coach Mark Dantonio looks ahead to the showdown of two unbeaten Big 10 teams.
Here is a text copy of Coach Dantonio’s news conference:
COACH DANTONIO: Morning. Exciting opportunity this weekend versus Wisconsin. This will also be the day that we induct three people into our Hall of Fame here at Michigan State. Eric `The Flea’ Allen from the `70s. Steve Juday, quarterback from `65 championship team. Then Mike Sadler, Big Ten All-American punter who we tragically lost this past summer. It will be a big weekend for us.
Wisconsin is a lot like us in a lot of ways. Big game against LSU. We’ve had very exciting games with them. We start the Big Ten opener. All kinds of different storylines I think in this football game as we move forward. The games we’ve had in the past with them have been great games. We’ve not played them since 2012, the overtime game up there. Had the big games in 2011, two of them, championship game, and also the in-season game, which ended on the rocket play. A lot of history, recent history.
Both programs have been very successful I think in the last number of years. This will be an outstanding football game.
As far as where we’re at as a program, we took a big step I think this past weekend. Now we need to get ourselves back locked in. I think I must say, how many hundreds of times, I think we need to move forward, but I think that’s the basis of who we are. We need to constantly keep trying to grind, move this program to the next step. That’s what we’ll do.
I’ll take some questions.
Q. You mentioned about taking the program further. At Notre Dame, you talked about when you got the lead, this wasn’t your word, but conservative on offense, play defense. Nick Saban in his book `How Good Do You Want to Be,’ on page 70 referred to his mentality and said he needed to change that. Is that something you need to look at as a question or concern?
COACH DANTONIO: When it was 36-7, we’re not going to go back and keep talking about Notre Dame, but I think we looked at it, said three minutes to go in the third quarter, let’s take the air out of the ball a little bit. But then as the game got closer, we wanted to play the game. We needed to start playing the game again when it was 14 points.
As I said earlier, when a team gets momentum like they did, or much like we did in the third quarter, it’s just tough to stop them.
It’s the way the game flows sometimes. I thought we did the things we needed to do to win the football game, especially at the end, and came away with the big win.
Q. You were asked last week about how valuable games like Notre Dame are, big-game experience for your younger guys as they get used to it. With a team like Wisconsin ranked 11th coming in this week, is it good to have these kind of games back-to-back?
COACH DANTONIO: I’ve never asked myself that question, because what difference does it make? You play the people you play next, that are on the schedule. They’ve got a great football program. I don’t care whether they’re ranked 11th or they’re not ranked.
You know Wisconsin is going to present a great challenge because the way they play. This is a tough-minded game, they play it that way. They’re going to line up and do the things that they do to win. We’re going to do the same thing. That’s the way these games have always been.
You should get excited for the opportunity. I think the storylines around it, being the Big Ten opener, the history with Wisconsin, the fact that of where we’re at as a program right now, where they’re at, all points towards this being a very, very big game, probably bigger than last week. No doubt bigger than last week.
Q. How do you take what the offense did in the 15, 20 minutes, in the second and third quarters and bottle it? Is it tangible to do that for an entire game?
COACH DANTONIO: Absolutely. I mean, every play is designed to be successful. Every defense is designed to be successful. It’s all about execution, fundamentals when you get down to it. I think we have the capability and the athletes to do those things. There’s no question in my mind.
Q. R.J. Shelton is the one player you’ve got who is from the state of Wisconsin. His parents were both athletes at Wisconsin. Was that ever a factor in his recruiting? What drew you to him initially?
COACH DANTONIO: (Assistant Coach) Brad Salem recruits up there. All you got to do is watch R.J.’s high school film and you’re going to be drawn to him. We were fortunate to get involved in the recruiting process, and able to make him a Spartan. He’s had great success here. He’s been a guy that’s played here all four years so it is an important game for him; measure up a little bit.
It’s always important, whether you’re from Ohio or Michigan, when you get into those games where you’re playing against rivals and things of that nature, or from home states, I think it becomes a little bit more important.
Q. When you go into a game, when you’re facing an opponent kind of juggling quarterbacks, battling injuries at key spots, do you have to spend a little time on each guy? What things do you expect and see in those quarterbacks?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, when you have teams that play two quarterbacks, I think the natural thing to do is you take and break your film up and say, Okay, he’s quarterbacking these plays, he’s quarterbacking these plays, is there a difference? Many times there is, sometimes there’s not. You need to make that decision as you go forward and change your game plan based on who is in there and who is not.
Q. You mentioned this week is bigger than last week. How much different is conference play? What do you preach to the kids?
COACH DANTONIO: I think the out-of-conference schedule is just what it is. You can lose them, still recover and play and win a Big Ten championship. You start playing a little bit more for real I think in terms of understanding that these are the things that lead you to rings, big bowl games, playoffs, those type of things, these games like this and the games that will follow.
When you’re playing in-conference, and then when you get into your division, the chips just get a little bit bigger. But that’s the way it’s always been here. The more you win, the higher the chips get, the more it’s on every single game. It’s just the nature of it, I think, which is a positive thing for us here. It’s been positive for us.
Q. We talked a lot about the depth on linebacker. Jon Reschke has moved around, found a spot to be a play-maker here. What does it say about him and his way to persevere and still be a factor?
COACH DANTONIO: Jon had a great game. I think he was the player of the game, no question. He’s active. He’s healthy right now. He’s gotten healthy. He flies around.
What’s it say about him? I think he’s just a product of the environment. I think Coach Snyder has done a great job with him, Coach Tressel before that. He’s from Brother Rice High School, played for an outstanding coach there in Al Fracassa.
Those are the expectations he had when he came here. Right now he’s hitting his stride. I think last year he played very well, as well. Based on this last game, he stepped up in a big game in a prime time situation and played extremely well. So we’re looking for more good things from him.
Q. You guys have had some big and memorable games versus Wisconsin, even going back to your first year here, then in 2012 the conference realigned and you end up not playing them every year. Do you still wish you played them every year as a divisional foe?
COACH DANTONIO: The place is always packed one way or the other, whether they’re down here or we’re up there. They’ve been very close games. We played for high stakes in those games both times in `11, and `12 really for us. It’s been exciting opportunities.
I don’t ever sit around and say, I wish we were playing this team, I wish we were playing that team. It is sort of what it is. I sort of focus on who we are playing and go from there.
They’ve been great football games. They have a great fan base. There will be a lot of Badgers down here. It should be an exciting atmosphere.
Q. Another question about R.J. Shelton, the last time you had this much turnover at receiver, with a new group all together. The other receivers have played well. Describe the value of having that staggered, having his senior year fall right now.
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, you’re constantly thinking in every position, trying to evaluate where your guys are at. Are you playing this freshman or that sophomore, who is coming back. You’re trying to get these guys ready so you’re always moving forward with some experienced guys.
R.J. came in. We were a little thin. He was a recruited tailback. We moved him to wide receiver after we saw him catching the football.
Really it was, let’s get him in an A, B, C period of wide receivers, he caught the ball well. We started the transitioning there. He made himself a wide receiver over the course of time. You sort of blossom in that respect. We’ll continue to do that with all of our players as we go. We’re going to always test them and say, hey, let’s try this guy over here, this guy over there, let’s see if he can do this or that.
But right now he’s a senior, so right now he’s sort of one of the guys who is the foundation of our wide receiver group.
Q. You mentioned Reschke earlier. With Ed (Davis) slowly working his way back in, guys like Jon and Andrew Dowell playing so well, probably a thing you like to see, how do you assimilate Ed back in?
COACH DANTONIO: We’ll get Ed Davis on the field. He played last week really one play. We just felt like he wasn’t quite there yet. It’s a week-to-week thing. It’s rehab, it’s all these different things that are tied together, but he did play last week. If he’s capable of playing, he’ll be in that football game.
Q. With having Reschke and Dowell playing so well, does it make it easier to transition him back in?
COACH DANTONIO: I think the more good players you have, the better it is. The more you can spread it around a little bit, keep people fresh, different packages, different things we can do to try to get him involved.
Q. Your record against ranked teams and against ranked teams on the road as an underdog is pretty remarkable. Are experts just getting this wrong or does something happen to your team when the lights come on?
COACH DANTONIO: I said that Saturday night. What makes an expert? I would ask that politely, what makes everybody an expert.
We know what we can do. We understand who we are. We’re going to play to the best of our abilities. If we do those things, we’ve got a great chance of winning every football game.
You can look back, and I don’t know how many games we’ve been here now, 130, something like that maybe. There’s not too many times we’ve been blown out. So you can probably count them on one hand.
We’re not going to win every football game, but we’re competitive. I think we understand what we’re doing. We understand our package. We’re able to sort of lift ourselves up sometimes. Right now we’ve got a culture which expects success. When you have that culture that expects success, good things tend to happen.
Our players know their responsibilities within that culture, which is important.
Q. Is there a method to building up to that fever pitch on game day or game night?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I’m not a big rant and rave guy beforehand. I just tell guys, Hey, you got to get with yourself, man. Yourself is the person that has to get ready. I have to get myself ready, however that is. You got to get yourself ready. You’re the person that has to look in the mirror at the end of the day. You better be ready to play because you’ll be tested, you’ll be tested at the highest level on game day.
Everybody takes that personal, I think. That’s the way we’ve done it here. There are other guys jumping around. I say, save all that for the game, they’ll get themselves all tired out before the game, save that
for the game.
They know my intensity. They know where I’m at from an intensity standpoint. That’s what we have to do. They understand that. That’s part of this process, having the intensity to be able to focus for 60 minutes and play every single play, whether you’re ahead or behind, by a lot of points or it’s close. You’ve just got to keep playing, play the next play. As crazy and as dogmatic as that sounds, just play the next play, but be fundamentally sound when you do it.
Q. You mentioned the other night the importance of winning the turnovers. You were up 3-1. You end up out-scoring them 15-0 on turnovers. That’s nothing new for this program over the last three years. You guys have been the best in the Big Ten, one of the best in the nation. Is there a secret to how you guys do that so consistently?
COACH DANTONIO: You just don’t know when the turnovers are going to come. You got to keep trying to get them. You got to coach `em. You got to talk about it, practice the ways of getting them. Everybody in America does that. I think every coach in America understands how important turnovers are in the scope of winning or losing.
We’ve gotten them. We need to continue to get them as we go through our season this year. Sometimes you get in a drought a little bit, but you’ve got to find your way out of it. Other times they’re just falling out of the sky for you; we hope for that.
But on the other end of the spectrum, ball security is so important for our offense, where you throw the football, then how you run with the football. We work tirelessly on that and talk about that as well.
At the end of the day if you’re plus-one in turnover margin, then at the end of the year, you’ve probably won a lot of football games. If you really look at our record, really comb through it, you’ll see that when we’re plus-two or plus-one, we’ve won the game the majority of the time. When we’re minus-two, the significance of that drops 50/50 or less.
Q. The chip on your shoulder, your players have adopted that. You’ve won 40 of your last 45 games. Do you build on that mentality with your players, or are you a little tired of it?
COACH DANTONIO: No, I really don’t. I really challenge our players. They need to challenge themselves every single day to go out and be the best. Just what I was talking about before.
The chip comes from, to me, internal competitiveness. Okay, what am I going to do this week to win a football game? How am I going to enter into this fact? How am I going to enter into this equation as a player? Am I going to do my job? Am I going to impact somebody else? How can I impact somebody else? That’s what we put our focus on.
I think along the way there’s something that irritates us. That’s human nature at times. You want to play against a football team because they are who they are, whatever.
But I think more importantly, the thing that stays with you is that competitive nature that you’ve got to bring every single game, every single game, every single practice. Those are the things that you learn, I’ve said this before, you learn when you watch our basketball team practice. You go there and you watch how they practice, the intensity that they bring to every single practice. Or when you watch us now, hopefully we bring an intensity to every single practice.
We try to make it game-like conditions as much as we can and present those problems and issues that make them think on their feet and prepare them by giving them chaotic situations to make them react, try and cover every single game situation. Although it’s almost impossible, we try. We think up other things. We’re trying to do the very best to prepare them, but that chip has to come from within. I think if it’s external, it leaves you fast. We want something that’s rooted deep in you that makes things take hold every single game, every single practice.
Q. The waiting period was waived for Mike Sadler induction into the Hall of Fame. Do you know the reason behind that decision? What is it going to mean to you to see this happen for him?
COACH DANTONIO: I would imagine the reason it was made is because of the tragic events that happened. It’s an honor to be here when Mike is inducted.
Q. There’s a cornerback spot, Tyson Smith was in at the end of the game. He started both games for you guys. What have you seen from him that allows him to come in in a rotational situation?
COACH DANTONIO: Tyson has great athletic ability. He’s very quick, great speed and great ball skills. He sort of rotates in there. Darian Hicks is the starter. He (Smith) did start for Vayante the first game for a couple plays to make a point, but he’s our third corner in.
He needs to continue to get better; just like all of our players, he’s young, he’s young. So every game he gets increasingly better. He played last year, started some, didn’t play as much. Now he’s playing more. Every game he’s going to get better and better, and more confident.
Q. With Malik (McDowell), have you seen through two games significant differences in how other teams are playing against him? Has he had to adapt at all being `the man’ on the defensive line now?
COACH DANTONIO: I don’t see people playing any differently. Schematically they have to block them all. He had a great football game. There’s no-huddle, so he was in and out a little bit. The plays that he played, he was a major impact on the football game, and played with great effort. So he was a difference maker.
Q. (Wisconsin running back) Corey Clement’s status is up in the air for this game. If he does play, what makes him special as a runningback?
COACH DANTONIO: He’s got great change of direction, gets vertical. He’s powerful, he can run. He’s a Wisconsin-type back. When they look back to all the guys they’ve had in their background, in their recent history, he’s like those guys. He’s a difference maker.
Q. It struck me, we never bothered to ask you last week if there was a special name for the fake extra point?
COACH DANTONIO: Muddle huddle.
Q. With Donnie Corley, is he just scratching the surface at this point? Are we seeing a little bit of what this guy is capable of?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I think Donnie is an outstanding football player. He’s got big-play potential. He’s going to make a lot of plays for us over these next three years and 10 games. Again, another young man, he’s just starting his career. He’ll take off, and he’ll continue to take off.
Q. When you first got here, did you look at Wisconsin as a program to emulate? As your program maybe surpasses what they have going, what programs out there do you now look at and try to emulate?
COACH DANTONIO: When we came, I looked at Iowa, what Kirk Ferentz has built. I looked at the Wisconsin program and what was built there. They did it the hard way where they had been down a little bit at one point, built it back up, had a consistent winning program and stability and continuity. I thought that was one thing we wanted to have. We wanted to continuity here. We wanted to have strength in the schedule, do all the things they’ve been doing, Rose Bowls and things of that nature.
Now looking forward, we’re up there I guess among some others. We continue to try to look at programs and say, okay, they’re like us in this regard, we need to get better, do these different things. To sit there and say, `we want to be like this program,’ Stanford intrigues me. I think we’re different than Stanford, though, in different areas as a university. Certainly you look at Alabama, what they’ve been able to do as a measuring stick, as well.
Q. Here is your outside the box. It hasn’t happened with your team yet, but twice this weekend and several times recently we’ve seen players in the open field drop a football before they get in the end zone. I’m trying to understand the younger generation. What is cool about dropping the football that close to the goal line? Have you addressed it with your team?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, we address it. In fact, when Gerald busted his 73-yard run, he was walking in with the ball out here. It was addressed, even though it was in his hand. You just have to cross the finish line. You’ve got to finish. You got to finish.
Q. Do you get it?
COACH DANTONIO: No, I don’t get it. I just think people are so excited to get there, they forget they’re not just quite there yet