Spartan head coach Mark Dantonio discusses the loss to Indiana and looks ahead to hosting Brigham Young University this Saturday. The verbatim transcript of his news conference is courtesy Michigan State University.
COACH DANTONIO: First of all, Mylan Hicks’ service will be on Friday, and I’m not sure what time that will be, but it will be on Friday, so we’ll make plans to make it available for our football team to get down there and for myself as well.
We need to refocus as a football team. I don’t think there’s any question about that. Disappointing situation last Saturday, but that’s what this game is all about. It’s all-inclusive, and when you look at football, I think every play takes on sort almost a life of its own. In that play there’s got to be execution, there’s got to be, I guess, play calls and things of that nature, but execution and decision making, split-second decisions. And then you’ve got to come down and make that particular play work, whether it’s offense, defense or special teams.
So it’s coaching, it’s players, it’s plan, it’s execution, it’s all those things. You need to do a better job in all those areas and it starts first of all with coaching better.
So basically I’ll take some questions as we go, and talk a little about BYU as we go. But we have to continue to find the inches. I don’t think there’s any question about that, and that’s what’s allowed us to have great success here, and we need to continue on with that mindset. We played very, very well on Saturday, and look forward to playing confidently.
Q. (Kicker) Matt Coghlin, any discussion of taking the red shirt off of him?
COACH DANTONIO: No, not at this time.
Q. Secondly, you’ve talked about wanting to use all three running backs. You want to go with the hot hand. Gerald (Holmes) wasn’t used the first three quarters, was hot in the fourth, not used in the overtime. Are you happy with your running back rotation the way it’s working out right now or is that something you guys need to address?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think first of all that it’s pretty much like you say, I think all three of those players are good players. It’s hard to work three of them into the rotation and get them enough reps or carries, I guess you would say. I think LJ (Scott) has been the guy that probably carried most of the load. Gerald has had his moments. I thought Madre (London) had his moments in the game as well. So all three of those guys are very, very capable players. So that’s a positive thing.
On the negative end of the spectrum, I guess you could say, so and so didn’t get in or this didn’t happen in this situation and we didn’t see this guy in this situation, those type of things. We went with the guy we thought could get it done. Two of those plays, I believe, were passes. So they were reflected as such. It’s disappointing the way overtime went, but we’ve got to play it out.
Q. The last time that you had a team that faced adversity like this with back-to-back losses was 2012. I think Ed (Davis) was the only player who wasn’t a redshirt on that team. Is there anything you draw back to that season that you can bring into this one that can help rally these guys coming into this next home game?
COACH DANTONIO: I think every football game, every time you go out, as I opened the press conference, you’ve got to play with great emotion. You’ve got to get inches. You’ve got to execute all those things. If you saw the 2012 situation, it mirrored some things that are going on right now and the fact that you’ve got to get off the field on third down. You’ve got to play well in the kicking game. You’ve got to make third-down conversions. And when you don’t, those things happening for whatever, play calls, or whatever, execution, whatever it is, then you come up inches short. And I think that’s what happened in this past game, we came up inches short. Not to take anything away from Indiana, but lot of things going on in the football game where you can find a way to win the football game. So we need to be able to do those things and that gets placed on my shoulders.
Q. The offensive line, I see there is a little bit of shuffling this week, Kodi (Kieler) is now over at left tackle after playing right last week. Is that just kind of an evolving situation, to try to find that right combination? I know some younger guys have played. Is this kind of a work in progress up there?
COACH DANTONIO: I think (Tyler) Higby has played pretty well. He’s been coming. He’s had two, I think, solid games, so he’s playing and he’s maturing as a redshirt freshman. You’ve got the left tackle situation. David Beedle struggled a little bit, so we’ll put a little bit more experienced player over there. Doesn’t mean David won’t play. Kodi will still play around. I thought (Miguel) Machado played better, so he’ll move back into that situation.
So it’s a little bit of a trying-to-figure-it-out type situation. We’ll try to always hinge things on making decisions based on who has played the best in the last couple games and what we have to do.
Q. I know you’ve said that your starting quarterback will remain the same, but how much of an emphasis is it to get other guys experience this year looking forward to next year, and is a midseason non-conference game an opportunity to do that at all?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, first of all, we’re not cashing out this year yet. We’re a 2-2 football team. As far as the out-of-conference game, we’d need to win the football game, so we’re going to do what we have to do to win the football game. It’s paramount that we win.
So in line of everybody’s getting reps in practice and those types of things, we’ll make the best decisions for the team going forward as to who our quarterback is, and right now, you know, it’s Tyler O’Connor. I think that the guy has leadership ability. I think he shows toughness on the field. I think he made plays. If we win the football game, if the head coach decides to go for two or we win the football game in overtime, he’s the hero of the game; took him down the field and scored. But because that didn’t happen, you know, he’s thrown under the bus a little bit.
So I don’t think that’s the reason we lost the football game. So as long as that guy’s always got to be a productive player for us, there is no question about that. A lot of things going on with a lot of penalties, they took away scoring opportunities in the football game earlier, took us out of scoring position or whatever, and put us in longer yardage situations.
So it’s, like I said, it’s all-inclusive. Got to come up with more turnovers. If we’re not winning the turnover battle, which we usually have done. This time it was even. You usually have done that throughout our time. We’ve got to pressure the quarterback more effectively. No question about that and come away with sacks. Probably the most important thing is every game starts with 15 minutes on the clock, and you’ve got 60 minutes to play.
So regardless of what’s happened in the past, you have an opportunity to make it right and to play forward and start to improve those particular situations that allow you to win a game.
So that’s what we have to do. I think there’s conviction on our football team. I know our football team and everybody’s hurting a little bit and they’ll be ready to play. I’m quite confident they’ll be ready to play.
Q. With Malik (McDowell), obviously a very important player on your defense, what changes without him? Is anything different game plan-wise when you won’t have him in the first half, but you’ll get him back in the second half?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, he’ll have to sit. He’ll have to sit in the locker room and wait. With that being said, it’s going to provide opportunities for some other players. Brandon Clemons will play on defense this week. I think that’s a for sure. He’s a guy that’s got defensive reps and he’s played. Auston Robertson will move back into defensive tackle some. So we’ve got guys who have the same amount of numbers at least and we’ll make it through the first half and then we’ll make adjustments after that.
I don’t think you all of a sudden restructure your whole defense and say, so and so’s not in there, and let’s change the whole defense. I don’t think you can do those type of things. You can’t make wholesale changes. But certainly we’ll miss Malik, but, you know, there is nothing that I can do about that. Those decisions rest with other people and you know how it goes. You guys are the writers. Prognosticators. Visionaries. There you go.
Q. You mentioned third down defense, and you mentioned turnover margin. Those are two areas you guys have dominated in the past four or five years but are struggling with this year. What are those symptoms of, is it inexperience?
COACH DANTONIO: You know, the turnover margin to me, we’ve got opportunities for three other turnovers just really four right off the top of my head. You know, they throw a corner route, and (Vayante) Copeland’s got a chance to almost pick it. They throw one in the end zone and we’ve got a chance to pick straight and pick it. One goes through the hands of Andrew Dowell, and then Montae Nicholson taps the ball back in-bounds, Chris Frey taps it, we’ll try to recover it, he tries to fall on it, he didn’t get it, ball pops out of bounds. So those are four others right there.
So those are guys where it’s a ball flipping this way, flipping that way, those are inches. All of a sudden, you come out four to one or 5-1 in turnover margin and it’s a different type of game.
As far as quarterback pressures and things like that, we’ve got to create those things schematically, and then also we’ve got to cut it loose a little bit. But there were three times where we had the guy and he got out of our grasp.
Q. You’ve got three true freshmen now in the group at wide receiver. Looking back at Saturday, what did you see from them? Obviously, Donnie (Corley) had the drop, but how much and how integral are they going to be offensively going forward for you guys? And how do you work them in with all the veterans?
COACH DANTONIO: First of all, when you’re a young player, you’re a young player with ability, if you’re playing, and certainly you can recognize that with all three of those guys. But what you also don’t recognize is that a route needs to be run at 18 and it’s run at 13, big difference for the quarterback. You’ve got some drops out there. You’ve got a guy running a route or not running a route when it’s a pass route and he’s out there blocking. I mean, that causes a problem for the quarterback.
So there are growing pains that come along with playing young players. But the only way that you get better is by playing those guys and allowing them to have those game experiences. They’re going to be outstanding players, and we’ve got a fourth that’s going to be an outstanding wide receiver. But there are growing pains as we go forward here with that, and they’re going to make some mistakes and they’re going to make some plays.
Donnie, probably nine out of 10 times is going to make that catch, but that’s the one time he didn’t make it. Well, it’s a crucial aspect of the game, but he didn’t make the catch, but I’m fully confident he’ll make the next one. We’ve seen him over and over do that in practice. So as far as getting them reps with the older players, we’ve usually been able to rep six guys in there in a rotation of six guys, and I think those guys are pretty much in that sixth-man deal.
We wanted to do some different things with Justin Layne. I think he can get involved in special teams and things of that nature. That was the reason for taking the redshirt off of him as well, because he can play in other areas as well and that was one of the aspects of that.
Q. Any update on at least the availability of (Darian) Hicks, (Riley) Bullough and (Chris) Frey? Any update on their availability?
COACH DANTONIO: Riley will not play this week, so I’ll give you that update, but I think he’s close to playing. But as of right now on Tuesday, I don’t think he will be. I think the others will play.
Q. I’m glad to hear you say the season isn’t over because you’d think otherwise by hearing and reading. Does that amaze you with the equity you’ve built up in this program that people just kind of jump off the ship so quick?
COACH DANTONIO: No, not in this world, not in this world. All you have to do is turn on the TV. That’s the way it is. This is a supply and demand, instant gratifications world that we’re living in and you guys all know that. So when the good things come, you get an overabundance of praise, and when the bad things come, you might get an overabundance of criticism as well.
That’s why you’re hired. You’re hired to steer the ship or whatever you want to say, in the stormy waters. We can’t always be just floating along and sail. But I will say this, when you have problems, there’s usually great growth. There’s leadership growth. There’s growth in terms of what it takes to be able to accomplish things, and that’s natural.
So nobody felt like we’d be 2-2 at this point during the season. I’m sure most people thought we’d be 4-0, but here we are, and it’s a place we haven’t been for a while, but doesn’t mean we’re not going places. So we’ll get there.
Q. On the injury theme, which is I know your favorite. Any long-term injuries of guys that won’t be back? Like Raequan (Williams) didn’t look great when he walked out. Any guys that you can talk about?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, we’ll probably miss Raequan here in the next week or two weeks. We’ll have to see how it all shapes out this week, but that’s my indication right now.
Q. We all saw the play and the replays, but did you get any explanation or clarification on what targeting is, especially in relation to Malik?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I got explanations; we got explanations, but I can’t really talk about those things, guys. What’s done is done. I can’t change it. I don’t think it was, I don’t know how you play football anymore sometimes.
But I have a good relationship with the people in the Big Ten office, with (Big Ten coordinator of officials) Bill Carollo, and he does the best that he can. I think it’s a well-run organization that tries to look at every facet of a football game and make good decisions, but ultimately the decisions are made at the game, and there is no appeal process with this. So that’s a difficult situation to handle, but that’s the way it is. I’m just a small cog here.
Q. Would you like to see a process where coaches could do something like that?
COACH DANTONIO: Sure. Sure, I mean, I think if you could go back and say, oh, that was a bad hit, an illegal hit and put it on a guy without it being called in the game, then you should be able to do the reverse as well, but like I said, I’m just a voter.
Q. Going on to the special teams theme again talking about (Justin) Layne. What more can you get from your own return game? What kind of things do you want to see in preventing the returns? I think they had a long punt return. And on top of that, a little more clarification on the leaping as well. I read the rule, can (Drake) Martinez jump into a spot where nobody is and go forward or can he not go forward at all?
COACH DANTONIO: Martinez can jump, I mean, the jumper can jump, as long as he does not land on an opposing player. That’s the rule. You can’t hurdle or jump and then flip over and fall on an opposing player. That’s the rule. So you have to go straight up.
Once again, that’s a coaching thing, because I had coached them to do that. I had a guy that could jump, and that’s coaching. If you’re not coaching it, you’re letting it happen. So there you go, it’s on me.
As far as special teams, Jake’s (Hartbarger) got a great leg. Sometimes he can outkick the coverage, and that’s what happened on that one. You’ve got to come under control. Coming down the field when you’re outside of ten yards, you should come under control. So he’s 15 yards, so in this case Martinez was 15 yards away from the returner, he’s got to come under control and keep the ball from busting outside of him. He continued to sprint, and the guy caught the ball and was back up the field before he could gain control of that. So got a wall set up and off they go. So, too many penalties on special teams, not making enough kicks, return game needs to get better, hit our blocks. Everything’s set up to make it happen structurally.
But you should always review those things. But everything like you would imagine, when things like this go on, you take a look at everything, you take a second look, you take a third look at everything that we’re doing and you try to adjust. You say is that schematics? Is that physical? Is that structural? Is there a critical error? Is there a mental error there or physical error? Why did it not work? Okay. So we try to take a look at that and try to make good decisions in terms of who is doing it, how it’s being done, and how are we practicing it? And that’s what we’ve always done. We’ve always taken a very realistic approach, and that’s what we’ll do.
Q. Specifically, we know Michael Geiger has struggled. But in fairness to him, that kick in overtime, was that on (Matt) Macksood, the hold there, why that kick was not successful?
COACH DANTONIO: I don’t believe it was. I believe the kick was missed. I mean, Mike’s been a good kicker. He’s been a good competitor. He’s made big kicks for us, but he’s got to be more consistent. I don’t think there is any doubt about that. I felt like the kicks were coming off, he usually pops the ball and gets great height on it, trajectory in terms of the initial part of the kick, but I thought the first one blocked was he did not get that, and I thought his kicks were relatively low, pretty much throughout, even on extra points.
So we’ll take a look at that as well, analyze that, I think he’s a competitor, and he needs to bounce back when he has that opportunity. Anyone want to talk about BYU?
Q. So BYU, they’re coming off a tremendous offensive performance against Toledo, but they also have some defensive issues. I guess, what did you see from (BYU quarterback Taysom) Hill and their running back in particular that allowed their offense to thrive?
COACH DANTONIO: Taysom Hill is a guy that was hurt last year with the ankle injury, and before that, I believe with a knee injury, and he was a very productive quarterback prior to that. It gives him the ability to throw the football. He’s thrown for over 1,000 yards, and he can run the football. So he’s a threat in terms of pulling in on the zone read type thing, but he’s a very, very good quarterback.
All their games have gone down to a two-minute drill. You look at their two-minute drill tape, I mean, it’s large. You’re talking five games, you’ve got 60-plus plays on it. So there is a lot to look at there and examine and say, okay, what are they — how did they get into this situation? But they’ve lost a couple of very close games, and won two very close games.
(Jamaal) Williams is the No. 1 running back in the country in yards after contact. I think he had 260 or 280 or so this last week against Toledo, big runs, breakaway guy, very good running back, number 21.
Defensively, they play a lot of different people, a lot of different people. So they’re going to keep their guys fresh. Receiver-wise, they’ve got guys going down the field. Bigger, wide receivers. Probably four of them with similar amount of catches or so.
Kalani Sitake is in his first year there. I think he’ll be very successful there, and looking to build a program.
Q. Dug up a stat in the offseason that 90% of your roster has never experienced anything worse than 11 wins in a season in their time here, and they certainly haven’t started 0-2 in conference play. So with that prospect, and the goal of not being in your own hands, how do you think they’ll respond?
COACH DANTONIO: Our goals are still in our own hands in terms of what we can accomplish here, first of all. How would I respond? You know, I guess with that little stat that you gave us, I don’t want to be too critical, but some guys have been born on third. You know what I mean? They haven’t experienced the pain that others have gone through to get to this place to where it’s at.
Sometimes you need to go back and you need to take stock in where this place has come from, what has happened to get it to there. It just doesn’t happen. Just because you show up here doesn’t mean that you automatically get a win. That’s whether you’re coaching, that’s whether you’re the head coach and have that success, you have to reexamine what you’re doing, reexamine how you’re doing it, and make some good decisions. As a player, you have to dig deep a little bit sometimes.
But I think when you do dig deep, you build equity, you invest. And in that investment comes success. Sometimes you just think it’s going to happen just because you show up. It isn’t necessarily going to happen, because everybody’s got players. Everybody’s got a plan. Everybody’s trying to work that plan and everybody’s trying to do the same thing. And there’s a ton of parity in college football. Just look around. I really didn’t have a chance to look around in college football or pro football this weekend, but just look around. I mean, the parity in college football, the players and the teams that people have, some places are coming out of nowhere. Some places are going the other direction.
So we need to get ourselves together. Get ourselves ready to play and get ready to go, but that’s what I would say. But that’s an enlightening stat. That’s a good stat, a great stat. I guess you can be proud of that stat, and at the same time say how much pain have we suffered? It just doesn’t happen. There’s got to be some growth. We’ve got a young football team in a lot of respects.
Q. I know we’ve talked about it before with you in the winter. But can you kind of visit Mufi’s (Hill-Hunt) recruitment and what you’ve seen from him thus far since he’s been on campus? And I guess the special circumstances of him going on a (LDS Church) Mormon mission and how that differs because that whole program (BYU) often has to deal with that.
COACH DANTONIO: Well, we recruited Mufi and he decided to come, then he was going on a mission trip. On the mission trip he had a knee injury, basically from high school, right before he left on the mission trip. I think he was actually hiking in the mountains, and coming out of the mountains and slipped on ice and injured his knee.
So he didn’t have surgery on that knee, went on the mission trip, but it became too difficult for him to fulfill that part of it. So he came off the trip, got the surgery, rehabbed it. Rehabbed for six months at home, we brought him in at mid-year, couldn’t practice much in the spring, could a little bit, but not much. So he’s just like any other freshman, you know, he’s just one year removed from high school because he started a mission trip.
So he’s got great athletic ability, he’s very flexible. He’s probably 6’5″, 255, 260 (pounds). I think he’ll be a very good player for us. He’s not quite ready yet. He’s still trying to find his way, acclimating to college football at this level. But from Salt Lake City, so very familiar with BYU, was recruited by them and everything, and outstanding young person. Should be very successful here.
Q. Two BYU questions, first of all, their penchant for throwing the ball and scoring points. Does that make you adjust a little bit your offensive style knowing it’s not going to be a 10-10 game, points are going to be scored? That’s the first one.
COACH DANTONIO: Their scores indicate people have played them well defensively. So their scores aren’t always (55-53). So we’ve got to play defense like we know how to play, got to tackle in space, got to cover down the field. They’ll be one-on-one. They create one-on-one match-ups. I don’t think there’s any question they create these whether you’re in zoned coverages or manned coverages.
The quarterback’s going to make plays, but they can run the football, been productive. But other people have held them down as well. They’ve had low scoring games as well, two of them in the teens, one of them in the 20s, and a couple of them higher. So we’ll see what we get.
Q. Secondly, when people look at stats and don’t maybe understand football, they would look at your defensive backs as having been targeted. But how much is really on the fact there hasn’t been a pass rush, and no matter who you play, if they have time, they’ll eventually pick any defensive back field apart?
COACH DANTONIO: As a defensive back, you’ve got to play the ball in the deep part of the field. That’s probably the most critical thing and biggest thing you see right now in college football across the board, regardless of where you’re at, you’re seeing guys making plays on deep balls either defensively or offensively.
So that’s part of it, and any other part of it, you’ve got to get a pass rush on them. You’ve got to pressure the quarterback. You’ve got to make it difficult for them to throw, or get the ball out quicker and then you’ve got to tackle in space.
So we’ve got good players back there; we’ve got experienced players. They’re going to gain more experience as we go, but it’s all tied together. Linebackers, defensive front, structurally, what are you calling? Are you pressuring people? Are you playing coverage? Are you rushing three? Are you rushing six? Are you rushing seven? You know, do you blitz them, max blitz them, things of that nature? There’s always repercussions in terms of what goes on and it’s decision making time for the coaches. We put them in the best positions we can, but it’s not full proof, obviously. So, again, I’m a defensive coach. It’s going to start with me and we’re going to figure it out, get it fixed and we’ve got to play well.