These are highlights from Spartan head football coach Mark Dantonio’s weekly news conference.
The following is a complete transcript from Tuesday’s press conference provided by Michigan State University:
COACH DANTONIO: Obviously, we play Northwestern this week, 2-3 football team as well. Pat Fitzgerald has been there for 11 years, does an excellent job, (they were) a 10-win team last year.
As far as their program, systematic, do what they do offensively and defensively. Mike Hankwitz has been there for a long time. As a matter of fact, he was a linebacker coach at Purdue when I was a graduate assistant way back. Excellent coach. They do what they do very, very well.
Where we’re at right now, I think we’ve talked enough about that. You guys will probably ask some more questions, but from my perspective, our players are probably getting bombarded with things, as well. When they come to practice, to me, there’s got to be a little bit of a sanctuary there. We’ve got to keep coaching, coaching them positively. Stand in there strong as people, and understand that we’ve got to get things fixed.
Dug a hole like I said before. We’ve got to dig our way out of that hole. There is no easy remedy for things like that. Got to keep positive in that respect and keep coaching. Beyond that, just take that approach of one focus and that focus right now is to beat Northwestern and then move from there. We’ll get what we get.
Q. You’ve always said this program wins because of chemistry. After the game Saturday some guys were talking about that. Is there a chemistry issue on the team?
COACH DANTONIO: I don’t think there’s a chemistry problem on our football team. We went into this season with very, very high expectations and hopes. We’ve had a lot of injuries. We’ve had quite a few injuries. We’ve got young players playing at certain positions, whether they’re in backup positions, but getting meaningful minutes, or whatever the case. Guys will get better with experience. Our focus right now is getting ready to play Northwestern and get ourselves in gear.
We have three games. I look at all three of those games, in the fourth quarter, it sort of becomes unraveled. Third quarter in the Wisconsin game. All three games are games where we’re right there with opportunities to win the football games. Our games have always been close. We’ve always found ways to win them. Guys make plays.
Bottom line is we got to have the right concepts, obviously, right coaching being done this week, but also got to make plays and execute. So it’s all inclusive as I’ve said before. We’ll just get down to it.
Q. You told us you had to see the film. After watching the film, the depth chart at quarterback reflects there’s been some changes. Are you expecting on Saturday there to be any changes in philosophy of play calling, the play-caller specifically or anything to do with the coaching end of your offensive play?
COACH DANTONIO: I think every single week, we’re going to try to tailor things relative to who we play against, what they do. I think that’s natural. In terms of who is calling the plays, no, absolutely not. Our football program has been in place for quite some time here, and we’ve been successful.
The natural thing is for everybody to always start to say, well, it’s this guy’s fault or it’s that guy’s fault. It’s all inclusive. It’s all inclusive. The first person that needs to take that responsibility is me. That’s where we sit.
Q. Looking at the quarterback situation, you have three guys listed as “OR,” you probably didn’t think that would be the case at this point in the season. What do you think about having all three of them in the competition right now? Do you guys as a staff know who will play and what the rotation will be?
COACH DANTONIO: We’ve talked about those things. Those things will stay in-house, obviously. We’ve got to practice this week; we’ve not practiced yet. We’re basing our decisions right now to bold all three of those guys (on the depth chart) based on Saturday’s performance, then we go from there.
Tyler O’Connor, I don’t think that he played poorly, but there’s got to be production. There’s just got to be some production, more production than what there is. Again, that’s on everybody a little bit. That’s on everybody whether it’s protection, routes, running the football, calls, execution by the quarterback, all these different things, so it’s tough, some may think unfair, but at the same time, we have to look at the aspect of like a Major League Baseball team, you’ve got to bring in a relief pitcher, or whatever the case is needed. There’s nothing to say that one guy will quarterback the entire day, there’s nothing to say that person won’t. We’ll make that decision based on what we see this week. There’s a case that can me made for every way we may go.
I don’t like sitting a guy down who is a captain, that’s for sure, and he’s done a great job in that respect. We was elected by his teammates, we don’t select our captains here by coaches, I don’t say `hey you’re our captain, you lead our football team,’ that’s not how we’ve done it. So that’s a tough situation.
I’ve told all three quarterbacks, they’re off limits to media, I don’t think you guys need to pepper them with questions and go through all that stuff with them. They need to get themselves ready to play a football game, all three of them, maybe more importantly they need to get themselves ready to practice.
Q. I know you’ve talked about how you wouldn’t jump in and call plays or anything, but during a week when certain parts of the game plan as far as the offense is concerned is not working as well, do you find yourself during the week, you focusing on those things more, maybe jumping into a few more meetings than you have before?
COACH DANTONIO: Yes, I have and I do, but it’s all inclusive, I’m involved, but on game day you separate yourself as a play-caller a little bit from all the craziness that’s going on in the world, or on the sideline, or in the game.
You need to stay focused, from my perspective, you need to stay focused when I call the game defensively, you need to stay focused on the task at hand, and look for the next play and look to try and make things systematically, and probably the most important thing is to make the call as quick as you can to let it digest in people’s minds, and that’s not easy to do. You’ve got a 40-second clock sometimes and sometimes it’s a 25-second clock, well you’ve got maybe 10 seconds to make the call.
That’s the way we’ve done it here and that’s the way we’ll continue to do it, and have faith in what’s going on and we’ll get it fixed, but it’s execution as well, every play is designed to work, every defense is designed to work. If you want me to go back through why we’re not succeeding, it’s not just the offensive side of the ball, that’s for sure, it’s not just play-calling, that’s for sure.
There are things in other areas and that’s the case with most football teams. You have to concentrate on how to fix things that aren’t going quite right for you, which has always been the case. (When we were) 13-1, 12-2, we got things not working right. We’ve got to fix them.
Q. Coach, you haven’t lost three in a row since 2009. The program hasn’t lost four in a row since 2006. You’ve done a lot to raise the bar in terms of expectations. You used the word `sanctuary’. What message would you have for fans and people on the outside that are maybe disappointed in the season to this point?
COACH DANTONIO: I guess my message to our fans is we’re working. We’re going to be strong, stay the course. Spartan fans are Spartan fans. If you want to jump off the bandwagon a little bit, I understand a little bit, because people are fickle, success is fickle.
But I think that we’ve built some equity around here hopefully. We’ve done it right. We’ve done it the right way. I think we’ve done it in a positive fashion and with class.
But whatever comes down the pipe, I can handle those things. I’ll take the brunt of that. I’d like to shield our football team from it as much as I can.
Q. A lot of times when a team is struggling, you can point to an area and say, If you could just fix this. You used the term `all inclusive’. Is there one area of the team where you think the team is doing something right and you can build on it and hang your hat on it?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, there’s certain things that we’re doing in terms of you want to look at how we’re playing against the run. We’re getting them in third-and-long situations, we got to get off the field. There is one instance right there. Many more third-and-longs than third-and-shorts.
We’re playing good on the goal line. We played well in sudden change situations. I can go through all the things that we need to do, but there’s three or four things right there.
We’ve had some games where we’ve run the ball very effectively. The Notre Dame game, we ran the ball very effectively. I think our running backs are good running backs. They should break out. We’ve had some big receiver catches and things of that nature.
We just lack consistency in scoring points offensively. And then you can start pointing from there, whether it’s protection, whether it’s routes, whether it’s throws, whether it’s play-calling, all those things; but when things don’t go well, there’s always a ton of reasons. When things seem to go well, Well, that’s fine. You sort of push that off, but here we are. Here we sit. We got things to do. Like I said, one focus.
Q. I don’t know what to make of the depth chart because I don’t know if that’s to keep us guessing. There’s like 10 or’s on offense. Is that a message to the player that your perform or you’re an or?
COACH DANTONIO: I would say we’ve got to look to make sure that people we put in the game have opportunities. Am I making sense on that? Probably not. What I’m saying is it’s going to be him or him. You got to play better. There is a chain of events that happens. You’ve got play calling, you’ve got execution. In some cases other guys, they’re just close. We played them before. Tight end: either/or, we played both those guys. Running backs: or, we played all three of those guys. I think the one situation we haven’t put an or by is the quarterback, and now it’s that way because I think there’s a necessary step to take. Some of it’s protection, quite frankly for Tyler in some regards, to allow us to go through the process.
Q. Not necessarily that every job is up for grabs?
COACH DANTONIO: Not every job is up for grabs, no.
Q. Depth chart issue. Brandon Clemons listed at defensive tackle, not offensive line. Is that something that will continue going forward?
COACH DANTONIO: Obviously he can play offensive line as well. He can play offensive or defensive.
Q. After watching film, seeing (BYU quarterback) Taysom Hill, a dual-threat guy, this week (Northwestern quarterback) Clayton Thorson, what needs to be changed in containing him?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, Taysom Hill was very poised in the pocket. I thought he did a nice job. We got to push the pocket, with our defensive line. When we’re rushing four people with two defensive tackles, can’t work outside the defensive end, allow our quarterback to step up in the middle of the pocket on third down. There’s one thing for you. So we can stop that. Also a couple quarterback reads. We got people to tackle him. We got to make the tackle. Third-and-one, we got to make the tackle. There was another opportunity where we could make a tackle for no gain. We got to make the tackle.
He scrambled out of there on second down, probably as important as anything in the first half, with the ability to scramble out of there on second-and-10. He makes 11, stops the clock, there’s five seconds left to kick a field goal. If he only gets nine or eight, the clock runs out. It’s 7-0 at halftime.
Little things like that to continually point to. We are not that far away. We can continually point to the inches, the decision-making, a decision here whether to rip inside or rip outside, where to throw the football, where to make a cut on third-and-one, stay outside or bend it back. That’s the difference in games. That’s the difference in winning and losing. It always has been.
I’ve sat in here for nine years and said, You’ve got to find the inches. We’ve lost by inches or won by inches. That’s this type of game, that’s the game of football. First thing we have to do is make sure we have a good plan, our mindset is good, our enthusiasm is good, our intentions are good, and we’ve got some stuff to us. That’s what we’ll do. I could use other words other than `stuff.’ I’m glad we’re laughing out there.
Q. (Northwestern running back) Justin Jackson, what kind of challenges does he pose to you guys? Is he similar at all to what you faced last week in BYU?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, he’s tough. Might not be as big. He’s 193 pounds. He has over three thousand yards now, which I think is the fourth time maybe that’s ever been accomplished at Northwestern. He’s only a junior. He gives them a guy that can catch the ball, as well. I think he does a nice job in pass protection, as well. He’s tough.
Thorson is a run-pass guy. He’s been very effective. Austin Carr, No. 80, is the leading receiver for them. I think he has 32 catches maybe. Maybe six touchdowns, No. 80. They’ll spread it around, though, a little bit.
Defensively, No. 16, Godwin Igwebuike, very good player, good tackler. Also (Jaylen) Prater, linebacker. Two probably biggest tacklers. No. 7 (Ifeadi Odenigbo) has done a nice job in terms of pressuring the quarterback, especially against Iowa. A lot of things going on.
Q. Do you expect all three quarterbacks to play this weekend?
COACH DANTONIO: Don’t know that until we get to the end of the week.
Q. What are you looking for this week that would help any of them get on the field or secure the No. 1 spot?
COACH DANTONIO: They have to have good practices. Pure and simple, they have to demonstrate in practice exactly what they’re going to do. As difficult as that is to say, that’s where we’re at because I think thecase can be made for all three of those guys. We may use two, we may use one. I don’t think we’ll use three, but who knows.
Q. Mark, what is the case for each of those guys? Obviously Tyler separated himself in practice coming into the season. What is the case now for the other two against him?
COACH DANTONIO: For the other two?
Q. I guess for all three.
COACH DANTONIO: That would be a long answer. I would say we don’t want to have a quarterback controversy, but we need to have more production. That’s what led to this. We need to throw the ball down the field more effectively. That’s play-calling and that’s execution and route running, things of that nature.
No. 6 (Damion Terry) needs to remain healthy and demonstrate consistency.
Brian Lewerke is a young guy with a lot of talent, but he may not quite have the experience that the other guys do, but I think to exclude him from this right now would be wrong. That’s the case in point, but we’ll see how it all shakes out. What we’ll do at the end of all this is we’ll be able to sit there and say, Whoever we put out there on the field, we’ve reassessed, we self-scouted ourselves, said this is this guy’s fault, this is this guy’s fault, I’m not talking about the quarterback, I’m talking about other people. We’ll look at all the different aspects of it and try to make the best decision we can.
Q. Pass-rush, only five sacks to this point this year. Nothing else can really work unless I’m guessing that gets fixed. How do you fix that mid-season knowing what you know now?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, we’ve got some guys with ability. Sometimes we rush four. We’re not rushing three that often. Sometimes there’s coverage, there’s coverage sacks. Sometimes there’s not. Sometimes we’re blitzing at times. Zone pressuring. Zero pressuring. Man pressuring, things of that nature.
We got to get home. We’ve had the guy in our grasps a number of times and he’s gotten out. That’s something that’s got to get fixed, and there’s got to be more production, period.
Q. You had a couple guys leave on Saturday we haven’t asked about yet. Any long-term injuries you can talk about or guys coming back from injury?
COACH DANTONIO: Not that I can talk about, no.
You guys are almost apologetic asking me these questions. I still have a sense of humor, believe it or not.
Q. Cole (Chewins) came in at left tackle. What do you see from him that’s allowed him to make the move up as a young player? Second, on the other side of the ball, when Malik (McDowell) came back, there was a lot of talk about him missing gap assignments. What did you see in his performance that he needs to correct?
COACH DANTONIO: First, Cole Chewins is getting his weight up there. He’s 280 pounds. Now he’s getting big enough to play. He’s a guy we recruited to that aspect. He’s an extremely hard worker and a he’s gifted athlete. He’ll play football for us. He’s a redshirt-freshman, so he’s coming. Those opportunities that he got I think were warranted. How he performs beyond that.
I think on the other side of the offensive line, Thiyo Lukusa is coming, but he didn’t play as well. He’s coming on Saturday. His performance dictates he’ll play as well. He’s going to be a good player for us.
As far as our defensive front, I’m not going to speak specifically to any specific individual. But, yeah, we got to stay in our gaps. When you move two gaps rather than one or you’re moving laterally as opposed to puncturing the defense on offense, things get disjointed. That’s not just one person doing that, that’s a number of people doing that. That’s got to be corrected.
It is not intentional. I don’t think those things are intentional. Those things need to be corrected. Some things that are relative to pass-rush, you can’t be a defensive man on this side and end up on that side of the hash. That’s just common sense. Those are things that are occurring and need to be corrected.
Q. Can you at least address Riley (Bullough) Is that under `See my last answer’?
COACH DANTONIO: See my last answer.
Q. Is he closer?
COACH DANTONIO: He’s close, yeah.
Q. In this `I can fix it now’ world, let’s change the coordinator, the quarterback, the philosophy, let’s think about next year, never mind what you think about it, I can guess, how do you keep that from filtering into your team and affect performance?
COACH DANTONIO: My feeling is you play for now, that we live in the present world. We look to the future, but we basically live in this world now. Everybody wants immediate results, including myself. My concern is with the present. My concern is with our seniors, our senior class, getting it right, giving everybody an opportunity to win. Like I said, one focus. That focus is not 2017. That focus is 2016 and inevitably this next game, Northwestern. That’s my focus. That’s our focus.
Q. Obviously you came into the season with high expectations. In hindsight, there were a lot of new people or new players in new roles coming in. When you look back now, can you see some of what’s happened?
COACH DANTONIO: Sure, yeah. We lost some defensive linemen. We lost four defensive linemen. We thought Damon Knox was coming back. For one reason or another, he was unable to. Then we’ve got Ed Davis trying to make his way back. He played 20 plays last week. We get him back into game condition like he’s been, he’ll be a huge asset, but as I said before, got to work their way back. We lost four of our defensive linemen that were about ready to play. Got to deal with it. Went out and got two graduate transfers, but they’re new to the program. Went out and recruited five defensive linemen that are freshmen, but they’re new to the program. You see two of them playing right now. That position was sort of gutted.
With all that being said, I thought we stopped the run pretty well in the first half, really three quarters. We had a couple coverage blows, things of that nature, with an underneath coverage. Those things are going to happen. You got to be able to fix it. Those things are fixable.
But there’s some of those things, like you said, exist, but that’s not a crutch. That’s not a reason to sit here and say, We didn’t get it done. At the end of the day the score was 7-0 Indiana at half, and it was 7-3 at half against BYU. In my case, not enough production on offense. Defense played pretty well, but sort of gave it up a little bit at the end of this past game. Seven of the points, we’re trying to stop it. Doesn’t really matter on the 31. We’re trying to get the ball back, at 24-14, we’re trying to get the ball back.
Q. You have a very good staff, but you’re also a very strong leader. Your play-calling of your staff has come under scrutiny. I’m curious because it happened before. How much of the game plan on Saturdays, I know you don’t call the game plans, but how much do you establish and how much is established by your offensive coordinators?
COACH DANTONIO: Whenever you look at an offense or defense, you can’t sit there and say, Okay, let’s put in an offense this week. You have certain things that you do that you hang your hat on that are staples. You have to be able to do those things well every single week. They’re just staples of who you are.
I can sit there and say these are things that Northwestern do, they’re going to have wrinkles, play-calling. It’s times when you call what play at what time and are there wrinkles offensively and defensively. How you attack something, how do you manage those things? So from my perspective, for me, from Mark Dantonio, I’m a defensive coach, I spend my time in the defensive room because that’s where I have the most knowledge and I have the most expertise, especially in the secondary, which isn’t playing that well either.
When I go over to the offense, I look at things as a defensive coach and make suggestions and say, What about this, what about that. Then I look to see, Okay, these are the things that we’re running. These are the staples that we run. How do we run power this week. Here are the five, six, different ways to run power. Here are the eight ways to run power. Here are the six ways to run stretch. On and on it goes.
A lot of it’s formation. A lot of it’s motion, formation, that allow you to get to a certain base play in a certain base way. I think that’s the way you do it.
Nobody starts from scratch every week and says, Okay, let’s figure out and practice these 90 plays. You have an X amount of time to rep these plays in practice. So you only have so much time. You only have so many plays to be able to rep. You can’t possibly rep every single play five times.
So you’re basically saying, Here is our staples, here is what we know how to do in our sleep, here’s the wrinkles, these are the ways we’re getting to these every week.
From my perspective, we won a lot of football games here. We’ve had some high-scoring offenses. We have three quarterbacks playing in the NFL. Wide receivers playing in the NFL, tailbacks playing in the NFL. It’s all about play-calling and execution. But we’ve got to be productive. We ran into this in 2012. I understand that, but we had a stronger defense at that time.
But we’ll get there. Like I said before, we’ve got to be strong, we’ve got to be resilient and we got to keep pushing. If you don’t, things get worse. I can promise you one thing. If you think you got a problem, it can always get worse. I don’t care whether you’re dealing with football or anything else. It can always get worse.
We have to guard against that and be positive and be strong. That’s what they hired me for here. They hired me to win, obviously, but I think just as importantly is how you handle the problems. That defines you.
Q. A non-football question for you. There’s been a lot of discussion lately about `locker room talk’ and how it’s acceptable for crude language toward women because of the culture that’s been cultivated through sports with athletes. Does it bother you that so many people have accepted this? Is it fair to really paint all these athletes with such a broad brush when it’s probably not the case?
COACH DANTONIO: No, I don’t think it’s fair to paint all these athletes with a broad brush. I think there’s obviously different people and everything else. You look at society right now. Which way are we going, up or down? That’s a good question. I only heard two parts, but it’s a good question.
But I think it’s just like anything. When you start going down, sometimes you don’t recognize how low you are until you look around, so… But look around.
Q. Would it offend you if you knew your players were talking in such a way? You may not be there to hear it, but you find out about it. Would it offend you?
COACH DANTONIO: If they’re talking in the locker room?
Q. If they’re making crude comments about women.
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, it would bother me. It would bother me. But, you know, I can’t control what everybody is saying and those types of things. You look at society right now. I mean, it’s tough out there in that regard, I think. Yeah, of course it would bother me, I have two daughters, but I can’t control everything. I can’t control everything. Are you being specific to our locker room or are you talking in generalities?
Q. In general.
COACH DANTONIO: I think there’s a lot of good people in a lot of locker rooms all over the country.
If I hear language coming out of our locker room, I’m going to correct that language in a positive way. I’m not going to accept it. You come out to our football field, you guys have been out there before, I don’t think you hear our coaching going off in that regard. Not to say that happens in other places or not, but we’re going to try to handle ourself in that regard, try and be I don’t want to use the word `role model’ but example, an example for our players, yeah. Especially in difficult times.