EAST LANSING, Mich (WLNS) – Here are highlights from Michigan State Spartan head coach Mark Dantonio’s Tuesday news conference. The Spartans loss to Northwestern in the team’s fourth consecutive defeat. The team now prepares to travel to Maryland for Saturday’s game.
The following is a complete transcript from Tuesday’s press conference:
COACH DANTONIO: Next focus is University of Maryland. Going there to play a 7:30 night game, so that will be our next challenge.
I was walking through obviously the football facility yesterday; spent a lot of time there lately. I walked down the hallway where all of our bowl jerseys are hanging that have been won that we’ve been involved with the last nine years, all the NFL players that have gone on. It just sort of hit me a little bit where we are right now relative to where we’ve been.
I think the most important thing to recognize is that wherever we’re going, is to try to get back to that point, continue to compete, continue to build into the players in terms of what we’re trying to do, concentrate on fundamentals, get our younger players ready to go, along with our older players, same thing.
Competition, I believe is something that every competitor in every sport, business, school or anything, they have to deal with things, sudden changes at times, they have to deal with things that aren’t going quite so well. When those things happen, you sort of return to what allows you to get to these places in the first place, which has always been toughness, effort and knowledge of what we have to do. We’ll build on that, maintain our focus.
I’ll take some questions.
Q. Last week you called this place a sanctuary for your players. How have you seen them react personally during this time?
COACH DANTONIO: First of all, I think young people are resilient. I think they bounce back a lot quicker probably than coaches and other people that do this for a living.
Our guys get themselves right, they get themselves ready to go. They’re in the training room, weight room. We monitor everything, how meetings are, what is the attitude in meetings, what is the attitude in the weight room, what’s the attitude in the training room. At every turn it’s been a positive thing.
Talked to our players yesterday individually, some of our older players, how is our football team doing mentally, those type of things. You’re checking the pulse of our football team.
Thus far I would say, hey, we’re hanging. You’ve got to be a rock to play this game. You have to be a rock in the first place. As I’ve said before, we’ve won a ton of games. I think you got to be a rock. You have to be.
Bad things are going to happen. That’s going to be a part of your life. Everybody goes through struggles. Everyone goes through struggles. All you got to do is turn on the TV, whether you’re watching sports or whether you’re watching something else, people have to handle problems. So that’s our mindset. That’s what we have to do, and that’s what we will do.
Q. You referenced competition. I see Vayante Copeland over Josh Butler (at cornerback on the depth chart). Josh played a lot in the second half. Is that an example of maybe the competition brings out a little more in various positions?
COACH DANTONIO: I think first of all players need to compete within our football team certainly, but I was talking more about big picture, competing in football games, competing in the next challenge that’s in front of us, but we’re obviously going to have some depth chart moves as we go through this. I don’t think there’s any question that that happens. You’ve got to continue to press on and there’s got to be focus. There also has to be pressure, not bad pressure, but pressure, not stress, but pressure on our players to perform, as well. I think that’s part of this, too.
Q. You’ve obviously got the nine-year bowl streak since you started here. How important is that to you and this program? Is that a rallying cry to continue that going forward?
COACH DANTONIO: I think absolutely it is. It’s something we’ve done every year. We’ve sort of taken it for granted. I don’t think you can obviously take things for granted right now. We’re a 2-4 football team. Again, we’ve got to find the inches. We’ve been able to do that.
In some ways a lot of you guys, media, people around, have said we’ve always played with a chip on our shoulder. We need to assume that that chip is not there and put it there, I guess, if that’s the case. Always sort of thought that we challenged each other, challenged ourselves individually to be our very best at game time. That needs to come out again. But it has to be results oriented, too.
Q. I asked you about this at the Cotton Bowl. (Alabama head coach Nick) Saban said you were ‘stubborn’ and that you wouldn’t change. After the BYU game, BYU said they didn’t see anything new they didn’t expect. I know you self-scout. Are you concerned about your team becoming, in certain cases, predictable or is that maybe hyperbole?
COACH DANTONIO: I think it’s hyperbole. There are always wrinkles, as I said last week. I guess we could say we run the triple option, maybe Maryland will get ready for that, okay? But you just can’t change and overhaul something that you’ve done, especially if you’ve been good at it.
So what we have done is we have put players in positions to make plays. What we’ve done is taken relative schemes we use offensively and defensively, we’ve had tremendous success doing these things.
So I don’t think you go away from what you’ve been successful at and all of a sudden say, ‘Hey, we’re going to change that, that’s no longer important, we’re going to do these things.’ We have to make sure the things we do have a foundation behind them so our players can know what to do and play fast. The problem right now is sometimes our players aren’t playing fast. I watched Josh King, who is going to be a phenomenal player. He comes off the edge in the game on Saturday. He’s just young. Comes off the edge, before he gets hit on a wham block, a block coming back from the tight end, he fixes his helmet in the middle of a play.
Well, you can’t do that. That’s just a very small thing. But you have to be able to know what you’re doing, play fast, and execute whatever it is, whether it’s playing the deep ball, running a route, throwing a route or pass protection. Whatever it is, you’ve got to be able to do those things at a rapid rate and aggressively.
That’s what we need to concentrate on and be fundamentally sound. That’s what wins football games, fundamentals.
Q. Looking at the quarterback situation, it’s down to two guys now. Is Damion (Terry) completely out of the mix? What is the situation between those two? What was your evaluation on Monday with the guys?
COACH DANTONIO: No, Damion is not out of the mix in terms of playing. He had a little hand issue last week, so we held him and we went with the other two. We’ll see how the practices work out this week. We’ll make some determinations as we go, sort of go from there.
As far as my speaking to our quarterbacks, that’s an in-house thing. I spoke to all of our quarterbacks, make sure everybody was in good shape mentally.
Q. Is it the same situation as last week as far as naming a starter and will be a game-time decision?
COACH DANTONIO: Probably be more game-time decision, yeah.
Q. Mark, lost in a lot of this is R.J. Shelton having a really fantastic senior season. Where has the development been there with him that’s allowed him to take this step?
COACH DANTONIO: I think R.J. has always been a guy that has a lot of athletic ability. He’s always been a guy that’s made plays for us going back to 2013 as a true freshman. He made some very big plays for us in ‘14, ‘15, same thing.
Now he’s in his fourth year. He’s the go-to guy a little bit. He’s become a little bit more a big-play guy. I think that’s shown.
He’s got experience. He’s very confident. He’s made catches on the deep ball. He’s made runs. He’s done a lot of different things for us. He’s been very productive.
Q. Maryland has undergone some changes since you played them last. Would you discuss both sides of the ball, what you see from them offensively and defensively, please.
COACH DANTONIO: From a defensive perspective, I think you see a lot of what Coach Durkin did at U of M (Michigan). You see a lot of press coverage, a lot of different pressures with middle-of-the-field safety. They are going to play a variety of different coverages, a little quarters, they have an extensive nickel package. I think he’s got his guys playing hard.
On the offensive side of the ball, they’ve had an injury at quarterback. They used a freshman quarterback this last game. Whether he plays or not will probably be a game-time decision, up to them.
But variety of running backs that they use. I think their wide receivers are talented. They’ve not thrown the ball as effectively, probably, as they wanted to due to injuries, freshman quarterback, a little bit. 4-0 start. They have the makings of a good football team, they will play hard, will play hard. That will be our challenge, to play hard and get ourselves mentally ready to go.
Q. Dennis Finley is at guard now. Is he progressing to where he can play a little bit more? What brought the change to moving him inside?
COACH DANTONIO: David Beedle will not play this week. He’s out. I think that’s probably a well-known fact.
Dennis, I think he’s to that point. I think he’s ready to go. He needs to get confident again, I think, in terms of being able to play at game time, at this level at game time, but he’s played before. He’s got the experience. We got to get him going.
Q. You talked earlier about the spirit of the team right now. Is this unchartered territory for you and the team with where you are right now?
COACH DANTONIO: No, not for me. I’ve been there before. Hopefully won’t be there again, but who knows.
But I think everybody goes through these things at some point, whether it’s an injury that sets you back or whether you lose a game that sets you back, whether you don’t quite play as well, somebody else takes over your position for a short time, whatever it is.
There are always setbacks in life, like I said. I think the thing we have to do, we have to handle that and compete.
As far as our football team, I really can’t remember 2009, how we started. I know that ‘09 and ‘12 were difficult seasons, but at some point in time we turned it a little bit, and scrapped. At this point in time we’re just going to become a team that’s going to scrap. That’s my intent. Let’s get on with that first. So we’ll be all in; we will be all in. That’s all I can tell you.
Q. Can you look back at the fourth quarter play-calling. Seems like things opened up a little bit more for what you wanted to do. Is that more what you want to do on offense or is that simply the nature of the score and the need to get back in it that late?
COACH DANTONIO: I think in the fourth quarter, it became a little bit more of a passing game. We need to be able to run the ball more effectively than we did on Saturday.
We have good tailbacks. They need to become a little bit more of our production, I would say. We have to be able to maintain that. That’s what we’ve always done. Not wanting to do what we’ve always done, but it’s been a strength of ours. We have to maintain that and that has to reoccur.
Q. With Jon Reschke having been out and it progressing till later in the year, at what point will you consider keeping him out and using it as a medical (redshirt) down the road?
COACH DANTONIO: I guess that’s something that we have to talk about when he comes back. I’m not sure when he’ll be back. He’s not going to be back in the next couple weeks. That is probably the likelihood. He’s been an outstanding player for us.
Q. Special teams, I know it’s been an issue at different points during the year. Do you think right now it’s a matter of using different guys? Is it schemes that aren’t working? How difficult is that mid-season to try to solve some of those problems?
COACH DANTONIO: I think if you look at the execution of special teams and ask yourself, ‘Did we have guys there? Were they there? Did we miss a tackle? How did they take on and address the blocker, those type of things, on the kickoff? Who was our safety?’
As far as some of the other aspects of it, you got to look at everything. We were looking at the kicker situation. I think (Michael) Geiger has kicked well the last couple weeks. I think Jake (Hartbarger) has been pretty solid as a punter. Didn’t like the way he punted after a safety, but I think he’s been very solid in that respect.
We just address the things as we see it, ask ourselves if it’s scheme or execution, then we have to make changes if it’s one or the other.
Q. Your defensive struggles have been noted throughout the season. It came up last week that your defense is giving up three times as many points in the second half as the first. (Co-Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers coach) Coach Tressel attributed a lot of defensive struggles to technique. Do you think there’s something deeper than that or is it overall play from everyone?
COACH DANTONIO: I mean, I think it comes down to fundamentals, the way you take on a double-team, the way you take on zone, missing tackles, whatever the case. There’s some things there. Maybe there’s some structural things, as well. That’s why I say this is all inclusive. Maybe there’s a little confidence issue when things start moving in one direction.
We had six three-and-outs on Saturday. The goal, a goal, is five. If you get more than five, you’re doing pretty well because it doesn’t happen all the time. So we did have a lot of three-and-outs. But when we didn’t, things sort of snowballed a little bit.
You have to look at everything. That’s what we’ve done. We’ll look at our leadership on the field, as well, how we do things structurally, how we do things on the sideline. We’ll look at it all and try and get everything in order.
I agree with you. That’s not the way we’ve played in the past. We played pretty solid throughout the first half in a number of these games, then things happen in the second half. We just have to maintain what we do and continue to push.
Q. What does LJ (Scott) have to do to be more steady and be a bigger part of the offense?
COACH DANTONIO: He has to protect better in pass situations certainly. Again, I’ll go back to what I said earlier. We need to get our tailbacks involved in run and pass. They need to be a bigger part of who we are. They will be inevitably.