Spartan players talk about the Wolverines

EAST LANSING, Mich (WLNS) – Michigan State will look for its fourth straight victory over Michigan as the Spartans host the No. 2/2 Wolverines Saturday, Oct. 29 at 12 p.m. in Spartan Stadium. The game will be broadcast on ESPN. The Spartans (2-5, 0-4 B1G) are coming off a 27-18 loss at Maryland last Saturday, while the Wolverines (7-0, 4-0 B1G) moved into first place in the Big Ten East Division with a 41-8 win at home over Illinois.

Michigan State has defeated Michigan seven times in the past eight years, the most wins in an eight-year stretch against the Wolverines in school history. In MSU’s 7-1 record over Michigan since 2008, the Spartans have outscored the Wolverines by 100 points (224-124, average score: 28-16). The Spartans have won a school-record four consecutive over the Wolverines in Spartan Stadium (2009, 2011, 2013, 2014).

The following is a complete transcript from Tuesday’s press conference:

Q. Riley, what did you learn about Saturday night from Saturday night, and how tough was that for you?
Riley Bullough: Yeah, you know, the three flags that I got early in the game were obviously tough, and going back and looking at the film, I feel like a couple of those could have been avoided. And then the targeting call is just — you know, it’s unfortunate, but that’s the rule nowadays, so I’ve got to change the way I play in that regard.
But I thought we came out with a lot of energy, so it was upsetting for me to have to leave in the first quarter, but I’ve learned from it, and I’m just moving on.

Q. How did you think Joe (Bachie) played?
Riley Bullough: I think he played extremely well. Coming in as a true freshman and that being his first time playing, I thought he did a great job, and there was a lot of things that he can learn from the film, which we already went over. I think that overall experience for him was good.

Q. Riley, you’ve been involved in this game now for a few years and probably a lot longer than that. What does this mean to you, Michigan week, and what does it mean to your family?
Riley Bullough: Well, it means a lot to me. Growing up, I’ve been watching this game ever since I can remember, obviously been a Spartan fan my entire life, and growing up, it seems like it was Michigan’s game. They were in control of the series when I was young, but that’s kind of turned in the last few years, so to kind of be a part of that has meant a tremendous amount to me, so this game is huge for us this week and our entire season, I think, so we’re going to go out and play hard and do everything we can to get a win.

Q. Both Josiah and R.J., when did you finally, as out-of-staters, kind of grasp that rivalry?
Josiah Price: I think the first time you have a Michigan week is when you grasp it. If you’re an out-of-state guy, you don’t really understand it when you come in. You know it’s a big rivalry just because it’s the same schools, same state, but when you get here, everything is just a little different Michigan game week. Everything is a little more intense, and when you take the field for the first time against Michigan, the atmosphere, it’s crazy, a lot of energy, a lot of excitement, and a lot of tension. It’s a fun one, and looking forward to it this weekend.

R.J. Shelton: Just to piggy-back on Josiah, my first time obviously 2013, just the preparation in every senior and everyone from Michigan antes up, even from the coaches. You can tell that this game is personal. Being from Wisconsin, not really, for the University of Wisconsin, they didn’t have a big, big rivalry, but this is personal for Michigan State fans in the state of Michigan. You have to come and bring it for your brothers that are from here at Michigan and just for Spartan Nation, as well.

Q. R.J., obviously Alabama structurally was different, but they’re a type of dominating defense like Michigan has, and I’m just curious, after the Alabama game, Dave Warner talked about they’ve learned that they needed to get on the perimeter. That’s how you’re going to give Michigan the biggest test on offense. That means a lot of R.J. Shelton. When you know there will be a lot on you, do you like that, do you embrace that, and with a team that’s struggling, do you maybe like it as an older player to have that on your shoulders?

R.J. Shelton: I think first in general you’ve got to go right back, and it’s won in the trenches. If you don’t win in the trenches, you can’t get the ball on the perimeter, you can’t run the ball, you can’t open up the playbook. First and foremost, it starts up there first. When your name is called, you’ve got to go and make a play, whether that’s offensive line, tight ends, wide receivers, running backs. It’s not just me. You know, it’s everyone on this team that has to make a play, and that goes for offense and defense and special teams, for us to come out if we want to get a W this week against Michigan.

Q. Riley, Josiah, whoever wants to weigh in, very strange that you’ve won seven out of eight and you’ve got Michigan at home, and nobody on the outside thinks you can win this game. Is this back to the same old ‘we-against-the-world’ mentality? Does think of that work in your favor?
Riley Bullough: Well, I think it does, but I think first and foremost, we’ve got to go out and compete, and we haven’t done a good enough job of that past five weeks. Obviously losing five in a row is something that is just not acceptable here, but I think we definitely now more than ever have that chip on our shoulder, and we need to ante up. We need all the guys on our team to make that next step and be those high-quality players that we’ve had here and those high-quality teams, and we just need the guys to come this week ready to practice, and I’m sure our older guys will give the guys in their room a message about how much this means, and we’ll be able to play on Saturday.

R.J. Shelton: Yeah, this is a game that’s, for the seniors, for this state, for the Michigan State fans, you have got to come to play. I’m going to get my younger guys right in my room, and along with me and Josiah are going to get our offensive unit ready to play. We just have to come together as one and do what we need to do to have a shot at winning or to win the game.
Josiah Price: I think any time you’re the underdog you can have that mentality, and Michigan is ranked No. 2 in the nation, so there’s no doubt about it that we’re going to be the underdog in this game, and yeah, we like to be in that situation, but it all comes down to execution and making plays on Saturday. We can talk about being the underdog and all this kind of stuff and getting ready to go play with a chip on our shoulder, but it all comes down to Saturday at Noon what we do on the field, so we’ve really got to bring it, like Riley said, and make a lot of plays and play tough.

Q. You guys are seniors and you have an opportunity to do something very few Michigan State players have, go out never having lost to Michigan. What does that mean to you as a group?
Josiah Price: I’ve been very vocal about it already this week. It is a special opportunity and something that we can cherish, that our class can go down as being known for a team that went 4-0 against Michigan, so I don’t think we’re going to shy away from that, just because Michigan is having a great season and undefeated so far. We’re still going to try and bring that mentality that we’ve got to come ready to play and that we can win this game and that we will win this game.

R.J. Shelton: Exactly. We’ve just got to show who’s the tougher team in Michigan. You know, we know we can come out here and do what we need to do against Michigan, but again, it just goes to guys believing in themselves first, guys winning their individual battles, you know, and obviously offense, defense, special teams coming and making the plays when it’s critical and when it’s time need be. It’s going to be this week who’s the tougher team. The tougher team that out-toughs offense, defense, and wins on special teams is going to win this game.

Q. For any of the guys up there, I know you never imagined in a million years you would lose five straight games. When bad things happen to people sometimes, they’re just kind of in a daze. They just can’t believe. It’s kind of like a movie or something. Is there any of that at all, and as strong as all that is, could the Michigan game come at a better time? If you win this game, boom, you’re right back kind of a deal?
Riley Bullough: I would say I hope there’s no one on our team that’s in a daze. I think now more than ever you need to be motivated, and you need to be ready to come to work every single day, whether we’re lifting or we’re practicing or anything. In a time like this you’ve got to be willing to come in and put the work in because we need to turn this thing around. It’s not acceptable the way we’ve been playing, and we know that, and we understand that.
We’ve been doing everything we can to get a win, it just hasn’t been going our way. If we can just get that one victory and kind of turn the tide a little bit, we feel like things have kind of snowballed out of control, so we need to kind of slow that down and get a win and try to turn it around.

Q. Josiah, what would you say to people questioning Mark Dantonio right now? Despite recent years, you’re not winning now and people are quick to look to the coach; what would you say?
Josiah Price: I would just say to look at his résumé, look at what he’s been able to do in his 10 years here at Michigan State, look at the things we’ve been able to do, and then just look at the kind of man he is and the character that he carries himself personally and with our program. I think he’s turned a lot of things around in this program and done a lot of great things for a lot of great people here, and just because you lose a couple games, I think people get a little carried away with that kind of talk.

Q. Josiah and R.J., you’ve both said no matter who’s playing quarterback you guys have full trust in them, but when Brian (Lewerke) is in there, what is he doing well? What are his strengths at quarterback?
Josiah Price: I think Brian plays fearless. I think he’s not afraid to just throw the ball around, take shots, let it go, and then as you can see with his scrambling and the way he runs, he’s not afraid to take a hit, he’s not afraid to lower his shoulder and try and dive for the chains. He’s going to give you everything he’s got. He’s a competitor. I think those are some of the good things he’s doing. He’s given us everything he’s got and that’s all we can ask for out of him.
R.J. Shelton: Yeah, exactly. He’s just laying it on the line, putting the ball in situations for us skill players to go make a play. He’s playing for this offense, playing for this senior group, playing for this team, so he’s doing a good job.

Q. For any of you guys, you mentioned about getting some of the young guys kind of to understand this game and what it means. Has this season been kind of difficult in terms of those guys learning the culture of this program, or does it become tougher when things aren’t going right on the field, just kind of getting everybody on the same page, I guess?
Riley Bullough: I think this year has just been kind of a combination of a lot of things. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what’s gone wrong, and that’s kind of what’s difficult, I think, for me because I feel like all the guys on our team are playing hard. The effort is there, it’s just the little things here and there that just keep happening that are making us lose games. But our young guys understand what’s at stake, so they’ll be ready to play, and I think it’s also important that our older guys need to start playing their best football, me included. I think that’s extremely important as we move forward, and I think this week, we’re really going to turn it around and get things moving the other way.

Josiah Price: To go off of what Riley said, I think Coach D always says seniors have to have their best seasons here at Michigan State, and I think that would help out a lot with everything we’ve got going on here, if all our seniors really start playing the best football of their career and really step it up a notch because we aren’t used to playing nine freshmen in a season; that’s not a common theme at Michigan State. So now that we’re counting on some of those younger guys, we do gotta help bring them along and carry them along, but we also have to understand they are freshmen, so we’ve got to really help them get along and learn the steps that we already have kind of learned over our previous years of playing, stuff like that.

Q. Riley, this is a question for both you and the other two guys on offense. For you, when you see Wilton Speight and what Michigan’s offense has done the past few weeks, what’s kind of the keys to stopping them and slowing them down with the points they’ve been putting up, and for the offensive guys, when you see Jabrill Peppers and Jourdan Lewis on the defensive side and the way they’ve shut down teams, what are your keys?
Riley Bullough: I think the biggest thing for us is to not get worn down. I think with their offense, their offensive linemen, they try to wear the defenses down, and that’s what they’ve been able to do this year to teams, and I think that’s why you see so many points that they’ve put up. The thing for us is we’ve got to play consistent and tough football for 60 minutes, and I feel like for the most part we did that last year against these guys, did a pretty good job, and that’ll be crucial to controlling the line of scrimmage and to be playing downhill and fast, physical football for the entire game.

R.J. Shelton: Yeah, just on the offensive side, we’ve got to win up front. It starts up front every week. Got to have a consistent run game, and when you do that, that opens up the pass, but it’s going to rely on 3rd downs. Got to convert to get 1st downs to keep the offense on the field, give the defense a break, put points on the board, and when your name is called on to make plays, you’ve got to make them.

Josiah Price: Yeah, I’d go off of what R.J. said; the games are won in the trenches. Michigan has got a great front seven in their defense, so we really have to be able to play really tough in the trenches and hold our own and get a little bit of a push here and there, and then I think, like R.J. said, you’ve got to make a play. They’ve got a lot of great talent, like a lot of teams in the Big Ten do, but especially with them, they’ve got a couple guys, All-Americans, whatever. You can’t be afraid to attack someone or make a play on 3rd down or something like that. We’ve got to have our guys on the outside go up and make plays. We’ve got to have our quarterbacks give us a chance to make those plays, and we’ve got to protect up front and we’ve got to run the ball. So basic fundamentals, I think. You’ve just got to make plays.

Q. For R.J. and Riley, if you can address, on your side of the ball, why are you guys not making plays in the fourth quarter that this program has made in recent years, fourth quarter and the games? Why is it not happening this year?
R.J. Shelton: I just think for us on the offensive side, it’s guys that have to believe in themselves, they can make the play. We have all the talent in the world, us being young, not have that be an excuse, but guys have to go up and make a play. That includes me, that includes offensive line, includes running backs, includes quarterbacks. I have no worries of us going up and making a play on either side of the ball, it’s just at crucial times you have to make them.

Riley Bullough: I think it’s just as simple as you’ve got to be locked in for the entire game, and I think on the defensive side of the ball, we haven’t been for whatever reason. It’s just not acceptable, so our guys know that. This week is a huge week for us. Hopefully we can play good football for the entire game and come out with a victory so we can turn this season around, but I think it’s just as simple as not being locked in the entire game, getting lazy, or whatever you want to call it, but that’s not Spartan football, and we’re doing everything we can to get back to our roots and what got us to the point that we have been in previous years.

Q. Riley, with what this game means to everybody that’s been a part of it, how much do you hear from guys that have played in this game, past teammates, and what is their message to you guys?
Riley Bullough: Yeah, you know, every year when we play Michigan, our video guys usually reach out to some of the older guys who have graduated and get videos from them, 30 seconds to a minute long of just what the rivalry means and how important it is, and I think it’s important for the guys on our team to understand that this game goes way beyond just our football team. I mean, in the state of Michigan, you either bleed green or you’re with the school down the road, and it means so much to millions of people. Our guys need to understand that, and they need to play that way for the entire game.

Q. Riley, when you go on a five-game skid like this team is right now, it can really mess with a team’s confidence. How fragile is this team’s confidence, and how do you just suddenly get it back and get that attitude like you’ve had in previous years that you guys will win that fourth quarter and win that game?
Riley Bullough: Yeah, you know, it’s a tough thing to do, but I think it starts really in practice. You’ve got to go out there and practice with confidence, and you’ve got to get the game plan down for the week and understand it and be confident in what you’re doing first before you can go out there and do it. But like I said, I feel like we need that one game where we’re making plays and we get a victory. I feel like guys will have their confidence back, and we can start rolling the season the other way than it’s been going. What better week to do that than this week.

Q. R.J., I don’t know if you’ll be matched up on him directly, but how amped do you get to play a guy like Jourdan Lewis, and when you see him, what do you see on tape, and what makes him the player that he is?
R.J. Shelton: First of all, he’s a great athlete. All of that secondary is top in the conference, top in college football. Me as a competitor, it’s going to be fun to go up against him, whoever I go up against, play in, play out, series in, series out. It’s going to be fun. You know, I’m going to bring it, and I know they’re going to bring it. It’s going to be fun all day, either being lined up against him or Peppers or whoever is lined up against me.

Q. You’ve talked about this throughout this press conference, but when you look back and see things on film, whether on offense, the missed opportunities for touchdowns, or on defense, not getting off the field on 3rd down, is that something that can be fixed by just watching film, or how do you guys try to overcome that?
Riley Bullough: Well, I think for us, a lot of things on 3rd down can be easily corrected, and that’s kind of what’s frustrating sometimes. All 11 guys on defense need to know exactly what’s happening. Especially in our 3rd down package there’s a lot going on. But the guys, they’ve got to understand it, and if they don’t understand it, they’ve got to ask early in the week, so I feel like that’ll be a huge emphasis for us this week. I’m going to do everything I can to get the game plan across to all the guys and help them understand it because it’s little things, guys not being in the right position or someone thought it was a different coverage than what it is or just little things like that, that can be fixed and that need to be fixed moving forward.
Josiah Price: Kind of like what Riley said on that as far as the offensive side of things. For us it’s just you’ve got to have all 11 guys going in the same direction, doing the same thing and doing their job. If you get one guy off beat, it’ll ruin a play on 3rd down or ruin a touchdown opportunity, and I think we’ve just had that here and there throughout the season. It’s really held us back the entire time and limited our offense, so we’ve just got to fix that.

Q. Any of you can take a shot at this, but Josiah, you’re a scholar-athlete, a Campbell Award finalist. What would you say to anybody on campus who doesn’t think you can win Saturday or fans who think maybe there’s something else they’d rather do this weekend?
Josiah Price: I mean, I don’t really think we focus on guys and people are saying those type of things. We just focus on ourselves and what we need to do to get the win this weekend, so I’d just give a message to Spartan Nation and say come out and be rowdy, give us a great atmosphere here on Saturday. It’s going to be a fun game, and we’re going to give them everything we’ve got and lay it all on the line and play a tough game.

Q. Riley, you were talking about getting everybody in the right spot and everybody doing their job. Michigan has a lot of formations, Jabrill can be here or there, he can run this out of that. How challenging is it to play this team and the way they line up in so many different places, so many different personnel groups?
Riley Bullough: Yeah, it’s definitely a challenge. For me even watching film on them, I’m looking where I’m going to call the fronts or where I’m sending the blitzes and things like that. It’s challenging because they’re coming out in so many different formations and different personnels, but just for our guys, they need to get in and watch film, which they will, which we have, and understand that we’ve got to contain. They’ve got a lot of playmakers, so we need all 11 guys doing their job each and every play. It’s going to be a challenge, but I truly feel like we’ve got guys on our team that can get the job done. It’s just we need to go out and execute and do it.

Q. Riley, R.J., obviously you have your own motivation for Michigan State and why you want to win this game, but in addition, you could ruin Michigan’s season. You could spoil their dream. Does any of that add to your motivation?
Riley Bullough: Yeah, I think it definitely does. We’re just extremely excited to play this game. We can’t wait to be out in front of Spartan Nation and play a great game. We’ve been not executing the way that we should be the last five weeks, so our biggest thing, we just want to go out there and get a win, not only just for us, but for Spartan Nation so they can hang their hat on something as well as we can, so we’re just excited for 12:00 Noon on Saturday.

R.J. Shelton: Just to piggy-back on Riley, I totally agree with everything he says. This is a game right here that can turn our season around. Coming out here at 12:00 Noon and executing our game plan and making sure that we do what we’re supposed to do and have a good shot at winning this game.

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