EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio held his weekly press conference Tuesday inside the Izzo Family Media Center at the Spartan Stadium North End Zone Complex to preview Saturday’s home game vs. Rutgers.
The following is a complete transcript from Tuesday’s press conference courtesy of MSU Athletics:
COACH DANTONIO: I guess as we stand here right now, not where we wanted to be again, it’s sort of like a broken record up here. You keep talking about what we continue to talk about every single week.
My main focus this week with our football team is everybody has a future, much like I said last week. You have a future and you can go in either direction. It’s your choice as a football player and as a person which direction you go in.
Thus far, from what I’ve seen from our football team, we come out, we play hard, we compete, we have good practices. We’ve just got to play a little bit better down the stretch.
It’s not one particular problem. It’s an assortment of things that occur at different times. You have to remedy those situations and move forward.
It’s amazing when you really take it into context where we’re at right now compared to where we were at last year, but that’s reality and reality sets in on you.
So our goals remain the same. It will always be about relationships. It will always be about getting their degree. It will always be about winning football games and helping them grow as people. Those four things.
I think to do that we all have to be accountable for what’s going on. It starts with me and permeates throughout our football team. With that we have to stay upbeat and optimistic, as I said last week.
We’ve got to compete. We’ve got to compete at the highest level. I see us competing out there, but sometimes you got to do the right thing as well, but you’ve got to compete. You can’t get nervous on a play in a two-minute situation, let your fundamentals go away from your level of competition. I think when you lose confidence, I think your fundamentals go in a different way.
So with that said, Rutgers comes to town. I’ve got a lot of respect for Chris Ash, what he’s been able to accomplish at Ohio State, and what he’s got himself into at Rutgers. He’s going to do an outstanding job.
You see them offensively, a lot of misdirection, a lot of tempo, a lot of motions and things of that nature. Have a go-to receiver in (Andre) Patton. They’ve worked with three different quarterbacks. Giovanni (Rescigno) I can’t pronounce the last name totally, so I’ll leave it like that, but from De La Salle (High School/Warren, Mich.) doing a nice job for them. I imagine he’ll be playing a lot against us.
But when you look at their football team right now you see a lot of what Ohio State does defensively, really quite honestly what a lot of (current Houston head coach, former Ohio State offensive coordinator) Tom Herman did offensively. So there’s some carryover in that regard.
I asked our players to measure their level of commitment this week on Sunday night, level of confidence in their coach, position coach and head coach, their teammates, their level of confidence in their teammates, coach, position coach, then sort of had a town hall meeting with each position group to sort of get things on the table just to make sure there’s open lines of communication, just to make sure that we can identify the problems.
When I asked our football team, I think most people know the problems. I’m sure whoever becomes president of the United States today knows the problems. But we’ve got to find the solutions. I think that’s where we have to continue to move forward.
With that being said, I’ll let you guys ask two, three questions at once, whatever you want.
Q. I promise I’ll ask one right now. You talked about knowing the issues, being a broken record, seeing the same kind of problems. Is any part of you surprised now seven losses in we’re seeing those same mistakes? Doesn’t seem to be much progress, coming from all sorts of different places.
COACH DANTONIO: I think when you look at it like that, if you dive deep into certain things, you see that one time it’s this. This past week it was a blown coverage, I guess what you’d call an inappropriate pass interference on the first two plays of a two-minute. That’s a little uncharacteristic for that point in time of the game.
You’ve got three different quarterbacks playing. When you have three different quarterbacks that have played for you in a season, you have to look at it and say, `Well, I wonder what’s going on a little bit, whether it’s injuries, or whatever.’
The state of your positional leadership is a little bit in flux. These are things that are not easily fixable in one week.
You recollect yourself on Sunday. Monday you start looking at the next team. Tuesday, Wednesday you practice. Thursday you shine it up. Friday get yourself emotionally right. Throughout the week you get yourself emotionally right to go out and compete on Saturday, then you go out and compete at Saturday.
You have injuries taking place at a high rate I guess I would say. You’re always in a little bit in flux in terms of who is playing what position. You’ve had different people playing at linebacker, different people playing in the secondary, different people playing on the offensive line, different wide receivers playing, different quarterbacks playing, different running backs playing based on how they play. You have a lot of different things moving like that.
Does it surprise you? If we win the football games, that we have a chance to win at the end of the games, people are still going to be disgruntled, but we’re sitting here above high tide, okay? That hasn’t happened.
The only thing I can do is pick up the pieces every week and say, `Why haven’t we won?’ and try and address that, make sure we try and have do-over notes, so if you had to do it over again, what would you do, try to move forward positively. You can’t beat people down and expect to keep the emotions, I guess, in check.
Q. You have said before that to pull a redshirt off a player and not play them is `not fair.’ The fact that Kenney (Lyke) didn’t make the travel team, is that an admission of maybe a mistake in pulling off his redshirt or are there extenuating circumstances?
COACH DANTONIO: Kenney Lyke played very well in practices. He looked like a great hitter, a great tackler. I think he’s going to be a very good football player. I thought at the very least he would play well on special teams. Quite frankly, that didn’t happen. He struggled in coverage, some different coverages. You can’t put a guy in the back end if you already have problems. Then had to take him out of practice for a couple reasons. He sat and studied a little harder last week. So obviously, he didn’t make the trip.
Q. You mentioned the town hall type meeting you had this week. How many different tactics have you gone through to get them out of this losing streak? You’ve never had to do this before. How do you do that?
COACH DANTONIO: I’m just trying to problem solve the best I can. I don’t ever want to walk in there and blame one particular player for a problem. I don’t think it’s one particular player. I think it’s an assortment of things.
All I can tell you is that we come out every single game, we’ve played hard. We’ve led in every game. We have nine games we led in. How many of those games did we lead in the second half? Probably seven of the nine, okay, I think, so from my standpoint, you have an opportunity to win. If you get into the third quarter, fourth quarter, you have an opportunity to win. That’s when you’ve got to start playing your best football, in the fourth quarter. I don’t think we’ve played our best football in the fourth quarter. I think that’s probably a guarantee that hasn’t happened.
With that being said, you just keep coaching. Like I said last week, you keep coaching. That’s what you do. It’s difficult at times because it was a tough loss last week, very tough, for everybody, for me, but that’s where we’re at.
I just keep saying we cannot live in the past. We’ve got to learn from the past, but we have to live in the present. The only thing we can focus on is the next challenge.
For our seniors, in three weeks, they’re going to have a much bigger challenge on their plate. For our younger players, they’re challenged every single day to try to get better, to do the different things they have to do, so that’s what we have to do.
Q. You talked about your do-over list. If you could go back to the summer when you guys were just practicing, what would be some of the things you would focus on, knowing what you know now with this team?
COACH DANTONIO: You ask me to go back 10 or 12 weeks, I really can’t like that (snapping fingers). I can’t really pick one thing, sit there and say, `Okay, if we had to do it over, this is what we would do.’
We had very high goals coming into this season. I do not think our goals should have been less than they are. I just don’t. You can’t. You can’t go to a College Football Playoff, win the Big Ten the last two out of three years, sit there and say, `Gee, guys, I hope we go 7-5.’ You can’t do that.
The only goal to go for was to win this thing back-to-back. That was the only goal. Anything less than that was not going to be acceptable, not to our players, not to our fans, not to me.
Along the way we lost some players. Along the way, in and out, some in, some out for good, some in. Sean Harrington is coming off an Achilles. Sean Harrington would be playing for us at linebacker, as a defensive end or a linebacker. The guy is an active football player, but he’s not.
You get into those type of situations, you deal with them. You deal with them one week at a time really, that’s where we’re at right now. Get ourselves ready to play, make sure we’re mentally right, make sure we know what they’re doing, make sure we know what we’re doing, simplify so we can play fast, play fundamentally sound, and get ready to win a football game. That’s all I can do.
When I look for my do-over list, I’ll go back and I’ll look to see what was my to-do list on those particular days to say, `Well we shouldn’t have done that.’ I’m not looking back to August saying, `We should have done this, that the other.’ We do two-minute drills the first day of camp. We emphasis two-minute drills and do them every single day. We do them on offense and defense, but that didn’t happen the other day. Came close, played very well defensively in spurts, I guess two-thirds of the game. Didn’t get it done in two minutes before the half, didn’t get it done two minutes the end of the game.
Q. Turning back the clocks this week, you must wake up everyday wanting to turn back the clock. This must be as surprising to you as it is to us.
COACH DANTONIO: Yes. Shocking. I live it. Like I told my players, I live it. You guys will go write another sports story for somebody else. I live this. I work 90 hours a week at this, okay? Our players are young people, they’re resilient, but they’re living it, too. Our coaches, this is what we do for a living. They live it.
You scratch your head a little bit, how this could happen, how that could happen. You look at some of the things that have happened from a personnel standpoint. You’ve got to remember at times we’re playing with three true freshmen defensive linemen. You ask yourself, the three guys that just left are playing in the NFL on the defensive line, Joel Heath, LT (Lawrence Thomas), although he’s out right now, and Shilique (Calhoun), where were they at as true freshmen? They were not near ready to play at this level, but we’re playing with those guys. Those guys are getting better. They’ll be good players, but they’re young players. Raequan Williams, a young player, a freshman. It just sort of is what it is.
Q. In those town hall meetings, if you look in your players’ eyes, what did you see? It’s been surmised this is suddenly a program in disarray. You don’t believe that, do you?
COACH DANTONIO: No, I don’t think we’re in disarray. Like any team that’s lost some games like this, you’re struggling. You’re trying to find answers. You don’t want to always accept the responsibility. `It’s not me.’ That’s what people want to say, `It’s not me, I’m just a scout teamer. I’m not even playing.’
Everybody’s involved, but what I want to make sure that there’s open lines of communication within our team and our coaches, and that you can lay things on the table, and you try and get better every single day.
Things are never quite as bad as you think, and they’re really never as good as you think either. That’s basically, probably the gist of every problem out there.
Q. We’ve talked in the past with you, you’ve mentioned when things were going much better, the Rose Bowl, you talked about the role your faith played then. You mentioned it last year. I’m wondering, how is that this year when things aren’t going so well?
COACH DANTONIO: Stronger. Stronger. Your faith grows stronger, for me personally. I think that’s what you do.
Your faith has nothing to do with your success or your failure, in my mind. I shouldn’t say it like that. I think it does to some extent, but I’m saying the amount of praying time you have shouldn’t depend on whether you’re winning or losing totally, I don’t think. So I’ll remain strong in my faith. It’s not shaken. We’re not losing games because thunder is hitting.
Q. I know we’ve kind of talked about the injuries, the amount of injuries that you guys have had. Do you have any clarity at quarterback right now? Having those two guys (Tyler O’Connor and Damion Terry) as veterans, do you envision anything with them switching or trying to get both of them experience down the stretch here?
COACH DANTONIO: As far as with Tyler, we’ll see. I think he will be prepared to practice today. He should be cleared, but we’ll see. It’s not for me to make that decision, but it looks like that.
I thought Damion played pretty well in the game. I think Tyler played well in the game. I think Tyler is earning his stripes. I think coming into this season, he was a guy that had quarterbacked one and a half games. I think right now the way he’s handled the situation that’s been thrust upon him has been very mature. He’s been very competitive. I think he’s playing pretty good football. I would say the same about Damion.
So we’ll see how it all shakes out at the end of the week. I think both of them give us something, maybe counter each other a little bit.
Q. There’s a note in the packet (game notes) this week that you haven’t played the same starting lineup, offense and defense, at all this year. Have you ever gone through a season like that, to that extreme?
COACH DANTONIO: No. No. We’ve been pretty fortunate here with injuries. There are injuries that keep guys out one or two weeks, something like that, but we’ve lost guys for the season, as well.
No, not here. You guys probably have that in your notes somewhere, okay? But, hey, it happens. This is a physical game. I’ve said this before. You’re not playing on a computer screen. You’re not tweeting it out, okay? This is real blocking, tackling, playing the ball, taking on double-teams, pass protecting, get off, all the different things you need to do.
There are certain things, when you look at our football team, that are not allowing us to win. Trips into the red zone without touchdowns, that’s an issue, however you cut it. There’s always a different reason, sacks, turnovers, turnover margin.
If you look at every team that’s successful right now, probably those reasons stand behind it. Ability to run the ball. We’ve done that okay. Up and down a little bit, but okay. Ability to protect the quarterback. We’ve done that okay, but we’ve had some occasions where we got pushed. For example, 22 times in the game this past week we got pushed off the dime, which means the quarterback takes the ball from here, his launch point, not where he sets up at. He’s got to move on his launch point, 22 times, that’s a lot. We got them off the dime twice. That’s a problem. That’s a problem.
So any way you cut it, those two things occurred.
With that being said, I thought Tyler and Damion both completed their passes, were pretty productive in that area. They had some drops, which are uncharacteristic of the guys who dropped them. They’re not freshmen. They’re not guys who can’t play. They’re guys that are very, very good at what they do, but they had a couple drops.
Doesn’t mean they’re bad football players, but things are happening. Things happen in a football game. It’s real. You’ve got to make plays.
The turnovers, we’ve got nine turnovers right now. There are years where we’ve had 23, 25, that type of thing. We’re not turning the ball over a lot, which is a good thing, but where are the turnovers at, they’ve got to come up. There’s opportunities. Missed three interceptions on Saturday. Those type of things have to occur.
There’s some structural things, as well, but it’s all inclusive, as I’ve said. Structural things are coaching things, certainly, but you take risk, we could have kicked a field goal, cut it to within one, we score a touchdown on fourth-and-four. My thought was should we kick the field goal with three minutes to go, use our timeouts, go back down and kick another field goal. Went for a touchdown. Now we’ve got to stop them.
There’s all kinds of things that are going on in a football game that are real and rapid, rapid decisions that are being made, whether you’re a player or a coach.
So I guess this would be the place to come if you want to research that kind of stuff right now because, you know, it’s gone the other way before, too. Last year was the other way, so I don’t know. Sometimes it’s just what’s going down.
Q. Are there things about this team, despite losing the seven in a row, you wish the fans and media would know, and see different aspects about this team?
COACH DANTONIO: Hopefully everybody sees that we’re playing hard. I hope that everybody understands that we haven’t given up. Our players come out and play very hard. We’re a young football team. We oftentimes have a redshirt freshman at offensive tackle, a redshirt freshman at left guard, a true freshman at right tackle. You know, difficult.
These things are growing pains that we go through sometimes. I wish these growing pains maybe would have occurred earlier. What’s troubling is that these occur in your 10th year as a coach. You have to ask yourself what’s going on, but everything’s related. The attrition we had on our defensive line is related to our young players playing defensive line right now. That’s related, directly related,but it’s what happened and I can’t change that. You just keep on moving.
But, yeah, first of all, I appreciate our fan support. I think they’ve come out. I think they’ve stayed, especially the last home game. I think they’ve stayed.
I would think our fans would appreciate what’s gone on here in the past, and can take a step back and say, `This is what has been accomplished, this is where we’re at, this is where we’ve got to go.’
I’ve tried to do things right here and I’ll always try to do things right. At the end of the day, it all falls on me. That’s all right.
Q. The month of practice before the bowl can usually be beneficial to a lot of the younger players. If you’re not going to have that this year, does that change the way you approach the next three weeks?
COACH DANTONIO: To some degree, we will. We’ll have different periods in there which will allow young players to move forward a little bit. There’s always a Catch-22 with that.
Really where we’ve been at the last three years in bowl preparation, it’s been, `Hey, we can’t afford to lose anybody, whether you’re a scout team or not.’ We’re playing for a Big Ten championship. We’re playing for really a place in the national championship game. There wasn’t really a lot of preparations going into the young players; we’re trying to do everything we can to win those games, a Rose Bowl or Cotton Bowl.
The focus has been on that, but we’ll use our young players. We’re using them already. There are guys, a Luke Campbell or a Matt Allen, they’re number two. We don’t want to take the redshirt off them. He’s the number two center, Matt Allen, and Luke really is the number two left guard, if you want to line 10 guys ups there.
They’re getting work. Our younger players that are playing, they’re getting work. Noah Davis gets work at tight end, he’ll be a great tight end. These young players are getting work, we’re just not playing them because of the lateness of the season.
I think if they were where they were right now at the beginning of the season, those guys would be playing some, those three.
Q. Ten penalties in the opener, ten penalties in game nine. On the to-do list, how does a coach improve a team’s focus?
COACH DANTONIO: You send some of those penalties need to be reviewed. That’s number one, the first thing you do. Maybe that will cut down a couple of them.
Q. Wondering if there’s any non-quarterback injury updates you can provide?
COACH DANTONIO: No, I really can’t.
Q. Without breaching any confidentiality, in these town hall meetings that you had, was there anything that surprised you that you heard? Were you able to clear the air, get some cleansing done that will lead to more productivity?
COACH DANTONIO: You know, first of all, I asked them if they want to be in those, come in those. If they don’t want to come in them, don’t come in. I asked them to fill out a survey for themselves, for self-analyzation, on those things I talked about, then I asked them if they want to talk to their position coach, get it on the table, things that are bothering you, play time, whatever it is, get everything on the table.
I asked each coach how everything went, sort of sat and talked to each coach in terms a little bit more in-depth of what went on in terms of their meetings.
I think anytime you have an obvious situation going on, or you’re not being successful, you do the best you can to get problems out in the open, identify the problems, but then try and find the solutions to those problems. So that’s what we’re trying to do.
All the problems can’t be solved right now. Some of them are hard-line blocking, tackling, catching the ball or making a call. They’re just things like that.
We’ll try and control the things that we can control. My biggest concern is when you’re going through something like this is what is the chemistry like, what is their emotional state like, what is their emotional state today at practice. I wanted to make sure we can do everything we can to try and alleviate these issues.