MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY FOOTBALL MEDIA CONFERENCE
October 9, 2018
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: Obviously go to Penn State this weekend. We've had very competitive games here with them over the course of time and should be another great one. Great atmosphere there. Another Big Ten game. Big Ten east division game, so it's obviously big.
As far as where we're at, you know, my perspective and I'm sure all of your perspective, feel like we should be 5-0. My message to our players is: Play like it. Play like we're 5-0. Keep the same mindset as we go forward.
Concerned about, when I talk to our players about the situation we're in, having lost a tough game like that, my first concern is how they are physically, what's their physical health. Obviously we're banged up a little bit, but we'll get guys back as we move forward here during the season; and you know, not to answer questions about when or where or what, but we'll get guys back.
Probably just as importantly, I'm concerned about our mental health when we come off a tough loss. So my focus has always been on big picture things. So when I look at our football team, I ask myself, where are they at in terms of away from football, how are they doing.
You know, for myself, it's my faith. For myself and for my football players, it's family, personal safety, with their family personal health. We've had two guys lose grandparents this past week, so it's tough. We've got guys going to funerals and things of that nature, so I'm concerned about those things.
I'm concerned about our football program in general, where we're at, the chemistry, the mindset as we move forward. I think it's healthy. I think it's extremely healthy. We've won a lot of football games here and our attitude is very, very good.
I'm concerned about our players, how they are doing in school, socially. Obviously socially, school, and then what's going on in their daily lives and I try and touch our players as much as I can.
Then I look at every single game that we're playing and focus on that one game that particular week and then move on and move forward, and that's what we do.
So that's where we've been, you know, games hang right now, you know, they hang on inches. I can't sit here and say, certainly there's a lot of frustration. We don't expect to lose, and we haven't lost a great deal here. We've won two-thirds of the time here probably, or over two-thirds of the time.
It's frustrating coming off a game you feel like you should have won and it slips away from you, and there's a lot of different reasons why that happens. Some offense, some defense, some special teams, some coaching, some players, some execution. Those are the type of things that happen on the football field. But we're going to move forward and we're going to move forward with a sense of surprise, and with that, I'll just take some questions and sort of go from there.
Q. After the game on Saturday, Joe had said, confront people as a leader and basically step up or if you don't want to be here and don't want to win, get out. What was the attitude like at practice from him yesterday?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: Very, very good attitude. Talked to Joe about that and I think he feels -- collectively we talked as a leadership group on Sunday. Our players are, I think, in a very -- you know, it's frustrating, and I think you see frustration when you -- I think you see frustration -- you got a question? I think you see frustration after a game like that.
You know, so we don't have an attitude problem on our football team. We have an excellent attitude. We go out and we work every single practice. Our guys are focused on what they need to do and there's good atmosphere and good intentions.
But as a leader, I think, you know, as I said to our football team, when you are a leader, when you're the head coach or when you're the coordinator or you're the assistant coach or the leader, captain, sometimes you have to be more demanding. So that's a part of it and you know, looking for a response, and that's what we all do.
Q. Looking at this big picture with the guys that you have playing right now, there are a lot of young guys. I guess how do you get them to build their leadership on the fly like this?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: I think experience is a great -- I don't know, when you have game experience, obviously it's a big positive for you. The only way you get that is by playing early in your career or playing at some point in time.
We have two redshirt freshmen playing at guard last week after the second play, so you know, obviously there's some issues that took place. But they get a chance to watch themselves, see themselves and come back, and every time you come back from something, every time you bounce back from something, usually bounce back a little bit stronger. That's human nature in general I think.
They will be ready to play. We'll have other opportunities to move people around, and make that a better situation, as well.
Q. Your rush defense is putting up historic numbers, ranked first in the nation by a wide margin and your pass defense is 122 out of 129. It was a very good pass defense a year ago. To what do you explain that discrepancy?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: First of all, we're averaging -- people are averaging throwing the ball 54 times a game against us. So when you look at that, and you're trying to say, per attempt, what I've always thought was per attempt, you want to be less than five yards per attempt.
So two of the games, we actually accomplished that. The other games, we did not. The answer for that probably is, you know, they've hit some deep balls on us where deep ball judgment comes into play; and again I go back to a game of inches. It's the difference between Tre Person making a play on the deep route is this far. Same with Tyriq Thompson, this far; and same with Justin Layne, this far against Arizona State.
Up top, we've lost three corners, or two corners in Josiah Scott and Scott Smith, played a lot for us, and Josh Butler played in and out of the game this past weekend. That's probably hurt us a little bit in that regard. I think in this day and age, you know, the stats -- there are all kinds of stats. You can look at stats and you can make them what you want.
I say to our guys, we're playing very well against the run. Well, how are we playing against the perimeter pass, which is bubbles and jailbreak screens and things like that, because they've got to throw that into the run game, because that's how people are running the ball against us in some regards. So we look at that aspect and ask ourselves how we're playing and we work at it.
There's a lot of different statistics there. The No. 1 statistic and the thing I have to hang our hat on is: Do we win or do we lose? And at the end of the day, you know, we're a 3-2 football team, and I feel like, again, I feel like we had opportunities to win those other two and did not. A lot of reasons for that. Had five guys out on offense these past couple games. That takes a toll a little bit but we'll get them back. Got to wait on it.
Q. You're beaten up and coming off a loss and going into a snake pit and nobody thinks you can win. Is there a galvanizing effect going on the road has in an environment like this?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: I think there is. I think you've got to play away games in this conference and you've got to look forward to playing away.
That's a great atmosphere over there. We've gone over there and we've won before. It's fun. If you play at home all the time, you play away all the time, those type of things could become redundant a little bit. I think when you go away and play in a different environment, I think it takes on a different mentality for your football team. It's a little bit us-against-the-world type mentality. It will serve us well. Got to go over and play well. We'll have our opportunities, though.
Q. You talked about Saturday and Sunday taking a look at the offensive line with who is there and who is not and who is playing well and who is not. Got a new offensive line starting at least on the depth chart. What went into this five that we see on the depth chart and with still a week full of practices left, are those the five that will start the game on Saturday?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, Chewins is back healthier now so that allows us to put him at left tackle. Allows us to move Tyler Higby to left guard, which is where he played predominately last year. The center is Matt Allen, right guard Bueter comes back with his second start.
Luke Campbell has been a starter long term. Needs to play a little bit more effectively, a little bit more on balance, but he has experience and I expect him to play a lot of football.
Our right tackle, Jordan Reid, has playing pretty well. Got to protect the quarterback and find a way to run the football, there's no question about that. So on it goes.
Q. Along those lines, when you've got an offensive line that you've seen through five games has its limitations, and you run a pro-style offense where as you say, you have to be able to run the football what can you reasonably do in the middle of a season without, obviously you're not going to change the scheme of your entire offense, to have more punch, I guess?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: Well, that's the challenge for every coach and for every player. A lot of times, like I've said, especially on the offensive line, and I can point to numerous foils across this country that aren't playing very well together. All you've got to do is put the tape on and watch them.
However, at some point in time, a back breaks a run or something like that and gets to the second level, so it's all inclusive. Make it's a wide receiver block that springs it back or maybe it's the running back itself breaks a tackle, runs through it, or maybe it's the offensive line that becomes a greater opportunity or maybe it's the execution or the play concept.
So we'll keep pushing it. We'll keep -- when we came here in 2007, you know, the one thing that I said is, hey, we're going to run the football. We have to run the football. I still believe that, and we've got to find ways to do that.
So we work extremely hard on that, about 80 hours a week, and you know, we work on it in practice and got it coming. At some point in time it will come.
Q. Piggyback off that a little bit, saying you want to do it and whether it's the offensive line or it's receivers, however it breaks down, is there a certain point in a season where you realize it's simply not happening this way, we need to make a shift; is that something that you can do in season?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, we have a lot of concepts that we can use and we can pare down those concepts and create different things formationally. Everybody can. Everybody can change things as they go. They can use different formations, different concepts until you find the right one I guess that fits your personnel as best you can.
So we'll continue moving in that direction, and keep pounding the rock. We'll keep working at it. The formula for success here has been: If you can run it 40 times -- I don't care if you get 120 yards or 130 yards or 140 yards or 240; if you can run it 40 times, you've got a pretty good chance to win. That's been our success.
It's been one of the things that I said, hey, run the ball -- now if you throw it 60 times, there's a good chance you might have 300 yards, as evidenced -- I see the statistics about Northwestern. Does everyone know we threw the ball the last for 1,200 yards; but we didn't win the game. So you have to be able to run the football to some degree, especially when the yardage gets short or when you're in, you know, situations that demand that you've got to be able to run the ball. So we've got to figure out a way to do that and that's our challenges.
Q. You scored a touchdown on the reverse the last game. I know you thought you also came close to breaking a big play on a trick play earlier in the game. What goes into deciding when those will be most useful? Is it something the defense is showing you or trying to create a spark offensively?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: I think what goes into deciding that is you've got to catch people off guard. So you really don't want to tell people when you're going to do those things, really. Sometimes it's after a big play and sometimes it's not. Sometimes it's in the middle of a series. Sometimes it's not. I think it's sort of just rolling the dice a little bit. Everybody has probably a philosophy on when they want to do it but that doesn't mean it's going to work. Sort of like a trick play on special teams probably.
Q. Following up on that, in both your conference games, you've had a wide receiver rush for more than half of your yards. Have you ever seen that before, and what does that mean to you?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: Well, it's frustrating. It's frustrating. But at the end of the day, it's about moving the football, too. In this day and age, you know, football, you see a lot of wide receivers place, even that little jet sweep where he tossed the ball up in the air supposedly designated the pass but it's a run. From my perspective, it's a perimeter-run-type thing.
As I said earlier, LJ has been out. Two other tailbacks working, or three, so we've got to find a way to run the football. I don't think that's earth-shattering. I don't think I'm letting the cat out of the bag there, am I, I don't think. I think Penn State's aware of that. So we'll go with that. Good thing you got that picture of me smiling today (Laughter).
Q. McSorley, obviously a dual-threat guy, averaging almost 90 yards a guy --
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: Let's talk about Penn State --
Q. You guys are effective in pulling him down on the ground, he threw for a good number of yards, but how do you contain him and make him one-dimensional?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: I think McSorley is an excellent player. He buys time. He's going to scramble. He's going to launch it. They are going to throw the ball down the field. Their average attempt is 13.8 yards down the field. That's their average attempt, so their ball is going down the field for them. They have big play receivers. They have an excellent running back. They have got four of their five offensive linemen back.
So they are a challenge offensively, and he creates that dynamic, that multiple run/pass-guy type quarterback, and he's got a toughness aspect to him, too. He's a great player, great leader, and a lot of their success hinges on what he does, so we need to negate his abilities as best we can.
Q. Looking at everything that you guys from day one, when you start having those injuries with Josiah and Coles, and to now, where does this challenge rank in terms of what you have had to maybe shuffle or endure during a season?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: Well, you mean, relative to other years? You know, I've never really -- I look at the year in its totality at the end of the year. I imagine this is as many early injuries as we've had in those times, but at the end of the year, how did we come out.
We really have not had that many season-ending injuries. Jay Hartbarger is really the only one, that I would say. So we're getting guys back, and we'll get them back.
You guys have just got to deal with it. I mean, I come up here all the time, stand up here, get grilled; get asked if the sharks are in the water today or if the wolves were at the door; I wasn't sure which.
You know, you're dealing with life issues. Sometimes things don't go well for you, whether you're in a corporation or whether you're in a relationship or whatever it is. You know, sometimes things don't go well and you have to improvise and you have to change up things, but I can make it work, if you have good people -- and we have good people.
We have good people on our football team and we have great people on our staff, and we have a long track record of success and if you have that, then you can always flip it and you can always turn things and get things going in the right direction, and that's my belief system.
Q. As a follow-up to that, is Jake done for the season --
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: I thought that was a pretty good answer.
Q. It was a great answer. Is Jake done for the year? Has that changed from previously?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: Jake, all general purposes, I believe done for the year. To throw your right leg up in the air when it's been broken is probably a little bit of an issue from a confidence standpoint.
We can go ahead a redshirt on him, a medical redshirt on him, for him to be able to punt next year and that's the intent right now, unless something drastically changes, that's the intent. And he knows that and I've talked to his family about that. So that's pretty much where it's at.
Q. In the past when you weren't happy with your offense, you got very involved. Are you anticipating more involvement on your part? On Sunday night, you said, hey, I'm a defensive coach, but are you anticipating more involvement with your offense?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: I've always been involved to a certain extent. To sit there, what about this, what about that, can we do this, draw something on the board, tell them, hey, we need to put this in, those type of things.
Basically, like I said, you have formation sheets that are very in-depth, and you can't recreate the wheel. Even if you said, hey, we're going to change next year to something, it's very difficult to recreate the wheel.
What you do have is you have a vast library to go back to and say, how do we tweak this or tweak that to help generate some productivity in certain areas. I'd say that's it. That's what I do.
I always look at the quality control and different components of quality control and ask, okay, what are we doing here, what are we doing there, are we doing these things here, which are, from a defensive standpoint, recognizable; do we change here; do we change there. That's the way I've always done it.
Again, I go back to, not going to micromanage. Maybe my coaches will say I do, but I'm going to try not to micromanage. I'm going to try to empower our coaches to do their job and allow them to do their job with confidence.
So I'm not going to be in a threatening mode, I'm just not. I'm going to be who I am, I am I am going to allow them to do their work and believe in them and push it forward. That's what I've done. Served us well.
Q. Since you got here, the motto has been, you have to run the ball. You come from Nick Saban's tree where he certainly holds that philosophy, but this year it's been different at Alabama. And he said on Saturday, he's just come to the point where he's learned: There's no more points than running for passing, and if he can't run, he's going to throw it. Obviously you still want to run, but does there need to be a shift when you can't?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: I think there has been a shift when we can't. I think we're throwing more now than we have.
I try to taint that and say, hey, we've got to run it. At the Indiana game, I said, hey, you've got to run the ball. Even though we ran for 140 or something, we ran the ball somewhat. We've got to keep people honest. Can't allow it to go into just a pass-rush game like it did at the end of the game last week.
We have to keep it honest because we have limitations in other areas, too. We're down some wide-outs, we're down some offensive linemen. You're trying to balance things a little bit but we'll be all right. I have confidence in our football team and I have confidence in our drive and who we are as individuals and how we approach things.
Q. In the past, following up on that, you've had Burbridge and very good receivers, but with what Felton Davis did, he was a real turning point for you in the third quarter, the rush for the touchdown and the fade for the touchdown. Is there a way to incorporate him in the offense, maintaining the balance you're talking about, getting those 40 rushes but making the most out of a guy that is prevailing as your top talent on offense?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, we are going to target guys. We're going to get the ball to people that we need to get the ball to, and I thought we did a great job last week saying, okay, here is Felton, we're missing this guy, that guy, let's get the ball to him a little bit more. We always have done that and we always will continue to do that, find ways -- every football team tries to find ways. Saquon Barkley, how are you going to get the ball to him 30 times.
So we go into every football game and say, how are we going to get the ball to this individual X number of times. We've got to have more playmakers to do that with and we are going to try and find those guys as we go forward, I think we have playmakers, but they have got to get back healthy and we have some other guys, too.
Q. I know you're not going to point fingers but Brian doesn't seem to be in the rhythm he was last year. Are those circumstances a big part of it, or is there something he needs to do to get his MoJo back?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: Well, I think that, again, when you look at that, you're saying, why. If he's not in his rhythm, why. Well, maybe a defensive tackle is right here. That has a lot to do with it, okay. So we've got to protect the quarterback. We've got to give him time to throw. There's some different things that we can do to help with that. We have to do those things.
We've got to get him in rhythm and when you look at that football game, if you really watch the film, he made some unbelievable throws, right on the money throws, and he played pretty well. Got sort of -- like I said, the frustrating thing for me as the head football coach, if we would have went down the field and not scored in the game, or even got to the 30 and not scored in the game at the end of the game, okay, just live with it, but the way things fell apart, the two previous series before the two-minute drive, that was what was frustrating because it didn't give us a chance to be successful because the guy was sitting right back in our lap and he's ditching the ball and that just looks like we're not playing on one cylinder, let alone all cylinders. That's frustrating and that's what I was most frustrated with about that football game.
Those two series, I can't control about the pitch, I can't control about a guy getting -- walking over somebody with his leg up in the air and getting called for taunting. I can't control those things. I've got to play through those things. We have to play through those things. But the things you can control are the things that frustrate you, so that's what we deal with.
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