After rolling over Wyoming last week, Michigan St. has been installed as seven point favorites over Nebraska. The Spartans, 3-1 on the year, dropped a spot in the AP Top 25 poll to No. 10 after the 56-14 win over Wyoming. Nebraska is ranked No. 19 after opening its Big Ten season with a 45-14 victory over Illinois on Saturday. Spartans Coach Mark Dantonio talked about the Wyoming game and the start of the Big 10 season”
THE MODERATOR: We’ll get started with an opening statement from coach and then take questions.
COACH DANTONIO: I thought we came out strong again. Obviously, sort of raced to, I think it was 42?7 at the end of the?? 42-14 at the end of the first half.
So, offensively, a lot of guys played extremely well. Got Langford on track. Pretty much the same thing I said yesterday, a lot of guys touched the ball.
A lot of guys had opportunities to score touchdowns, as well. I thought that the opportunity it play three quarterbacks continues to help us, I think, long?term.
Same with, even though we didn’t play as many players early, the same with playing a variety of a number of players. We were able to work our quarterbacks and our three running backs in there, and a lot of different wide receivers, etcetera.
Defensively, played better the second half. I had a couple things got to get fixed. Got them fixed at halftime. Played much better.
Continued to emphasize the things we always do, pressuring the quarterback. Came up with six sacks, came up with turnovers. Five times three and out. So, stopping the run, those types of things.
It will be a great challenge this week versus Nebraska. So I’ll just take questions.
Q. Obviously, the Oregon game, for two and a half quarters, you guys played exceptional, probably a little bit more than that. But in the other three games you handled them. I’m curious, do you think that the number of games is a reflection of how good your team is, or maybe a reflection of three programs that are in the midst of rebuilding or struggling a little bit?
COACH DANTONIO: I think it’s probably a combination of both. The question you have to ask yourself is, did we play up in those games or did we play down to the level of competition. I think we played up in every respect.
That’s a focus issue, that’s a football team coming out and getting their job done, and those are the things that we can control.
Obviously, thought either the Oregon game, we came out and played pretty well early on, for almost three quarters as you said, and for whatever reason, which we talked about three or four weeks ago, we just didn’t finish.
So we have got to?? we have got a good football team. We’re going to be tested here in the next week and the weeks to follow. And that’s to be expected. That’s why when I sit there and I am asked about identity, these weeks coming are the times when we will establish our identity, truly.
Q. Going into the game you wanted to get Langford going. After watching the film, did he look like he had more bursts in this game than he’s had in the games previous in the season?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I think he did. I think that he got loose and he still might be a little bit rusty, I don’t know. But he looked pretty good on that first run and a variety of runs after that. So I thought he played very, very well.
Q. Tyler O’Connor talked yesterday how practice is different once the Big?Ten season gets there. He referred to it as the preseason is over. I was just curious, how do you change?? because obviously with your team admits that practice change, how do you change when this flip comes from the non?conference to the conference?
COACH DANTONIO: Well first of all, obviously you’ve got a little bit of experience playing those specific teams for the most part. There are some teams that we’ll be playing for the first time this year in the Big?Ten conference.
So have you some history there. Certainly that history counts in terms of knowing their personnel and things of that nature. Every team’s different every year. I think people add how they use people and etcetera, but I think there’s a?? there’s some commonalities there, relative to us and them.
Secondly, it’s sort of like I said earlier in the year, it starts here. You can do whatever you want in the out of the conference, but inside the conference there is more on the line. I just think that’s just the way it is. Certainly our first game versus Nebraska is a big one.
As far as practice tempo and things of that nature, I think we try, and we’re constantly trying, to improve our practices and make them as high tempo and as good as we can, relative to personnel, relative to what we do, schematically what we do, drills what we do. So we’re constantly critiquing what we do and trying to make it the best we can, trying to improve.
Q. Wondering if you still expect to have Knox and Kittredge back this week. And if so, other than Higgins, are you totally healthy across the board going into this one?
COACH DANTONIO: I’m not sure. We won’t really be sure until we see them work this week, but I anticipate them practicing. And with that being said, yeah, we are pretty much up to speed there in those areas. I don’t really think that ?? I think we’ll be at full capacity here this week. But those two guys you mentioned, I’m not sure.
Q. At this time last year, you guys were coming off that Notre Dame loss, getting ready for Big?10 play and obviously, you guys have great success in that calendar year. What has it shown you about how things can change just in one year from where you were last year to where you are right now as a program?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, obviously, last year we were a football team that was struggling a little bit offensively. It’s been talked about, trying to find who the quarterback is and identify the various positions at running back tight end, wide receiver.
I think now this year experience has a lot to do with that. I think every year college football is such a changing landscape or environment within your football team, because you have different people playing or coming and going every single year.
It takes time spent sometimes to get to where you want to go. So I think we are a more confident team. Last year we had something to prove. I think we still have things to prove.
As far as I’m concerned, we need to continue to still prove ourselves. Our reputation right now is built off of last year’s success, I think I realize that.
We need to continue to move past these next games and continue to get ?? like I said before, this is now it starts here. We need to play in the present.
Q. Do you ever point to where you guys were at this time last year and is it just a map for guys to see what the how quickly the progress can be made sometimes?
COACH DANTONIO: Yes, I do. I do point to where we were at last year or where so and so was at individually, where we were at as a program.
Three or four years ago or ?? because I believe that talks to people about building a foundation. Sometimes you even go backward a step, but as long as you’re continuing to build that foundation, I think positive results are going to follow.
Q. Yesterday Coach Narduzzi talked about how the defense practices for all these plays, and then teams don’t do them. Isn’t that part of being the hunted and didn’t you go through something like that after you won a national title at Ohio State? Doesn’t that kind of maybe challenge a team once you become the team to beat? Don’t teams maybe prepare for you differently?
COACH DANTONIO: I think it does. There’s a couple things relative to our defense. The expectations are very high.
Our success last year as a defense was as good as it’s been, probably. Then the third thing is?? is just like what you said, you’re constantly getting people that will alter what they do relative to who you are or what you’ve seen them do.
But I think that’s coaching. I say it every single week, there are very good coaches out there and you see it every single week.
We saw things from Wyoming that we had not seen. Some things we had seen and prepared for, but there were other things that we had not seen. You have to be able to adjust on the fly. But that’s coaching, on the field adjustments, and that’s also adjusting on the field as well as a player.
Then there’s some common things that relative to awareness, that you just have to do. I think it’s a combination of all those things that allow you to have success.
Q. When it happened to you after you won a national title, your year as a defensive coordinator, did you have to start doing things a little bit differently, maybe because those offenses are geared for success against what they know you’re going to do?
COACH DANTONIO: I think defenses are continually trying to stay ahead of the posse, I guess I would say. So you’re always going to build on what you have and try and make it better. There’s going to be some differences in those things.
I think those are the things we try and do here. We’re trying to constantly critique what we do, evaluate, make it better, change up, make things different.
I think being comprehensive, simple, simple, but comprehensive, is how you should attack things defensively from a coaching standpoint. You want to be simple enough where your players can play fast, but comprehensive enough where it’s ever changing and it can look very complicated to an opposing offense, but yet your players understand it, because they have been through all the adjustments and those type of things.
So I think that’s what we do, that’s what we attempt to do on a weekly basis.
Q. Travis Jackson’s career has been marked by being a very heady player, very smart player. When a player comes back from an injury, we know there’s talk about them getting back into game shape. Was his four penalties, although uncharacteristic, about maybe getting back into some more mental game shape, because that’s not been his practice previously.
COACH DANTONIO: Travis? I think there was some mistakes made out on the field, but I didn’t have the flag in my back pocket. So, you know, there’s just some times where ?? and I’m not ?? what is called a hold and what is not a hold. There are a couple that were?? but coaches always are in question of what is a hold and what is not a hold and I guess I would join that group of people who would say that.
I know Travis was playing a position he had not played for awhile at the offensive center and I’m sure that had to do with some things, but I thought there was some ?? let’s just leave it at that, I guess. That’s probably the best way to put it. Keep everybody happy.
Q. Ameer Abdullah and I know that you play a lot of great backs, but when you play a back with that type of cut back ability, how much pressure does that put on a defense and how do you prepare to make your defense any less aggressive so they can’t be exploded by a cut back runner like that or do you?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, we’re planning on talking about Nebraska on Tuesday, but just, overall, when you’re playing a great running back, it’s about pursuit, it’s about leverage on a football, it’s about the ability to tackle in space.
He’s very difficult in all those areas, along with other players in this conference and across the country, but that’s what it comes down to, to me. It’s great pursuit angles, proper leverage, the ability to tackle in space, and we’ll work on all three of those things this week, obviously, as we do every week.
Q. Where are you right now overall in terms of those things defensively, through four games?
COACH DANTONIO: I think there’s always going to be mistakes defensively. That’s the nature of the game. You look around the country, people are putting up 50 points and 700 yards of passing or 700 yards of offense things of that nature. I think we’re still way above the curve.
I also think that we as coaches and maybe we as a general Spartan public are spoiled by some of the things last year. There’s going to be breakdowns and things that happen, the important thing is getting them fixed and not seeing them happening on a consistent basis where you lose football games and you give up 400?500 yards of offense.
So, everybody understands we lost some great players, also everybody understands that, as was asked before, we get some new things, some new wrinkles thrown at us, which we have to adjust to on the fly, and things happen.
They have got good players, everybody has good coaches and people gear up and try and attack that opposing team’s offense so it’s a rapid moving ?? there’s a lot of change every week, that’s all I can tell you, and we have to adjust.
As far as leveraging the football, attacking the quarterback, tackling in space, you can always be better, but right now I think sacks?wise we’re doing pretty well. Turnover margin, we’re number one in the conference at plus nine. So you have to look at that aspect and say that’s pretty good.
That’s why good things continue to happen, not just for us on the defensive side of the ball, but also for us on the offensive side of the ball. I think that there’s a correlation between that.
Q. Yesterday when Tyler O’Connor scored his touchdown and Damion came in and had success, both of them and Connor were off the bench and rooting for each other. I know you talk about chemistry, but it seems to be even stronger than usual in that quarterback room. How does that make Michigan State better?
COACH DANTONIO: Oh, I think it really pays dividends for us. You’ve got, first of all Brad Salem does an outstanding job in that room, in terms of the chemistry. I think that they pull for each other.
Obviously, they’re going to compete against each other, too, but they pull for each other as well and you can see that.
Q. When you were talking about ?? well you don’t talk about injuries, but when you were discussing players, you didn’t mention Jack Allen, did you cover that in the pose game that you expected Jack back this week?
COACH DANTONIO: Yes, I did.