The Michigan St. Spartans have their hands full this weekend against Oregon. The Ducks are favored by 12.5, and Michigan St., with an eye towards winning the Big Ten and advancing to the new four game playoff this year, must put up a good game to impress the committee. Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio discusses this week’s game in his weekly press conference:
MARK DANTONIO: First off, it’s an exciting week for us this week, a lot of things that you are going to experience this week whether as a coach or as a player, these are things that you anticipate when you go play college football: Big football game on national TV. I think we embrace those situations. We’ve played in big games before, so that’s not new to us.
And this has been a progression for us, I think. If you look at our football program right now from when we’ve come in 2007, it was about trying to get to these moments where you have an opportunity to play across the nation and it has a sort of prominence to it or a prestige to it at this point.
We’ll look forward to that opportunity. When you look at Oregon right now, outstanding football team, outstanding program, and great skilled players. You look at them defensively a little bit, big strong guys. I think their secondary is very skilled. Linebackers are athletic, big front, 3?4 defense. I could go into schematics and concepts, but I won’t do that at this point in time.
And you look at their offense, Mariota is an outstanding quarterback. What impresses me most about him is you can tell he has leadership because you can look at him on the film and say the guy is tough; you can see he’s emotional; you can see people follow him; he’s creative, can take a bad play, make it a good one, whether it’s with his arm, with his feet. He’s surrounded with good skill, good offensive line, breakaway running backs and big play potential all over the place.
Special teams, same type of thing. Good returners. They do some different things that will create problems for you, and it’s going to be an exciting opportunity to play. I think usually the best way to do this is to just take some questions.
Q. Is this a game of innovators? Do you get excited as a coach knowing what they’ve done with their offense and what you’ve done defensively and how many teams have copied both of you?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, I think there is something to that. You look at Oregon, certainly you see what they’ve done offensively, and they are different from other spread teams. I think they’ve had so much success, a lot of people are taking some of the things and imitating them or not copying but using their concepts and trying to adapt it into their offenses.
And then when you look at our defense, I think, again, it’s cutting edge. There’s not a lot of people who have played our defense in the past. I think people are moving towards it and doing some of the things that we’ve done, and we’ve had tremendous success with our defense in the last three, four?? really the last four years. That trend need to continues for us to be successful. It’s my belief you win championships are great defenses.
But this is a football game, it’s not just against our offense, defense, it’s against how our offense is going to play and how we’re going to handle special teams. It’s all the components of a football game, and I think that’s what makes it such a great game.
Q. The team that’s had the most success against them is Stanford, who you’re very familiar with, and there’s some similarities in terms of style and philosophy. How much have you looked at those games, and how much is it true that you can kind of hit them in the mouth?
MARK DANTONIO: Well, we’ve looked at all their games. We’ve obviously done a study, a spring study, summer study on them, so we’ve looked across the board at all their games. They lost last year to Stanford, so I think Stanford’s offense is more our?? a little bit more like us maybe than some of the other football teams, so you can certainly see some of the things that they did there.
But we’ll look at all the different games and try and draw something from every single football team that have played them in the hopes that we have the answers.
Q. I was talking to a defensive coordinator who’s coached against Oregon, and he said the secret with them is that it isn’t necessarily they do 900 million different things, but they force you to make mistakes. Is this one of those weeks where you know the cliché do your job, but it may be more important than ever?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, I mean, football on the defensive side of the ball?? offensively, as well, and special teams, but I think specifically on the defensive side of the ball because the ramifications are so high if you don’t do your job is such a?? it’s a technique game, but it’s an accountability game. You have to do your job. You have to fit that puzzle, and the way I sort of explain it is every play is a puzzle, every defense is a puzzle, you’d better have your piece fitted right or things don’t usually work out. That’s what you see, you see a fit here, a fit there not happening, and the next thing you know they’re in the end zone because they have good speed.
Big play ability is what you see with Oregon. They can be stopped for four or five plays and then all of a sudden hit a 70?yarder. You have to able to take that away from them. We’ve been good at that lately with not giving up a lot of explosive plays, particularly last season. This year remains to be seen because there are so many games left, but that’s something we have to hang our hat on. When they don’t have explosive plays, people don’t lose too often.
Q. Obviously it’s a big game Saturday, but do you feel like your program is at the stage that no game is too big, that you don’t worry about your team going into that environment?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, I don’t really worry about that. We’ve played in big games, we’ve won away from home in every stadium in this conference. We’ve won our last three bowl games, played against good competition. We’ve been on a big stage at the Rose Bowl. We’ve been on a big stage with the championship games or at Penn State or wherever. I don’t really worry about that. I’m more concerned about getting the job done. I don’t think we’re going to go in there intimidated if that’s the question. But I worry about the accountability as we’ve just talked about and how we fit things defensively and not making mistakes that are going to?? really unforced errors or turnovers that are going to affect you on the offensive side of the ball.
Q. I wonder if you could address the challenges of preparing for a quarterback like Marcus Mariota, and does Damion Terry and his skill set help at all, having him available?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, he’s very much like Damion in a lot of ways. I think he’s a dual?type guy. You’ll see him probably run the ball more in big games, which this certainly is a big game. That’s been the trend with most quarterbacks like this.
But when you look at Braxton Miller, he’s a guy that can pull the ball down and take off with it. Same type of situation, he’s built to throw the football, so he’s got a great arm, he’s got good receivers down the field. They’ve got good receivers coming out of the backfield, as well, good ball carriers to hand the ball to. So they’ve got good tight ends, good offensive line. They’ve got things in order in that program. There’s no question about that. You see that based on the success that they’ve had in the past. It’s a good football team, it’s a very well?coached football team, and they play hard and they play tough. So you have a lot of respect when you turn on the film and you watch how they play and how rapid they are in terms of their offensive production in terms of how they’re running their plays and everything. You have to respect their toughness, not just physically but mentally, as well.
Q. With a forecast in the 90s on Saturday, does that change the way you’re approaching this week or the game at all?
MARK DANTONIO: I think in any game like this you’ve got to play a lot of players. That’s been our trend because it’s a no?huddle type system, so you’ve got to be able to substitute, get your guys on and off, and you’ve got to play a lot of players. We’ll be ready to play; we’ll be conditioned for it. There’s certainly things that obviously everyone has to do between hydration and things of that nature. But we’ll try and be cutting edge and see how it goes.
Q. In a game like this, how valuable are Rush and Calhoun, just keeping him contained and knowing that you can count on them the whole time?
MARK DANTONIO: Well, they’re two very, very?? our best defensive players, so contain obviously is a big aspect of any football game when you’re trying to pen in a quarterback. They’re big, but just as much the guys who come in after them are in place for them at times have to equally be impressive because they’re going to be challenged. That’s just the nature of it. There’s a lot of things that they do schematically that puts pressure on them and puts people in conflict. You know, a run?pass conflicts or a gap conflict as to how to play a particular gap or not, those things become issues that can create big plays. And you’ve got to play fast.
Q. Also, James and Kings and Langford are all listed on the depth chart. Does that mean they’re going to go?
MARK DANTONIO: I wasn’t going to list?? you guys know how I am about injuries. We’ll list them when we get to the game. If they’re not going to play in Saturday’s game, I’ll let you know, but right now we anticipate them practicing and playing.
Q. Last week Jacksonville State, a lot of nines in the box, a lot of gearing to stop the run. Do you anticipate at some point if Connor Cook and the passing game looked like that, defenses are finally going to change the way they approach your offense?
MARK DANTONIO: I think Connor Cook picked up where he left off last year. He’s got great?? I’ve said it all through spring and all through fall camp, I think our wide receiver group is talented and deep, and I think you saw that. I think we have an identity at tight end now. We’ve got guys out of the backfield, as well, and I think cook has got a great release, very strong arm. He’s big, he’s mobile, and there’s a lot of things that he can do that are untapped yet, and I really feel like some of that involved his running ability.
But I think he’s an excellent quarterback, and he’s resilient, and he’s very confident.
Q. Following up on Kyle’s question on Terry, would you use him some scout team this week then or do you have someone else in mind?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, we’ll use Damion a little bit on scout team and probably Tyler, as well, when the other one is getting reps, but we’re not going to have people standing around. There’s certain periods that we’ll do certain things and add people to the mix to help simulate. We’ve always done that, and we always will.
Q. You know how these inter?conference games get billed sometimes: Big Ten, Pac?12, the importance of having a high conference rating and whatnot. Do you ever get sick of hearing about the Big Ten and Wisconsin lost to LSU and that narrative reemerges, do you get sick of hearing that? Do you think it’s fair and do you think you can change it?
MARK DANTONIO: We just go out and try and play every game to the best of our ability. We can’t control everything that you guys write, obviously, something controversial up here. We can’t control everything that everybody writes, so why deal with it? I sort of shrug my shoulders and go. Last year the perception was that we’d have a good football team coming into the season. We went through the season, we had a good football team coming out of it. That’s the only thing that really matters at the end of everything.
We won against a very good football team in the Rose Bowl. I thought Georgia played for the championship in 2011, they were a very good football team, we managed to beat them, as well. You know, I guess that’s up to the fans in the SEC and all the other people that want to chant SEC or Big Ten, Big Ten, or whatever they want to chant in their stadium. We just play the game, but we’ll be ready to play.
Q. I want to go back to that embracing the big game. You mentioned a few years ago people yearn for these days. Hasn’t your program reached the swagger stage where this isn’t?? you can win games like this. You can go into enemy stadiums and win games like this; if nothing else, that’s what last year gave you, isn’t it?
MARK DANTONIO: Our program has taken steps since coming here in 2007, and I sort of feel like whatever year it was when we decided to play Oregon home and home, when they asked me do you want to play them, I felt like we needed to be at this point in 2014 to be able to play a game like that, we needed to be able to take the steps to be able to get there to play in a game like this and have a certain ability of respect that’s attached to it to go and play. I think we’ve done that from a program perspective, and now this creates another opportunity. Every game we play, every game on a big stage we play creates another opportunity for Michigan State and our football program to make a statement.
So one way or the other, and sometimes maybe we haven’t gotten there and taken a step back. Remember when we played Ohio State on game day in 2008 and we weren’t quite ready yet, and we lost convincingly. But the next week we gathered things up and we went down and played very well in Ann Arbor.
It’s not the end?of?the?world?type situation, but I think we’ve taken the right steps to try and get into a game like this so that people can say, hey, if they win this football game, it sends you farther up the ladder maybe, and that’s what you’re trying to do, I think, as a program. So when you look at what we’ve been able to accomplish long?term over the haul here, we put ourselves in a position to play this game and receive this type of notoriety to do it, and I want our players to have fun with this. I want them to be excited about this and our coaches, as well, and use this as a life experience, because that’s what this is all about. It’s really not about what you’re going to write or what some guy is going to feel off the streets. It’s about our players having a lifetime experience in this setting at this time in their lives that they’ll remember for the rest of their life, and if we do that and get excited about it and play hard, great things are possible, and that’s how we’ve always approached it.
Q. You’ve always talked about controlling emotion, but yet you want your guys emotional. In a week like this, you can’t hide the hype; it is what it is. What are some things you do to either embrace it or to try at least to control it?
MARK DANTONIO: We just ask our players to stay under control and make sure that on game day at game time that’s when your energy comes out, and you’ve got to have energy. I think if we get all crazy today and running around all over the place, you’re going to run out of it by game time, so it gets old, it gets tiring, and the most important thing is what you’re going to do at game time. So we’ll try and build towards that from a physiological standpoint, from a mental standpoint and from an emotional standpoint, I guess, mental.
That’s what we’ve always tried to do, and we have a system in place that we do that with, and it’s what we do. But I don’t think that we’ve come flat to many football games. I think that should be up to our senior leadership and to our coaches as a group and really to our seniors and to the chemistry on our football team, and I expect that to be the case again. How we play throughout the game will depend on being able to handle adversity. You know that’s going to happen. You know that’s going to happen. That’s going to be part of that football game, how we’re able to handle adversity, and it always is a big aspect of it. You have to be able to play through it.
Q. Nick Saban said the other day he thought at this point there are so many teams running spread offenses that maybe it’s almost hard for teams to prepare to face a more traditional offense. Do you think there’s anything to that? Do you think your offense at this point is almost becoming more unique and hard to play against?
MARK DANTONIO: I think there is something to that because they don’t see some of the things throughout spring practice and summer practice that they see when they get ready to play a game, so there is something to that. But I think you see?? I believe that everything goes in cycles in football, and we lined up against a T formation a couple years ago that Lou Holtz was running in South Carolina in 2001, which wasn’t that long ago.
So if there’s something good, it’ll always return, even the save the wing aspects of football have returned, and you see that in some of the spread offenses with the different type of handoffs and wide receiver things and different things that?? there’s always cutting edge thing, and I think Oregon does some amazing things cutting edge that we’re going to have to deal with. But I’m sure it works the other way, as well. They don’t have quite the personnel to simulate maybe some of the different aspects, so it probably works in both ways, but at the end of the day, the game is played on the field, and you’ve got to be prepared to do it.
Q. Watching film, what did you see out of Byron Marshall, and do you think they used him differently in their opener than they might have last year?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, I think they’ve had some different?? they’ve got different players, they’re asking people to do different things. Yeah, I think so, based on what you see. But they lost a lot of the wide receivers, so expanding different people’s roles based on what they’re able to do, and they’re allowing the playmakers?? they’re creating plays for their players, and at the end of the day, players make plays. Yeah, he’s a good football player.
Q. Always a lot of talk about keeping the players’ emotions in check before the game, but is there a difference for you and your staff this week? Do you sense a difference in the preparation? Is this not your everyday, normal game for you guys?
MARK DANTONIO: It’s a little bit of a fast week, I think, because we’re traveling. But other than that it’s the same preparation in terms of what we do. We got a head start on them, like I said, because we’d worked on them earlier, but now you go back and you look at different things and they all look a little bit different. Things seem to always change. We’ve got ourselves ready to go. I think it’s important that we’re fresh, as well, as coaches, that we’re thinking clearly and have our emotions intact.
Q. Obviously you’ll be arriving Thursday. Will you be practicing out there on Thursday?
MARK DANTONIO: No, we’ll practice here. We’ll practice here early, though, and do all the things physiologically that we can to prevent jet lag.
Q. I have to ask a uniform question. Can you tell us anything about what you might be wearing Saturday?
MARK DANTONIO: White.
Q. Nothing special, Nike, game?
MARK DANTONIO: It’s white.
Q. On a serious note on that, you guys have gone to that rotation, the pro combats and things like that at the Nike school. What has that meant the past few years?
MARK DANTONIO: Well, Nike has a great product, and when they choose a particular institution to do something special with such as they do with Oregon every week, you know, I think that’s a statement to young people, and I think people like to see that. They like to see change. They want to keep things fresh, and anything we can do to embrace that, we do. As we move through this cycle, you know, there are different things that we’ll be able to experience with Nike’s help, and very appreciative of it. We have great relationships with them and have gotten to know the people there personally, and I think they’re extremely innovative, outstanding people first of all, but extremely innovative and cutting edge in all their thoughts and the processes that they do to keep their product fresh. Maybe I’ll show up on a Nike commercial.