Mark Dantonio Talks Spartan Football as the Season Approaches
Q: What is the bitter taste, or whatever it is?
A: I think that you’re always gonna be only as good as your experiences allow you to be and I think that past experience sort of shaped it. I think it’s very difficult as a true freshman. That’s why you don’t see a lot of true freshmen playing because they have no college experience to draw from. When you get in the heat of the game, when you’ve been down and you’re trying to get that last first down, you’re trying to get that last point, to try and win the football game, whether you do or you don’t, you gain from the experience. I think our players, they can taste how close they were. They’ve got an edge to them in terms of how they’re working. We have an outstanding senior class this year, great senior leadership. I could have brought a lot of different guys here and you guys probably know that. I could only bring three but I could have brought a lot of guys here to represent our university and our football team very, very positively and have a leadership value. Last year we had nine guys basically that were seniors; this year 18. And almost every one of those 18 are, as a matter of fact, every one of those 18 travelled.
Q: Even though you won the bowl game do you feel like they have unfinished business?
A: Yeah, we won the bowl game so you go off with a positive note. That was very positive for us because it sort of catapulted us I think into 2013. But at the same time there was a lot of unfinished things that happened on the football field last year that felt like if we would have played a little bit better, or made a play here, or made a call here, or if something would have fell the other way, we would have been successful…much more successful.
Q: You mentioned chasing it, but in talking to coaches and players this offseason another word you hear a lot is accountability. You’ve always stressed it but it seems even more.
A: I think accountability comes from playing in our place. That’s always been talked about. We try to pride ourselves in playing as disciplined as we can. It doesn’t mean that things are always gonna go your way, but to be disciplined as a person. When I talked about chasing it I just mean you gotta chase it…you gotta see how close you are…you gotta constantly, whether it’s weight room or whether it’s running or whether it’s practice, we’re doing it for a reason. They gotta understand that when we show up it’s show time.
Q; Following up on Kittredge…do you have any indication on what kind of injury it is? Do you expect him to be ready for camp?
A: Yeah, he had a hernia surgery.
Q: Did that develop during the spring? He finished the spring, didn’t he?
A: Yeah, he finished the spring. It’s just something that hampered him. He had that done in June so he’ll be okay. He’ll miss a couple days.
Q: How is Taiwan Jones embracing the… Is that a little bit of a motivational thing with he and Jairus going at each other?
A: Yeah, I think it is. You can’t relax. You can’t assume that you’re the guy. Just like last year, Chris Norman couldn’t assume that he was gonna be the guy. We’ve got good players. We’ve got guys that have played football. Taiwan had a great season last year, but this is 2013. Jairus did a great job in the spring. Taiwan is bigger and faster. He’s almost 250 lbs. He’s gonna play a lot of football for us. But I don’t care who starts. That’s their job.
Q: Is that too high for that spot?
A: As long as you can run. You’ve gotta do a lot of things. 240.
Q: Would you play more 3-4?
A: I think a 3-4 defense… We have the ability to do those type of things, but you just can’t say you’re gonna play a 3-4. You just have to commit yourself sometimes to things. You have to have other players as opposed to an outside linebacker stand on the line of scrimmage. You have to have other players who can 2 gap, do some different things against the offensive tackle. We have it in place, we can do it. But we are who we are. Right now I could stand up there and talk about our defense all day. We’re one of the premier defenses I think in the country. We do what we do and that’s why we’re good, because our players know what we’re talking about. Coach Narduzzi has a great feel for how to fix something that’s broken in the timing of what’s being called out on the field. So I don’t see us changing that much on defense. As long as we can be that successful again and clean up a couple of little things on defense, we’re gonna be real good.
Q: What about tight end and fullback? Is there maybe competition…
A: Yeah, there’s competition there. Obviously we lose Dion and we’ve got young players now. We’ve got two young redshirt freshman. We’ve got another guy coming in who’s a freshman in Chmura, Gleichert, Paul Lang, we’ll move Kodi Kieler back out there, you may see Mike Dennis out there. So we’ve got guys. We’ve got big guys. The key to playing tight end I think is not only catch the football, but controlling the c-gap from a blocking perspective and knowing what to do. So we’ll be okay there. Fullback is another position that Trevon Pendleton, Palazeti…both of those guys have experience, they can be good players, but we need to be multiple in terms of personnel and things of that nature that we use.
Q: If Burkland is able to go would you consider putting France back inside? Is that all kind of hinging on that?
A: I think we have guys that can play a lot of different positions. Jack Allen can play center and guard. Blake can play really center or guard, but more guard. You’ve got some guys like Dan France who can hop into tackle or guard. We’re gonna play the best five. Conklin gives us another guy. Henry Conway’s has really had a great summer. He’s a guy that can’t be out of the process. Donavan Clark is a guy who can play center…excuse me…guard or tackle. So we’ve got different people that we can move around. Fou is a guy that can play a lot of places. I think the main thing is getting those five guys on the same page and allowing the competition to take place and not naming our starters and letting it happen.
Q: Wasn’t there a lot of excitement about France moving inside guard? Would you lose a little optimism from his point of view? Is he excited about playing guard?
A: I think he just wants to be starter. We have unselfish players up there. Nobody’s saying I need to do this or I need to do that. Everybody’s taking the attitude of what do you need me to do? That’s what having an edge I guess does.
Q: In the spring there was more emphasis than ever on stripping the ball and getting turnovers on defense. Is that one of the few wrinkles you find you want to take care of?
A: I think our defense did an outstanding job last year. We didn’t come up with as many takeaways because sometimes the ball pops the other way. We didn’t come up with as many sacks. But they’re getting the ball off quicker because the pressure is there but we gotta get the sacks. And then our 2 minute defense has got to be a little bit better. But you take those things out of the realm and we’re perfect. It’s important to recognize…I can’t remember where we were in the scoring defense, top 10 in the nation, number 1 in the big 10…we had five touchdowns we returned for a touchdown…five interceptions returned for a touchdown. So factor that in and we’re even better. Our defense has been outstanding; it needs to remain so. That’s my expectations, as are Coach Narduzzi’s and our players’ expectations. We always need to get better.
Q: How much should we read in to Riley Bullough being number one to start. He’s on the depth chart even before you start camp. Is that a statement of some kind?
A: Yeah, I think it’s a statement that he came and he made some plays and he did a nice job. We need a guy that can get the tough yards. I don’t think there was any question about that. Also, with that being said, I don’t see him carrying the ball 390 times. So that position is open. We’ve got some freshmen in there. We’ve got some returning guys in there like Nick Hill and Langford, Nick Tompkins who’s gonna be a redshirt freshman. We’ve got Riley who’s a redshirt freshman. But I think the nod goes to Riley right now when you talk to our coaches. When I assess the situation, that’s where the nod is right now. Those things can change based on how people play.
Q: How important is grasping change
A: Very critical. We look for change. We look for transition. New coaches are in, so with that comes some change. We do have a foundation. We do have a base…especially in terms of terminology, way of doing things, and that type of thing. We need to formulate change, I don’t think there’s any question about that. But we also can’t change just for the sake of change. We have to change for the good. I think if we do that we try and take some of the players that we have and try and use them a little bit more.
Q: It’s been 43 years since Michigan State was able to beat Michigan 4 out of 5 years. I think if we beat 5 out of 6 we’d go back almost 50 years. How do you keep the rest of the schedule balanced with that game? It’s a big rivalry, but then again every game you play is important when you compete for the Big 10 championship.
A: Every game is a big game. Our guys have to understand that. But they also have to understand that I’ve never said, Hey this is just another game. It’s not. Nobody wants it to be, nobody expects it to be, so it’s not. We’ll always point towards that game and give it a little extra and have a little bit more as far as the things that we’ve been able to do. Keep pushing.
Q: With the strength of your defense, do you and your staff have a number in mind where you say if you can get to 21, 28 points a game you’re not gonna lose too many? Or is that determined per the opponent and how the game’s playing out?
A: I think you have to play the game the way it plays out. I’ve never said that you have to score this. We have goals. Our goals are that offense scores 28 and the defense holds them to under 17. That’s our goal. It’s a basic team goal. But things can change a little bit as far as how the game’s developing and everything. The inches…if we took that attitude, the inches would continue to just be the inches. You can’t divide our football team into offense and defense and say this team won and this team didn’t win. You have to say Michigan State won or Michigan State didn’t. It involves special teams as well. It all plays a part of it and that’s why it’s such a great game. There’s so many different aspects that are involved in winning and losing. While we have basic goals, we also have basic goals in terms of all these statistics. You gotta play it down the stretch and out the nose. I really feel like that is something that we need to do. At the end of it we need to give it our best.
Q: Steve Moore is back on the depth chart. What does that tell you about him?
A: Steve came to me and, as he said, he wants to complete his circles. He wants to be a part of this. I think he needs to pass the physical and be cleared to play. Obviously Taybor Pepper is on snap and does a great job. So we’ll see how it all plays out for Steve. I think that what he wants is to be a part of this and he doesn’t wanna be ruled out and say that he couldn’t medically play. So we’re gonna try and create that opportunity.
Q: How long has he been back working out and so forth?
A: He’s been working out but he hasn’t been working out with our team. He has been working out on his own.
Q: With Coach Warner calling the plays now, it seems like you may have an advantage. How different do you think the offense will look…how many wrinkles will you be able to present for opponents.
A: We’ve got some wrinkles. How many? Tip the scales. We’ve got some different things that we’re doing, but again you have to look at that we are a foundation and who’s standing behind center and what are we doing? Who are our players? We have to feature what they do best.
Q: How do you reign in a quarterback like Connor who clearly likes to get the ball vertical, sometimes at a bit too much risk. How do you measure reigning a guy in like that without taking too much of that vertical game away?
A: I think it’s experience and you learn as you move forward. I’m not disappointed with Connor at all. I thought he had a great spring. I’m excited about his progress. He’s got a lot of ability. But the quarterback position is about decision making. It really is. You have got to make the good decisions. I believe it’s about creating as well. We’ve tried to do a lot of different things to simulate opportunities for our quarterbacks to create. We made quarterbacks live in the spring. I don’t know that there’s another football team in America that did that. I’m not just talking for scrimmages, we did it for all practices. There was risk involved with that. But I felt like we needed to create that type of environment for our quarterbacks so they can create. I think it creates competition as well, and hopefully that will breed success.