Dantonio, Spartans Shaking off Irish Loss
COACH DANTONIO: I guess just postgame, the Notre Dame game, sort of stand by some of the things we talked about on Saturday evening.
First of all, I think nobody asked more questions or is more disappointed in the players or the coaches. We’re constantly going around and asking ourselves what can we do to change the outcome of that game. At this point you need to move on and move to the next challenge, which is Eastern Michigan.
I said all along the game would be about growth. We need to take something from that game. You oftentimes can take as much from a loss as you can from a win. That’s what we will attempt to do, we will do.
When you look back at the game, I guess from a special teams perspective I thought two penalties hurt us, especially the first one, put us back in a real coming‑out situation on the very first punt return. We missed a field goal, missed a blocked punt, we had the inability to fall on a punt they fumbled, which would have been a huge momentum changer in the third quarter, which would have been a huge play for us at that point in time in the game.
When you look at us offensively, we didn’t have enough explosive plays, plays over 50‑yard runs or 20‑yard passes. We were short on that.
I think myself, I got impatient in the second half a little bit. You know, you sort of look back in terms of that and say, What could I have done differently? Pass protection needs to be better and we need to win up front more consistently, to be able to run the ball more effectively.
I thought our defense played pretty well. Zero takeaways, which if they don’t turn the ball over, they’re doing something very well.
They had the one long drive coming off the four yardline in the fourth quarter which obviously we can’t have. We had three really loose plays, which the quarterback created two of them, both for touchdowns, then the draw play getting them down there for that second touchdown.
Played well on third down and played very, very well in the third quarter. Just disappointed in the long drive. Had short field twice as a result of special teams really in both those situations.
I’ll take some questions and we’ll sort of move from there, put this away. Make sure I know all the words, what they mean, if you’re going to ask a question (laughter).
Q. In the third quarter, you went to the ‘hurry up’ and it worked. You went away with it and never went back. Whose call was that?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, again, that’s when I say I got impatient. I felt like we needed to change the tempo in the third quarter there, which we did do it. But from my perspective, we got down there. I think that’s when we made the field goal.
But from my perspective, I felt like we should have probably changed back and went back more to a traditional offense after that, at least one or two more times. I think we sort of stayed in that mode a little bit too long.
In retrospect, when I look at that, it’s my decision. I ask myself, Who are we featuring there? Are we featuring Dion and Le’Veon or our wide receivers?
But really my main focus was on we needed to create one big play, one momentum changer just to swing everything in our favor because the score was 14‑3. I felt if we got a score, two‑point play, it’s 14‑11, 14‑9, either way, that momentum is going to change, swing back to us. I sort of tried to force that issue instead of maybe doing it the more conventional way.
I think when you look back retrospective, for myself, that was a bad decision on my part. That’s right here, that’s on me.
Again, everybody is looking at everything they did and questioning it. I look at the fourth‑and‑one call. We don’t adjust quite right as a defense, so they get it. If we adjust correctly, they’re not getting that fourth‑and‑one. We have the ball on the 38 going the other way. That may be a momentum changer.
There’s a lot of points in that football game it can swing the other way. It’s a defensive‑minded game pretty much the first half. They have two short fields. Really I think the score should have been 7‑3 probably. They shouldn’t have got the other one out. But they did. It is what it is.
That’s a long answer to a short question.
Q. Can you update us on Fou’s status and are you concerned with the offensive line or is that a crutch for skilled players who need to make plays?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think first of all, when you look at our offensive line, Fou is out for the time being, for four weeks probably or so, okay? We’ll make a decision on that at a later date whether we redshirt him or not. He has a stress fracture. That occurred on Thursday just running. So that was unfortunate.
Skyler Schofner, who only has had 10 practices this fall, camp combined, up until he played on Saturday night, he had 10 practices due to being out with an infection of his finger early in summer camp. So he had 10 practices. But he’s a very good player and he will continue to get better.
There’s a big learning curve there because he’s a young player. He’s basically like a redshirt freshman all over again, Skylar Burkland, sorry.
Jack Allen was in and out of there a little bit, redshirt freshman. I think he’s got a big upside. I’m not concerned. We’re a young football team in some respects, and in other respects we’re seasoned. We just need to continue to play forward and we’ll be already.
COACH DANTONIO: Our skill players are young. When you look at Bennie Fowler right now, he’s got more snaps in three games than his entire three years he’s been here previous. He’s still a first‑year player. He’s doing a great job. He’s the most experienced of our players. The rest of them are younger players that are sort of finding their way through it, through the smoke.
When I look back at the first question, say we should have went back to a little more conventional offense, because in a two‑minute offense, you’re working your wide receivers. I thought we could spread it out, open it up a little bit. The first time it worked.
Our wide receivers are talented, very talented. It’s a different skill set when you go into a stadium on a marquee game. As I was reminded on my way over here by Tim Allen, it’s the big‑boy league we’re playing in. There are good football players, there are very good coaches, very good schematics on both sides of everything that’s going on. To be put in that stadium in immediate‑types of situations like that, national TV game, things on the line, you’re not going to succeed all the time as a young player and you have to grow.
We’ll have to go through some of those growing pains with that. I think we have a lot of talent at that position and it will show itself before the season is over. That talent will show itself.
Q. When you broke down film of the offensive line, places of problems, was there a lack of communication or missed assignments?
COACH DANTONIO: It’s always a combination of a little bit of everything. It’s always a combination of getting deep physically. It’s a combination of a step here, a step there, because the inches make the difference, especially at the offensive line position.
There were a couple mental errors. There’s one on the quarterback where he did not redirect the protection, and that’s on him.
Guys got to win in coverage. Sometimes the receiver has to win in coverage. He’s covered up, the quarterback holds the ball a little too long, the quarterback is not sighting something, the ball gets held.
It’s a team game and there are 11 people out there that have to execute and operate on the same page whether you’re running the football or whether you’re passing it.
Is it personnel? No, it’s not personnel. It’s a combination of everything. We have good enough players to win at that position and we will win.
Q. You and your players both talked after the game about the importance of turning a negative into a positive. Can you talk about what that means, what that process is?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, it means taking the things you broke down, learn from them and trying to improve. It’s no different than taking a test in a classroom, not doing well on it, understanding why you didn’t do well on it, going back, studying hard, doing better on the next test.
I think it’s pretty self‑explanatory, to be honest with you.
Q. You talked about the youth at receiver, by the end of the season showing themselves. The games don’t stop coming. If you can’t speed that process up, what is the plan how you have that not be the issue until those guys are ready?
COACH DANTONIO: They play themselves into that situation. We’ve got guys who can catch the ball. They need to settle down and catch the balls. Notre Dame made some nice defensive plays, got their hands in there, well‑defended. You have to give credit where credit is due. Notre Dame played a good football game. I was very impressed with their quarterback. They found a way to run the ball effectively on the 96‑yard, the drive for the last field goal, the 17th point. They found a way to work the system to get it down there. They did a nice job up front stopping the run.
Our players will make plays. I don’t worry about our wide receivers making plays. They just have to grow up a little bit as they move forward. When I talk about growth, you have to get used to playing on a large scale, large playing field.
Q. After the game you mentioned you may have to make some tough decisions personnel‑wise after going through the film. After going through it, do you feel like you’re going to change something dramatically? I assume you were talking about the receiver position more than anything.
COACH DANTONIO: I think what we have to do is make some decision who is going to get the reps and get the opportunities to play. We need to just force some situations in there because you can’t rep them all. You can’t take eight guys and play eight guys in the game. You can probably play six or five. You have to make some tough decisions.
Those decisions have to be sort of laid out this week in practice, looked at, evaluated, and we’ll do those things as we move forward. Not for public knowledge.
Q. Mark, your team is playing a team 0‑3, Eastern Michigan. How do you approach this game?
COACH DANTONIO: I wish we were playing tomorrow. I wish we were playing today. That’s how we feel. That’s how you feel after what happened last Saturday. You want to just get on with it and get back on the game field. You want to try to right a wrong.
This will be about us. This will be about who we are, this football team. It’s an opportunity to step forward, to show a response. That’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to show a response. Our players will be ready to play.
Q. I was wondering about special teams. I know Conroy missed a few early. Are you concerned about that the other issue is the punt return game. There were a few times Nick let some balls drop that he could have caught, changed field position. Any concern in this area?
COACH DANTONIO: From a punt perspective, what you see from opponents, they all have different formations. At times we’ve been in situations with our defense out there, at times with our punt return unit out there. It’s been different every single game really.
As far as Nick making the decisions back there, I know he let the one drop inside the 10 down here. He probably could have caught it, but it was a judgment call on that one. Then the one rolled down here.
If you can’t get it on the first roll, first bounce, we tell them not to try to take it on the second bounce usually.
He didn’t have an opportunity to really get loose. He did the week before. That’s something we have to continue to emphasize. At the same time our MO, our goals on our punt return team is for no penalties, which we had two, to get the ball back, and for fakes. That’s our emphasis. Whatever we get beyond that is on the plus side. If we get a return, that’s the plus side.
He can catch the ball back there, make good decisions. If we can spring him, he’ll get going. We’ll try to get him loose as we go. Most important thing is we want the ball back for our offense. A little bit of a judgment call.
COACH DANTONIO: I think the field goals he missed, for one, if he would have made that, it would have backed it another 10 yards. That was unfortunate.
I don’t have too many concerns with him. He kicked a 50‑yarder. I know he missed a couple, but nobody is perfect. He’s very hard on himself, needs to get in the groove. He’ll do the job. He’s done it here in the past.
Q. When you get Andrew and evaluate him, how do you think he played, taking everything into consideration with the drops and protection? Also a big week or two for him in terms of taking the wheel, righting the ship himself in a leadership position.
COACH DANTONIO: It’s always for a quarterback, as you move forward, he’s taking those necessary steps to make himself an experienced quarterback. So there’s going to be some mistakes out there such as the redirecting things. He’s got to get the wide receivers to win.
A lot of his passes were right on the mark, I felt. He threw some away, he rushed a couple. Didn’t see the entire field like I would have expected a couple of times. There’s a lot going on out there, a lot of things coming at him.
He’s remained resilient. Those are the things I look for. Is the guy going to fall apart or how does he handle himself? It’s not necessarily the throw, it’s how does he handle himself. I think he did a great job in that respect. But, again, everybody can get better.
How did he play? I would say high average is how he played. Could he play better? Yes, he could play better. That’s how I would grade him.
Now, I don’t know all the nuances as the quarterback coach might. So it may be low winning, high average right in there. I’m sure he had a couple throws he wishes he had back.
Q. Early in the game, Notre Dame took some shots deep at you guys. In film, what was there that you saw that you maybe need to correct or did correct during the game? Is that something that, going forward, you take a look at other teams going to go deep like that more often, especially early?
COACH DANTONIO: Schematically, our corners are placed on an island. We’re going to play with our corners up there, tight man type pressure, press coverage. Sometimes on play‑actions, it gets our safeties out of the middle of the field. I think there was one safety and one cornerback there on the deep one.
Darqueze had the first one, didn’t play perfectly. If he gets his head around, he’s going to make an interception right in front of me. The other one was a wheel route. We had that one covered. Back shoulder throw. When you throw it on the back shoulder, difficult to defend, all your momentum is going down the field, you have to turn and pivot.
If you look at us on third down, 14 out of 16 on third and fourth downs. That’s pretty good. But I would say the only thing we didn’t do defensively is we didn’t stop the run in that long drive period, didn’t make the adjustment correctly on fourth‑and‑one to get off the field, had two short fields but nevertheless gave them two touchdowns on two broken plays. We have to defend on broken plays.
Johnny’s eye control was improper. His technique was improper on the one. He’s just got to cut the guy off. The guy makes a great catch. If we match a great catch with a great catch in the end zone, it’s a tied game.
Guy makes a one‑handed catch. They’ve got players. We’ve got players, too. At some point in time, you have to make the plays in the football game as a player.
Again, everybody looks at this time to say, What could you have done better? What could I have done better? What could Mark Dantonio have done better? That’s how I look at it. That’s how all of our players and coaches look at it, too.
But we built a strong foundation here. I feel like that is in sync. If you have a strong foundation, it’s not going to crumble, it will remain strong and we’ll be able to push forward. I believe that.
Q. Playing off that a little bit. I think coaches sometimes can learn a lot about their teams when they go through a lot of adversity, which you are going through this week. What do you hope to learn about the Spartans?
COACH DANTONIO: It’s the same thing I talked about earlier. We’re going to be able to get up when we’ve been knocked down, same thing we’ve done before. We want to improve as a football team. We want to get ready for the Big Ten football season. We want to play Eastern Michigan tough and make a statement. As I said earlier, we’ll be ready to play tomorrow.
Q. Maybe we’re asking the same questions with different words. Haven’t lost a lot of home games. Everybody expects that. Izzo is talking about expectations that champions create. Do you feel all that after a loss? Is Saturday and Sunday night restless for you?
COACH DANTONIO: It was restless, yeah. Sunday night, Monday night. When you don’t win, when you feel like in a close game, even the score says 23, it was a close game, hinged on a couple plays until the fourth quarter.
But in a close game you’re always looking at that one, two, three, four plays that could have made a difference, got you back in the game, swung the momentum.
Do I feel like I let Spartan Nation down? I do everything I can every day for them, for them and our players. Our players do, as well. In the end, you look at yourself in the mirror say, Did I do everything I can do? The answer is yes, I live with it and I move on. I don’t deal with that aspect of the job. I just try to get better, try to evaluate, critique what we do, try to keep it all relative to life in general, move forward.
Q. Fans obviously know hype that media create over players. You’ve said before, the guys who get on the field are the guys who produce in practice. Would you talk about the emphasis you put on practice performance for game reps.
COACH DANTONIO: We’re going to look at reps and evaluate who is playing the best. That’s something we evaluate in the spring and summer for the most part. Then we look in the fall when it’s close.
The wide receiver, because they are so young, we’re constantly trying to evaluate that, let the games sort out that position a little bit. Who played well enough in the game. Who needs more opportunities a game. Who needs more opportunities in practice. Who hasn’t caught the ball well in practice to get to the games. Who doesn’t line up correctly. Those type of things are sort of looked at and evaluated.
It’s my belief that, just like on defense, our defense is pretty well set because of the guys that we have who have experience as far as starters. But there still are people that need to be evaluated even in that respect at number twos. We put a big premium on practicing. That’s what we have to do.
Q. After the game, Le’Veon said he wouldn’t let this team lose another game. In your past when you’ve seen tough losses like this, can you see that hearten the resolve of players? Can it be a positive?
COACH DANTONIO: I think it can be a positive. We did that last year. We had two disappointing performances last year. Went 10‑2 before we went to the championship game. I think we can still have a very good football team. All of our goals are in front of us. That’s what’s important in this aspect here, everything is in front of us. We start the Big Ten season next week.
The focus right now is at the task at hand, Eastern Michigan, getting better as a football team. The focus is on playing hard, doing the little things that allow us to win, doing the little things that allow us to dominate. That’s what we’ll try to do.
Believe me, the intensity was there Sunday night from all aspects of our football team, not just the guys who were playing, not just the coaches, but our team in general.
Q. A lot of these opponents are getting the ball out quickly, but do you think you’re getting enough pressure from your front four right now?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, what is it? We’ve only given up two touchdowns and we’re still playing pretty good defense, very good defense. Go 14 out of 16 on third and fourth down. We don’t have the pressure, as many sacks as we had last year because of the protection or because people are getting the ball out. We are hitting the quarterback some. Credit Gholston, their quarterback, getting out of some problems on Saturday.
That’s a tough one to answer because I feel like we have the respective people coming in the game because of the pressure we put on people. The number one deal is how many points do they score. They haven’t been scoring a whole lot of points in three games. You have to look at that, say we’re playing well enough to win, need to continue to do that.
The pressure, the sacks, those are things that need to happen and will occur. But the bottom line is how many points should they score. You have to look at that, say, can they run the football, how many points are they scoring, do you pressure the quarterback, keep the heat on them, get off the field on third down. It’s all of those things combined. You can make a case for some positives and you can make a case for some negatives, I guess.
Thanks a lot, guys.