Mark Dantonio Reflects on Rutgers Win, While Regular Season Ending With Penn State Looms on the Horizon

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COACH DANTONIO: Played very, very well yesterday. Outstanding experience for our seniors.

Obviously, Jeremy Langford played very, very well. Cook made some big throws. Defensively, I thought Lippett had got involved. So that was a positive. Pretty much what I said yesterday. So I'll take some questions.

Q. Curious about handling with Darien. You said so many other players have moved up‑and‑down the depth chart. How do you handle a Darien Hicks, just about confidence when there's a change like this, this late in the season?

COACH DANTONIO: Well, first of all, Darien played significantly in the football game. Just felt like we needed to ‑‑ he's a young sophomore, felt like we needed to take a little pressure off him, allow him to play into the situation.

So we did that. We actually played three corners, as you probably recognized. And with Demetrious Cox playing out there, as well and Tony Lippett and Darien.

I think they all probably pretty much split the reps, if you look at them long‑term throughout the game. So they were all systematically used. Demetrious, also played, De De also played, Cox, also played our nickel back as well.

So the bottom line is being efficient out there and getting the job done. And so, whether you're a quarterback or whatever it is, as you‑‑ if we feel that you begin to struggle a little bit, we need to take some pressure off you.

Doesn't mean he's not a good player. I think's very good player to be able to play at this level and be able to play on this football team with the success that we have had.

But nevertheless, we want him to do two things with the move with Tony. I thought that one, it strengthens our defense, gives us some big cover corner against bigger wide receivers.

Number two, it allowed us to put number 15 out, you know, Trae Waynes, and match him with Carroo yesterday, so he was able to match to the boundary to the field.

And number three, I think that it added to Tony's resume. It goes to his ability to play at the next level and just featured him a little bit and gave him a little bit of a criteria to advertise.

And then the fourth thing, obviously, is hey, from recruiting standpoint, we're not afraid to do that.

So if you're a great player on both sides of the ball, you can come in and play both ways, we'll do it.

Q. With making that move to Lippett last week, how much did you have to work things like his tackling and things like that. Because he had a real nice sweep tackle during the game. Had he remained pretty fresh with that stuff? How long does it take something like that to come along to be game ready?

COACH DANTONIO: He remained very, very fresh. On Tuesday when we did it, that's what we wanted to see, how fresh he was and what did he, had he retained.

He knew our coverages, he new press technique, and obviously, we did a little bit of tackling, not much at this late season end.

But felt like he could cover and felt like he had great ball skills, and he could run, and he could play the ball on the deep part of the field, certainly, and change direction and run a route. Run the route up and down the field. He could run the route and play the double patterns and different things.

And he's so long. He's six foot three and has long arms and it's tough to separate from a guy like that.

Q. Did you find also that some of the things he did as corner this week in practice and during the game, were even sharper than they were when he was a sophomore?

COACH DANTONIO: I think's he's a confident football player. I think that's what lends to that. He's a very confident player.

Remember what he did that back in 2011. He would have been an, I guess, he would have been a red‑shirt freshmen. So he was just getting into the mix and having to play out there on the field and there was some anxiety, I'm sure, doing that.

But he's extremely confident player right now, and he is out there to make plays. He's not out there just to be a guy, he's out there to make plays. So, I think he was‑‑ that was his mindset. And that will be his mindset as we head to Penn State, and we'll see how it works from there.

Q. You said after the Ohio State game, that your team had to get up off the mat. I guess after the two games you played since, couple great defensive performances, could you have asked for much more in terms of response from this team?

COACH DANTONIO: No, I think they have done an outstanding job, and I've always said that we have got great senior leadership here and great chemistry.

And that's what chemistry shows you. That your ability to handle the down times with the good. And we have always talked about it and worked on little things.

And relative to what's happened, we went into a tough environment at Maryland, and with ‑‑ probably many would consider a trap game.

If things don't go so well, you might get a little bit down and not play your best. I thought that we played well, especially as the game continued on. Especially in the fourth quarter. And you know‑‑ so that was very indicative.

And then the way we came out in this last football game.

It was Senior Day, it was an emotional day, bad weather, sort of limited some of the fans. And our guys played right through it all. Came out fresh, and I think that's very indicative of our teams we have had here because of the senior leadership and the chemistry.

Q. I was asking about Jeremy, you don't hear his name a lot because the league is so loaded with running backs, but how valuable has he been and how would you assess his performance, not just this year but the last couple years for you guys?

COACH DANTONIO: I think he's one of the reasons we won 13 games last year and won nine so far this year.

He's had great performances. His number of touches that he's got, the yards that he's got. He's nearing to become maybe the 7th all‑time leading rusher in two years.

Remember he had 23 yards rushing. I saw that stat coming into his junior year. He had 23 yards rushing coming into it.

So he's put together, I guess, a string of 14‑100 yard games in conference play, which is the highest competition that we're going to face. And I think he's been a tremendous performer for us. And he's very extremely unselfish. He's consistent.

Q. I never got a chance to ask you about Travis Jackson yesterday. For one, how tough is it to see a guy, a captain, go down that early in the game? And then do you anticipate he'll be able to play football again for you?

COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, he'll play again for us. We'll see about this weekend.

But yeah, it was frustrating that he went down on the third play, because it was Senior Day and a special day, a special moment for him.

But, he's the kind of guy that ‑‑ he's the same, same guy as we just talked about with our senior group as a whole. I think he did a great job of getting back out there and handling adversity and just rubbing off on other people that hey, he's okay, disappointed, but he's okay.

Q. Seems like this month of November, you guys have ‑‑ really since the Michigan game, there's been a larger commitment to the run game. Can you just talk about that and the importance of this momentum you've got going to Penn State, which has the number one run defense in the country.

COACH DANTONIO: I think that first of all, that we want to be balanced. I think we show our balance in how we play. We're still throwing the ball, we're still throwing the ball for 250 or 280 a game, or whatever it is.

We're just‑‑ our ability to run the football. If you can run it‑‑ we're always going to take the air out of the ball a little bit, if you can run it. That's just the nature of playing this game of football.

So, because of Langford, because Nick Hill's had a good year, and then we got some other guys involved in certain running plays, I think it's been to our advantage just to stay balanced and move in that direction.

I thinks also the turnover margin has been largely in our favor. A lot of times, as the games have gone on, we become in control of the football game, which I think then there's more of a natural progression to run the ball a little bit more, too.

Q. To follow‑up with that, we talked with Dave Warner last week, and Dave kind of said that you got to take the bad with the good with Connor, and it's against the rules, but it's reality. I guess you're the guy that allows that green light to happen. When you see Connor make some plays, like did he last week, ducking the guy from behind, scrambling to his left, I mean, is that why you let him do those things? Is that a trust thing that he has earned that you give him more rope than maybe you would other quarterbacks?

COACH DANTONIO: Well, first of all, there's certain things you don't like to see as a coach. You don't like to see him throw back across his body through the middle of the field. You really don't want him going to the right and the left, you would rather get it done efficiently.

But I think there's a common denominator in all great quarterbacks is that they can create and however you create is a little bit of by chance.

I do think you have to take the good with the bad a little bit, regardless of where you're at.

You look around the country, there's a lot of quarterback, there's a lot of pressure defenses that put pressure on quarterbacks, that create situations where the quarterback is going to have to react and make a play. And sometimes that reaction cost you a little bit, other times that reaction is a very positive thing.

So, I think yesterday he made a great play going right to left and then hitting Kings down the field for a 40 yard pass. He also found, I think Mumphery inside once and Lippett maybe inside once. So those things worked out. Would you rather have it be just like you draw it up on the board? Yeah. But very, very few things are like that.

I would say defense is much the same. You're going to have to get off the block and you're going to have to, at some point in time, you're going to have to create on defense as well. As a linebacker and on passes and things of that nature. That's just the way the game is won.

Q. Compared with some of the other NFL quarterbacks you coached though, is Connor maybe a little bit more on the gun slinger side than say maybe a Kirk Cousins or a Hoyer?

COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think all of these guys have their advantages and they have their strengths. And is he on the ‑‑ gun slinger, I don't know if that's a good term or a bad term, but if it's a good term, then maybe he's a gun slinger, okay.

But, you know, he's won a lot of football games here and he's thrown the ball on the money, he's got a great arm, he's got strength in the pocket, and he's won for us.

And we're leading, as I said earlier, we don't have many turnovers at all. I think we have 12 for the season, because we had two yesterday. But that's not very many when you look at the scope of things. So we're still plus 18 in the turnover margin.

So, those are the things you have to look at. Are they turning the ball over. Are we taking a lot of sacks. We're not taking a lot of sacks. We're still probably number one in the country in terms of sacks given up.

Got a guy that, guys that can run the ball, so we feature them. Got receivers down the field that have caught the ball very well, so that's been a positive as well.

So when you look at the total production of our offense, it's been very, very good and it's record setting in a lot of ways.

Q. Normally, in a season like this, you're not playing a lot of backups, but you were able to again yesterday. And I asked Riley Bullough about him and Chris Frey, because they seem to be developing a really good communication. He said it was a lot like Max and DeMeco, when you are able to get your team at the level you are where you're playing a lot of backups late in the year, is that just something that you're seeing already with him and Chris, but it will just be paying dividends in future campaigns?

COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I think it will. There is nothing like game experience. Chris lost the edge on a blitz where he probably could have came up on a sack. Well, the next time he'll be better. Riley's played a lot of significant snaps for us this year and I think that's going to enhance his abilities and his future play as well.

So, you don't get better unless you play. There's only so much practice will do for you and then game days have to take over and you have to play in pressure situations and in front of the TV cameras, you have to answer questions to reporters, you have to play on a large stage, on a Big‑10 stage, to really take your game to the next level.

So, it's been fortunate we have had a lot of guys been able to do that throughout this season. So we're building for the future and there's your positives. I think Chris Frey will be a very good football player for us and obviously Riley as well.

Q. With the weather the way it was, is it kind of different to, kind of strange to or do you have any trepidation in terms of recruiting, about having recruits visit from the Sunbelt region when it's going to be cold or is that just kind of showing them what the whole scope of what Michigan State's all about? Does that come into consideration when you schedule official visits for guys from the Sunbelt region?

COACH DANTONIO: Not really. I think it's usually a little warmer in December and November than January. So, but we just try and be transparent and say, okay, here's our football team, here's our football atmosphere, and these are, this is our chemistry and you can watch us play in person. I think sometimes that's good.

It really has to do with what's their schedule like when they can get up here and those type of things. But there's always positives and there's always negatives in terms of bringing guys up early and/or waiting until January, just because of whether it is weather or whether it's just time spent with people from a coaching perspective.

So, but I think our guys, that we do bring up, I thought they had a great experience, great time, and when you win, good things happen.

Q. You've been around this league for a long time. Where does this group of running backs that are in the league right now stack up in your mind, in Big‑10 history?

COACH DANTONIO: You know, I have been in the league for quite some while, but when you look back in the late '90s and you had guys like Duckett playing and I can't remember all the players but there were a lot of great running backs, Ron Dayne was playing at that time and Biakabutuka might have been playing at that time. It seemed like everybody had a guy. Eddie George was playing at that time.

So, you know, I think it's very similar to that. You've got four or five guys that really deserve to be all‑conference players. First team all‑conference players. And somebody's going to probably get left out in the cold a little bit.

But when you look across the board at the guys at Iowa and I mean, you know, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Indiana, our guy, and I don't want to leave anybody out, Minnesota, and even Ohio State's guy's a very good player.

So, I'm sure I'm leaving somebody out, but I'm just off the cuff, but a lot of good running backs and people are using them the right way, too. I think that's the other thing. You see people using their players in different ways every where you go.

One more thing I want to announce is that we have got three guys playing in the senior bowl. Jeremy Langford, Kurtis Drummond has been asked to play and Tony Lippett has been asked to play in that as well so we have three guys right now as it is playing in the Senior Bowl, which I think is a tremendous honor and accomplishment for those guys.