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September 18, 2012

Coach takes some blame, but is bullish on future

EAST LANSING - Still frustrated by Saturday's 20-3 loss to Notre Dame, Mark Dantonio journeyed through Tuesday's weekly press conference, stating that he feels good about the season and is eager to get onto game four.

But first, the coach did what all Spartan football fans across the country have been doing since late Saturday night: rethinking the game, acknowledging the shortcomings, and calculating how things might have been different.

"Nobody asked more questions or is more disappointed in the players or the coaches," Dantonio said. "We're constantly going around and asking ourselves what can we do to change the outcome of that game."

Dantonio lamented missed opportunities on special teams, a failed chance to get off the field on fourth-and-short during a key drive, and of course dropped passes.

He is optimistic about development of the wide receiver and offensive line positions, despite struggles against the Irish.

Dantonio didn't absolve coaching decisions from the Tuesday morning microscope, and accepted blame for a mid-third quarter plan to go with a no huddle offense.

"You sort of look back in terms of that and say, What could I have done differently?" Dantonio said. "I think myself, I got impatient in the second half a little bit.That was a bad decision on my part. That's right here, that's on me."

But the no-huddle offense worked, to an extent.

The Spartans, who were trailing 14-3 and in need of an offensive stimulus, went to the no-huddle offense on first-and-10 at their own 21-yard line.

"I felt like we needed to change the tempo in the third quarter there, which we did do," Dantonio said.

Michigan State quarterback Andrew Maxwell completed four straight passes for gains of 6, 11, 4 and 10 yards in moving to the Notre Dame 48-yard line.

In retrospect, that's where Dantonio believes the Spartans should have eased up on the accelerator.

"From my perspective, we got down there," he said. "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."

After getting to the ND 48, Maxwell threw an incompletion, and MSU was called for holding on second-and-10.

On third-and-13, Maxwell delivered one of his best passes of the night on a crossing route to Andre Sims, but Sims dropped it, in the face of pretty good pass defense.

MSU didn't cross the 50-yard line the rest of the night.

"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?" Dantonio said, rhetorically.

Obviously, in that situation, the receivers and the quarterback were being featured. Both areas are still relatively unproven and trying to find their way as first-year starters.

Bell finished the game with 77 yards rush and a 4.1 yards-per-carry average on 19 attempts. He had only four carries in the second half.

Dantonio expanded on his impatience.

"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," Dantonio said. "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."

Dantonio said he felt "restless" in the aftermath of the loss, Sunday and Monday.

"Do I feel like I let Spartan Nation down? I do everything I can every day for them, for them and our players," he said. "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."

"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.

"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."

A six pack of Dantonio's best quotes from Tuesday:

On special teams:"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."

Were the offensive line problems physical, or a matter of miscommunication or missed assignments?

"It's always a combination of a little bit of everything. It's always a combination of getting beat 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.

"Pass protection needs to be better and we need to win up front more consistently, to be able to run the ball more effectively.

"When you look at our offensive line, Skyler Burkland, who only has had 10 practices this fall, camp combined up until he played on Saturday night, 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.

"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.

On Michigan State wide receivers: "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. 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.

"The wide receivers, 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.

"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."

On the play of QB Andrew Maxwell: "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."

On MSU's pass defense and the fact that ND took some early deep shots against the Spartan secondary:

"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 (deep TD). 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.

"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 4-yard line 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 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.

"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."

On Eastern Michigan:

"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."

**

  • Injury Update Dantonio said a redshirt might be in line for senior right tackle Fou Fonoti, is out with a stress fracture.

    "Fou is out for the time being, for four weeks probably or so," Dantonio said. "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."


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