News and Notes From Michigan State Football

Mark Dantonio met with the media today. He was in a full Ohio State frame of mind. In fact before the media could ask a question he started talking about the Buckeyes. Here is what he said, “You look at OSU right now, Nick Fickell is a very close friend of mine and our families. I think he's doing an outstanding job. He was thrown into a very tough situation I feel, and he's responded. He's an alum there, he's played there, he's coached there. I think he's what Ohio State needs, and I just want to publicly say that right now.
As far as OSU's defense, when you look at them defensively right now they really return two starters at this point, Nate Williams may or may not be in or out, we don't really know. Sweat and John Simon are both outstanding football players, but they return a lot of players who have played a lot for them this past year, so even though they may not have started, they've seen a lot of action.

They're a very active defense. If you look at them after four games statistically they're up in the top of the conference almost in every category, as well. Quick, active, very sound in what they do, good tacklers on the perimeter, secondary covers very well, and pretty much you can go through their defensive roster and their offensive roster and it's guys that we know. It's guys we've tried to recruit or were active in the recruiting process or know about them because they were national recruits or something of that sort.

Good football team on the defensive side of the ball. Jim Heacock is the coordinator there and does an outstanding job.

Offensively when you look at them right now, again, not a lot of starters back when you look at them. Boren is back, Shugarts and Brewster, obviously they're going to get their other guys back after this football game, but Stoneburner obviously has played a lot of football as some other guys have, as well.

But I think the big story right now is Braxton Miller, a guy who's carried the ball 30 times in three games. Pretty much the last game was his first full-time start so he's running the ball as much as some of their tailbacks really are.

If you take Hall, who's been in two games thus far and has carried the ball one more time than he has, gives you a little bit of an indication how much he runs the football as well as passes it, and he is a guy that can make you miss in space and you've got to contain the quarterback in this football game. They're going to run the football.

Jim Bollman is the offensive coordinator, again, an excellent football coach. Very impressed with their offensive line, active, very athletic. Tight ends, they have a couple of them, Reid Fragel from Michigan here, big, physical type guy, and then Stoneburner is a guy that's a little bit more of a mismatch guy. Wide receivers are young on the edge, both specialists are back, and we're looking forward to a great football game down there.”  

I don’t want to make too much out of it, but that is the most Mark Dantonio has said about any opponent before being asked at any press conference since he got to MSU and I have been to every one.

Dan France is a super kid, but frankly is struggling right now. You have to root for him because he is such a great kid. Micajah Reynolds is also a great kid who I know well. He outplayed France last week after only being a tackle for four days. I was surprised because he played so well to see him as the number two on the depth chart so I asked Mark Dantonio in his first question about it. “Well, I think it's a close decision. They're both going to play. I think Micajah did play well, especially when you look and say, well, he was just brought back on the offensive line last Tuesday. So there were some very positive things there. But from a conditioning perspective, he needs to probably be a little bit better conditioned to play the entire game.

I think Dan France is coming. Again, he's played four games now. We're going to see what he does this next game. But he needs to be a good football player for us. He knows what to do. He's got toughness. He's very athletic and he's big. He just needs to keep his composure as a football player, not his composure as a person. When you're playing in that type of environment, this environment, whatever the environments we play in, there's a lot going on out there for him, so he needs to just stay composed as a football player, and I think he's going to grow into that.

But I was impressed with Micajah and his play. Physical, big, he's athletic, and we're going to continue to make strides with him hopefully.”

I thought there were two big moments today in the Dantonio press conference. The first was when he was asked about his team and if they have found their identity yet. His answer was frank, honest and interesting. “I think, again, Big Ten season tends to define you. I think we've gone away and didn't play our best football. We've played well I'd say for the most part at home, and players are starting to sort of edge their way into who's playing where and what positions and those type of things as we move forward, whether it's Micajah Reynolds or Dan France or whoever it is. Do we have an identity yet? I guess you guys would know maybe earlier than I would sometimes. I think we've got toughness, I think we've got mental toughness, and I think we'll play hard. But do we have an identity yet? Tough for me to say at this point.

I know we can win in this stadium. We've got to win on the road in order for this football season to be a success ultimately, total success, what everybody wants. We've got to go and win on the road. That's just a fact. This is the next one up, and we'll be motivated.”

I added the bold and the underline, but that is concerning to me.

Dantonio has stirred the waters by closing media access to his team this week. Is it a big deal? I think you can judge that on Saturday about 7:30 PM. Dantonio addressed it though, “I just think that sometimes when players get interviewed they get compromised a little bit, and maybe they say something that they maybe shouldn't say, and then they get a little anxiety. I just felt like this week at this time, our football team needs to be with each other, they need to focus on what they have to do, and they need to step away from that aspect of it. I just feel like they have to do that this week.

I think there's pressure on a lot of points in our program. I think our quarterback gets asked a lot of questions. It's costly, costly talking to the media, and he needs to play well and he needs to get away from that. He needs to relax. I think our running backs and just certain -- there's a lot of segments and facets of our team that are going to get questions, whether it's questions about the last game or questions about the next game, and I just feel like right now the best thing for our football team is to just step back away from that.

We've got an off week next week. There will be plenty of time to interview people either post-Ohio State or pre-Michigan, and I've never tried to deny access here from our players. I just haven't done that. But I do feel like this time is the time that we have to ask for that. I'm not trying to be difficult, but it's just what I feel is best right now for our football team. It maybe allows them to go to another place a little bit and relax a little bit, not have to deal with it. One story usually prompts another story.”

Again I obviously added the bold and the underlined. This team via Tweets, Tattoos and comments has said a lot. So much so that former players at times have called back and talked about getting guys to shut up. Having said that does Dantonio walk away from his mantra that they all count one, by doing what he did? I don’t think so. Let me explain.

He clearly is making it known that this isn’t just another game. But did anyone really doubt that? No! We all knew it, the players knew it and the coaches knew it. MSU has the bullseye this week. OSU has a freshman QB, players out, a Hall of Fame coach gone. MSU needs this win as a program badly and what Dantonio did was acknowledge the obvious. Can you argue with what he did? Yes and you can argue both sides. On Saturday we find out if it was the right move. I will have more on this after the game.

On playing a young, but mobile QB in Ohio State Mark Dantonio echoed my sentiments from last night’s radio show.  “Yeah, you know, you can have it all drawn up exactly right, but they can make a play, and that's the unknown factor. You know, so you've got to make sure that if you have contain, you are a contain player. You've got to make sure that you're facing up the quarterback and not turning your back on the quarterback as the pass play develops, because there's a good chance he may pull it down and scramble and you may have to come towards the line of scrimmage.

But that's a team thing. We've got to eliminate the run, the quarterback scramble for big yardage, and we've got to force him into making mistakes. I think that's a natural progression with a quarterback who scrambles around. Sometimes they're not very patient; the younger they are, the less patient they are, so the quicker they go.”