LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio held his weekly press conference Tuesday inside the Izzo Family Media Center at the Spartan Stadium North End Zone Complex to review Michigan State’s 34-10 loss at No. 4/5 Ohio State last Saturday and preview this week’s match-up at No. 8/8 Wisconsin.
Michigan State travels to Madison for the first time since 2012 as the Spartans will take on No. 8/8 Wisconsin Saturday, Oct. 12 at 3:40 p.m. EDT/2:40 p.m. CDT in Camp Randall Stadium. The game will be televised on BTN, with Kevin Kugler, Matt Millen and Rick Pizzo on the call. MSU enters the contest at 4-2 (2-1 Big Ten) following a 34-10 loss at No. 4/5 Ohio State last Saturday, while the Badgers improved to 5-0 for the second time in the past three seasons with a 48-0 shutout victory over Kent State. This marks the first time MSU will play back-to-back road games against AP Top 10 teams since 1990 (Oct. 13 at No. 1 Michigan; Oct. 20 at No. 8 Illinois).
Saturday’s game marks the 54th meeting between Michigan State and Wisconsin and the first since 2016 in East Lansing. The Spartans lead the all-time series, 30-23, including a slim 14-13 edge in games played in Madison. Prior to Wisconsin’s 30-6 win in 2016, the previous seven games in the series were decided by a combined total of 34 points (4.9 avg.). Michigan State has won three of the last five meetings, including a 16-13 overtime victory in 2012 in the last matchup in Camp Randall Stadium. MSU head coach Mark Dantonio is 4-4 in his tenure against Wisconsin, including a 1-2 record in Madison. Under Dantonio, the Spartans are 2-3 against AP-ranked Badgers teams. MSU beat No. 4 Wisconsin in 2011 and the 11th-ranked Badgers in 2010, both in Spartan Stadium.
The Badgers’ impressive start is led by their defense, as UW leads the FBS in total defense (178.6 ypg), scoring defense (5.8 ppg), passing defense (131.0 ypg) and third-down defense (.159) while ranking second in rushing defense (47.6 ypg).
Michigan State’s rushing defense, which led the FBS in 2018 and currently ranks 21st in the country, will face Wisconsin All-America running back Jonathan Taylor for the first time. Taylor is second in the nation with 12 rushing TDs and third in rushing (171.8 ypg); last season, he won the Doak Walker Award after leading the FBS with 2,194 rushing yards (168.8 ypg).
Fifth-year senior wide receiver Darrell Stewart leads the Big Ten in receptions (41) and receiving yards (624) and is second in the conference in receiving yards per game (104.0 ypg) and third in receptions per game (6.8 pg). He also ranks among the FBS leaders in total receptions (tied for sixth with 41), total receiving yards (sixth with 624), receiving yards per game (10th with 104.4 ypg) and receptions per game (tied for 12th with 6.8 pg). Stewart has three 100-yard receiving games and put together back-to-back 100-yard receiving games (career-high 185 yards vs. Western Michigan on Sept. 7 and 121 vs. Arizona State on Sept. 14) for the first time at MSU since Aaron Burbridge had four straight 100-yard games in 2015. Stewart’s impressive performance to start the season has made him a late add to the Biletnikoff Award Watch List.
Fifth-year senior quarterback Brian Lewerke leads the Big Ten in total passing yards (1,543), completions (124) and attempts (212), and also ranks second in passing (257.2 ypg) and total offense (281.0 ypg) and fourth in touchdown passes (11). The Phoenix, Arizona, native has completed 124-of-212 passes (.585) for 1,543 yards, 11 touchdowns and two interceptions. In the win over Indiana on Sept. 28, Lewerke became just the second Spartan quarterback to eclipse 6,000 yards passing (6,539) and 1,000 yards rushing (1,035) in his career, joining Drew Stanton (6,524 passing yards and 1,512 rushing yards from 2003-06). Lewerke also ranks among the school leaders in pass attempts (fourth with 987), passing yards (fourth with 6,757 yards), pass completions (fourth with 585), passing yards per game (fifth with 198.7 ypg), total offense (fifth with 7,792 yards) and passing TDs (eighth with 41).
The Spartans have consistently produced wins against highly ranked teams under Mark Dantonio. MSU is 10-8 in its last 18 games against teams ranked in The Associated Press Top 10, including a 9-8 record since 2013 (beat No. 2 Ohio State and No. 5 Stanford in 2013; lost to No. 3 Oregon and beat No. 4 Baylor in 2014; beat No. 7 Oregon, No. 2 Ohio State and No. 4 Iowa, and lost to No. 2 Alabama in 2015; lost to No. 2 Michigan, No. 2 Ohio State and No. 8 Penn State in 2016; beat No. 7 Michigan and No. 7 Penn State in 2017; beat No. 8 Penn State and lost to No. 6 Michigan and No. 8 Ohio State in 2018; lost to No. 4 Ohio State in 2019). Michigan State has won 14 of its last 25 games played against AP Top 25 opponents. Dantonio ranks second in school history in wins over AP Top 10 teams (10) and AP Top 25 teams (21).
With the triumph over Northwestern on Sept. 21, Mark Dantonio became Michigan State’s all-time winningest coach, passing Hall of Famer Duffy Daugherty, who collected a 109-69-5 record in East Lansing from 1954-72 (19 seasons). Dantonio owns a 111-53 (.677) record at Michigan State and has won the most Big Ten Championships (three) and bowl games (five) of any Spartan head coach and also ranks first with 11 bowl appearances. He is the only active Big Ten coach to win multiple Big Ten Championships (2010, 2013, 2015), claim a victory in the Rose Bowl (2014), and coach in the College Football Playoff (2015). Dantonio also ranks first in program history in conference winning percentage (.657, 67-35 record, minimum 10 games); tied for first in AP Top 25 finishes (seven); second in Big Ten wins (67), home wins (66) and AP Top 25 wins (21); and fifth in overall winning percentage (.677). Dantonio is 11th in Big Ten history in conference wins (67) and tied for 12th in overall victories (111). Saturday’s game will be Dantonio’s 200th overall as a head coach (35 at Cincinnati, 164 at Michigan State).
Senior linebacker and first-team preseason All-American Joe Bachie leads the Big Ten with 57 overall tackles and ranks fourth in tackles per game (9.5 avg.). Bachie was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week for the fourth time in his career following his performance in the win at Northwestern on Sept. 21 (career-high 14 tackles, 13 solo, two TFLs, one sack, one interception, two pass break-ups). He had 11 tackles at No. 4 Ohio State, marking his 12th career game with double-figure tackles. Bachie also has 7.5 tackles for loss, four pass break-ups, 3.5 sacks and one interception this season.
Sixth-year senior Jake Hartbarger is averaging a Big Ten-best 47.6 yards per punt, which is also seventh best in the FBS. He has 12 punts of 50-plus yards and has placed 44 percent of his punts (12-of-27) inside the 20. Hartbarger was added to the Ray Guy Award Watch List on Sept. 30.
The following is a complete transcript from Tuesday’s press conference:
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: It's our first time going up there since 2012. We've always had great games with Wisconsin. Have not played them in a while; 2016 was the last time. They came down here, but games have always been physical. Expect the same thing to happen. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Paul Chryst and what he's been able to accomplish up there and what he continues to do.
He was the offensive coordinator early in 2007, 2008, 2009, those years, so a lot of the same things that they do offensively remains intact.
Offensively, Jonathan Taylor is a guy that certainly is a Heisman watch guy. He's an outstanding running back. Not sure who is better, (J.K.) Dobbins or him, but both very, very good running backs.
Defensively they are leading the nation in I think scoring defense, pass efficiency defense, rushing defense, pretty much almost every defensive category, so they will be a challenge as well. They're a Top 10 team. Second time we've played a Top 10 team in two weeks.
I think young people are resilient. Our guys will be ready to go. We are looking forward to it, and the environment up there is exciting, as well, so we look forward to going up there and getting it done.
When you look at them offensively, big offensive line. Receivers are talented. Outstanding tailback. Quarterback is playing at a high efficiency level. Defensively, give you a lot of different looks. A lot of different, what I call, simulated four-man pressures: Looking like they are coming with more than four and then coming with four and then also blitzing and bringing pressure. A lot of different coverage factors involved, as well.
But they're a good football team, and we're looking forward to the challenge. So I'll take some questions.
Q. The way they run the ball, with the style they run with Jonathan Taylor, is it a different sort of attack from what you saw last week?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: It is a different type of attack. You know, when you look at Ohio State, they ran inside zone 18 times, or 20 times, they were in the outside zone 18 times, and a quarterback counter once and a truck play, which is a gap schemes play, one time maybe.
What you get from Wisconsin is a multitude of gap schemes where they are pulling linemen, sort of counter OT, both guard and tackle pulling. You'll get a truck play with them going to the tight end. You'll get inside zone. You'll get lead iso, a lot more different formations and a lot more different running-type players from a variety of informations and personnel groupings.
No huddle. It's a little bit more, I want to say, old school, but now it seems contemporary. There's variations of what they do and they do it very well.
Q. Considering how good you guys have been against the run, the numbers that Ohio State put up last week, does that offer a bit of chance for this team to say, we need to prove that wasn't --
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: You know, you've got to look at last week as big plays, and the things that you work on every single day, you can't stop your feet in the back end as a corner. You can't come to a standstill when a guy is running full-go at you.
You know, also, you know, you can't just punch the ball out. You have to wrap, tackle the guy. You do that, and probably for sure two and a half minutes of clock run out. It's 17-10 with 2:58 to go in the half after having to kick a field goal. It's a closer game, if you take away the two-minute situation, 2:58, maybe it's 17-10 at the half.
A lot of these, a 67-yard run, yeah, they creased us on third-and-two. Got to be in your gap but it should be a 30-yard run instead of a 60-yard run. That's what I believe.
There's things, good running back -- and don't take anything away from Ohio State -- but there are things that we could have done from a very technique-oriented situation that I think would help in the situation, I guess, is what I'm trying to say.
Q. When you look at a defensive end situation, (MSU defensive coordinator) Mike (Tressel) has talked about using a pair and a spare, and you've been going with a three-man rotation. What have you seen from the younger guys, maybe Camper, whoever else you've got repping there right now, that maybe can bring depth?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: You know, Jack Camper missed a lot of practice. I think he can be a very good player. He's got to get himself in shape but he's working through getting back, but he should be a factor.
You know, Michael Fletcher has been out. He's just starting to work out now. Maybe he gets back here in two weeks or three weeks or so. Gives you the added person there that's done some different things and the other guys are sort of younger and he's young. So we don't really know where he's at with the whole thing.
But got good players up there. Jacub (Panasiuk) and (Kenny) Willekes have been solid and active players, and if you're going to play your active players, got to make plays.
Q. So much is talked about with the rushing attack, but their defense doesn't get a lot of attention. What makes them special on defense?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: I think they operate -- you're not sitting there saying, okay, here is this particular guy and he's the only guy they have. I think they operate very well together. They are very well tied together.
You can tell it's team defense. They have a lot of guys making a lot of plays and they are bringing people from every direction at times.
You know, they are tough to say, okay, where is the pressure coming from, and so you have to designate that and block them off. The back end is solid. They do some things in the back end that keep you off-balance, as well but they will play some tight coverage and they are getting people in negative yardage situations.
You know, last week, I said there were some astronomical numbers I think we talked about, 36 touchdowns, four giving up. This week, I think they are -- when it's third-and-seven plus, I think, opposing offenses are one out of 39 against them, which is -- that's almost unheard of.
So we have to do better than that, but there's some different things statistically that they are doing very, very well and it shows in terms of how they play. They play hard. They play active. They put a premium on toughness. We do, as well. So it should be a great football game. Looking forward to it.
Q. With Trenton Gillison, seems like his role is increasing weekly. What sign from him individually, and your tight ends overall between Dotson, Seybert and Gillison, they already have more production than the last two seasons?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, I think our tight ends have played pretty well. You've seen (Matt) Seybert make some plays and Gillison make some plays, you're seeing (Matt) Dotson make some plays and he's involved a lot, too, so all three of those guys are involved.
I just think -- Trent is a young player. He's coming. He caught the ball very well last week. Said all along, he's an athletic guy and can catch the ball. He's shown toughness and he's active. He needs game experience like a lot of players and I think he gets better and better.
Q. You mentioned how Wisconsin runs zone and gap. As a defensive coach, what would you rather see schematically?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: When we were doing all that, my idea was that you do it out of so many different formations, it's hard to see it all in practice. It's hard to present all those different things in practice because you can do it out of so many different formations. So that was a positive.
From a negative standpoint, you have to have the people to do, it as well. So you know, when we used to do that, and we were effective -- that was pretty much the Javon Ringer years and really Edwin Baker and Le'Veon Bell years, and then we sort of went away from that a little bit in 2013, 2014, those type of things, and we found a way to do some different things.
It's a combination of, which would I rather -- which would I rather defend or which would I rather use? I want to be productive and I want to defend. I want to be, you know, I want to defend well. It's difficult.
Q. As an offense, it's difficult to run both effectively, right? Can you speak to that a little bit? Wisconsin is pretty unique in that sense?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, Wisconsin is pretty unique in that respect, but they also will get in three-wide receivers sets and pass the ball. And the quarterback has been very consistent and efficient in what he's done and what they have asked him to do.
Q. Asking about Matt Coghlin, when it's a kicker from a coaching aspect, it's not like most positions -- seems likes a lot of times it's just mental and confidence. Are there things you can do to build those things up?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: I think there are things you can do as a coach, yeah, you can say, hey, it's okay, and you can give a young man confidence.
The worst thing that I could do right now is, I believe, I've got pressure -- we've got pressure, especially in practice, we have to do some different things in that perspective.
But from my perspective, you know, I need to give the guy confidence. I've seen him make kicks. He's been -- he's had a great summer camp. Probably missed two the whole camp. You know, I'm going to remain confident in him until somebody else takes over that position, but somebody else's got to take it over, too. That's another part of this, but I believe he can go in and make the kicks. That's what we're going to do.
Q. Do you look if there's any kind of technique things that start to --
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: I thought he maybe raised his head up a couple times in the past, but this past week, I don't think his head came up.
Now, he got pressure. If you've got a guy who is 6-5, 265 or so in your face, might bother you a little bit if you were writing a column or something (laughing). Just saying (smiling). You might not abbreviate (laughing).
There's a lot of pressure out there for everybody. There's enough pressure to go around for everybody, whether you're a corner making a play on a guy running down the field at a hundred miles an hour, full throttle. But if you make some cut back, the guys behind are going to tackle. There's a lot of different things going on out there.
I've always asked our players to do the very best they can do and aggressively attack a situation, and if they do that, I'm going to believe in them and I'll go with them and I'll take the hit. So that's what we'll do.
Q. The running game sort of speaks for itself. What have you seen from their passing game? How do they operate in that realm and what are the strengths and weaknesses in that regard?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: They have got good wide receivers. They are efficient. Tight end is used a lot and very efficient, as well, and good pass-catching tight end. Good blocker, as well. Probably one of the best tight ends we've seen, I believe. Big offensive line, like I said, and the quarterback has been efficient.
They are going to take their shots down the field. You know, they are going to run, run, run play-action on first down. You know, second down becomes a little bit more engaged on down and distance maybe, that type of thing. But they will run it, as well.
But you know, they are an efficient football team offensively. They haven't turned the ball over a lot, and defensively, they are playing extremely well and special teams they have been very solid as well.
Q. You've not always had somebody like (former NFL kicker) Shayne (Graham) on your staff. How much does he help in this situation? Do you let him handle more with Matt?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, I think that he's been a kicker. He's kicked at the highest level possible on numerous NFL teams and so you know, he's that guy that can sit and talk and be that, I think in-house psychologist, to some degree for him.
I think he's been there. Any time you've got a guy with experience, you know, you can at least listen. It's like talking to Morten Andersen about kicking. You know, it's a whole different world in how you approach it when you talk to Morten about those things. Beneficial.
Q. As it relates to your program, do you think you can become a victim of your own success in that your previous record creates outsized expectations?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: Well, I think that we have high expectations within our program. I think every year we line up and say: okay, we can win every football game. I think that's what you have to be able to do. To say I'm a victim (of the program's success), that might be accurate, but I just believe in trying to win and continuing to preach confidence and part of that -- to go in expecting to win and expecting good things to happen. Even last week, is it half-full or is it half-empty, you know. And I can point to numerous times in that football game, where we've got a chance. You know, you can look at all different type of scenarios. If you don't turn the ball over two times in the first four plays, what's the rest of the first half look like you certainly don't have 2:58 on the clock, but if we had scored a touchdown rather than kicked a field goal, it would have been 17-14 at the half.
So there's a lot of ifs and what ifs there that you can go through and point towards things. Now, we had to play well. We had to play perfect, and we did not. But there's enough good there that you can point to say, hey, we're hanging. We're hanging there. We're competitive. They only got 16 yards in the first quarter. Now the second quarter went very, very poorly, but there are things we could have done.
After the game I said, hey, there are some things we could have done better and should do better and there are some things they did awful well, so it's a combination of both.
We're sort of hanging in there, hanging around, but we want to win every football game, and that's what we're going to try and do, and I think we have the opportunity to do that. When we've had our best year, the seniors have had their best years, we've won the close games. We've won them. So a combination of those things. It's always tight. The games are always tight.
Q. How much do you relate to Wisconsin's program as somebody that can be similar to what you guys have been? And also, what do you admire about and attribute to their continued success?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, I see them -- I've always said that there are certain teams that we want to emulate when I first came here. Iowa was one. You know, I think Wisconsin was one because they get it done with toughness. They get it done as a team; team-oriented. They do it the hard way to some respect, and I can appreciate those values.
I think they have always been very well-coached. So I can respect that, and point towards that and say, hey, this is how you get it done.
Q. Two separate things here. The first one, going back to Coghlin, his misses have come since Jude (Pedrozo) took over as long snapper. Is there anything there from a physical or standpoint from a kicker?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: I don't think so. I think the snaps have been good. All have been good. The holds have been good. Laces are up. Done a good job with those things.
You know, you look at a couple of the kicks that he missed. Well, he made them first, and then there was a penalty and he missed the second one, so there's a couple like that.
Again, I just think it's very important to stay confident in him. It's a tough job. I mean, you know, all eyes are on you. Easier said than done sometimes. I do think he's going to make them, but we're going to give him confidence.
Q. And the second thing, going back to Wisconsin for the first time since 2012, you don't have a lot of players from Wisconsin, but Noah (Harvey) has developed into that third down guy in that package. What have you seen from him, and is he your middle linebacker of the future?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: Noah Harvey is an excellent athlete. He can run. He's explosive. He can jump. I think he plays a variety of positions for us. He's played Money. He's played Mike. He's played our defensive end in the nickel situation, so he's on all the special teams. Jack Henrichs is also from the State of Wisconsin, so he'll be going back up there, too.
He's a guy that he's a young player and he's a guy that I think has a very bright future.
Q. Similar to Ohio State in a way, you've had some historic games, we'll call it, against Wisconsin. Specifically, Keith Nichols' pass comes to mind right off the top of my head. When you view this series, how would you best describe Michigan State and Wisconsin?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: Tight games. Physical games. First game up there in 2007, you know, was a tight game. Went back and forth. You know, here, there's been last-second kicks and last-second wins. The Hail Mary pass, as you said. There's been the rocket pass; a lot of close games and highly contested.
You know, look at the playoff games and look at the 2010 and we won it here and then a playoff game, the Championship Game, they have been to a lot of Big 10 Championships. I think we have been to three.
So there's been a lot of that going back and forth. They have got great tradition there. They took a step back there last year, 8-5, in their respect and they have accelerated things.
We're looking forward to the challenge and it should be a great football game. We'll be ready to play.
Q. Without getting into specifics scheme-wise, all their wins have been blowouts, and they have been hammering teams. Look at the Northwestern game; they were able to stay in it. What did you glean from watching that film with what they were able to do that other teams haven't been able to do?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: Well, they stopped the run. They had 120 yards rushing. They played very well against the run and they played well defensively, even though, you know, the game was, what, 24-9, and then Northwestern hit the one to get back close.
But you know, they played them well. They stopped the run effectively, at least, somewhat. I think that's where it's got to start. You've got to be able to stop the run against these guys.
So you've got to be able to tackle in space and not let 23 (Taylor) get out the back door, because, you know, he's a very good running back. He's a 10-5, 100-meter guy. So you know he can run.
Q. You said your team knew they had to be perfect to beat Ohio State. Does that same pressure to be perfect exist this week against Wisconsin and how do your players responds to that pressure?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, I guess you've got to be perfect. That's what you're trying to do every single game, and I don't think we've played a complete game yet. So we continue to look for that. I don't know who does. But you keep trying to shoot for that.
I've already talked about the things they do extremely well. You can't go up to Wisconsin and turn the ball over in the first four plays. Now, I thought we overcame that and gave us a little lift, actually, at Ohio State because we overcame that, but you can't go do those type of things.
You have to control the ball and you have to have ball security and defensively you have to stop the run and you can't give up explosive plays and you have to play well on special teams, but you have to go up there first and foremost with the belief that you're going to win and that's as big as anything, and I think we'll have that.
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