LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio [msuspartans.com] held his weekly press conference Tuesday inside the Izzo Family Media Center at the Spartan Stadium North End Zone Complex to preview this Saturday's match-up with No. 6/6 Penn State.
For just the third time in school history, Michigan State will play its third consecutive game against a top-10 opponent, as the Spartans welcome No. 6/6 Penn State to Spartan Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 26 at 3:30 p.m. The game will be televised nationally on ABC with Sean McDonough, Todd Blackledge and Holly Rowe on the call. MSU is coming off a bye week and enters the contest at 4-3 (2-2 Big Ten), while the Nittany Lions are 7-0 (4-0 Big Ten) following a 28-21 win over No. 16/16 Michigan at Beaver Stadium last Saturday. MSU is 7-5 after bye weeks under 13th-year head coach Mark Dantonio [msuspartans.com]. MSU is the only FBS team this season to play three AP Top 10 opponents in a row.
• Saturday's game marks the 34th meeting between Michigan State and Penn State, with MSU leading the all-time series, 17-15-1. The Spartans have won five of the last six meetings against the Nittany Lions, including back-to-back wins against top-10 teams (No. 7 in 2017, No. 8 in 2018). MSU holds a 10-5 advantage in games played in East Lansing.
• MSU head coach Mark Dantonio [msuspartans.com] is 6-3 against Penn State while coaching the Spartans, including a 3-1 record in Spartan Stadium. Dantonio is 6-4 overall against the Nittany Lions (lost at Penn State in 2005 while coaching Cincinnati).
• Since the renewal of the series in 1993, the winner of the Michigan State-Penn State game has been presented the Land-Grant Trophy. The trophy honors the two universities' unique places in history as the two pioneer land-grant schools in the nation. Each institution was founded in 1855: Michigan State on Feb. 12 and Penn State on Feb. 22. The schools were the prototypes after which the land-grant system was patterned. Since 1993, Penn State leads the series, 14-9, but the Spartans have won five of the last six.
• Michigan State also played three games in a row against AP Top 10 teams in 1970 (No. 4 Notre Dame on Oct. 3, No. 1 Ohio State on Oct. 10 and No. 6 Michigan on Oct. 17) and 1972 (No. 1 USC on Sept. 30, No. 7 Notre Dame on Oct. 7, No. 5 Michigan on Oct. 14). The Spartans played at No. 4 Ohio State on Oct. 5 and No. 8 Wisconsin on Oct. 12.
• Michigan State University will induct five members into its Athletics Hall of Fame on Thursday, Oct. 24. The Class of 2019 includes: Dan Bass (football), Karen Dennis (track & field), Mike Donnelly (hockey), Tom Milkovich (wrestling) and Mike Robinson (basketball). The annual "Celebrate State" weekend also includes the 10th-annual Varsity Letter Jacket Presentation and Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Thursday, Oct. 24 and culminates on Saturday, Oct. 26 with a special recognition of the Hall of Famers during the Michigan State-Penn State game in Spartan Stadium.
• Fifth-year senior wide receiver Darrell Stewart leads the Big Ten in receptions (46), receiving yards (683), receiving yards per game (97.6 ypg) and receptions per game (6.6 pg). He also ranks among the FBS leaders in total receiving yards (ninth with 683), receiving yards per game (10th with 97.6 ypg), receptions per game (12th with 6.6 pg) and total receptions (14th with 46). 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.
• The Spartans have consistently produced wins against highly ranked teams under Mark Dantonio [msuspartans.com]. MSU is 10-9 in its last 19 games against teams ranked in The Associated Press Top 10, including wins over No. 4 Wisconsin in 2011, No. 2 Ohio State and No. 5 Stanford in 2013, No. 4 Baylor in 2014, No. 7 Oregon, No. 2 Ohio State and No. 4 Iowa in 2015, No. 7 Michigan and No. 7 Penn State in 2017, and No. 8 Penn State in 2018. Michigan State has won 14 of its last 26 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 [msuspartans.com] 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 111-54 (.673) 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 (.650, 67-36 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 (.673). Dantonio is 11th in Big Ten history in conference wins (67) and tied for 12th in overall victories (111).
• Senior linebacker Joe Bachie [msuspartans.com], who leads the team and ranks fourth in the Big Ten with 65 tackles, was named a first-team midseason All-American by Rivals.com and a second-team midseason All-American by The Associated Press. He also ranks fourth in the league in tackles per game (9.3 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 8.5 tackles for loss, four pass break-ups, 3.5 sacks and one interception this season.
The following is a complete transcript from Tuesday's press conference:
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: Good morning, guys. Basically coming off the bye week, a lot of things going on in the bye week. Every year, I think it's a time to reset yourself a little bit. Certainly we need to do that to some degree.
But trying to get back health-wise a little bit. Also trying to get out recruiting and do some different things in that area, and I think that we have got some players back for this week, so we'll see how that all shakes out.
Also try to stay in condition to make sure that because we are basically taking two weeks, you don't have a game last weekend, you lose a little bit of a conditioning factor. So we worked last Thursday and Friday quite extensively, I would say, in both areas.
With the Penn State rivalry. Traditionally, I think when Coach Perles was here and Penn State came into the league, we started playing them the last game of the season in 1993, I believe, and it's taken on a little bit of a different twist because we are playing in mid-season now. I believe we played them up through 2016 on the last game of the season, and was sort of a building rivalry.
There's been some great games in the past as we've gone through this, and you know, it's sort of a game that we've pointed to. Have not had a home game since September 28, so a little bit different type of scheduling. Sort of in a different phase here because we have one game, basically in, three weeks' time with a bye coming next week, as well. Two games, Penn State, Illinois in one month, four weeks. It's a little bit different in terms what have we were dealing with, but we knew this was going to happen and needed to prepare ourselves accordingly. I think we've embraced the situation. Opportunity to get guys back and focus in a little bit more as we go forward.
Penn State itself, another Top 10 team. I believe it's the third time we're playing, maybe I guess ever in the history of Michigan State football, I understand, that we've played three Top 10 teams in a row, I believe we're the only team in the country to have done that (this season). Obviously be another great challenge for us.
When you look at Penn State, Coach Franklin has done a great job there thus far. Offensively, Sean Clifford their quarterback is playing at a high level. Offensive line, I believe three guys are back. Tight end is No. 87 (Pat Freiermuth), is a guy that certainly with KJ Hamler No. 1, is a guy that you stop Penn State, you have to first and foremost stop him. He's an outstanding player and makes things happen. Also on special teams, he's making things happen, as well as the kickoff returner, punt returner.
When you look at them defensively, again, you see Top 10 type components of their defense, sacks, two defensive ends, (Yetur) Gross-Matos and Shaka Toney, two guys that give them speed off the edge.
Linebackers, (Micah) Parsons and (Cam) Brown, very, very active guys, three guys coming back in the secondary, so there will be a challenge on that side of the ball, as well.
But we've played well, with all that being said, we've played well against them and we've played and found a way to win the last two years. So should be exciting game to watch. Opportunity to step forward and reset, as I said, and I'll take some questions.
Q. With this double-bye situation, bye, game, bye, how have you tried to mentally get the guys, especially coming off the game a couple Saturdays ago?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: Well, again, we knew the schedule coming in. I think this is one of the first years, I don't think we've ever had a bye, two byes, and this is nationwide. I don't think the football season has ever had two byes in my coaching career.
So we knew it was coming, and as I said here before, we've sort of broken our season up in phases. First phase went through the Arizona State game, and then we had Northwestern. Last three of the four games on the road.
And then we come to this segment and we say, okay, we've got one game in three weeks, so we need to focus on this particular game and make sure we're prepared mentally, physically and emotionally, ready for Penn State. Then we have to go do the same thing with the Illinois situation because we're two weeks away from that football game, as well.
It is a little bit different, but I've always just tried to embrace the situation that we're in, and step forward and we've got to plant our foot in the ground. Coming off the Wisconsin game, we have to plant our foot in the ground and drive forward. I think that's what you have to do. Disappointing in how we played up there, the outcome and everything that was going on with that.
We've got to figure it out and reset and move forward, and I think we're capable of that. We get some players back, and so it should be a step forward in that direction.
Q. KJ Hamler was a guy you guys targeted in recruiting. Is this the sort of game-breaker sort of guy you suspected from him and did you feel like your offense right now is missing that aspect, a guy who can go the distance like that and really turn a game around real quickly?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: KJ is a guy that is coming off a knee injury his senior year (of high school). We offered him; recruiting him hard and all that. He was at orchard lake and went to IMG. Really like KJ as a person, as well.
But he's been a dynamic player for them, especially the last couple years. I think us losing Jalen Nailor [msuspartans.com] for a time period is a guy like that. But KJ has been extremely productive. We look for that type of production from our guys, as well.
So I guess the answer to your question, we are getting some plays out of some of our guys, Darrell Stewart and different things, but KJ is a guy that's been electrifying thus far, and has been a guy that can go the distance. So we've got to play.
Q. Obviously you said a disappointing performance at Wisconsin. What was the sense you got from your guys over the bye week, with what you were working on and moving forward after back-to-back losses?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: You know, young people are resilient. That's first and foremost what you see in them. They came back and again we're working on health, working on strength and working on a lot of different components, practicing, refocusing, those type of things.
Young people have always been resilient -- and they believe very strongly in themselves. I didn't sense any kind of -- certainly there's disappointment, but people get up off the ground quick around here, and that's what you have to do. If you're going to succeed in the next step, then you'd better get your mind right and get back up. That's been the message from day one around here since we've walked in, and I think that's the message in every program across the country.
Now, could you do it or not is the next question, but you've got to first and foremost have that mentality that you've got to step forward and that's what we've tried to do here. We've maintained a positive approach and we're trying to fix the things that we can fix and change the things that we cannot.
Q. You had a lot of success against Penn State. Is there anything to a match-up, a program, as you play a team over time year after year, when things start to work? Any similarities you see in any of those games?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: Well, they have all been -- pretty much I think they have all been relatively close. I think '15 and '16 probably were not, even though in both of those games, the game was relatively close at halftime or after, even in '15, and then things happened with turnovers or whatever the case and those games got out of hand a little bit. But prior to that, they have been close games.
I don't know, I think they enjoy coming and playing in our atmosphere and we enjoy going and playing in theirs, quite frankly. I think our guys got up for it, and we just try and take a positive approach them as I said earlier and we play well against them. Our confidence should be there.
You have to make plays on the field, and you've got to have a plan that works and all that kind of stuff, so it's all comprehensive. I don't know if I can answer that question other than we've won the last two, and I think we are 4-1 in the last five games. So need to build on that and try and be 5-1.
Q. You mentioned getting a bunch of players back, when Kevin Jarvis [msuspartans.com] went down, you mentioned this game as a possible returning point for him. Curious where he may be in his recovery process.
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: I'm not going to talk about guys who are not really on the depth chart in that respect.
Q. Given the losses that you guys have sustained in the 2016 class, you talked about recruiting. How much does that influence how you approach recruiting this cycle and also how hard is that to have those kind of losses when you have the recruiting restrictions and limitations towards assigning 25 guys?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: We've always been under the limit in 25 guys. We've always recruited, you know, 18, 20, 22, that kind of stuff. We've never really gone over that number.
It is disappointing, the '16 class is disappointing that we lost guys, but there's reasons and individual reasons for all those things happening. The only thing that I can say is, you know, you need to push forward. As far as how we recruit, we're trying to recruit as best we can in every respect.
Q. What was your reaction when you saw the Illinois-Wisconsin result and did you see any of the game?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, I watched the whole game. I would say emotion plays a lot, a big part in every football game and you can see the emotion and you can see a game start to change a little bit and people start to have a little bit more belief. They (Illinois) were 30 1/2-point underdogs, and gave you the notion that anybody can rise up at any point in time and if you take small steps, those small victories become big victories at the end.
But I was impressed with what they were able to do, and you know, take it from there.
Q. I believe it's six players now that are in the transfer portal since the start of the season. Internally, is that number I guess concerning to you, or do you see this as the new norm? And on top of that, specifically with Cam Chambers [msuspartans.com], he made a comment on social media about whether or not his law school aspirations and stuff got in the way of football and everything. Is there anything you can say to whether that part of his studies affected why we didn't see him as much on the field?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: First of all, I'm going to take the high road in terms of the transfer portal. There's a lot of young men in the transfer portal right now and you can break it up by schools, you can break it up by position, you can break it up by year, and it all sort of sorts itself out. It goes in a lot of different directions.
But I think it's the new norm, sad to say, I think it's the new norm that we'll see in college football. I think it's a little bit, you know -- there's a different reason for everybody making these decisions, but I think in the end, it's about an opportunity to play in a lot of ways. It's about patience at times for younger players or for older players. It's about, you know, trying to move forward with their careers.
I've had individual talks with every person that decided to go in there, and try to put the other side of the story there.
My take on it is always going to be, take the high road, wish the best for those individuals as they move forward in their football careers, and then try and make ourselves better to be quite honest with you.
When a scholarship opens up, you try and make yourself better. You try and improve your quality of play. Some guys have played for us and looked for bigger roles. Some guys quite frankly haven't played for us and are looking for an opportunity to play elsewhere, and that's the way it's gone. That's probably the way it goes for everybody in America right now.
It's one of those things that I think is probably here to stay, and you have to deal with it as a head football coach and as a staff. You really have to look at recruiting and say, okay, you have a guy that's responsible for the portal. I think today when I looked at it, there were 344 names in there. So that's a lot of people. Now where are all those people going to go, I'm not quite sure as I said earlier. Do the best I can and take the high road in this capacity. I appreciate what those guys did for us when they were Spartans.
Q. Speaking of the depth chart, Michael Fletcher [msuspartans.com] was injured earlier in the year, and see his name back on there and Adam Berghorst [msuspartans.com] on there in a couple places -- is it freshmen developing and you're getting to that point in the season where you can use them or should we expect to see more guys like that?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: Fletcher has been out. He had a foot injury, so he's back in pads now. He was back last week, as well. He was a guy that looked exciting initially in camp, so he's back now. How much he'll play will depend on how well he practices this week and that type of things, depth issues, things of that nature. I think he'll be active on the sidelines and he'll travel.
Parks Gissinger [msuspartans.com] is moved to tight end and doing a good job. And then also Adam Berghorst [msuspartans.com] is a tight end in high school. He's a big 6-7, 262-pound guy. So he's working at that position as well and shows great promise and he's a (true) freshman. I'm still saying he's a dual guy. He's played defensive end. He's a dual guy, so he'll get opportunities to look at both ends of the spectrum, but we'll list him in both areas right now.
Q. With the earlier talk about the transfers maybe being the new norm, you guys did have quite a few in a short span of time coupled with two pretty tough losses. Wonder if you took any time to take to the team to stabilize this?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: No, I don't talk about it. I keep marching forward. That's what we've done.
Q. I assume that when you have a lot of good wins or important wins, you hear from a lot of former players. I'm curious if the opposite is true, and if so, what some of the messages have been?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, you hear from people to keep hanging in there, keep pushing, a lot of different people, whether they are former players or whether they are people within our program or donors or past coaches or things of that nature.
One thing about coaching or football is everybody -- if you want to look for problems, you find problems. Everybody is experiencing some pain out there in college football or pro football quite honestly or high school football, and other people are experiencing some success, as well. So you get both ends of the spectrum. But when I see our players, our players are supportive and I appreciate that.
Q. AJ Arcuri [msuspartans.com] is back on the depth chart this week. Would that indicate he's all the way ready to go or just a possibility? And Jalen Nailor [msuspartans.com] is not, but curious if the time line still holds up from when you initially said?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, we're looking for Jalen's return this season yet, and I think he will make it. We'll see where he's at, because he couldn't be redshirted. You know, if we play him in three more games rather than more.
And then AJ is practicing actively, and so looks good to go, so we'll see.
Q. We talk about in the bye week, you're able to reset and kind of get a fresh start. Is that more the attitude and approach for the guys? Can you change much that you do schematically at this point in the season or are there minor tweaks you can do?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: I think there's always minor tweaks offensively, defensively, that you look at and you're going back and trying to look at the different things. You have an opportunity to look at a lot of film and a lot of different things of what has worked, what hasn't worked, what can you do that has worked from what other people do, those type of things.
So you're really looking across a broad spectrum of things to try to get yourself ready for the next contest. I do think that regardless of where you're at in your season, when you have a bye week, you sort of reset and then you go forward, whether that's after some success or after some periods of disappointment. You've got to try and just sort of restart a little bit. It is different when you don't play a game on the weekend. It is different, just in terms of the practice structure and how you're going to handle it. You don't want anybody hurt. We got out of Thursday and Friday with nobody getting injured which is a big positive. So you don't want to press them too hard but you do have to do some contact work to some degree.
Q. You had an outstanding defense last year, one of the best in the nation, and this year at three straight games you've been more than 30 points which hasn't happened in a while around here. What's the sense you get from the guys with the experience you had coming back from last year?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: Every game has been different as we've gone through it. Those three games, saw some big plays in those games which led to a lot of the yardage. I thought we played very well in the first quarter of Ohio State, but second quarter not so well. Third quarter, pretty well. You know, those type of things.
Wisconsin, different type offense and I don't think we adjusted very well to the style of play, run the belly play and things of that nature. They hit the jet sweep on us twice for big yardage in that game, so you look at different things in that respect.
Indiana, the quarterback moved in extended plays and did some different things much like the Ohio State game, he created some different things. Just got to tie it up. Right now, you look at it, seven games we've had 12 runs over 15 yards, so still playing pretty well against the run.
When you look at the pass plays that have gone over 20, there are things that we can control and that's what you have to look at, can you control the outcome of the situation. I think that we can control those things.
But we've got to play well, and we have to limit explosive -- you say, how are you going to beat Penn State? Limit the explosive plays, have to protect our quarterback, cannot turn the ball over and have to get some takeaways. It's all basically broken down into certain aspect. Every football game is like that. Have to be able to run the ball and be productive. Have to come up with some production.
There's always these different factors that enter into it. You have to win some of those factors.
Q. Curious as to what you think James Franklin has done have to them playing at such a high level?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: When I look at their football team right now, they have closed out three games. They closed out the Pitt game. They closed out -- but with Pitt still being able to have a possibility at the end.
The Iowa game, they closed it out with first downs at the end of the game; when things started to get tight, they closed it out.
Same thing in the Michigan game. When things started to get tight, they closed it out. They were able to get that first down, run out the clock or get that score to go from 28, from 21-14 to 28-14.
But in their tight games, they have made plays, and I look at that and two guys that made them, Hamler makes two of the plays in the last game. But they sort of tailback by committee a little bit with (Noah) Cain being a guy, No. 21, a guy that maybe he's the guy they want to focus on, maybe not. All their guys have some big runs in there when you look at all the different film.
I think that's what they have done. When you win and you start winning close games, you start to have a belief in that. We've made a living on those type of situations around here in the past. Close games, we've won. So not just in the Penn State rivalry, or contest, but I think across the board we've been able to do that at times when we've had our great seasons.
Q. You've talked about the transfer portal, but how much do you think the redshirt rule has been disruptive and has it gone a different direction than maybe the Coaches' Association had advocated for it?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, that's probably a good question. I think the redshirt rule is a good rule for four games. How it goes in terms of how it can disrupt a football season, so might be another way to look at it.
But there's always going to be a positive for every negative or a negative for every positive. Again, I'm just going to try and take the high road with everything and say, okay, this is a decision that young people make and got to deal with it and move forward. Look at it as an injury.
Q. The second half of that Michigan-Penn State game, the Wolverines seemed to have worn down that Penn Sate defense and moved the ball. Can you look at that and take some things and emulate that this Saturday?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, absolutely. You look at anything anybody does that they have success and try to emulate that. I thought they did a great job getting about a being in the game and trying to push through.
I think there's a message there, down 21-0, they fought back. That's a team trait and they got back in the game. If anything, I thought that the tide sort of turned a little bit in the second half as they came back.
Then again, as I said earlier, you have to credit Penn State for closing it out at the end. They found a way, as well. It was a great football game to watch.
Q. Two things on the offense. You mentioned, especially after the Wisconsin game, you weren't able to generate much in the run game. How do you fix that with young running backs and does the depth coming back on the line help? And secondly, with the receivers dropping passes, how do you correct that in-season, as well?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: Well, you've got to have confidence and you're just not dropping, sometimes it's going to happen and sometimes it's a pass break up or maybe a little high or whatever, but you have to make some catches. We've had some drops but also had some great catches. I know everybody hates to hear me say it, but I'm going to stay positive with our guys and believe in them. I think that's the best thing that I can do.
As far as the run game, yeah, getting some guys back on the offensive line, but you've got to move people. You've got to get your feet across the line of scrimmage. Our offensive lineman's feet has got to get across the line of scrimmage.
If you have a double to the second level, in other words, double-down guys that the second level, you have to get moving on the down guy first. You have to be able to block movement.
And it's interesting, you know, I talk to my daughters all the time. My oldest daughter said, 'Dad, I think sometimes people don't understand it, on every defense, there's somebody calling defensive play, too.' So there's different coverages, different fronts, different movements, different stunts, different in-line movements, all these different things.
I said, "Pretty perceptive, Krissy." All these different type of movements I think, you know, are something that you have to consider as well and deal with. So there's different blocking schemes, there's different things, different courses that the running back has to take. There's all these different things and so it's not just the offensive side of the ball.
It's the defensive side of the ball, too. There's a reason Penn State is ranked in the Top 10 and one of the reasons is they are playing Top 10 defense. You have to deal with that aspect of the game, as well.
Q. If you watch the film on Brian Lewerke [msuspartans.com] last week, what you saw from that performance. Is he seeing the field okay and confidence all right?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, he's got to be. I don't think that anybody played as well as they'd had; I thought from an offensive perspective, we took a step backwards in that game. Prior to the Ohio State game when we crossed the 50 seven times, I believe, and had some different things going, but sort of stalled out for whatever reason because of a dropped pass or whatever before the half.
But I don't think he played as well as he had previously, but maybe none of us did. Coaching, as well. So again, I have high expectations. We have high expectations and this is a guy who I think two years ago threw for over 400 yards against Penn State. He's fully capable and we'll look for him to play a great football game, and I think as your quarterback goes, so goes your offense.
Same thing can be said whether you're looking at any football team I think out there. As your offense goes, your quarterback is moving with them. I think that's just part of football.
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