LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio held his weekly press conference at the Spartan Stadium North End Zone Complex to review No. 25/23 Michigan State’s 40-31 Homecoming win over Indiana last Saturday and preview this week’s battle at No. 4/5 Ohio State.
No. 25/23 Michigan State heads to No. 4/5 Ohio State on Saturday, Oct. 5 for a Big Ten East Division showdown in Columbus, Ohio, at 7:30 p.m. in Ohio Stadium. The game will be broadcast nationally on ABC for Saturday Night Football with Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit and Maria Taylor on the call. Both the Spartans and Buckeyes are tied atop the Big Ten East Division standings at 2-0. MSU topped Indiana, 40-31, last Saturday in Spartan Stadium, while Ohio State beat Nebraska in Lincoln, 48-7.
Saturday’s game is the 48th meeting between Michigan State and Ohio State, and for the sixth time in the last seven matchups, both teams enter the contest ranked in the AP Top 25 (OSU fourth, MSU 25th). The Buckeyes lead the all-time series, 32-15, including a 15-9 record in Columbus. Dantonio is 2-2 against Ohio State in Columbus during his tenure at MSU.
The Spartans have defeated the Buckeyes three times since 2011, the most of any team in the Big Ten. Michael Geiger hit a 41-yard field goal as time expired to give No. 9 Michigan State a 17-14 victory over No. 2 Ohio State in 2015 in Columbus en route to winning the Big Ten Championship, while also snapping the Buckeyes’ 23-game winning streak. The Spartans held the Buckeyes to 132 yards of total offense in that game, the fewest ever by an Urban Meyer-coached team. In the 2013 Big Ten Championship Game, No. 10 MSU snapped No. 2 Ohio State’s school-record 24-game winning streak with a 34-24 win as the Spartans clinched their first Rose Bowl berth in 26 years. Dantonio’s first win over the Buckeyes came in 2011 as MSU beat the Buckeyes, 10-7, in Ohio Stadium.
The Spartans have defeated Ohio State 10 times when the Buckeyes entered the game ranked in the AP Top 25, including five times when the Buckeyes were ranked in the top five (No. 5 in 1972, No. 1 in 1974, No. 1 in 1998, No. 2 in 2013, No. 2 in 2015) and seven in the top 10 (previous five games listed plus No. 7 in 1951 and No. 9 in 1971). Mark Dantonio has defeated 10 AP Top 10 teams in his tenure and nine since 2013, including wins over No. 2 Ohio State in 2013 and 2015.
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 111-52 (.681) 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 (.663, 67-34 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 (.681). Dantonio is 11th in Big Ten history in conference wins (67) and tied for 12th in overall victories (111).
Defensively, the Spartans continue to rank among the national leaders in rushing defense (No. 4 at 55.8 ypg), total defense (No. 7 at 253.8 ypg), turnovers gained (tied for No. 13 with 10), scoring defense (No. 14 at 15.0 ppg) and sacks (No. 18 at 3.2 pg).
Fifth-year senior wide receiver Darrell Stewart leads the Big Ten in receptions (35) and receiving yards (556) and is second in the conference in receiving yards per game (111.3 ypg) and third in receptions per game (7.0 pg). He also ranks among the FBS leaders in total receptions (tied for sixth with 35), total receiving yards (fourth with 556), receiving yards per game (seventh with 111.2 ypg) and receptions per game (tied for 10th with 7.0 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 (156 vs. Rutgers on Oct. 10; 132 vs. Michigan on Oct. 17; 128 yards vs. Indiana on Oct. 24; 164 at Nebraska on Nov. 7). Stewart opened Big Ten play with five catches for 77 yards at Northwestern and had five grabs for 117 yards and a career-high two touchdowns vs. Indiana. 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 (1,325), completions (104) and attempts (174), and also ranks tied for second in touchdown passes (10), third in total offense (294.4 ypg) and fourth in passing (265.0 ypg). The Phoenix, Arizona, native has completed 104-of-174 passes (.598) for 1,325 yards, 10 touchdowns and one interception. In the win over Indiana, Lewerke became just the second Spartan quarterback to eclipse 6,000 yards passing (6,539) and 1,000 yards rushing (1,039) 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 6,539 yards), pass completions (fourth with 565), passing yards per game (fifth with 198.2 ypg) and passing TDs (eighth with 40).
Although Michigan State ranked in the FBS Top 10 in several defensive categories in 2018, this season the Spartans are emphasizing turnovers after finishing 28th in the FBS with 23 turnovers caused last season. After five games, MSU ranks tied for 13th in the FBS with 10 turnovers caused (four fumbles, six interceptions). The six interceptions are tied for eighth most in the FBS.
Senior linebacker and first-team preseason All-American Joe Bachie leads the Big Ten with 46 overall tackles and ranks sixth in tackles per game (9.2 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. He recorded a career-high 14 tackles (13 solo, one assist) against the Wildcats, marking his 11th career game with double-figure tackles. Bachie also has 4.5 tackles for loss, four pass break-ups, 1.5 sacks and one interception this season.
The following is a complete transcript from Tuesday’s press conference:
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: First of all, excited about the challenge waiting for us down in Columbus. We're a 4-1 football team going down to Columbus to face a 5-0 football team that's playing outstanding football right now, they're dominant, one of the top five teams probably in the country. Certainly can make a case for them to be anywhere between 1 and 5, for sure.
Offensively, when you look at them, I think it's 36 touchdowns to 4 is what the deal is. They've had 500 yards every game but one, and they got 469 in that one. Quarterback has thrown 16 touchdown passes, Justin Fields, and maybe zero interceptions. So they're playing extremely well.
Throwing the ball down the field, they've got a great group of receivers -- Austin Mack, K.J. Hill, Victor Binjimen -- all are back. They've got a couple of new faces as well. (Chris) Olave burst onto the scene last year. Offensive line-wise, they returned one starter. J.K. Dobbins, obviously, is an outstanding running back. I think he has 654 yards right now, after five games, and Master Teague is also in there with three something (326). So outstanding offense.
Defensively, equally as impressive. Number 1 in the nation in sacks. Chase Young is the top guy on the defensive line although they play about eight guys. Linebackers are very solid. Secondary, three starters back. I believe they have eight starters back on the defensive side of the ball as well, playing extremely well.
Special teams-wise, very, very good. So very good football team. We'll have to be at our best to measure up as we go down to Columbus. I think Ryan Day is doing an outstanding job in his first year there as the permanent head coach. He's got them playing at a very high level, and he's done a great job getting everybody going in the same direction. They continue to push forward.
From my perspective, our deal, as a coach, is make sure we're motivated, make sure we have a great plan, and from a players' perspective, they've got to be motivated as well, and also we've got to execute. We've got to just take it one step at a time as we go down there, but we're looking forward to the challenge, a national TV game, and it should be a very exciting atmosphere. We've got a lot of players from Ohio on our football team, and they'll come ready to play as well.
We've had success down there in the past. We'll look forward to trying to replicate that, but, again, it will be a challenge as we go, but that's what this is about. At the end of the day, if you want to be Big Ten Champions or the East Division Champions, that goes through Columbus, Ohio. We know that. We expect that. And that's been the norm here pretty much for some time now.
We've been able to accomplish some of it at times. At other times, not. It remains to be seen who we are when we get down there. I do like our offense. It's more productive than it was last year, there's no question. Our quarterback is playing at a high level. We've got a running back that's third in the conference in rushing, so I think we found a running back that can sort of pull his weight a little bit, and we've got the number one wide receiver in the conference as well. So we're playing better on the offensive side of the ball.
Then also on the defensive side of the ball, took a little bit of a step back last week, but I think we've been playing at a very high level defensively. That needs to remain, and special teams need to get it done. I'll take some questions and go from there.
Q. In the last two years against Ohio State, no touchdowns. Two years ago, one field goal. Last year, three. Obviously, you've got to score points to win there, so in a game-like situation like this where maybe their defense is a little better, do you take more risks?
MARK DANTONIO: I think you've got to be opportunistic on the offensive side of the ball. You can't take negative yardage plays. You can't get the ball knocked off you. You can't take sacks. You can't throw interceptions. You've got to play mistake free, opportunistic. We've got to make plays, whether special teams, defensively, and we've got to be able to run the ball somewhat. There's all of that.
I don't know if risk is the right way to say it because, if you take risks, you put yourselves in peril sometimes. I think the better way to say it is we need to be opportunistic, and we need to have a great plan going down there.
At some point in time, you've got to win your battles too. They're a good football team. That's part of it. You've got to win your individual battles. You've got to block and tackle and catch the football and deliver it on time and all those types of things. But there's no question we cannot take negative yardage plays and get in situations where it's third-and-13 and those types of situations. So we have to maintain our approach as we go.
Q. Mark, kind of a little housekeeping thing with Connor (Heyward) announcing he's leaving. I guess, first of all, how are you managing internally the decisions the guys are making and the conversations that are probably going to be ongoing throughout the year and keep that from being a distraction, and do you expect any more?
MARK DANTONIO: Well, I don't ever expect any, but I think this is a sign of the times a little bit. I'm always going to take the position that, hey, whatever you think is best for you. If you don't think it's best to be here, then it probably isn't because you're not all in. We've got competition at running back. I don't think there's any question about that, that there's been competition there. I think at this point in time we have a number one running back.
But we wish Connor the best. He's a tremendous young man. He's a good football player. He brings value to our football program, but it just sort of is what it is, and you have to deal with it from that perspective, and I'm going to deal with it in a positive way. That's the only way that I can approach things.
Q. And the follow-up with that, now with the running back, it seemed like you used La'Darius (Jefferson) kind of in those third down situations where you had been using Connor. What do you see from him in terms of pass blocking? And is Anthony the number two guy right now, or is it still by committee?
MARK DANTONIO: Without talking about game plans and things of that nature, La'Darius is a motivated football player. He played a lot of football for us last year. He should play more football for us now. He's a durable back. He's tough. He knows what's going on. He understands who we are offensively and those types of things, and he can be a go to guy as well. I'm always going to try to play the hot back. You get hot, you're playing. Sometimes you need that opportunity a little bit, but you get hot, you're going to play.
We've got to be productive at that position. I don't think there's any question you must be productive at that position. So that's sort of a collective thing because you've got to block too. You've got to have the right things from a conceptual standpoint going on as well.
Those guys can all be 1 to 3 as you shake it out. Right now, number one is Elijah Collins, he's sort of proven that fact, but any one of those three guys can come in, and we've got a couple of guys waiting in the wing beyond that too. So not afraid to play.
Q. Mark, you mentioned a little bit about the success you guys have had down there and then all the Ohio guys on this team. We talk a lot about the Michigan rivalry for those guys on the roster here. But so many guys with the Ohio connections, coaching staff, you as well, what is it about you playing down there? Does that kind of contribute to the success you've had? I don't know, are you trying to prove something? Or what it is about playing in Ohio?
MARK DANTONIO: I really think that any time you're in a conference, you're trying to become the best in your conference, so you've got to measure up. Ohio State has been a dominant program in this conference. I don't think there's any -- I don't think I'm letting the cat out of the bag here. That's been since the '90s, into the early 2000s. Coach (Jim) Tressel was there as well, and certainly when Coach Meyer was there.
You've got to be able to measure up to win your share there or if you want to be Big Ten Champion. The two times we've won and beat Ohio State, we've become the Big Ten Champion. The third time we were able to win down there was in 2011, and I think we were an 11-1 (11-3) football team, so pretty good. And played in the -- I believe we went to the -- yeah, we did. We went to the championship game.
So the three times that we've won, we were able to get to the championship game. Our goal is to get to that championship game and then play it out. So it goes through Columbus. We knew that coming into this season, and so we've got to be able to play up to it. We've got to play up, and we've got some injuries, obviously, you guys know that, but we've got to play up. We've got good players and guys that can compete.
Q. You had a big win there on Nick's staff too. Weren't you there in '98 when you beat the No. 1 Buckeyes? What do you remember about that game?
MARK DANTONIO: I remember we were 28-point underdogs, and Julian Peterson had five sacks, and we played extremely well on defense and had a punt return and played pretty well on the offensive side of the ball, decent, and kept us in the game. We just kept chopping wood basically. Big interception by Renaldo Hill at the end of the deal, and I think it was four downs from the 20 or the 15 or the 10 at the end of the game, four straight downs where they tested us from a pass perspective.
So great win, big win, and part of the history.
Q. This is a similar opportunity, the program's on better ground now than it was then, but you're a 20-point underdog again this weekend. Is that kind of the same opportunity?
MARK DANTONIO: Well, I think it's a measuring stick. I'm sure with the win comes more opportunities, and you get ready to play the next one as well. We've got two big ones. We've known this. We understand this. When you do your summer studies and things of that nature, you understand what you're up against when you come to this part of the season. So you get yourself ready to go.
I think our mindset has got to be as important as anything because we need to understand the challenges in front of us. So we need to play perfect.
Q. This is not a question about Connor Heyward or (Brandon) Bouyer-Randle, but the NCAA's procedure, I think there are over 800 players in transfer portal, if I'm not mistaken. Is it a bad message to send if players are unhappy or not playing that they have an easy out?
MARK DANTONIO: I don't think it's an easy out, in the fact that you go in the portal and still haven't found a place to play. So it becomes a little bit more difficult than one might imagine because most colleges are looking for high school players to fill those voids. So my thought is we'll bring in new players when things like this happen. It's not, hey, let's go and try to find two more guys from the transfer portal to transfer. Now, that may happen, and that may not. It remains to be seen.
Nothing is easy about college football. There's nothing easy about it. It's challenging. It's competitive. There's a big time management thing that you've got to deal with. You've got all these different things. You've got social media nowadays. You've got all these different things you have to deal with. My message to everybody is you've got to do what you've got to do, and we wish you the best. Always want to try and be supportive, like I said before, and I want to listen and try and communicate our situation and be up front and straight up with people. So that's what I've tried to do.
Q. You mentioned, obviously, the defense didn't play up to a level they thought last week against Indiana. Did you think the timing of that coming in to face a top ten offense maybe works in your favor as far as getting guys on the right page and focusing on some of the areas they need to clean up?
MARK DANTONIO: The defense gave up, what, four plays over 20 yards? What we needed to do better was adjust some things. As I said, I think maybe yesterday or the day before, we needed to adjust a little bit better in terms of from a coaching perspective. And then we also needed to tackle in space a little bit better and basically, probably more importantly than that, was leverage the ball better. Some of that was technique, and some of that was IU as well, so give them credit.
But the ball came out quick. The ball came out 24 times, I think, in four yards or less in the first three quarters, and we've just got to make the play on the thing and keep it to a minimum gain and get off the field. Three times in the red zone, it was third down, we couldn't get off the field. Couldn't get off the field, and make them kick field goals.
So those type of things have to happen in the next one, but I don't think we've lost any confidence. I think we've been a tough team to run on. They've run for over 200 yards every game, as I said, and pass for over 200. So it's going to be a challenge as we back it up to Columbus, Ohio, but that's part of it. We understand that. Again, if you want to be the best, if you want to say you're one of the best defenses in the country, then you'd better play well against a great offense as well. That's part of it.
Q. Mark, California recently passed legislation allowing players to get paid. I know you don't like to comment on things you say you can't control. Tom Izzo said he would like to see players get paid. What is your personal preference?
MARK DANTONIO: Again, nobody cares what Mark Dantonio thinks.
Q. Well, I do, I asked.
MARK DANTONIO: Well, okay good for you (laughing). The reality of the situation is who are you going to pay and who gets paid and who doesn't get paid? Has that become a recruiting tool for some people? Then you've always got people that are getting paid on your team, and you've got other people who aren't getting paid, so there becomes a separation. I think sometimes when it becomes a separation, it may not be good.
I do think that there needs a halfway point or maybe something that's equitable for everybody involved. That's how I would say that. If it was equitable for all players, which it is to some degree for the cost of attendance, maybe that needs to go up and there needs to be something else. That's how I would, and that's me being a fan, not necessarily being a coach.
Just me saying, okay, pay this guy a bunch of money here, and a particular school says we could pay you this amount of money, and this other school says we can't, or we can pay you this amount, it becomes a little bit disproportionate. I would think on your particular team it becomes disproportionate as well, and that could lead to people going to the transfer portal, which we'd hate that.
Q. You coached against Urban Meyer's system, obviously, offensively for a number of years there, and it was a challenge every time you played him. With Ryan Day, what has he done? Maybe I'm curious your perspective of how things are maybe a little bit different or evolved or changed from what it was to what it is now, still effective, obviously?
MARK DANTONIO: I think that he's been there for three years, and I think that he's going to adapt to his quarterback, who's a new quarterback, Justin Fields is playing tremendous... He gives you the ability to run and create. He gives you the ability to throw the football, great arm, strong arm. Again, zero interceptions. But I think that he's going to adapt to some degree to his quarterback, but I think he's been there for three years, and for the most part, it was his offense. I think he was calling the plays.
Q. Obviously, they're tough on the ground, but do you feel like they've been more balanced this season than they've been in the past?
MARK DANTONIO: I think, again, they're going to adapt to the quarterback that they have. Last year they threw it a little bit more with their quarterback. The years before, they ran it a little bit more with their quarterback. Both were equally effective. The bottom line is do they win football games? They're 5-0 right now, doing a tremendous job of offensive production, 36 TDs and 4 for the defense. Defense has given up four, so that's quite a deal, whatever you would call that deal.
Q. Mark, Chase Young, you mentioned him off the top. I was curious who would you compare him to, whether it's a player you have or a player you've seen in the Big Ten? When you have a disruptive presence to that degree in that position, how does that sort of shape the approach offensively? And what you have to do to combat a guy like that?
MARK DANTONIO: I would say I really haven't thought of him in the human context (laughing). He's a very good player, big strong defensive end, maybe a Robaire Smith type of guy from back in the day, a guy that played 11 years in the league, was a dominant defensive end for us. He's firm. He's very well coached. He's got a very quick first step out of the box.
I don't really think of him in terms of, oh, he's just like so and so. I just look at him like a guy who's extremely productive, making big plays out there, and create a big -- we have to be able to control him to some degree because he can wreck a football game.
Q. Is there any sort of rareness or uniqueness to him, or is there not any sort of comparison?
MARK DANTONIO: They've had guys down there like him in the past. Everybody's had a guy like that in the past at some point in time. But I can't put a comparison on it. I just think he's a very, very good football player.
MARK DANTONIO: They've had guys down there like him in the past. Everybody's had a guy like that in the past at some point in time. But I can't put a comparison on it. I just think he's a very, very good football player.
Q. Mark, a little bit of the script was flipped last week. The defense maybe didn't have the game it did, but the offense proved that maybe they can survive a shootout and did so on Saturday. Does that give them a little bit more moxie and confidence going in, knowing that if Ohio State throws up tons of points, they have to try to keep face?
MARK DANTONIO: I think, how we played the tail end in the first half against Northwestern and the second half offensively, and then this past week, I thought we were in rhythm, confident. Our quarterback, again, Brian Lewerke is playing extremely well. So all these things go into context.
I think any time you do something well, you get a little bit of confidence and get on a roll a little bit. So that's a positive.
Q. The back end of the portal situation, kind of what you mentioned about it, finding a place and getting there. Obviously, Fields' situation is one where he was eligible immediately. I guess, what are your thoughts on how that part of it is playing out? And also, do you have any updates on Jayden Reed? I know last you mentioned, you hadn't heard back yet?
MARK DANTONIO: The first part is I just think it needs to be consistent. From a standpoint of transfers, it just needs to be somewhat consistent. Everybody has different views on that or maybe different reasons or different situations which makes it a little bit difficult. I just think it needs to be consistent.
Then the second thing is on Jayden, no, he won't be eligible this year. We've got to sit him. There's just too many different things that have gone through that he won't qualify. We can't make that exception for him, or the NCAA will not make that exception for him.
Q. You mentioned Ohio State being the dominant program in the league, dating back to the late '90s. When you see sort of a score like they put up against Nebraska and against some of the other teams they've played this year, do you wonder -- does it seem like they're raising the bar maybe even higher than it's been over the past decade now?
MARK DANTONIO: Well, that's why I started the press conference saying they're probably one of the top five teams in the country right now. The nice thing about football is every single week you've got to prove it on the field and you've got an opportunity. It's 0-0 when you start. So that's where we start. We start 0-0 down there in Columbus, and we need to get ourselves ready to go.
We've had to fight adversity before, so this is another opportunity to get ourselves ready and to play our very, very best. It will take our very, very best, and we'll be motivated to do that. Again, they have a tremendous football team, and they're primed in terms of what they're doing. You can look at any aspect of their team, and they're doing it well.
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