Head coach Ron Zook met with the media Tuesday in his weekly press conference.
Oct. 12, 2010
"First of all let me just say this: I am glad that Coach Dantonio is going to be coaching there and doing well. I sent him a note right after it happened. I told him I'd see him on the 50 whatever the date is we play. I was glad that he is doing well. Like I said back when we played Northern Illinois, it kind of puts things in perspective. This game is big and all but when you are dealing with your health and so forth, it's a much bigger thing. I have gotten to know Mark pretty well because of similar areas and similar backgrounds and so forth. I am just glad he is doing well.
"Obviously, his football team is doing great. There is no question. They are one of the two undefeated teams in the Big Ten. I just found out they are starting 11 seniors, which is a pretty fair amount. They are a team that just reloaded from last year. We thought that when they lost a great running back last year, they maybe wouldn't be running the ball quite the same way. They have two offensive linemen back but the other guys are older, so they have experience. The guys that are plugged in there and the two running backs they have got playing are running just like they did last year. So they haven't missed a beat in that regard. Excellent quarterback, a guy that makes them go, a guy that just has kind of improved. Defensively, the same thing. They have been playing that system for a long time and they are very well coached. They play hard and tough. I told the guys last night that `you have to put your big boy pads on this week'. One thing about going into that environment, it's a great environment and it will be just like last week and our guys enjoy going into those kinds of environments. The crowd is right on you and there's not much sideline. Our guys are going to need to be ready to play and if last night's any indication, the way we practiced, I think we will be ready to play."
How this Michigan State team is better than last year's:
"I don't know if it's a lot better other than it's the same guys doing the same things. I think the quarterback is a year older, a year more mature, a year more experienced. They are doing a lot of the same things they have done in the past. Doing good with the special teams, which shows you the depth of the football team. They are second in the league in punting, they are up there in punt returns. I think they lead the league in punt returns and are up there in the country. Their kickoff return guy's the same as their punt return guy. A guy that can really go the distance every time he's got the football and it kind of makes you hold your breath. They are talented, experienced and playing with a lot of confidence."
Are they the best run defense you have faced?
"Obviously they are very good on defense, but to say they are the best, I mean we have played a couple pretty run good defenses but they are going to back the box They are going to force you to figure out a way to run the football. They're not a big pressure team. They'll pressure on first down and so forth, but their linebacker gets a lot of his sacks on third down. You'd like to keep the third down situations to third-and-short, third-and-medium if you can. They're a defense that chases the football. They're experienced and play extremely hard."
How much do you need Nate to factor into the offensive game plan?
"I think anytime you got a guy that can run, it doesn't necessarily spread the box out, but it gives them another element to think about. Not that we're going in there running the football with Nate, but it's something they'll have to be aware of. And we've got to be able to throw the football. I think we have gotten better at throwing the football. The coaches are doing a great job at doing the things we do and they are executing it."
On Illinois' offensive line:
"The offensive line is playing well. I think (offensive line coach) Joe (Gilbert) has done a great job with them and once again I think the big thing is the plans are such that the guys are able to do the things that they do best. I am very proud of the way the offensive line is playing. It's going to once again take a big effort of their part."
Is there more of an awareness about concussions?
"There has always been an awareness. In fact, the Big Ten has instituted a program now and it really doesn't change a whole lot from what we have done in the past. That is something that we have been very, very concerned about from the beginning. Anytime someone gets dinged or something of that nature, obviously the doctors are there and they will look at them and evaluate them. It is on all levels, high school, college, and the National Football League."
Do you see a reason for the increase in concussions?
"I don't know if there is an increase or not. I think it is just more being talked about and reported. The thing we've made a big emphasis on is the helmets. We have had a couple helmets pop off, but not as many as you see some days. The helmets have got to be on tight and got to be on a little bit uncomfortable. Sometimes the guys will want to be comfortable and we are not worried about comfort, we are worried about safety."
How much has it progressed from when you played?
"It has progressed quite a bit. When we played, you didn't think you were playing unless you got dinged a little bit."
Did you see this level of play coming from Nate Bussey?
"Nate's always been a guy that from the very beginning has played extremely well. He was a quarterback in high school - he was Arrelious (Benn's) quarterback in high school - and we recruited him as a defensive back. He loves to play. I've said this many times: he's always the first one out there and the last one to leave. He's kind of a gym rat. He likes to be out there. The biggest thing that has caused Nate problems in his career, he gets a little nosey. In the secondary, he gets up in there where maybe he shouldn't be trying to take chances and giving up big plays. But I think the last couple years, he's gotten in a position where he's able to make plays and if he does make a mistake, it doesn't kill you. And I think he's playing with a lot of confidence and, they all are. They're playing with confidence and doing the things that the coaches are coaching them to do."
How do you rate the linebackers?
"I think it's a group that's improving. Once again, I've said that they're going to need to improve throughout the season. As a coach, that's kind of what you want to do, particularly when they're young, well, not necessarily younger linebackers, but Martez hasn't played an awful lot of football, of course he didn't play for two years there so that takes some time. He has settled into playing extremely hard and playing well. I think Nate, once again it's a little bit different position, but is playing hard and playing well. If you look at their defense, they're guys that have been doing it for a long time and the more you do the same thing, the better you're going to be at it."
Do you have to be conscious of a letdown week after a big win like you had at Penn State?
"Well, we said right after the game, and I heard it in the locker room, what's important to me is that we have to prepare the same way we did last week, and we've done that the last two weeks. We haven't accomplished anything yet. We have to continue to improve and I've said from the very beginning that I think it's very, very important that we take care of us. Obviously, you have to know your opponent and know what you're going to get and those kinds of things, but we have to take care of us. We have to control the things that we can control. One of the first things I heard in the locker room, I'm not sure who said it, but we have to prepare the same way that we've prepared the last couple weeks. I think the last two games we've played pretty well, one of them we didn't win and one of them we did. We just have to continue to do the same thing."
Did the bye week come at a good time?
"Yeah, I think any time you can recharge your batteries a little bit it's good. As I said last week, it might have been better coming a week later, but I just it's important that you get it. Everybody's going to go through the same thing, particularly if you have younger players playing where you get about midway through the season and they kind of hit that wall and they have to fight through that. But fortunately we haven't had to worry about that yet."
Where are you on punt returners?
"They're both back there. Jarred was back there catching, Jack (Ramsey) was back there catching, Troy was back there catching. Somebody will be back there. We'll get somebody back there."
Has Jack had a problem catching punts in practice?
"He's never had a problem. I wish I had the answer. It's something that he's going to fight through. Last night he was out there, he must have caught I don't know how many punts, not only punting but also from the Jugs machine so you don't wear the punters' legs out. But he didn't have any issues. The week before, he hadn't had any issues."
Are you concerned that it's in his head?
"You could put anybody back there and they could do that. You see it every weekend. We'll do what we feel is right and what will give us the best opportunity to win the game."
Does Michigan State have the most balanced offense that you've faced?
"I'm gonna tell you something, the team we played a couple weeks ago was pretty good. The team we played last week, I know a lot of you don't feel like it, but they're a pretty good football team. Once that quarterback matures, they'll be fine. This is a pretty good team, don't get me wrong, but I think it depends on how we play. They're pretty good because they are balanced. Being able to run the ball like that, what that does is obviously (open up) the play action, bootlegs and things like that. And they'll get him on the corner then they'll stop. They'll start like they're going to the corner and stop. It causes some issues. It's hard to pack the box. Guys have really got to stay on their keys. It's a little bit like when you're running the option, the defense has to take their assignments. When you're playing a team like this, with the play action and so forth, you have to read your keys and it's the same kind of thing."
Are you looking forward to seeing how your team reacts to that challenge?
"Our guys are excited about going up there, they really are. It's a tough place to play. Every time I've ever been there, any every place I've ever been, they're tough guys and they're going to try to big-boy you. We're going to have to meet the same intensity."
On Terry Hawthorne:
"We'll work him in there. He had a good practice last night, played 12 plays on Saturday. He'll get more and more time, I just don't want to throw him there until I know he's ready to go."
On Jason Ford's Twitter posts:
"We talked to him last night, and Jason's fine. I was a little shocked, I'm still not so sure that it was him who posted it. I've talked to him and DeAndre talked to his mother. The guy's practicing his tail off. He's doing everything that's asked of him. I think he's running pretty hard."
What's your philosophy on social networking?
"This is the first time that anything's come up. If there was one thing I would like to take away it would be the mopeds. If I could do that, I would take the mopeds away because that, to me, is dangerous. These guys have to be smart and we try to monitor them the best we can, and talk to them about it and educate them about it. But the mopeds scare me more than the social networks."
What kind of advantage does it give you when Santella and Dimke are playing as well as they are?
"The kicking game is obviously a big part. I think when you're punting the ball back in there and giving them a long of field to go, it's helpful to the defense. When you got a guy with pretty good range and pretty good consistency, it helps the offense. Particularly when you're playing a good football team. You have to get points when you get down there. This is like the past two games we've played, when we get in the red zone we have to get some points. Derek gives you that opportunity to do that."
Why was Derek not as accurate at Camp Rantoul as he has been during the season?
"I don't remember it. You guys probably want him to make 100 percent of them, and I do also. I don't know anything about golf, but I've seen Tiger (Woods) put it over in the woods. He may not be No. 1, but he's still pretty good, isn't he?"
Are you looking at getting Troy Pollard some more carries?
"You've heard me say this a lot of times, if you look at places that have a couple good backs, you look at Penn State, you look at Michigan State, the more guys that can run the ball and keep those other guys fresh is good. Troy does some good things, he does some things that maybe other guys can't do. It's good having that change of pace."
How did Anthony Santella get here from Utah?
"Being from Chiacgo, being from this area, we talked to his high school coaches about the opportunity to come on, walking on and being a punter. I watched tape from Utah and saw him punt there. I felt like he was a talented guy. I'm proud of all those guys, but proud of the way he's matured and the ways he's kicking. He does a lot of things, he's kind of like the leader of that group. He's doing a great job punting the football but he's also doing a great job holding the football for Derek. People don't understand how important that is until you don't have a great one, and he is. I thought Frank Lenti was the best I've ever been around, but I'd have to say Anthony is better than he is. Or as good, let's put it that way. He's as good as Frank was."
Does playing at Michigan State mean more to you because that's where you got your first Big Ten win?
"I remember thinking in the locker room we were going to go in the right direction but I don't think we did. Once again, it's a great conference and every place you go you better be ready to play. As I told our football team, this is such a great opportunity. There's two teams in the Big Ten that are undefeated. We let one get by and now we've got another opportunity. That doesn't happen, you don't get two opportunities very often. They're playing for an awful lot, so this will be a big-time brawl fight."
Do you think people realize how good Michigan State is?
"They beat Michigan last week. They're pretty good, I know that. They're undefeated and a pretty good football team. They're playing well."
Is it friendlier between the two programs than it has in the past?
"Hopefully he (Coach Dantonio) respects us. We respect them. We go against each other a lot in recruiting. When you compete, you compete. I have a lot of respect for Jim Tressel, I've known Coach Tressel since I've been in coaching. All those guys. Bret (Bielema) texted me the other night. There's a lot of respect. Once again, when you line up on Saturday to compete, they're the enemy so you try to go."
In 2006, did some of the animosity come from Illinois players planting the flag at midfield?
"That was so blown out of proportion. I kind of lost a good friend that's a writer in South Florida that's a Michigan State grad. If you guys remember that, it was our first Big Ten win. Someone handed them a flag, and it seemed like they had turf. Anyway, it never would have happened had they not seen them the week before doing it at Notre Dame. Believe me, they didn't plan, "Hey, if we win this game, we're going to go do something silly like that." I assure you, we hadn't won enough games to do something like that."
Do you advise...
"I don't advise that."
Do you advise against it?
"Yes, I advise against all that stuff. I think there's a lot of people that lose respect for the game of football and what it's all about. Not only the players, players aren't the only ones that do. We want them to act the way they should act. It's a game where sometimes your emotions are tacked out, you're red-lined, and you have to be able to control that."