ORLANDO - Below is a transcript of Michigan State's post-game press conference which included Mark Dantonio and Kirk Cousins as participants.
MARK DANTONIO: Very, very quickly, it didn't go very well for us today. We needed to start out hot and take advantage of our opportunities that we had. We had two turnovers. That hurts us. We had scoring opportunities, both of them, inability to get off the field on third down earlier in the game. Those two things really put us behind, I felt. I felt like we stopped the run pretty effectively early on, but as the game wore on, we were unable to do that as well. When you look at us, we were outcoached, we were outplayed. It's just the way it is, and sometimes there's an avalanche that comes upon you. But I'm very proud of our football team and proud our seniors. I want to congratulate Alabama on an outstanding football and season and also congratulate our football team on an outstanding season. It's not where we want to be. It's tough to take when you win 11 games. There's no other way to sugar coat this one. We'll take questions.
Kirk, I was wondering what got hurt there? You were unable to come back into the game after that point. Talk about their physicality tee on the defensive line?
KIRK COUSINS: It was an accumulation of hits that ran its course as the game went on. The last one I took was one where I just had a throbbing headache on the field and my lower back started to flare up, so I just felt my body was wearing down as the game went on. That was sort of the final nail in the coffin.
We saw their D line on film they were talented and played hard. They did a great job. You have to credit them with the effort they gave. I'm proud of our team. We're obviously disappointed in today, but we're not disappointed in the product we put on the field all fall and the entire season's work.
Kirk, there were several times when they had the box stacked and I noticed you still went with running plays. Did you have the liberty to audible out of that or was that not a liberty that you had?
KIRK COUSINS: We have our checks built in where we'll call two plays in the huddle. If I get the right front, I'll check the play. It just varies from play to play. We're a program that used to establish a run. That's when we're working best is when we can get the running game going. You can't just drop back allow the Alabama defense to just pin their ears back every play. You have to be on the attack and allow the offensive line to force it on them as opposed to just absorbing it. You have to try to establish a run game, and obviously we weren't able to do that at the level we wanted to. But at the same time, there are other times when we were passing the ball, I can't throw interceptions or not through hot when they're bringing a blitz.
MARK DANTONIO: Alabama's defense I thought did an excellent job stemming prior to the snap. It was very difficult to change the play sometimes when the clock's running down. The quarterback has to make decisions. The name of the game is to effect the quarterback. You need to effect the quarterback. I would say our quarterbacks got hit between 15 and 20 times easily today. If that's happening, it takes effect on you after a while. You can see they knocked both quarterbacks out. We need to do establish a running game to take the heat off of that. You know, they won up front. That's the difference. That's the difference. You know, you have to win up front if you're going to play football. This is a physical game and the physicality that goes along with that is affecting the quarterback, running the football, punishing a runner. We didn't do that the consistency that we needed to to win this football game, nowhere near.
Mark, is this a reality check for where your program is today?
MARK DANTONIO: Sure, it's a reality check when you look at it, but we have to play. I continue to say we have to play above our abilities. We have to do that. To do that you have to be emotional. This game is a rollercoaster. You can go into it, you can be in the locker room, you can be all focused, but when you step out on the field and things start flying around and things start to happen, okay, it becomes a different story at times. You get sort of avalanched and things start to roll on you a little bit or whatever. But this is an emotional game.
Where we're at as a program, we can evaluate and continue. All I can tell you is that prior to the season not many people picked us to win 11 games. We inched up there and we're in the top ten. Do we belong there based on this football game? No. But I think we can play better than this. You have to take it for face value what it is. It is what it is, and we got to move forward, so that's what we'll do. We'll recollect ourselves. We've got an outstanding quarterback back. We've got a nucleus of great players back and that will do very well for us here in 2011.
Kirk, in the closing moments you were spending time on the sidelines talking to teammates. Without getting nosey, were you already laying groundwork for the future there?
KIRK COUSINS: Actually, it was talking to the seniors, the guys that are going to go their separate ways after today. I wanted to be able to make sure I had a last word with each of them. I found myself as I went to each of them how many of them were all overachievers, whether it was D.J. Young, a transfer from Bowling Green being our starting left tackle on an 11-1 team, an 11-2 team now, whether it was John Misch, a 180-pound linebacker in high school, Jessie Johnson, a walk on, just guy after guy after guy, John Stipek, switched positions and had to trim his body down, he did a tremendous job playing center for us, the toughest position. I found over and over again these seniors that I went to thank them for their effort were all guys who were overachieved from what they were expected to do. That's the reason we've had the success we've had this season.
Mark, you guys had the ball down near the goal line on third down. There was miscommunication and Kirk got hit and fumbled on that play. I wondered if you thought that was a turning point in the game? Did Alabama look like a stronger, healthier team on the field than you saw on film from them this year?
MARK DANTONIO: I think they played well earlier in the year. The second half of the season, you know, things snuck up on them, a little bit, however you want to say it. They were ready to play, they're very well-coached and they were physical. As far as that particular drive, we got down to the two yard line on third down and we had miscommunication in the huddle. We sent in our big people, so we get 12 in the huddle and we break with 12 in the huddle towards the line of scrimmage, they're going to call a penalty on us. Again, it's an accumulation of things. Some of it we can control and some of it we couldn't control, you know, based on the physicality of everything. The game of football sort of teaches you to get up after you've been knocked down. You have to get back up on your own two feet and play. That's what this game teaches you. It was a lesson learned today. We'll continue to push forward and improve ourselves and our focus will be to win the next bowl game. We need to continue to try to meet that challenge.
I was wondering about Mark Dell and then Andrew Maxwell. When they went out, what were they saying or what was the issue with them in particular?
MARK DANTONIO: Andrew had got hit in the head and he was sort of out of it there and then also Mark Dell tweaked his cartilage or something. I'm not sure how bad it is. I don't think it's very bad. It was a physical game. You saw that, physical game.
With what went on off the field as well as on the field, what's this season mean to you?
MARK DANTONIO: It's a year that I'll always remember, certainly. It's a year when our football team I think grew up immensely from the '09 team. It's when our players took control of the football team. It's the year when our coaches stepped forward and also took control and then we won close games. We had a hero every week. We had somebody different step up. I think the thing to recognize we continue to play above and we would catch fire emotionally. We had two games like this where we sort of went south a little bit on the field. We couldn't overcome that, not many programs can. Not many programs can get down 21 to nothing and overcome that. I was proud of the way our team continued to compete. We played our younger players in the fourth quarter. I told our coaches, let's find out what our young players can do. 2011 starts now. I wanted to see them play against Alabama in that environment and I felt like we could progress as a program by doing that, so that's what we did.
Kirk, like you told me after the Wisconsin win that this year started right after the Alabama bowl loss when you got back. What do you do now because you're going to be a senior to start preparation for 2011?
KIRK COUSINS: Well, we'll begin right away. Obviously we got guys who are banged up and we need to get those injuries healed so we can be ready for spring ball and workouts. But it starts with conditioning, throwing, lifting, film. We don't wait until the first day of spring ball. We get going on our initiative, player led the first week back, and that'll be something we'll continue off season and that's where you start to lay the groundwork for a special season in the upcoming year.
Q Obviously losing Greg Jones, a big void to fill there, and then also the offensive line, talk about some of the things you're going to be looking for in the spring ball and the off season?
MARK DANTONIO: Sure. No disrespect, but I think those are things we can talk about back at Michigan State as we move forward. There's no reason for Alabama people to worry about that. No disrespect.
We can talk about that. We got voids to fill. We've got a lot of players back, it starts with our quarterback.
Kirk, what in particular impressed you about the Alabama defense?
KIRK COUSINS: Well, I think from top to bottom they were athletic. They played hard. They played inspired. I think football is a game of emotion. I don't know what the reason was for losing three games, but maybe it was a lack of inspiration, but today they had that so I think they were very good team who was playing at their highest level and they're going to be tough to beat when they're doing that. It was tough to be down in the red zone or close to the red zone twice and come away with no points because of an interception and fumble. It's a game where you have to get back up. I don't think we tanked or anything like that. It was just tough to go down there and not come away with any points. It was tough sledding all day, especially after that.
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