Opening statement ... "Number one, thanks for coming; this is an exciting week. The bye week was good for us; it's a benefit to get some guys healthy. There are bumps and bruises. We have been at it since August and we are pretty competitive and pretty physical in what we do. So four weeks of camp and seven straight weeks, it came at the right time. We were able to rest some guys, and I think that is a big part of it, and at the same time we were able to get some guys who were right on that line, depending on how you get beat up or bumped along, you may have some other guys that have to get in there and represent. This is a great rivalry and a great rivalry in a lot of ways. We have two great rivalries, but the passion on both sides of either green and white or maize and blue, I think that passion you see, you hear, and you feel. We are playing the defending Big Ten champs, who deserved that and have played very good football during the year on both sides of the ball. Going out to Eugene (Oregon) is their only loss, and that is a difficult place to play. You are three time zones different, and you are also playing in a pretty hostile stadium that can get very loud. I think offensively, Michigan State is very balanced. I think knowing Mark (Dantonio), I think he would feel very good about what they are doing from that balance standpoint. I think Connor Cook continues to impress and improve. You look at (Jeremy) Langford and how he has improved, and Nick Hill has emerged too, back there in the backfield. Tony Lippett has played like the best receiver in this conference. I think when you see the big plays in big games that he has made. Turnover margin, we are two in the opposite spectrums. They are plus 11, and we are minus 13. Turnover margin in pro football, college football, high school football, peewee football, whatever football there is out there, is a big part of who wins and who loses. Obviously, we have to do a better job creating. The last two weeks, we have done a better job of taking care of the football, but that has to continue. As far as the bye, we got out Tuesday and Wednesday of last week, had a practice last night, which was a Tuesday practice for us. It was very good and very physical. It was good to get out there again. We liked the timing because that is one thing you always worry about. I thought our timing was sharp, and I thought the execution on both sides of the ball was pretty good. We have a long way to go, though."
On downsides to a bye week ... "I think there probably have been (downsides). I try and go back and think over the years as an assistant and then as a head coach. We had a bye week at Ball State, and we were playing really good, and we didn't play so good the next time out. I think the one thing we have always tried to do, is the speed that you play with. The efficiency, with the sharpness, the quickness. If you can get that, I think the other part is the communication that your team needs to have. That is the only way I know how to judge it. I was very pleased with what we did last night. We were in full pads, and we competed with each other all the time. Obviously, you have some things you are working on against your opponent, but it was more about us competing against each other."
On looking at big plays over the bye week ... "There is no question we have to create more explosive plays. That is one thing, either running the football or throwing the football and getting some chunks down the field. There is a lot that goes into it. The line of scrimmage and how you are doing at the line of scrimmage, how you are doing from a standpoint of protection and route running. All of those things are a big part of it and going to the right guy. I think we want to get better at it. One thing that happens in bye weeks, I know we did it here when I was here, sometimes you get really smart as a coach during a bye week, and sometimes you really think, okay, we're going to change this system to some degree. You do go back, and you look at your tendencies, you look at things you have done, first downs, second downs, when you have brought pressure, what are you doing in the red zone? At times you say, we need to add this, and then you add too much. Then you have a real problem. For us, it is going back to what we want to be identity-wise, and we want to run the football and how we can do that better."
On keeping the Michigan State front seven in check ... "Number one, you have targeting issues you talk about all the time, and I mean legal targeting issues. Doing a good job with that and finishing at the line of scrimmage. That's important. From a quarterback and minus plays, that is a big part of it, sacks. Protection and making sure you are not turning a guy loose; making sure everybody has communicated and is on the same page, and the quarterback also getting rid of the football."
On going back to Spartan Stadium ... "We have played in some pretty loud stadiums away, whether it is at Iowa or wherever it is. They are very supportive of their team. We don't make the schedule, and I understand why we are going back, because of the different things the Big Ten had to do to accommodate everybody."
On if the passion of the rivalry factors into the way the game is played ... "I don't know if this is just another game. There are high emotions and high passion from both teams. Look, you are playing for a state championship. I mean that's what you are doing. From that standpoint, I think it is always an emotional game."
On if the team has the ability to win at Michigan State ... "I like how our guys have prepared; I've said that every week. I like how they have prepared. They are a hardworking bunch, and they haven't disappointed in any of those things. I know that we will be ready to go play on Saturday."
On if he wants the program to look like Michigan State does now ... "Well, I don't know about that. I want us to look the same and have the same helmets; I think that's important. But do we want to run the football? Yes. Do we want to have a good play-action game? Yes. There are a lot of teams who do that."
On how last year's game has motivated this year's team ... "Well number one, they are both different teams. When you look at rivalry games that can be a little bit harder. We are a different team mindset-wise. If I had played in the game last year and didn't do my job it would have bothered the hell out of me."
On if Michigan fans should get used to being the underdog ... "When you talk about underdogs, you are talking about what gamblers put on the line. For us, it is just going out there and playing our best football each week. For us, that means going out there and playing our best football Saturday."
On if this game is the most important rivalry game in terms of defense ... "Any time we play a rivalry game it's always important. Any time we play the next game it is always important. However, this is a rivalry game we are very passionate about. At about six o'clock next Saturday, we will know who played a good game defensively and who didn't."
On the similarities and differences in Michigan State's defense this year and last year ... "When you look at them, they play hard. They know the scheme and execute that very well. They are looking similar to what they have done before."
On the game plan for Michigan State and if it'll need to be tweaked ... "We're going to prepare to give our guys the best opportunity to win. So whatever that game plan may be, we're going to try and give the best plan for our kids: kicking game, offense and defense. We'll be successful and put them in the position to be successful."
On struggling with rivalry games on the road and how to counter that ... "Don't turn the ball over, get turnovers."
On last year's game and the players' reaction for the game this Saturday ... "We've had great practices, great preparations. Last week, Tuesday and Wednesday, what we did was very positive. Last night was really positive."
On his relationship with Michigan head coach Mark Dantonio ... "I think Mark and I have known each other probably 20-some years. I've always respected Mark."
On whether or not QB Devin Gardner needs to play his best football against Michigan State ... "I think we all need to play our best football, whether it be Devin or anyone else. We keep talking about those negative rushing yards a year ago. Those weren't just on Devin. When a guy gets sacked, you're turning some people loose. Some of it too, is that he needs to get rid of the ball. There's a rhythm to it."
On whether QB Devin Gardner needs to rise above his past performances ... "I think him going out and playing and playing the way he's capable of, that's all he needs to do."
On if Devin Gardner was full go in practice ... "Yeah, he was full go."
On whether or not Michigan will play angry against Michigan State ... "Playing angry, I think you play with an attitude. I wouldn't say I like the way we practice if I didn't think we had that."
On if he has been angry about past Michigan State games in Lansing ... "Well yeah, you don't like to lose anywhere. I mean, I don't know a coach who's not competitive or a player who's not competitive. So you never want to be on the wrong side of the scoreboard."
On being a 17-point underdog ... "Look, the only people who really care about that are gamblers. I don't gamble."