Big Ten teleconference: John L. Smith

Michigan State coach discussed his team's performance and the upcoming matchup with Wisconsin

Opening statement

"Gosh, we've had a couple tough weeks a row here but now you go from the frying pan to the fire with Wisconsin coming in. We just have to try and regroup after last week and see if we can't be a little better."

After Ted Ginn's punt return for a touchdown your rugby punting has come under attack. Is that still something you plan to stick with?

"We'll still use that depending on who we are playing and what we think we can get out of it. There's some aspects of it and there are some that are not as good. Why would that ever come under attack (laughing)?"

Obviously if somebody runs it back it comes under attack…

"Oh really (sarcastic laugh)….does it have anything to do with that guy with the ball in his hands."

If you could go back are you still comfortable?

"If I could go back I'd have changed it… but we're still going to use it at different places, at different times."

Looking at Wisconsin's defense on film what is the most impressive thing about it, is it the players, the scheme or both?

"I think it's the players. Definitely everybody has a tough scheme that they have to change and try to plan your plan to coincide with their scheme on both sides of the ball. That happens every week, but I like...There defensive front is probably overall, maybe the best we've seen. I don't know, you hate to say, maybe the best. But let me put it this way. I think the two combinations of their offensive front and their defensive front combined, as a team, is probably the best we've seen."

And their cornerbacks seem to be good enough where they can play man-on-man coverage most of the time?

"Yeah, they are able to do that. Those guys have good personnel all over the field. They are capable of getting up and if you have that front you can do a lot of things."

Obviously Damon Dowdell's been through a lot of ups and downs in his career but how do you think he's handled everything? How do think he views this final chance? What do you think of the way he played for you on Saturday?

"No. 1 I think he has handled things well. He's hung in there and tried to do all he could do for his teammates. The biggest thing I could say about Damon is he has made the effort that we've asked off the field. First and foremost to get a chance to do it on the field, so he's really some made some strides there, which, that's if you're proud of anything, is of him doing that. He's going to finish his degree up and all of that stuff but then aside from that, I think he did a good job and has continued to improve and I think he will continue to improve, I think gradually, as he becomes a little bit more comfortable and is in there, the more snaps he gets, the better he's going to get. Again, you've got to pat the kid on the back and say, No. 1, you've done a good job getting that to a position where he can do it on the field as well as off the field, he's done a good job. I'm proud of the kid. It's like anybody that's in a backup role. You try to tell them that ‘you're one snap away from being a starter' and now he is a starter, so we're expecting him to grow."

On Wisconsin's passing game – a one-time thing or are they capable of putting up numbers like that and how much more dangerous does that make them overall?

"It's making them a ton more, in my opinion because it just expands everything that you have to prepare for now. Their threats—I think they're starting to open it up because apparently, they're feeling more comfortable with their QB and he's feeling more comfortable with everybody around him. Boy, he was lighting it up, at least in that last game that I watched, so he's a multi-dimensional threat now."

We've seen Purdue, Minnesota, San Diego State go on extended losing streaks after playing Michigan. You obviously lost last week. I'm wondering if you think this is just a coincidence or if there's something inherent about playing Michigan and getting up for a big game like that that makes it difficult to rebound the next week?

"No. That's football. I don't think that's it at all. I think it's scheduling. I think that Big Ten schedule has more to do with it than anything else. Any time you finish up with a Michigan and then you turn around and head to an Ohio State, but then you get to rebound with Wisconsin, that's a pretty good deal. "

On Kirk Ferentz—name has come up in coaching vacancies….Can you talk about what he has done at Iowa and when you face them, the kinds of things you know you can expect from their team, both on offense and defense?

"They're very sound in everything that they do. They may not be as complicated as everybody but their kids how to line up and how to get after you and they're very, very tough. Maybe you should go into there and think, ‘okay, we're going to go into Iowa and we're going to play good old, tough farm guys and that's kind of what you get. They're not fancy but they're just going to line up and hit you in the mouth and find a way to beat you. They got after us and as far as just physically giving us a pounding, they did that so that's what I see from them. I wasn't here to see where they had come from to begin with but he's built a heck of a program there and they're always going to be in the upper echelon of the Big Ten."

On Jimmy Leonhard—What is it that allows him, at 5-foot-8, to play big-time safety position the way he plays it. When you look at the numbers, you really wouldn't think that's possible.

"No you really wouldn't but again, I think it's as much heart as anything. You watch him play on film and you can see the heart coming out and that's what you try to look for if you're looking for, recruiting a kid. You try to look for a kid on film that exhibits that kind of great motor and heart. He just looks like he has fun playing. He's got some quickness and some speed to go along with that but I think even more than that, he has that lack of size that everybody's looking for. He just has a big heart, it appears to me. I mean, he would have to be just an outstanding kid and a lot of fun to coach."

What about the rugby punting? Are you going to rugby punt him?

"I'll try to keep it away from him as much as I can. We don't want him carrying the ball either."

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