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Big Ten spotlight: MSU's Mark Dantonio, Part II

Here's the second half of my interview with Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio. For Part I, click here.

You've worked Keith Nichol in at quarterback throughout the season, and both he and Kirk [Cousins] are sophomores. Do you expect a similar pattern going forward? Will the rotation continue next year?

Mark Dantonio: That's not up to me. That's up to each individual player and how they perform. I do think that it was important this year, with both being sophomores, to provide growth. Where we go from there is up to each of our players and how they play. Obviously, there's been some separation there [with Cousins], but as I said earlier in the season, we wanted to provide growth for our football program. Coming back next year, we have two experienced quarterbacks. One has played the most, but the other one certainly has done some things as well. Kirk's played excellent, but Keith Nichol has gone in, like the Illinois game, and he's got six touchdown passes and I'm not sure exactly how many reps, but he's got that under his belt in terms of game experience. As a head football coach, you've got to make decisions and do the best you can to get your entire team ready. That's what we've tried to do. Because without that, we have no experience. We have one guy.

Last year, for example, with Brian Hoyer taking the majority of the reps, I felt like it was important to play Kirk Cousins in the bowl game. It was very important for his development. It was also important to play him in the Ohio State game, even though Brian could have come back a little bit earlier, but Kirk was doing well. I felt like it was important to give him those experiences because that would pay dividends for the future.

Switching to defense, you mentioned the consistency, has that been the issue there? You've had some good games like Iowa and Northwestern, and others where it's been more of a struggle.

Dantonio: It's consistency. The Michigan game, the Illinois game, the Northwestern game, the Iowa game, those were four straight games we played well defensively. Then we went up to Minnesota and did not play as well. Gave up the deep ball. But you've got to make a play on them, we've done that in the past, and we've got to be consistent. But you face a different offense every single week and things change for you conceptually, and defense is such a reactionary position. You're not able to go out there and say, 'OK, this is what we're going to do.' You have to adjust based on the offenses you're going to see, and sometimes the matchups are difficult. On the positive side of it, we've got 29 sacks, they've only run the ball for five touchdowns against us. Greg Jones is having a great year, a dynamic year, so there are some positives we can draw from that.

I know you've coached a lot of great defensive players. Is Greg right up there at the top, and what's his ceiling at the next level?

Dantonio: Greg Jones is one of the top defensive players I've been around. What makes him such a great player is he's extremely instinctive, which is an intangible, very instinctive, he gets off blocks and he's extremely quick. And then his effort and his intensity are so great. He believes he's not going to get blocked and he believes he has to go hard on every single play, whether that's in practice or that's in a game. There's really no difference in how he practices and how he goes about it in a game. It's 100 miles an hour. He's strong, he's tough and all those different things, he's athletic, but the thing that puts him over the edge are those intangibles.

You talked about regaining respect this month. There are still some goals out there for you. Are the guys still aware of what's still possible this season?

Dantonio: Absolutely. We're still very much aware of the things we can do as a football program. It's got to start with Purdue, though. We can't get too far in the future. The No. 1 thing is let's win six games and worry about what we can handle after that. It starts this weekend.