Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard is one of the top cornerbacks in the Big Ten and an NFL draft prospect. But Dennard learned that life on an island can be rough sometimes in the Spartans' loss to Notre Dame two weeks ago.
Dennard and fellow cornerback Trae Waynes were involved in several controversial pass interference and holding calls against Irish receivers in that game at South Bend. Their task now is to find ways to maintain the Spartans' physical style of play without drawing flags as they head into Saturday's game at Iowa.
The senior from Dry Branch, Ga., talked about that and other items with ESPN.com in this week's Friday Q&A:
Brian Bennett: How was the bye week for you guys?
Darqueze Dennard: We had great practices last week. Me and Trae both, we worked on not being so physical and being smart about the game, and I think we did a great job of that.
BB: Were you trying to correct mistakes or more figuring out what you can get away with as a cornerback these days?
DD: A little bit of both, you could say. We made a special emphasis on not being so physical downfield and learning what you can get away with. Asking referees what they call pass interference, what they call holding. And just being smarter about playing the ball downfield. I think we did a good job all week, and we hope to show it in the game Saturday.
BB: Physical play at the cornerback spot is a big part of the Michigan State defensive plan. So how do you balance not losing that aggressiveness with trying to avoid penalties?
DD: I say you've got to be smart about it. You've got to know the refs you're playing with, are they going to call the ticky-tack fouls or are they going to let you and the receiver go down and fight for the ball? I think you've got to feel out the game and play the game like that. It's kind of hard to balance both, but I feel like Trae and I can do a great job of that.
BB: Not to criticize any specific calls, but do you think offensive players are getting too much benefit of the doubt on those 50-50 type balls?
DD: (Laughs). Yeah, I feel like they are. There are a lot of offensive rules to help those guys out these days. But at the end of the day, I feel like we've just got to continue to play the way we play and the way we've been coached to play and continue to do what we do best. If that means being physical, we've got to do that. We've got to also be smarter as well.
BB: What did you do to learn more about what's acceptable down the field? Was it watching film? Talking to officials?
DD: It's been a little bit of both. Watching old film and asking referees who come to our practice what would they call, what we can get away with, when will offensive pass interference be called. Just getting more knowledge on that stuff is the main thing.
BB: What other cornerbacks around the country or in the NFL do you watch?
DD: I watch pretty much all the corners around the Big Ten and around the nation. I watched [Ohio State's] Bradley Roby the other night. I watched the [Aaron] Colvin kid from Oklahoma. I watched Jason Verrett from TCU. A really good friend of mine plays at Baylor, K.J. Morton. I talk to him a lot. I also talk to a good friend who plays on the South Carolina defense, Brison Williams. I talk to those guys and see what they see, ask what they do. I am also a big fan of [Arizona Cardinals corner] Patrick Peterson. I love the way he plays the game. I try to pick a lot of people's brains and ask questions.
BB: Did you hear from any of those guys after the Notre Dame game?
DD: I heard from a couple of those guys, and they told me to continue to play like you did, as well as my coaches. They said, "I don't think that was pass interference. Continue to play physical like you do."
BB: What challenges does Iowa's offense present to you this week?
DD: The challenge I'm looking forward to is stopping their receivers. I feel very confident in our front seven and our safeties doing a great job stopping the run, and I feel like it will come down to me and Trae making plays on the ball when they go after us. I feel like after the running game gets stopped, they will be forced to throw. And when the ball's in the air, we've got to come down with it and make those plays.
BB: Their No. 1 receiver right now is Kevonte Martin-Manley. What are your impressions of him?
DD: I've watched a lot of film on him, and I've played against him for a couple of years. I think he's gotten a lot better from last year. He looks like he's a little faster, he's doing a great job after the catch and a good job of blocking as well. He's physical, and he's big and strong. He's having a great year. We've got to stop him this week.
BB: You were an all-state receiver in high school. Ever lobby the coaches to put you on that side of the ball?
DD: Nah. Yeah, I was a pretty good receiver in high school. But that was high school. We have a lot of great receivers here. I go against these guys every day. They work hard and play even harder. They're doing a great job these past few weeks of really dedicating themselves to their craft and focusing on improving their game. So they don't need me on that side of the ball.
BB: Are you related to [former Nebraska and current New England Patriots CB] Alfonzo Dennard, and if so how?
DD: Yeah, that's my cousin. Like my third cousin.
Are you close?
DD: Yeah, we talk pretty much like every week. We'll shoot each other a text, saying "good luck," "ball out," or whatever. We pretty much catch up that way. He's also really good at telling me to keep playing well and telling me things I should do.
BB: You both pronounce your last names differently [it's Alfonzo DENN-erd and Darqueze de-NARD). You told me this at media day, but how did that come about?
DD: [Laughs]. It's actually kind of crazy. But I guess my mom got mad at my dad or whatever when I was young. So I came home one day and she said, 'Say de-NARD now, not DENN-erd. So it was just like that.
BB: Did having a last name pronounced de-NARD ever come up when you played Denard Robinson?
DD: [Laughs]. Nah. It didn't at all.
BB: Finally, in each of the last two years you grabbed three interceptions. You haven't gotten one this year, though you've been close. How anxious are you to get that first one?
DD: I've been so anxious. I can't even explain how anxious I am. It's really crazy, because I've had a few in my hands. But I get so excited that I pretty much don't look it all the way in. These past couple weeks, during the first few periods of practice and after practice, I've not been wearing gloves, like I used to do in high school. I'm pretty much getting back to my roots, looking it all the way in and focusing in on the ball. I've been working on my hands, and I feel very confident that I am where I was last year. I'm planning on more than three this year, if the Lord blesses me with the chance. I've been working on it, so I'm planning on no more drops.