Sam Webb: Roy how are you doing?
Roy Manning: “I’m awesome, I’m awesome. The anticipation is definitely building this week, and I’m definitely looking forward to getting an opportunity for this game this weekend.”
Sam Webb: You know, this is a game that guys as players, and you’re a former Michigan player, they say this is always a chippy game, and in a season where you guys have a few rivals you guys play, this one might be the chippiest; it might be the hardest hitting. Do you agree with that, or do you think they’re all pretty much on par?
Roy Manning: “Yeah, I definitely do, and obviously it’s an in-state rival, but you know, growing up here in the state of Michigan, I think if you look at both of our rosters, you probably see a lot of the same kids being recruited, so I think that’s what adds to that chippiness, to that whole fist fight kind of mentality, because both teams have kids that could have gone either way, probably.”
Sam Webb: Alright, I’m going to take you outside of this rivalry, and just give you a scenario, because I don’t want to stir anything up, so back in high school, you know, I went to Flint Central, and we used to play this team north of us, Saginaw High, and we thought Saginaw was pretty dirty. We thought Saginaw would go above and beyond, man, play outside of the whistle, so our coach always used to talk to us about matching that toughness, but not matching the dirtiness. How do you walk that line? How do you do that as a player?
Roy Manning: “It’s a fine line, you know what I mean? It’s a really fine line, and I think first and foremost, guys have to understand that you have to be smart out there. You know, you want to be physical, you want to be aggressive, you want to send a message, but you want to do it in a context where you’re not going too far, and now you’re costing your team in some way. I think that’s probably the hardest thing now for both of our teams to do when we play this game.”
Sam Webb: Watching some of the things we watched between Central and Saginaw, it was very tough not to respond in kind, but we always felt like you couldn’t just let it go, because that would be a sign of weakness, but you couldn’t just take it so far, because you didn’t want to hurt your team, so we looked to the veterans to lead us in that regard. Is that kind of how it goes?
Roy Manning: “It definitely is, and I think it just starts back at the game you’re playing. You’re playing the game of football, which is a man’s game, and everybody has testosterone and adrenaline, and it’s a real prideful game we play. I think that when you match up any teams that happen to be in close proximity, you’re going to get that – again, that chippiness, that over-the-top stuff, so that’s just a part of it, and that’s what you have to enjoy as a player and as a coach.”
Sam Webb: Let’s get to the guys at your position. You’ve been getting Jake Ryan back more and more every week over the past few weeks. Do you anticipate, this week, him being ready to play the most snaps he’s played thus far?
Roy Manning: “Yeah, you know, we’ve just been watching him really close, and obviously, he’s done so much for this team, and you want to have him out there, but at the same time, you have to keep in the back of your mind that he did get injured six or seven months ago, so we’re trying to just skate that fine line with having him out there where he’s helping his team, but not having him out there too much where we’re hurting him as a player, and that’s our job as coaches to make sure we’re kind of keeping track. Leave it to Jake and he’ll be out there every play, and it’s hard to tell him no sometimes, because he is such a good player, but it’ll be interesting this game to see kind of how the flow and balance of this game goes.”
Sam Webb: Is it different for – you know, Jake as a captain, you know, guys like Taylor, the guys on this roster that have been up there before, are you noticing a difference in them this week with the other guys? I guess you guys only have like 20 or so guys who have actually played up there. Is it different from them this week from the rest of the team?
Roy Manning: “I think definitely it has been. You know, those kids who are playing in their last game against Michigan State, you can definitely tell, and I definitely notice some of those seniors have just a more focused approach this week. Maybe coming off a bye week, our guys are getting more honed in, and we’ve had two weeks now to prepare for them, but you definitely notice it out there, and you just really hope, as a coach, that it translates onto the field on Saturday.”
Sam Webb: Let’s dig into the Spartans a little bit. Over the past few weeks, they’ve looked like an offense that has made some strides compared to earlier in the season where they were pretty anemic, couldn’t really move the football. The defense was actually leading the team in touchdowns at one point. What have you seen from them as of late? What do you see in the Michigan State offense?
Roy Manning: “Well, they’re a tough team, you know what I mean? Coach Dantonio, you can tell that he’s a coach who’s instilled a tough mindset into that team. Obviously they want to run the ball, you know what I mean? They want to attack you at the line of scrimmage and kind of control the line of scrimmage, and set their play action and stuff like that up, and we understand that, and obviously the quarterback situation they seem to have straightened out, and he’s playing better, and that’s one cool thing that you see, is that he’s a guy who’s not going to try to do too much. They’re going to play to their defense, you know, which is what any smart team should do. You always play on your best offense when your defense is on the field, and vice versa, so it’s going to definitely be a challenge. Regardless of stats, because I really feel like, in this game, you can throw every stat just out the window. Our schemes, all that stuff, you can throw it out the window. It’s going to come down to who’s tougher, who wants it more. Over the years, the statistics say the team that rushed for the most yards usually won this game, but our records, they don’t even matter at this point. We’re 6-1; I believe they’re 6-1 or 7-1. All that stuff is out the window because it’s Michigan State week, so you just have to go out there and perform.”
Sam Webb: I mean, they’re so different from the last team you played, I’m wondering, how much do you take away from the last game? The reason why I ask that is because Coach Mattison was really – I guess I’ll say disappointed. He said ‘that’s not Michigan defense’, when he was talking about the outing versus Indiana, but between the tempo, and how they spread you out, how much of that is just that kind of team that you play, and what they bring to the table, as opposed to you guys? And I know you want to be more sound, but was it just that Indiana is such a unique attack that you guys were facing that week?
Roy Manning: “Yeah, you know, I think it’s two-fold. The first thing is, they’re a spread team. They like to pass the ball, you know, 50 or 60 times per game, whatever the case is, so you know that they’re going to hit plays, and they’re going to move the ball, and they’re going to score some points. What you don’t like to see is the big plays, you know, the ones that you can control from a defensive standpoint, and I think that’s what was most disappointing was that I think we’ve done a pretty good job this season of not giving up the big ones, you know, the ones that cost you, and I think coming out of the Indiana game, that’s where we didn’t play up to our standard. At the same time, again, we have a standard here. We want to limit the amount of points teams score, we want to limit the amount of yards they have rushing and passing, and our standards aren’t going to change no matter who we play. I think it’s good that Coach Mattison was still a little bit disappointed, because if not, you have no standard in your program, and we’re going to hold those kids to it, and we’re going to be accountable as coaches, to put them in the right positions, to call the right deals to have them succeed. I think everybody learned a valuable lesson coming out of that game, so again, looking forward to getting back out there Saturday.”
Sam Webb: Without focusing on what aspects of Michigan State you guys have been keying on, what was the primary focus practice last week, if any, out of that Indiana game, heading into this one? What did you guys really work on, not talking specifically about any Michigan State tendencies?
Roy Manning: “Well, the biggest thing is, at least defensively, is just trusting and going back to your technique and your fundamentals. A team like that who has the tempo going, they’re snapping the ball before you can get your hand down; when you’re playing those types of teams, you have to fall back on your fundamentals and your technique. Otherwise, you can easily get beaten by a team like that by getting caught up in all that stuff, so we tried to use that bye week, obviously, to get a jump on Michigan State, but we slowed things down and just made sure we were doing a better job of teaching, and just getting back to our fundamentals and technique, because that stuff will carry you regardless of what defenses and stuff you call.”
Sam Webb: Last one for you, Roy. Big game, as you said, it’s always chippy, you can throw out the stats. Is this game – is it a referendum on toughness? Will the tougher team win this contest? I mean, I know turnovers are a big deal with it; you know, the team that turns it over the least is probably going to be in the best shape, but is this really a referendum on toughness? If you’re the tougher team, do you win this game?
Roy Manning: “I truly believe that – not to bring up the past, but two years ago when I was here, and we went up there, that was my first time coming back here in some years, and just coming out of that game, I didn’t necessarily feel like ‘oh, Michigan State just beat us because of a great scheme, or they just hit these – ’ I just felt like we got out-toughed that game, I really do, and that’s the big thing that I’ve been trying to emphasize to my guys about the toughness and the level of intensity that you’re going to have to have to play in this game. Again, we want to be smart, we want to be aggressive, and we want to do it the right way, but at the same time, we want to cut it loose and understand that there’s no tomorrow, because every one of these games is for a championship.”