|HUSKIE ALL-ACCESS HIGHLIGHTS
Aug. 28, 2012
DEKALB, Ill.- Northern Illinois head football coach Dave Doeren spoke at NIU's weekly press conference at the Jeffrey and Kimberly Yordon Center to preview the season opener against Iowa. Joining Doeren were wide receiver Perez Ashford, defensive end Sean Progar and tight end Jason Schepler. Below are excerpts from the press conference.
NIU Head Coach Dave Doeren
"It's good to be back into game week. I know our team is excited to hit somebody beside themselves in practice. As coaches, we're excited just to see what we have. You know, I think as a coach, you always think you know, but until you get out there and compete against somebody else. I think it's the best measuring stick you can have for where you're at as a team, what you need to work on the most, what you're best strengths are, what you're worst weaknesses are. We do that against a great team, in a great venue in the opener with Iowa at Soldier Field.
"(We're) really excited to play against the Hawkeyes. I've always had great respect for their program and tremendous respect for Coach Ferentz. When I was a graduate assistant at USC, I was actually able to phone interview with Coach Ferentz when he first got that job. Obviously I didn't get hired, but I thought he handled it with unbelievable class. The way he dealt with me, the way he talked to me.
"Having worked for Coach Bielema, and also living in Iowa for as long as I did and playing at Drake, my wife's family, her brother and sister are Iowa grads, so I know a lot about their program. I know a lot about their coach. I've competed against them obviously at Wisconsin, five different times. So I know what we're up against.
"Iowa's a team that's won their last 11 openers by a margin of victory over 37 points. They're 5-0 against the MAC in openers. They're 7-0 against NIU all time and the last time NIU played Iowa, they [Iowa] obviously won 16-3 and held NIU to 21 yards rushing. So, we know that we're up against a very good team. We also know that we're a pretty good team. How good we are? We're about to find out. Looking forward to seeing where we're at, watching our players play, and letting the two teams decide it on the field.
"Soldier Field, in the fall, is such a great venue. We're so appreciative for the fact that they allow us to come down there and play in their stadium. For our recruits to be able to witness a game on that field, for our players, families, and coaches to be able to play a game in that stadium, be in that locker room that a lot of our heroes were in, is a big deal to us. So we say thank you to Soldier Field for allowing that to happen and look to forward to hopefully future venues there."
On NIU's young offense
"Obviously there's more question marks there because we haven't seen guys play in games particularly on the offensive line, just because that's where we're youngest. We know what our receivers are going to do, we've seen our tailbacks play, we've seen our tight ends play and we've seen a couple of our offensive linemen play in certain games. But to see those five guys together for the first time, this is going to be a great deal. Just watching Iowa play, their defensive line in my opinion is one of the best fundamentally, best coached, most fundamentally sound across the board. They're nothing flashy, just locking people out, shedding blocks and making plays. I think they do that extremely well. I look forward to that competition.
"Defensively, hoping that we can continue to play with the end of the season with a lot of confidence, with our best players making plays, and playing sound, making people earn things, contending throws, making plays when they're there to be make, leveraging football the right way and understanding our fits in our run game and our help and our coverage schemes.
On the walkthrough at Soldier Field
"I can't tell you until after we play the game. I thought there were a lot of guys who had never been there and needed to see what an NFL stadium really looks like from the ground level and I think I accomplished that.
"For those young kids that are playing, it was a good experience. For the older kids, some of them have been in there three or four times already. You know, probably for them, it was a lot of bus trip. But I think for our young guys, it was a great trip. I mean Jordan played there in high school, so he's been there. There's going to be a handful of guys who had never been on the field of an NFL stadium. I didn't want game day against a Big Ten team to be the first time they'd done it."
On hearing and reading about Iowa while playing at Drake
"Well, when you're living in Iowa, the Hawkeyes dominate the news. There is no NFL football team in the state of Iowa, and so the Hawkeyes, then the Cyclones, then Northern Iowa, then Drake, and that's kind of the way it went.
"The Big Peach was the sports page at the time, I don't know if they have that any more, in the Des Moines Register, but it was always three or four pages of Hawkeye news and at the time I was in college they were a tremendous football team, so they got a lot of press at that time. That was when Coach Fry was at the peak of his career and he had a lot of great assistants that are now great head coaches on his staff.
"They got a ton of news and we always felt like we were the red-headed step child being at Drake, and we were. I look forward to playing against them, and that has nothing to do with our game, but just growing up you looked up to Iowa as the standard of what you wanted to become when you were playing in that state."
On comparing this year's Iowa team to the teams he competed against at Wisconsin
"They're a young offensive line too, and they're a young defensive line. There's a couple D-lineman that played a lot last year that you do get to see on film that are impressive. Obviously the center, Ferentz, has played a lot of football there, and he's a very good football player.
"I just know, having played Iowa five times, every group, regardless of what the name was on the back of their shirt, they played really hard. They were extremely strong, and they were well prepared. So, I expect to see the same. You just don't have the two-time All Big Ten guy at right tackle coming back, so you don't see that right now, but I know that they have always recruited well on the fronts."
On pressuring Iowa's returning quarterback James Vandenberg
"He's a guy that last year threw 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions, and 3,000 yards passing in an offense that's really not designed for that. I mean they do throw obviously, but they're not a team that stands there and throws 40 times a game.
"I think he made the most of what he had. I think he made good decisions. He can run, not that he's a designed runner a lot, but he does get himself out of trouble. He's very accurate, has a strong arm, he had very good targets last year and he lost a couple of those, so I know they'll be trying to feel their way through that part of their game.
"I do think they have maybe one of the best receiving tight end's in college football in Fiedorowicz. So, that'll be a challenge for us. As a quarterback, I know you like having a 6'7 target. We know we need to take care of him. From what I read, their tailback catches the ball pretty well out of the backfield, so I know that he'll be a guy that we have to recognize in the pass game as well. Any time you return a senior starter or a returning starter at quarterback, I think that's an area of strength on your football team.
On the importance of starting fast
"I don't know if we need a statement as much as we need to be in the game. I don't want to look up and see 21-0. I think if we can play with them and not beat ourselves, I think that's a huge key. When you play a fundamentally sound team, you just don't give them opportunities. Make them earn everything. If we can not beat NIU in the game in the first and second quarter, and make it at halftime where we're in there [the locker room] talking about winning the game, then we'll have a chance to be competitive.
"To me, the best start for us would just be playing good football and not beating ourselves. We need to keep doing that until our players make some plays because we do have some guys that are very electric when they touch the football. We need to give them a chance to make sure they have a chance to do that."
On maintaining an up tempo offense
"That's just part of our offense. We'll go fast. We can huddle. We can change personnel and slow it down. There were certain games where we went light speed at times last year, and we'll have to see how we're doing. Obviously it's not good if you're not getting first downs on your defense. We've got to make sure it's working, but we do have the ability to speed things up and slow it down as much as we want."
On how Iowa approaches this game as a Big Ten team
"I don't know, having not worked for Coach [Ferentz] to know what he would do. I know playing at Wisconsin, it didn't matter who we played, we always talked about playing better than we did the week before. We focused a lot on ourselves, as opposed to our opponents during those weeks, making sure that we were getting better all the time.
"You know that you are going to get the best shot of the team that you're playing, just like the following week when we play Tennessee-Martin. They're coming here with nobody expecting them to win. We're going to get all their gadgets. When you play a team like us when you're supposedly better, you might expect to get the best shot from that team."
On preparing for both of Iowa's new coordinators
"You have to go back, Coach [Greg] Davis, I've competed against when I was at Kansas and he was at Texas. I remember what he did when he was there. He had Vince Young, which is a different dynamic quarterback wise. You do look back to that. We also looked at his last couple years at Texas and what was different. That helps you and also creates a little indecision. The first three games every year you are going to have that same problem. Even if they return their staff, you know they did some research in the offseason and tweaked some things, so the unknown is always a part of it.
"Defensively, they're kind of interesting. Phil Parker was there the whole time Norm [Parker] was there, but their talking a lot about how much more pressure they're going to bring now. That's something they weren't. They used to play two or three defenses and blitz you in the red zone and they played better technique. If they are more of a pressure team, that would be a big change for Iowa. We'll see. We'll have to be ready for that obviously. They've moved a ton of coaches around on their staff, so I think that part of it will be interesting in the game. Their offensive line is now on the defensive side. Their tight ends coach is now on the defensive side. Their linebackers coach moved from linebackers into the secondary and they hired a new linebackers coach who hadn't coached Division I football before. They have a lot of new pieces and dynamics are going to be a big part of it as well.
On any pressure faced by Jordan Lynch for his first start being at Soldier Field
"I've talked to him a lot about just managing the game. All of our players, if they play within the system, the system will do the rest. They're not starting because they're not good enough. They're starting because they make good plays and they have to trust that. It's the scheme and the plays and the reads.
"Can he do that in his first game? We'll find out. I think that's part of growing as a quarterback is managing the game and protecting your defense and not trying to make a play that will put them in harm's way if you don't have to. Those are all things we're talking a lot about with our offense and with our quarterbacks and, obviously, it's up to him to take that information to the field and use it."
On the decision of playing true freshmen or redshirting them
"We discuss it a lot. I don't like burning a guy's redshirt if he's not going to be an integral part or have the ability to benefit greatly from the year. We're going to play Desroy Maxwell, one of our freshman tight ends, because I think, if he travels and follows Jason Schepler around for an entire season, as opposed to not doing that, he will be much more prepared to be our starting tight end next season. He'll play on special teams. He'll play on offense at times, but I know if I redshirted him and had him here the entire year, he wouldn't gain as much. He is physically able to do that because of how he's built.
"There's other players that you watch them in practice and you know how good they were in high school and you just don't see it yet. You can't put them out there yet. That's kind of the biggest thing. Bottom line is do they help you win if you play them. That's the conversation we have the most."
On different preparation for this year's Soldier Field game than last year's
"Defensively, having played a bowl game as late as we did, we were able to do a lot of developmental practice with our young players. They were basically able to have their entire package in for the first game. A year ago, we played Army and we had probably 25 percent of our package in because they're triple option. I think it is a totally different preparation on the defensive side.
"Offensively, it's different. You're younger and we have a lot of stuff offensively anyway, but we're not going to run plays just to run them. I told our offensive staff, `You need to look at the formations. You need to look at the players and the players you're playing against and make sure we're running things we have a chance to be successful with.' We're pared down maybe more on that side of the ball that way than we are on the other."
On preparing for rainy conditions
"It probably depends on how muddy the field will get. Obviously there are some plays in space that we would like to take advantage of. If we can get them in a position where we can make them tackle in space, I think we have an advantage at times. If we are playing on a really muddy field, that could hurt us. I don't know that because we have not played in mud yet. So I don't know how it would go. We'll see, both teams have to deal with it. We are probably worried most about ball security and both teams would have issues when it came to that."
On freshmen quarterback traveling with team
"Right now Matt Williams will travel over Drew. We just felt like talking with both of those guys together. Drew was kind of excited about competing against our defense every day in practice he felt like that would help him more and Matt felt like being with Jordan would help him. It was more of a decision that we think either way you do it, you're gain a lot and you kind of let those guys have some say in it. Drew is excited about having his scout team offense to run against our defense every day."
What game means for bowl game implications
"Not really. If we beat them, it would be a great accomplishment because no NIU team has beat Iowa. I'd worry more about just winning the game than where it would put us in 12 weeks. I think every win is important at this point in time, especially if you are a team that has high expectations. If we are in bowl contention at the end of the year, obviously this could be a game that can help us."
Jason Schepler, Tight End
On recovering from his injury
"Recovery is going really well. Knees are feeling great and its fun to get back out there with teammates."
On missing last season
"I concentrated on learning the offense better and getting the schemes of all the plays down. I think it was a real good opportunity for me to learn the offense and have a better football IQ, so now when I'm on the field I know what's going on even faster even though I haven't been on the field I know what to expect."
Sean Progar, Defensive End
On the defense leading the way for the team
"I think we are up to it and I think the team has confidence in us and we are not going to put pressure on us. We are going to go out there and play our game and if we execute our game plan and we play hard we will be fine."
On what it will take to beat Iowa
"It's going to take execution and everyone doing their job. We've gone over the summer knowing that and going into camp knowing that. We're not going to put pressure on us. If we do what we are so post to do we will win this game. I think we all believe that."
Perez Ashford, Wide Receiver
On Jordan Lynch replacing Chandler Harnish
"I don't think Jordan looks at being Chandler. He's mostly concerned about bringing wins. We work so much on our tempo and in film, I don't think he has any butterflies going into this first game. He's actually excited. Every time we walk past each other he's always talking about the film and what we need to work on. I just think he's really anxious to start this game and win this game."