Aug. 30, 2010
DEKALB, Ill.- Northern Illinois head football coach Jerry Kill spoke at NIU's weekly press conference at the Jeffrey and Kimberly Yordon Center to preview the season opener at Iowa State. Joining Kill were wide receiver Landon Cox (Calumet City, Ill./Thornton Fractional North), D.J. Pirkle (Frankfort, Ill./Lincoln Way) and Tracy Wilson (Harvey, Ill./St. Francis DeSales). Below are excerpts from the press conference.
NIU Head Coach Jerry Kill
On being more confident going into third year as NIU head coach
"You know I don't know; I guess it's just coaching. I've always gone into every year feeling good about where you're at...you really don't know until you play. Am I more comfortable than I was when I first walked in the door? You bet. I think the longer you're at one place the more you understand it, not only the football program but the university and how things are run...so I feel more comfortable about that.
"As far as our team goes, each year is different so you really don't get comfortable with each team until you go play in a game. To this point and with this particular team, through the off-season, through the summer time and through two-a-days camp has done what we asked them to do. Thursday night, no matter what the outcome is, I just want their best. To this point they've given us their best. I don't see that changing. I think they'll give their best Thursday."
On needing to play their first game to see where they're at
On Iowa State's defensive strengths
"I think that we don't get to play pre-season football games like they do in the NFL. I don't think anybody knows exactly what their weaknesses or strengths are until they play in a game. You get an idea of what your strengths and weaknesses are in practice, but until you play a game there might be a young man who excels in a game situation who maybe didn't excel in a practice situation. Maybe they play better when the lights come on and some won't play as good. You got to get to that game to really get the feel for those kinds of things."
"Well, I think their strength is, number one, is they are so well-disciplined. They're not going to give you a big play. They are very strong in the secondary...with two strong corners who are very gifted. Their coach does a great job at coaching; he's been coaching for 40 years. You don't coach 40 years and not know anything about football. I think the big thing I see in Iowa State's whole program is that they've got discipline. They're not going to make a lot of mistakes. They were number two in the red zone defense a year ago. They're just very, very solid at discipline, very aggressive, very good tacklers. I've got nothing but compliments for what I've seen from film and that's all I can go by: what I've seen on film from a year ago."
On where Iowa State compares to teams NIU played the last two years
"It's hard to compare. I think sometimes when you compare people, it's a hard thing to do. Again, each group is different. They are very athletic. They possess a lot of speed, similar to South Florida. I mean they're going to be a team, he's got some roots with Coach Leavitt. You're going to see a similar type of look."
On Iowa State's speed, athletic ability and discipline
"It's not like you're going to trick them. You're going to have to execute them, you're not going to be able to trick them. They're going to be in the right place, they're not going to make mental errors. That has a lot to do with the head coach and certainly the defensive coordinator. But that's really how the whole football team plays. Coach Rhoads has done a heck of a job there, he really has."
On what to expect from NIU in game situation
"No. You do what you do. For the most part in football, I think we both know what we're going to do. You're going to do what you know and you're going to teach what you know. So it doesn't matter who you plug in there, that's what they're going to do. We got the same situation. We got three or four young linebackers who are going to play on Thursday night and we're not going to teach them anything different than what we taught the ones a year ago. They're just going to be young. How they perform and what they do in those particular situations under the lights on Thursday night, you don't know. That's what you look forward to as a coach, just to see them. You get excited about that."
On the match between Leonard Johnson and Landon Cox
"I don't get into all that kind of things before a game. There are match-ups all over the field that will be critical in the football game. Again, they're very good in the secondary and what they do. I think it comes to us executing, whether it's Landon Cox or Nate Palmer or whoever it may be."
On the importance of playing BCS games
"It's the way you play. The schedule is what it is; it's very difficult. I think we play the first four out of five on the road. I think I heard Toledo say they play the first four our of six on the road. We've got a tough schedule and what does it mean? It gets you prepared for the conference. The big thing is you have to stay healthy through it. I would rather play them early and get our team better and play against tremendous competition. If you can stay healthy, that will help you in the MAC. You will know exactly what you have. I think the key to that is when you play a non-conference schedule and play them all four in a row, and you play three of them on the road, it's how you mentally handle it. The win-lose whatever happens you have to handle it. If you win, you have to handle it. If you lose, you have to handle it. You have to keep your players grounded because at the end of the day, you're trying to win a conference championship. I think health as a lot to do with that."
On the number of quarterbacks that will play Thursday
"We won't see three quarterbacks. I'm not going to name the starter until game time, it's not anything against anybody in this room. It's just like anything: you try to go into game, you don't want to let a coordinator prepare anything different. Whoever it's going to be, we don't want to reveal that. We don't plan on playing three or anything to that nature."
On possibly seeing two quarterbacks Thursday
"Don't know that either, probably not. We'll just have to see if the situation arises. I hate to say anything. If you interviewed me two or three years ago it wouldn't have been a problem. But when I went to University of Tennessee, I think we were on our fourth quarterback at that time, I never thought that would happen. We'll probably travel four quarterbacks because of that situation. In my career, I've never had anybody get hurt at quarterback as much as we've had here."
On what level our offense and defense are on
"I think they're about the same. I feel good about both sides of the ball; as good as you can feel practicing against each other. I think each side of the ball has had success. I think we've been offensively up-front. Our offensive line, I think we're a more physical unit than we were a year ago...defensive line has probably made us that way. I think both sides of the ball have helped each other. We've seen a lot of things from each other and I think hopefully it has prepared us for not only this game but for the season. We had a very tough two-a-day camp; a very physical two-a-day camp. We tackled and did a lot more things than we've done in the past and we taught a bit different. I feel good about what we did to prepare for this season. No matter what happens on Thursday night, I know the coaching staff feels good about where we've gotten our kids. We got a lot of kids who got a lot of reps and if we have an injury or two hopefully we can overcome it. We can't afford it in some places, but in some others we can get somebody to fill in because of the repetitions and how we practice. To kind of give you an example of that, we had three huddles going in practice. We repped three groups all through camp. We had 16 offensive linemen that took reps. We did a lot to build depth because that's been our problem at the end of the year; we run out of players because the non-conference schedule is tough."
On pushing the "underdog" role
"I've never, since I've been here, it's been right or wrong since I've been coaching. We've been fortunate to have some good wins at places I've been. You all get tired of hearing it, my wife gets tired of hearing it...but you just take one game at a time. It's not like basketball where you play Tuesday and Thursday. You only have so many opportunities to do so, so you really lock in on that one, and when it's over, you really sulk on the way home or you're happy about it on the way home. Then, you have to turn around and go right onto the next week. You really don't have time to enjoy or whatever before you're moving on.
"I never talk about being the underdog. I feel like any time you put the uniform on, whether you play here or at Iowa State or at Tennessee, you're preparing to be successful and win. That's what you're supposed to do as a coach. So I never talk about underdogs. I don't get into, `this coach said this' or `this guy said that.' To me, when the whistle blows, nobody is thinking about what anyone said. They're thinking about playing football between those white lines. Where you play it or when it happens, I think when you approach it that way your kids just go out there and play. I've seen over the last two years, for the most part, that when we play our non-conference opponents our kids just went out there and played. We've had some success at times and haven't been successful at times, but we've been pretty darn close on about every game we've played non-conference wise. That's all you ask is to do your best during that particular time."
On Cameron Bell's situation
"I think that's pretty typical of where we're at in college athletics. When somebody wants to transfer to another school and that particular team is on your schedule, nobody is going to release him. That's just pretty typical. We knew that when it happened, when he was released. We're just trying to get ready for the conference. If he doesn't play in this game we march on. That's just how we treat it. It hasn't affected us any. We're deep at running back. Cameron, I know, would like to play but he understood that when he came in. I don't think we've made that a big deal and it shouldn't be. That's part of it. I understand it fully. I have no complaints over it at all."
On naming a kicker
"Again, I don't think you can answer that til game day. If you ask me that question again on Thursday night I'll be able to give you a lot better of an answer. I mean I could go out and make a field goal right now and I'm pretty old, but I could put one through those uprights from between 15 or 20 yards. But could I do it against Iowa State in a game situation? Probably not. I haven't had the repetition to do it. Game situations are totally different. That's why I think sooner or later you have to throw your team out there and let them play to see where you truly really are. You can predict, you can do all those types of things, but until you play, you don't know what you have. That's what in college football is unique because we don't have a pre-season like NFL does."
On the kicking situation
"I don't know yet. I have time to make a decision on that situation. There's a couple of guys in there. It may be a situational thing too. We very well may kick somebody off and have somebody do field goals. We may kick two. That is a possibility."
On Michael Cklamovski
"His situation, again, I have to get the NCAA rule book out and let you read it. His situation has to do with transferring because of an academic situation. You can be immediately eligible and get a waiver and those types of things. I think it's a law school situation there and a law school situation here. If you're not accepted into one law school you can be accepted and immediately eligible. He's a non-scholarship player, so it's a totally different situation. They're all different. All transfers are different. That's why you have to go through all the proper procedures."
On Iowa State's quarterback and their offense
"He's a great player. They have a great running back. Seven or eight starters are returning. Offensively they will be very good. It will be a big challenge for us. It really will be. Running backs, they know how to run the football. That's really the number one goal: we have to stop the run. There isn't any question about that on defense. If we don't do that, it will be a long day."
On NIU's defensive line going up against Iowa State's large offensive line
"A lot of our group of kids have gone up against that type of thing anyway. I think we're just excited to do, just like Iowa State and everyone else in college football, we're all excited to see...again...how we play no matter who it is...how we do, how we perform."
On whether a low scoring game might help win the game
"If it's low scoring, high scoring, if it's 2-0 and it's a safety, as long as the outcome is in our end I really don't care. I don't know, being the first game, it will be the team. Just like anything you look at the first games in college football, it'll be the team that doesn't turn over the football. It will be the team that plays the best in special teams. Usually the first game, for whatever reason, is determined a lot by special teams, field position, turnovers, and other people's mistakes. I think the team that makes the least mistakes will win the game. It really comes down to that. And certainly in the first week, sometimes you have enough talent to overcome some of those mistakes. But in the first week, sometimes you don't see that as much."
On if Iowa State's no huddle will be a test to see how good our defense is this year
"I think that it's a test for anybody with no huddle. We've done a bunch of no huddles during two-a-days camp. That no huddle that group has, that's just part of college football. I don't think it matters, no huddle or huddle. It's irrelevant. It's how you play. Again, our key to the success we'll have is we have to stop the run. Stop that running back. He's a good player."
D.J. Pirkle, Defensive Line
On looking forward to opening the season
"It's definitely about time. We've been doing fall camp. It's kind of a grind going through that. When Thursday comes around, we just have to hit somebody else, not our buddies. So, I'm looking forward to that."
On the importance of stopping their running game
"That's definitely the key to any game. You have to stop the run especially with this because you have the running back and the quarterback is pretty quick and he likes to run a little bit. So if we can get down to stop the run and get them in second long and then again in third long and force the pass. We can play packages against that. So I think the major key to the game is defense."
On maintaining the defense's success
"Like you said, the last few years have had pretty good defense. We want to keep that reign going and be the top defense in the MAC. That's our main goal. As a defense we have our goals. We don't really necessarily talk about it. We set our goals and that's the last we talk about it til the end of the season."
Landon Cox, Wide Receiver
On what they've learned about Iowa State
"When watching the film, we try to pick up on the tendencies they have, try to match our offensive up with their defense. We've been trying to put things together so far."
On going up against Leonard Johnson
"I'm going to accept the challenge. Coming into this game, like I said before, we're preparing for anything they throw at us. It's all we've been doing throughout camp, getting ourselves ready to the best of our ability. Whoever I'm going up against, it will be to the best of my ability."
On the importance of special teams
"Special teams is always key. Like coach said, offensive guys and defensive guys get a chance to be out there on the field together and it makes something special happen, that's why they're called special teams. That's why they're so important. There are going to be times when the game could be changed on special teams, and we have to be prepared the best we can if that happens."
Tracy Wilson, Safety
On containing their quarterback and running back
"I think the main key is going to be just doing your assignments, not trying to be out there making every play. Just knowing you have 10 other guys on the field with you, you don't have to make every tackle. So it's just doing your assignment. Sometimes your assignment may be, you might be ran off by a wide receiver, if that's your assignment you have to do your assignment and know that you have other guys on the field with you so you don't have to make every play...that's going to be key for the defense.
On the NIU defense
"From spring ball and really going into camp, every day going to practice. We just built a lot of chemistry and trust in each other. Knowing that the next person, my guy next to me, he's going to do his job as long as I do my job, we're going to be okay."
On the defense being prepared for the schedule
"We are ready for the stretch that we have coming up. Coach Kill and the coaching staff do a good job at us getting our legs back. The stretch isn't gong to be too difficult as long as we have our legs. As long as we have our legs we're going to be good and Coach Kill does a good job with getting our legs back."