Sept. 17, 2013
DEKALB, Ill.- Northern Illinois head football coach Rod Carey spoke at NIU's weekly press conference at the Jeffrey and Kimberly Yordon Center to look ahead to the third game, and first home game of the season against Eastern Illinois. Joining Carey were running back Keith Harris Jr., linebacker Rasheen Lemon, wide receiver Tommylee Lewis and safety Dominique Ware. Below are excerpts from the press conference.
NIU Head Coach Rod Carey
"Obviously, in Idaho, we were happy to come away with the win. It was a good road trip because you come away with the win but at the same time it was a hard road trip. Not making excuses, just our guys persevered through a lot, so I was really proud of the way they handled everything. Obviously we didn't get off to the start we wanted to in that game but then we came back, made some adjustments, got our feet on the ground and really had the game in the end which was the ultimate goal in the whole thing. I'm really proud of them for how the handled the whole trip.
"Then, this week with Eastern Illinois, it's a fine football club coming in. I think they're eight or nine in the poll someone told me and certainly from what I see on film deserving of all of that. They have a quarterback who is as good as anyone that I've seen on film in the nation so far. I'm really impressed with him and their team as a whole. You know you look at the film and they do things the right way and all three parts again. I know I sound like a broken record, but they fit from last week and you know they fit again this week. So you know it's going to be a test. Label them whatever you want them as, 1-AA or FCS that don't matter to me and it won't matter to our team because you put on the film and it's a really good football team. Period. End of story."
On the home opener at Huskie Stadium
"I know the guys are excited about that and as coaches we're excited about it too. I think it's been since Toledo last year that we played at home. So it's been a while since we've been at Huskie Stadium. So we're really excited about that and excited to see our fans come out, which I fully expect they will. They've been great. You know the Orange Bowl was obviously awesome and the interest is probably there right now. It's the first home game and it's going to be nice out too. It's going to be 70 during the day. I don't know what it's going to be at night, so really excited about the whole thing."
On the depth on the defensive
"Good. It's coming but it's not where it needs to be or you want it to be, but I think we felt the same way last year with last year's D-line too. We felt good, but we still needed a work in progress to keep developing them. As the season went, we did. Right now, I think we're in that same mode. Obviously, Perez [Ford] came in but didn't play in Iowa but had a good game [at Idaho]. So he took a big step forward but we expect that from him because of how he's been practicing."
On the time table for Anthony Wells
"I'm going to hear something here in a little bit from the doctors and see if he can get out there and practice today or tomorrow or whenever that is, but I'm hopeful it's real soon."
On last week's game as a learning experience
"I think you learn something every week. I think the biggest thing we learned was no matter what the environment or what the circumstances are, you have to be ready to go. I don't know if we were quite there emotionally ready to play early. Certainly mentally and physically we were, but emotionally we probably weren't. We learned we have to be more in tune to that than we have been before."
On the defensive play last week
"More than our defense you have to talk about their offense. Idaho came out and did some things that we had not seen on film before. There's a bunch of reasons for that. One, it's the third game under Coach Petrino and a new system. Two, their games leading up to that that we had seen they were behind so they had to through quite a bit. So we knew they hade more in their offensive scheme, we just didn't know what that was. So you have to see it and adjust on the run. The point that needs to be driven home is that we made the adjustments and we got it solved, which was a big thing."
On the team's identity playing in the second half
"Yeah, I think so. It told us, listen, if you're not ready to play you can lose to anybody and if your ready to play you can beat anybody. I think that's a lesson learned. We have a good track record in the second half in the fourth quarter, and so I think there was a good feeling going into that and it just reinforced it again."
On the impact of Mike Dunbar
"A lot. I won't get into personal side, but I'll get into the professional side. The man was a consummate pro. He's one of those guys that he taught me preparation and detail and process. Mike was really known as an innovator in a lot of his stops he had been. I'll tell you, he never viewed himself as an innovator, he viewed himself as a process guy that through the process he's going to end up with the right result and he did that. So he taught me that. Even though it was a short time, I just tried to soak it all in and then how to be a pro."
On what he still uses from Dunbar
"Oh, a lot of it. I mean how I go about my daily business. There's a good section in there that was severely influenced by Mike Dunbar."
On anything being done to honor Dunbar
"No, not right now. We don't have anything planned like that. You know it's a, I want to be real respectful of Linda and her family right now and let them go through their process and I don't want to get in the way of that."
On how hard it was stopping Idaho's offense
"Hard. I don't know how to quantify hard. That's something that usually you look at and you can gain a lot of knowledge through the week if you have history with the team so you have something to peel back on if they come out and do something they have done in the past or something a little different that fits inside the concept of what they're trying to do.
"These guys, we didn't have that history. You're trying to take something they do in a week, in ten minuets while the offense is out there and try to get it corrected and try and think of it, try and draw it up, and try and get it taught to the players. So it's really hard and I was really proud of our staff the way they did it."
On giving Eastern Illinois' quarterback a different look
"Some of that is a little bit overrated, but I think you have to probably have some of that or an element of that, I should say. When it come to when you're dealing with a senior quarterback. But the other part is, you just have to line up and play. You know, he's still got to make the throws, they still have to make the catches, and we still have to defend. So sometimes when you putt yourself out of position, you try and get into a position in disguise, you put yourself in even more disadvantage. So you know it still comes down to fundamentals so you don't want to mess with those fundamentals too much. I mean that's as old as football isn't it? I mean you get a quarterback with happy feet; he usually doesn't through it as good."
On the amount of defensive pressure put on Idaho
"Well, I think it's two fold. One, you have to be good on first and second down to get him in obvious pass down situations and then you can really turn it loose and let your ears pin back and come. So we did a good job with our adjustments in the run game to get the pass downs. I have great confidence in our D-line as far a rushing the passer."
On what makes Eastern Illinois so prolific
"They run the spread, they run two backs, they run no huddle, they tempo you in different ways buy going slow and going fast. They're just a well-coached football team using the entire width of the field, the entire length of the field and the tempos of the game and how to dictate it. They really know how to control a football game offensively. Part of that is why you call it offense is because you should be doing that. And defense you need to defend that."
On the challenge Erik Lora presents to the defense
"Well he's a good player and they do a good job with getting him in different spots. So you can't just say, `alright, sick him with your best guy.' You got to have multiple things for him but it starts with him being a good player. He can win his one-on-one battles because his fundamentals are sound."
On the closing competition in the FCS vs. the FBS
"It's the 85 scholarships. When you talk about the history of football, like the Michigan's and the Nebraska's of the 70's and 80's before there were scholarship limits, those schools could afford as many as they wanted on so they put as many as they wanted on. Sometimes they'd take a guy just so they didn't have to play against them. Well then the scholarship cap started coming in, started 115 then down to 105 then 95 when I played. Now it's at 85. So you just can't do that anymore.
"There are going to be good players out there that you just have to make a decision on, either this good player or this one. So this good player goes somewhere else and you end up playing them or they end up going down to the FCS and you end up playing them and they're every bit as good. So it's really a numbers game."
On preparing your players for a talented FCS team
"I don't think I have to tell them that a whole ton, because they watch film and they see it. The one thing that is true is that when a guy doesn't get recruited by a school he thinks he's good enough to play at, you've got a chip on your shoulder. We kind of live that way around here. I guarantee Eastern has a lot of the same situations on their team. So, I don't think I have to tell our guys, because we're never in a position where we're better than somebody, we just have to outwork them and go about it the hard way."
On playing an in state school and recruiting similar players
"We run into Eastern all the time on the recruiting trail, and they've done a nice job on it, and gotten good players. My thoughts on it are it's good to play each other from the standpoint of proximity and recognition and all that stuff, that's fine. I just wish they weren't so good."
On if playing a state school every year would be a good thing
"I don't know, I haven't even thought about it. Maybe, maybe not. I'd have to think about it and get back to you. It depends who it is and how good they are."
On what Tommylee can do with the ball in his hands
"He's good. I've told you guys that, he's earned the right to have the ball in his hands. He can run it, he can catch it, he can catch it and then run it, he can return kicks, he's just one of those guys that's a good football player. What do you do with good football players who like the ball in their hands? Give them the ball. I was just really happy that he stayed healthy through the whole game."
On Tommylee being multidimensional
"I think it's a skill set. You have to find out what he's good at, and then you do those things. To try to square peg, round hole it, I don't think is right. If you've got a guy like Cam Stingily, who has a certain set of skill sets, who's really good at his skill sets and is really coming into his own right now, I don't think you're going to ask him to run a post on an all-league corner. I think you've got to look at their skill sets and do what their skill sets allow."
On how rare it is to find a multidimensional player like Tommylee Lewis
"Really rare, I think. When you find a guy like that, you use him. The one tight end now on the Patriots, he was like that too, he could split out, and play inside. I think it's kind of rare."
On where Tommylee Lewis has progressed
"In every way, shape, or form. Start as a person. He is now a third-year guy. He's matured. He knows what to expect. He handles his business. He's always doing the things he needs to do off the field. We were all 18-22 once, and when you're 18 there's a big difference to when you're 20, when you've figured it out, when the maturity in your life bleeds over into everything else that you do. Now, he's more mature, so he has more confidence on the football field. I think that goes into life in general. I think you can see it in football, it's kind of a microscope of life, is that when you gain that maturity and confidence about you, it bleeds right into the football field."
On Tommylee Lewis' progression as a receiver on the field
"I think his timing with Jordan is better, because it's his second year playing with him, and just the crispness of his routes. He's always had the footwork, he's always had the quickness to get in and out of breaks, but he's doing it more consistently now."
On having a home game
"Believe me, we're going to be thankful. Friday, we're going to get out of here, eat over at the Holmes Student Center, pack the bus and head over to Rochelle where we usually stay, and drive back in 10 miles on game day. It's going to be beautiful. I'm really excited about it."
On the potential of a high-scoring game
"I don't know what to predict that way. Would it shock me with their ability to score and our ability? No. Certainly I'm not hoping for that. That's one of those big things again, and you can't get the big things without a bunch of little things, and it's Tuesday before we've taken the field yet. We're in the middle of trying to design those little things, and hopefully we can build it into something big."
On the expectation for the defense to force turnovers
"Yeah, we work on that every week, and every day in practice. That's something that those guys love, they're challenged to go out there and do. Then again if you're doing your job and you're doing what we're coaching, those things are going to happen."
On forcing turnovers when ahead
"If you're ahead by 40 in a game, and they're slinging it all around, you've got a good chance. You know what they're going to do, because they're one-dimensional. I think that case aside, turnovers are really important to get, because you don't know when they're going to throw it all the time, you don't know when they're going to run it. You have to defend it all and try to get that ball loose. It's a good thing when that ball's on the ground for us."
On Eastern's 3-0 start
"Am I surprised that they're 3-0? No, looking at that film, no way. They're a good team, and they simply have gotten out to a fast start and finished the games the right way."
On paying attention to the success of the FCS against the FBS
"Well this week now I have. I've heard that a bunch. Now I'm paying attention to it. It's going on, it's for real, but that's what we talked about earlier. Those scholarship maxes have really closed the gap in college football."
Tommylee Lewis, Wide Receiver
On having the ball as a running back
"I enjoy running the ball a lot. Anytime I get the ball in my hands, it's a great play. It's not too much of a big difference, it's just fun to have the ball in my hands and try to make a big play."
On the impact of Mike Dunbar
"Coach Dunbar had a great impact. He was a great guy. He helped us out with a lot of things we didn't know about, he brought a different style of play in. He was just a great guy and will be greatly missed."
Keith Harris Jr., Running Back
On playing at home
"Being in Idaho, it was very different. The trip there took a long time. The altitude was a lot different. Being back home and having our first home game is relieving and feels very good."
On the impact of Mike Dunbar
"I didn't get to spend as much time with him, but every time after practice, you would see him with a huge smile on his face. It would light up the whole field. Everything we do now, we're going to do for him."
Rasheen Lemon, Linebacker
On what the home winning streak means to you as a team
"We just try to focus on winning, and since I came here, we haven't lost at home, so we're just trying to keep that going."
On playing at home
"We had a real long stretch going to Idaho. It is a relief coming back home, being back in front of our home crowd, and being able to put on a show."
On pressuring the quarterback
"We were able to pressure the quarterback with the play calling. Coach Niemann put us in a great situation. On third down, we held them four out of 16 times. Winning on third down really helped, and the play calling put us in the right spot at the right time."
Dominique Ware, Safety
On what it would mean for the senior class to go unbeaten at home all four years
"That would mean a lot to us, especially with the class before us having the record for wins by a class, so we're kind of having an ongoing rivalry with that class before us, and we just want to beat that."
On playing at home
"There's a lot of excitement built up for this game, we're excited to be home, and not have to travel as long as we did last week and the week before that. Just being home, there's another comfort level."
On how to match Eastern's motivation to win
"We don't underestimate any team we play. We prepare as much as we do for a 1AA school as much as we do for a 1A. Their division doesn't affect what we're going to do in our game plan and practice. They have beaten a school that's bigger that them already, in San Diego State, and we don't want that happening to us, so we're going to just prepare like we usually do."