Sept. 21, 2010
DEKALB, Ill.- Northern Illinois head coach Jerry Kill spoke at NIU's weekly press conference at the Jeffrey and Kimberly Yordon Center to review the Illinois game and preview the upcoming game with Minnesota. Linebacker Devon Butler (Pembroke Pines, Fla./Everglades) Mike Krause (Germantown, Wis./Germantown), Trevor Olson (Richfield, Minn./Richfield) and Nathan Palmer (Elkhart, Ind./Central) also met with the media. Below are excerpts from the press conference.
Jerry Kill, Head Coach
"We've been able to take a good look at them. Before I came in here, I made sure that I had both sides of the ball watched. Offensively, they are physical. If you remember when we played them the last time with the spread offense, they'll still play spread it a little bit, but not as much. They are a downhill, Big Ten physical football team. That's who they are. They're a lot like Wisconsin. They're very similar. They're going to put big people in the game. They are big, physical and I think that's what they've gone to. They're a very strong, physical team with very skilled receivers. They're going to run the run the football. They want to run the football. Then about the time you get eight or nine of them up there, they're going to throw the play action pass. On third and long, they're going to make sure the quarterback is protected. They're going to get three out, maybe four, and the kid's a good player. He's the same player we played against up there in the dome. He's a good quarterback. Offensively, it's a little bit different style of offense than what we played a week ago.
"Defensively, they're a 52 front with two linebackers. They're going to make sure that they stop the run. They've been very good at stopping the run. They're going to load the box up. They are very similar, when you play all of these Big Ten teams, is that they all have those big defensive tackles. They are big, physical people on defense like they had been. They did lose some of the kids that we played against two years ago, so they're a younger group, a little bit more inexperienced, but the same setup. That's the coach's mentality. They're very solid in the kicking game.
"They're multiple enough that they keep you honest. It's kind of what you're equipped for. They're going to be a much more two-back team than a one-back team, but you never know. They have the flexibility to go a one-back team. If you go with what you see, you can't prepare for a ghost. You know what you're going to get, and they're going to try to out execute you."
On what he learned from Illinois
"Where our football team has to get better, including from the Illinois game, is the discipline of our football team. That doesn't mean running around causing trouble. It's the discipline playing within what you're supposed to do. Illinois' first drive that they had was because of mistakes. Somebody who was responsible for the quarterback wasn't on the quarterback. We have to get more disciplined on all sides of the football. We had some mental errors. We had I think five up front on the offensive line and we haven't had that. We`ve got to cut down on the mental errors and be disciplined or it won't matter what anybody does. I'm really more concerned about our discipline and that's part of playing some young kids. Not having Tracy Wilson in the second half really hurt us because [Mike] Sobol is still trying to get in condition to play off the ACL and Tommy Davis is learning to play a position. Tracy was a big loss in the second half. There's no question that hurt us a little bit on defense. We also had some corner injuries. Chris Smith could have played but had a cast on his hand. As a corner, he had practiced enough to get adjusted to it. I look for him to do that this week. We'll get him in practice where he's used to playing with it, but Rashaan Melvin really stepped up. He did a really nice job. He played very well.
"I think we're getting better. I think we improved tremendously from the second week to the third week, and usually it's the first week to the second. I think really we improved more as a football team between the second and third. The reason you can say that is because we're playing three BCS schools on the road. I think there are pluses and minuses to that. The pluses, your weaknesses get exposed by Big Ten opponent that's got physical and speed and athletes that they're going to have in the BCS instead of playing somebody you're going to blow out 50-0. When you get exposed, you can figure out those weaknesses and try to correct them. I look at the way we started offensively is that there is no question that Chandler Harnish is getting better. From week two to week three, he had an outstanding game, except for the fumble. In retrospect to be fair to that kid, he had the ball covered. He did everything right. The guy just put his helmet right on the ball. Our quarterback play is getting better. I think the quarterback that plays the best in the MAC is the team that is going to have a chance to win the MAC. We have to have the best quarterback somewhere along those lines. I think that he has chance to be very good. He's much better than he was the last two years. We have to keep him improving and healthy. He threw the ball well and made good decisions against a very complicated secondary system that's built to stop the pass.
"We've got to run the ball better at the tailback position, but they weren't going to let us run the ball. They were physical up front. We couldn't move them very well, so we had to do something else. Our young offensive linemen are still working on strength and those kinds of things. Those big tackles gave us problems. The big, lengthy linebackers, we don't see that in the MAC. That gave us some problems. I thought we competed. We had 400 yards of offense and we had a lot of minus yards in there from sacks. We moved the ball.
"We punted well. Our punter was special teams player of the week. He's gotten better. I'm excited that we kicked a 48-yard field there at the end and that might have been the most important play of the game. Whether we won or lost, that's a confidence builder. We need to get that taken care of. I don't want to have to worry about if we're going to make an extra point or not. Those things are important.
"Defensively, I think that our defensive line played their best game by far because we stayed in the pass lanes. We contained a very athletic quarterback in the pass game. We didn't get him scampering around out there. I thought it was an excellent job by our defensive line. We have improved at linebacker and we have to find ways to stay healthy in the secondary. What we need to improve on at linebacker is we need to tackle better. We have to tackle better at the second level. We missed a lot of tackles. Give them credit, those backs were good. They're very good, but we have to tackle better. We know we have to tackle better."
On running the football
"We're working at it. We spent a lot of time on it last night. We've got to be able to do some things that will allow us to run the football. We have to prepare a little bit differently. You have to find out where you're team is when you play someone who is bigger and more physical than you, and you try to do more things and they don't work. It's like trying to pound a nail into a something and it doesn't work. We have to take a look and see what we can do to neutralize that. That's what we're doing right now."
On what he learns from playing BSC schools
"I think that the biggest, hardest thing you have to do when you're a mid-major school and you play all of non-conference schools early is that you have to convince and show your kids that you are getting better. You can't worry about it. You just have to get better and get ready for conference play. You don't want to lose your kids because you're 1-2. You can't do that. That's what's hard when you play those schedules. You have to make sure that those kids understand that they're getting better so we have to show that to them on film. We are getting better, but we're just playing better people. We beat Purdue and that was the first time in 21 years that you beat a Big Ten school. It's not easy. It's not an easy task. We've been right there at the cusp, but the cusp doesn't matter. You have to get it done."
On the Minnesota's physicality compared to Illinois'
"I don't think you can tell into you get into the game. From watching film, it's hard to tell that. It's a different style so until you get out there and see it it's hard to say. It's just a different scheme. Illinois, defensively, was a beast. They're front six or seven were difficult. Our defensive line did well against their offensive line. We just didn't tackle in the second level. That was an issue."
On Chandler's running ability
"I would tell you that the last two years that we had him, he's had some injury issues or whatever, but he was an average runner. He's become a very good runner, an aggressive runner. I think he's been laying it out there and understands more of what we're doing. I think he gives you a multi-threat and plus he throws the ball really well. He threw for over 200 yards on Saturday and the last two games he's be over 300 total yards of offense. It's a lot easier to defend someone if all they do is throw the ball or all they do is run, but if you can do both, I think it makes it difficult on a defense."
Devon Butler, Linebacker
On stopping the run
"One thing we have to do is eliminate mental mistakes. Most of the time when the Illini offense made a big play, it was off of ourselves. We made mental mistakes. We didn't know the specific run fix we were supposed to do at the time. We just need to communicate better. The game plan is perfect. The coaches have us well prepared. We just need to execute."
On playing against running quarterbacks
"That's probably the toughest thing about this game. You try to always force them into passing. We try to eliminate the run. We just need to keep him contained. We need to keep him inside the pocket. We can't let him get loose. That's probably one of our biggest flaws at this moment; the scramble rules, taking care of the receivers out in the open field and getting the quarterback to stay in the pocket. I'm sure the coaches will get us ready. We just need to pursue and tackle better."
Mike Krause, Nose Guard
On what they learned from the Illinois game
"Defensively, we have a lot of room for improvement. We had some missed assignments up front that ended up hurting other people."
Trevor Olson, Left Tackle
On what they learned from Illinois
"There's quite a bit we can work on. We could have ran the ball a lot better I feel as an offensive unit. Protecting the passer, that was a positive we took from it."
On competing against larger defensive linemen
"It's fun in a way because they're big guys. Everybody kind of wants to get to the next level and that's the closest thing you can get to seeing it. We have some big guys on our defensive line so it's not like we're going against tiny guys in practice, so that makes it easier."
Nathan Palmer, Wide Receiver
On the passing game
"Our passing game is really improving. I think all the work that we put in has started to pay off. During the off-season all of the quarterbacks and receivers, we did a lot of seven-on-sevens this year during the summer. The coaches usually have to get on us about going out there to throw, but this year Chandler and DeMarcus took great leadership. They had us out there themselves and they held us accountable. It was a lot of work we put in and it's finally starting to pay off."
On film sessions
"They started off our film session last weekend showing us a few of the mistakes that we made on offense. Then they showed us so many of the little things that we've done a lot better from week one to week three now. It's like `wow,' we really can be good on offense and as a team overall."