Sept. 25, 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 home opener against Central Michigan. Joining Doeren were cornerback Sean Evans, defensive end Sean Progar and tight end Jason Schepler. Below are excerpts from the press conference.
NIU Head Coach Dave Doeren
"I'm obviously excited about our win last week over Kansas. I'm proud of the way our guys finished that game with 17 unanswered points and continuing our [home] win streak to 17. The way that they finished games the last two weeks says a lot about our conditioning too. I think our strength coach, Brad Ohrt, does a great job with our players. The way they were able to focus, the way our coaches made corrections, the way our playmakers made plays when we needed them to.
"Kansas is a much-improved team. They play a lot cleaner game, obviously don't make as many mistakes, but I thought we had a very good plan. They had to go into several plays that they hadn't shown, and it took us a while to adjust. Once we did, we were able to do what we needed to do. Now we get to start season No. 2. I think when you get through your preseason schedule, all those games count big time obviously when it comes to being in a bowl game, but now you kind of start that next phase of where we go from here.
"We are 3-1, but at the end of the day now the next eight weeks are what are going to count as far as the conference and the MAC race. I know that the MAC West in particular is probably as strong as it's ever been.
"We play a team that we lost to last year this week in Central Michigan. They beat Iowa. They found a way to make a play and scored nine points in the last 45 seconds. They're a very good football team. Their quarterback, Radcliffe, is playing at a high level. His receivers, Wilson and Davis, are both making plays for them. Their tailback, Tipton, is doing a great job averaging over 100 yards per game and seven yards per carry. Defensively they're taking a lot of chances. They're blitzing a lot more than they did a year ago. Two of their three games were against stationary quarterbacks, so that might have had something to do with that.
"They've changed a lot. Their scheme on defense is totally different than last year. Our guys will have to do a good job making those adjustments on the offensive side of the ball. I look forward to coming home and playing the [MAC] opener here against Central Michigan. I know our players are excited to start the MAC schedule and play them. They're a team that's, for a number of years, been a very good football team. We know that we have a tough opponent coming to Huskie Stadium this week."
On what coming from behind and being able to finish games does for his team
"I think the team is going to be a four-quarter team because of that. They know that they're just a play away from sparking it. My biggest challenge is to try and get to where we don't have to do that to win. Our last two games last season and two of our games this year have been that way. And really, Iowa was close to being that way. If we could've gotten a first down there at the end, it could have been a drive that finished with a field goal. We finish every practice here with a red zone series, or we'll finish with a two-minute [drill]. We always finish with something that deals with scoring a touchdown or stopping someone from scoring a touchdown right at the end of the practice when they're the most fatigued. I think that's one of the reasons our kids are mentally tough. We put them in tough positions when they are tired, and we practice with great tempo. I think on game day that has been something that we have been able to show has been an advantage to us."
On if having a big game right after a big victory helps prevent a letdown
"Playing a team that we lost to last year doesn't hurt. I think Central Michigan is a better team than they were a year ago. Our guys know that. Them beating Iowa probably helps us too because they beat a team we didn't. I think it brings them back to reality pretty fast about what we need to get back to doing with practice today and our preparation."
On Central Michigan's change schematically on defense compared to a year ago
"They're still a four-man front, so it's not like they went to the 30 defense or anything. They've gone to a 4-2-5, and last year they more of a 4-3. You still see some of the same coverage concepts, but they're bringing a ton more pressure than they did. I think they may have blitzed three or four times against us in the whole game last year. We'll have to be ready, and the good thing is that we've played some teams that brought a lot of pressure. Our offense has seen a lot already."
On why the team has become such a good finisher
"I don't know. I wish I did. I wish I could bottle it up and sell it. That'd be pretty marketable probably. I think my personality is a no quit, no panic. I'm pretty calm. There aren't many situations in a game that I don't think are correctable or that you can't overcome. We just continue to play hard and have a one play at a time mentality. I think it starts with me as far as how I train our guys. There are no excuses. From the coaching staff to the players, I think they just expect to make up for any mistakes they made. That's just kind of how we train our guys around here. I don't know in the past what was different, but I know they were really good. We've lost a couple heartbreakers here too, so I can't say that I'm not immune to that."
On what game possibly started the trend, namely the Toledo game a year ago
"Obviously for our offense, it was a pretty good game. In that game, they probably thought they could score on anybody, even in the NFL probably. I think once our team started to become more of a complete team. That was our best special teams game. Obviously, we scored a lot on offense. Then as that year wore on, our defense became the strength of our team at the end of the season. When you think you're invincible on offense, you have a returner that can break one, and your defense is feeling it, then you have chance. I don't know if it was just the timing of how that all went down.
"This year, our offense has tremendous confidence even though a lot of people didn't expect to see that. Our defense, especially on third down right now, is playing at a really high level. If we tackle better on first down, I think those stats will get better very quickly. That's one thing we did really well in the Iowa game, and we struggled last weekend."
On if it's difficult to gauge what kind of game he feels it will be based on the film he's seen
"It's going to be a physical game, I know that. They're averaging 200 yards per game rushing almost. Our offense is as well. It's going to be physical. They don't beat themselves. They don't turn it over a lot. They don't get penalized a lot. They've had four penalties on the season, and I think their opponents have 25. I'm not sure how that's happened, but that's a pretty remarkable statistic. They're opponents are apparently getting the bad end of it.
"I think for us to be the most physical team in the stadium and not beat ourselves is a pretty good formula for success. Making plays when the ball is in the air on both sides of the football is what we need to do. We need to be a fourth quarter team. That's what we've been since I've been here. The turnovers are going to come. We dropped two in that game. Stone had one for a touchdown and Tyrone had one for a touchdown. Both of them were easy catches. I think we're putting our guys in the right positions and we're creating some fumbles that the other teams are recovering. We've just got to keep working it and stay the course. That will help us as well."
On how to improve defensively on first down
"The first down part of it is tackling. You can't let them fall forward and make a second and seven become a second and five. That's the biggest thing. That offense they went into was a lot like Army. They went into a zero pass offense with the Wildcat. We didn't play it very well and we obviously didn't prepare our guys the right way for it. I think we had a good plan for what they had shown on tape. They came out in a new formation of it that they had never done with that No. 12 kid, who I had never even heard of. We thought they'd have the three tailbacks out there doing all kinds of stuff and then he showed up.
"Like I said after the game, once our guys had a chance to sit down and say here's what they're doing, let's fix this, we did. They were 4-16 on third down. They didn't do much after we got things right. The first missed tackle by Bass was disappointing because he's a much better player than that. I think that's one that he would make nine times out of ten. We've just got to keep working it. We're not last in the league in giving up first downs or anything. We're just not meeting our expectations right now."
On any concerns about future teams trying to utilize the Wildcat
"They might. I know Central does it, and we expect to see it. We'll have our plan, and we'll have to adjust our plan based on the things they do. I think that's just part of the first half of the season is adjusting on defense. Being a defensive player, I don't know how many of you watched the Packers last night, but it's tough right now. There's a lot of stuff going against them from an officiating standpoint. Then all the new wrinkles people bring out on offense that you never get to practice. You've got to have really sound rules, and you've got to be able to adjust on the sideline and fix things quickly. There's a lot going on right now for those kids. We've just got to keep doing what we're doing. In my opinion, when you keep people in the 300 yards or less range, defensively, which we've done in three of our four games, you get takeaways, which we will, and we win on third down, we're going to be hard to beat."
On the best way to combat the 4-2-5 defense
"It's no different than playing as far as playing any other four-man front. You've got to move them off of the ball. You have overhang on both sides. That's the one part of the 4-2-5. You usually have a field safety type or nickel type player. For them, it's No. 4 that provides very good run support to the field or the strength of the formation. They're going to have the two-high safety look where they can drop a safety in on either side. The corners have to be extremely good players. There's not a lot of help coverage for those guys on the outside. We have to be able to win one on ones in coverage.
"When Jordan runs the ball, we're plus one from a numbers standpoint a lot of the time, so we've got to block people. When we do hand the football off, our tailbacks need to make plays. I've played against it several times, and so have many of our coaches. They're not the only team doing it in our conference. The biggest change for them is really not the 4-2-5 as much as it is the zero blitz and the one high blitzes that they're bringing a lot of."
On going into conference play as the defending MAC champs
"I told the guys, the higher you climb the ladder, the more you expose yourself. I think being back-to-back MAC West Champions and going into the season we had the nation's longest winning streak, I think a lot of people circled our game as a game that they were going to have to bring their best. I would rather be in that position than the other. Our guys expect everybody's best. We know we're going to get trick plays. We know we're going to have to play within ourselves and use the rules of our schemes to combat the new things that people show us. It still comes down to fundamentals. We're just going to keep working, and working, and working everyday to get better at them."
On an extra motivation playing Central Michigan
"It's a game that I know our players are excited about. I don't walk into a meeting room and put a big circle around anybody. But I know this is the one team last year we went up there and did not play well. But they played really well and made a lot of really nice plays on both sides of the football. We fought all the way until the end to make it a game but I did not feel like as coaches, including myself, had our team ready to play. I told our kids after that game last year that I needed to do a better job getting them ready and I did after that. I've learned a lot since that game. I know we are playing a better Central Michigan team then we did last year."
On the depth of the MAC West division
"I was shocked at the media days when I had Ball State last. I think I told you that I thought they were the best team we played from top to bottom as far as offense defense and special teams. Last year, they were the best team I thought we played last year. You talk what ever you want about how many points were scored in the Toledo game but there wasn't defense on either side. You talk about a well-rounded team that is well coached, and they had them [Ball State] picked last at the media days. Everyone talks about the quarterback at Western [Michigan] and he's a really good thrower but we know they lost a lot of the really good receivers. Eastern [Michigan] did a nice job, but could they do it two years in a row. I just think it's a really deep western half of the conference. I haven't played close attention too what's going on with the other side other than what Ohio is doing. There are some really good teams that have senior quarterbacks and a lot of these coaches now that are in their third or fourth year in the league came in and played young guys and now all of those guys are third-year starters in their systems. You can see the growth that has taken place on their teams."
On the importance of getting off to a good start in the conference opener
"It's important. Last year, we weren't at home obviously but we lost and it puts you in almost a can't lose situation if you lose any game right now in our conference because of how good things are stacked up. You would like to control your own destiny as you go through it particularly on your home schedule. I'm not going to say this is a must win game to go back to Detroit because I think anything can happen. We showed that last year. There is not one single game that makes or breaks your schedule this early in the season I don't think. But it would be nice to not be in the same position we were in last year after the first MAC game. I will tell you that."
Jason Schepler, Tight End
On winning games late
"I think the way we practice enables us to play hard the whole game and enables us to finish games because that is what we stress in practice all the time. Focus in on different situations and we go over those situations over and over again and I think when we get to the game we just are able to execute it. I think it does give us a lot of confidence because we know that when it comes to the fourth quarter that where we like to win games but it would be nice to have a little bit of a lead going into the fourth quarter so we don't always have to do that but we know that when we get to the fourth quarter we can win games."
On playing Central Michigan
"I think on the first play on offense last year we missed a signal and it was an interception or something so our word this week to focus on is to focus so that is what we want to do this week is focus in on what we need to do to beat Central Michigan. You said it right when they played the player really well last year and we didn't. We know if we play to our best ability then we give ourselves a chance to win this game. That is what we are focused on this week is focus. Focus on your job and focus on your responsibilities."
Sean Progar, Defensive End
On winning games late
"I think the biggest thing I've talked to with the defensive coaches is we played well on defense but we want to start faster. We want to get quick three and outs to start the game so that we can hopefully get up on offense and let our pass rushers go on defense a little sooner. We think that is one of our strengths on defense. It is definitely a confidence builder for our team and something we stress daily so it's good to see it reflect in the games."
On defending Central's offense
"I was just watching film from last year us playing them. I think the biggest thing on defense is we didn't tackle. We didn't tackle well on defense and we have had some games this year where we had trouble tackling and I know we are going to emphasize it this week and another thing is turnovers. We haven't had any turnovers this year. I think we have one or two and none against a Division I team so we have been emphasizing this. Not like we are trying but the biggest thing is jump on them early on defense, get some turnovers, get three and outs and get the ball back to the offense. With all the talk about the offense not having the same firepower I haven't noticed this year. They have been doing well they have been scoring as much as they can and if we can get them the ball back a few more times I'm sure they will put more points up on the board."
Sean Evans, Cornerback
On if the defense is better at making second half adjustments
"I feel that since I've been here, we've developed more of a sense of urgency on the defensive end in our preparation. To piggyback what Sean [Progar] said our coaches have done a phenomenal job in the second half when needing to prepare and make adjustments. I also feel our urgency during the week of practice has carried over in crunch time."