Sept. 27, 2011
|HUSKIE ALL-ACCESS HIGHLIGHTS
Northern Illinois head football coach Dave Doeren
spoke at NIU's weekly press conference at the Jeffrey and Kimberly Yordon Center to preview the Huskies upcoming game against Central Michigan. Joining Doeren were wide receiver Nathan Palmer, tight end Adam Kiel
, defensive lineman Nabal Jefferson
, and defensive back Jimmie Ward
. Below are excerpts from the press conference.
NIU Head Coach Dave Doeren
"I want to start off by saying that we were happy to get back on the winning side of things on Saturday. I was really happy with the start of our performance. Getting out to 27-0 start against an option team is critical when you're playing a team like that that's so good at controlling the clock. Defense did a nice job coming off a three-and-out with a sack. Thought the guys flew around and did a lot of things. Got another punt block with Courtney Stephen. Just happy to see the way the offense ran the football. I think that's who we are. Our offensive line, our quarterback, our running backs all took the challenge last week of being more physical and downhill in the running game, and we were."
"A great way to get back to being ready to play for the conference with the style of play we want to have. This week we have a huge challenge of playing the team that's won our conference three of the past four years - done something three times in four years that we haven't done in 28. It's a goal of ours. We know how hard it is to play on the road, especially at a place that has the environment that they have at Central, a great challenge in front of us. There's not a player on our roster that's won up there at their place. I know that's a huge goal for them, to travel on the road and win somewhere they haven't. We look forward to that opportunity and that challenge ahead of us this week."
"It's a good ball club. I know they've gone through a lot of young players, similar to how we have, defensively. They had seven freshmen on the field at one time last week against Michigan State. They've played a challenging schedule as well. Definitely looking forward to the opportunity this week."
"I was proud of Chandler for breaking a record last week that's been here for a long time. George Bork is one of our biggest supporters. Him and his wife are great people, they're around our program. Sorry to see his record fall, but at the same time happy for Chandler to break such a long-standing record."
On approaching his first Mid-American Conference game
"I'm sure there's going to be some learning. You always think you know more than you do, probably. I'm fortunate to have Faulkner, McNutt, and Tuke on my staff who have been in the conference for a while. Obviously Canada was here. I've called Coach Novak and talked to him about things to look out for traveling up there. I'm trying to do as much homework and get as much advice as I can about the road trip, the hotel, the environment and all those kind of things. Always the first time around, you're going to learn some things that you'll do differently. The biggest thing that we're going to do is worry about us. That's what we did last week; we focused on who we were and what we needed to do better. We're going to try to take exactly what did here, put it in a bus, drive it six hours, and do it again.
On what he and Coach Novak discussed
"Really didn't talk about how the MAC is, but we talked about Central Michigan because that's who we're playing. Talked about how the environment up there can be; their student section can be one of the best in the conference. Talked about the tradition they have there of winning; how many of the players still on that team have tasted that victory. They have a taste of what we want. Even though they haven't gotten off to the start they've wanted, they've played really good football with some good teams. That's where we're at. We're really in an eight-week season right now, and all the focus is one game at a time. As much info we can get about that opponent, we'll try to."
On starting the "second season"
"It is in a way. You're not going to discount what you do at the beginning because ultimately, your season-ending record can play a big part in bowl selection if you get into a tiebreaker with somebody. As far as conference standing, winning the conference, being what we want to be in the MAC West, it is. It's a brand new season from that standpoint. I don't discount anything we've been through this far. A 2-2 start - for us, it's made us who we are right now, for better or for worse. Now we have to go on with a fresh start against another team that has the same situation we do."
On what he's learned about his team during the non-conference season
"I have a much better understanding of where we are. I still think there's some adversity. Both sides of the ball saw it in the Wisconsin game, and even our special teams. We've seen just about every situation on game day special teams-wise other than something after a safety. We did have to kick off from the 15 last week. There's some young guys playing that are going to be in new situations down and distance-wise, they're going to see a new player they haven't seen yet. Our guys have done a nice job of learning from the tape. We talk all the time about taking your mistakes off the film, putting great effort on tape, and making your mistakes full-speed and fixing them, because your opponents are staring at them all the time. That's what we're going to try to do each day this week, put a good performance together on film."
On what problems Central Michigan may pose
"I think their quarterback is a good player. I know he's not off to the start he wants; last year he threw for a ton of yards, and he's capable of that. He has a strong arm. For whatever reason, it hasn't started the way he would have liked it to. They're pretty open about the situation they have at quarterback right now. They started the other kid last week, yanking him, and then putting the other guy back in. That is a situation where we're going to do everything we can to keep them off balance from that standpoint. Their defense has played extremely well. With their offense struggling at times, their defense is still battling and keeping them in games. They play hard. They're sound. It's going to be a good Midwestern game. You're going to see guys hitting, going to be physical, they come up and tackle well at safety. They're going to load the box and dare you to throw. Their corners will press you up. It's going to be a physical game. To say that I'm concerned about any one thing - I'm really more concerned about our guys doing it our way.
On the team's attitude towards Central Michigan
"I haven't felt the dislike. I know the players here have a lot of respect for what has happened up there. When this program was down, that program was really up. I think in the MAC, it seems to me that other than your true rivalry games, most of these teams root for each other when they're not playing each other. Central is a team that has a great standard for winning. They've done it with Coach Kelly, Coach Jones; Coach Enos is trying to get them back there. Our players respect Central a great deal."
On the game plan
"We talked about little things that can give us edges in our game plans. Last week we wanted to have pride in our performance on film last week. We made a big deal out of everyone having pride in what they put on tape. This week we have the start of conference play for our team. You don't want to wait until the eighth game to find out you're in a race. The future is now for us. If we're going to what this team talks about all the time, we have to win the first one. The urgency of how we have to practice, the tempo we play at, the tempo we prepare at, how focused we are at our meetings - all those things will play into whether we win on Saturday."
On Kicker Mathew Sims and the kicking game's progress
"I was happy for Mat. He'll tell you he was disappointed because a couple of those extra points were low; for him that's not normally, he usually has great elevation. I was really proud of him. The first one was close, then the second one was plus forty and he drove it. I've seen him do it in practice over and over, and I said that to Coach Canada in the locker room before the game. I said, `I hope I get to see Mat kick a field goal today,' and he said, `I hope you don't. I want to score a touchdown every time.' But it was good to see Mat get off that way. He's going to continue as he gets confident. He takes a lot of pride in doing his part.
"He's kicked over 50 in practice many times. It's just a matter of the wind that we get here in DeKalb. Generally, 45 and in I feel real good unless he's got a headwind. He made a 53-yarder in practice last week, so he's got the ability to hit it from deep."
On assessing the defense's progress
"In the second half, I think Cal Poly did a nice job adjusting key blocking schemes to get on the edge of our defense. We just didn't play with the same crispness that you saw with in the first half. Thirty points is too much, and I'm disappointed by it. At the same time, Cal Poly is a good team. They did a nice job of running the football to the edges and getting the ball in our corners. I think when you get up like that, I think our guys were concerned about getting beat deep than they were about somebody running the ball to beat us with a 30-point lead. In hindsight, we could have tightened those guys down a lot tighter. I was more concerned with their play-action and throwing a 50-yard bomb than I was them running the ball down the field and scoring. We had a pretty good lead at that point, and I didn't think they had enough time to do it.
"I'd like to shut everyone out, don't get me wrong. We've played four teams that are very, very good running football teams. And that's hurt our statistics, there's no doubt about it. I think everyone on our defensive side of the room would tell you they don't like the stats they have on defense right now. But we're going to try to get back to what we do and get in the rhythm of playing not just traditional, but some spread, some traditional teams. So we don't have to focus on what Army and Cal Poly do anymore. We're hopeful that you'll start to see carryover and success that we had at the start of those games stopping the run."
On rotations and getting healthy on defense
"We had some guys hurt after the Army game. So we missed a few guys in the Kansas game, and it hurt us. Everyone knows [Rashaan] Melvin didn't play. And that did hurt us in that football game. He was back in the Wisconsin game for his first game, had to play against Toon, who's playing as well as any wideout in the country right now. He's back at full strength. He had a great game last week. Really tackled well, only ball they threw his way he went up and made a play, was close to an interception. Excited about having him back. Alan Baxter has been in and out of the lineup with the same kind of deal Melvin had, just from playing teams that cut you every snap. We've played anywhere from seven to 10 guys on the defensive line, and we'll continue to that. Our linebacking corps doesn't have the same depth that our D-Line does, so we won't rotate at that spot as much. We'll be in and out our nickel packages because of what Jimmie Ward can do. Jhony Faustin had a really nice game for us last week, so he's a guy you'll see more of too."
On the team's focus on Central Michigan
"It was the first thing Chandler said in the press conference after the game. You don't have to go far to figure that out. They're a very focused group. I think our offense knows we have a lot of seniors on that side of the ball, and none of them have won there. That's a goal that that class has. We're a senior-led team on offense, so it's good to have them at that focus right away. I was under the impression that we were going to smile for at least a night about winning the game, but they were locked in right away into winning the next one. For me, it's great when players take that kind of ownership of the next game, I was really proud to see that."
"As soon as they asked Chandler and he snapped into, `I haven't won there, so this important to me,' I was like, `Okay, I like that.' As everybody's quarterback goes, their team goes. But for us, Chandler's a big part of what we do, so I was really excited to hear his energy and excitement for the week."
On Chandler Harnish's scrambling
"Most of it's by design. Some of them are read plays, so it's based on what happens with an end - whether they squeeze or if they're up field. Some of them are based on the defensive look. Two or three of the games now, it's been a third down and long and he's scrambled because nothing is there. And a couple of the plays were designed QB draws or QB powers to get him running the football."
On holding back plays for conference play
"I don't how much we've held back. We've had a tough non-conference schedule. I never went into a game saying, `Let's try not to win this one without our good stuff.' Coach Canada is going to deal with the strengths of our offense and build off those each week with our formations, motions, and shifts. Whatever he sees from a defense, if he can get them into certain looks with formations, or certain trade, or certain formation to know where people line up, he's going to take advantage of that."
On what the playbook looks like moving forward
"You're not going to change your plays as much as maybe what they look like formationally. We call that dressing up the pig. It's the same pig, just its wearing different clothes. That's what we're going to do. We're going to run the same plays we've run, we're just going to put it in a different look every now and then. Two-by-two instead of three-by-one, or a motion or a trade. For the running backs, the offensive line, and the receivers, it's the same play, just run out of a different formation.
On not having won the conference recently
"I think it's a surprise. When you take combined records over the past ten years, we're at the top. As a school, NIU football is one of the winningest programs in the last ten years, but they haven't raised the banner. That's the ultimate crown, to get that done. I know this team takes great pride in the fact that they'd like to be the one that does it. Does it surprise me, yes, just because of the timespan, but it's a good conference. There's a lot of good football teams here. You see year in and year out, it's kind of whoever has the best quarterback at the end of the year is the one pulling it out. Right now, ours is playing good. We need to keep doing what we're doing and get better on defense."
On the goal of winning conference
"It's a season-ending goal. It's really something that the players probably talk about more than the coaches. The coaches are one week at a time, because they know how you're not even going to get close to that season-ending goal. We talk about team goals with our players. We don't talk about winning the MAC, we talk about winning the MAC West. If we do that, we get a chance to win the MAC. That's where our focus is. It's one step. When you see the sign outside and it says "1-0," that means win today. We have to win on Tuesday, and win on Wednesday. Ultimately, you look back at your body of work and you're proud of what you did."
On running a unique offense in the MAC
"If that's the case, then it probably is an advantage. I don't know all the offenses in our league yet, haven't studied every one of them. I think everyone is going to use their personnel the best that they can. We're fortunate to be a downhill team, which fits our players' and our coaches' mentalities here - if that's hard for people, that's good for us. That's what this school's always been. Every coach that's been successful here has done it running the football, and I'm not going to change that formula."
On kickoff coverage
"Last week, two things. One, when you kick off as much as we have been, it's makes it difficult to be good statistically because eventually they're going to get one out of eight or nine tries. We're trying to move the ball around, and last week Tyler Wedel just didn't have a great day.
"A couple times we called a direction to go opposite of where he kicked it, and that affects your coverage. We're doing everything we can to move the ball around. Tyler had a couple great kicks, and a couple that weren't so great, he'd be the first one to tell you he's going to be better. He's a true freshman, and has a lot of talent in his leg. As he continues to place the ball in better places, you're going to see good things.
"We had three tackles inside the 20 last week, so that to me is like a sack when you get that done. That's a big deal. If we can get five or six of those a game, we'd be extremely happy with what's going on field position-wise. The one that got towards the 50 was caught around the 20-yard line into the wind. He's got to learn how to use the wind, and the wind in our stadium is pretty tricky. He's got to learn how to use it to his advantage."
Nathan Palmer, Wide Receiver
On playing on the road
"I think anytime you go on the road, it's just hard. It's not your fans, it's their fans. It's hard for the defense to get riled up because you don't have the home field advantage. It's a great atmosphere to play in, and I'm excited to go up there and see what we can do."
On getting back in the groove on offense versus Cal Poly
"It felt great. Of course, we had a rude awakening when we went up against Wisconsin. I firmly believe that wasn't us at all. We got away from doing what we normally do, and got caught up in the moment. It felt good to get out there, play hard, and get back to doing what we do. It was a great thing going into conference play. I'd rather us come off a great showing going into conference - building up that confidence again."
Adam Kiel, Tight End
On playing on the road
"The MAC has a lot of great teams. Central Michigan, for a while, was at the top of the league. Any school you go to in the MAC, you're going to find a great atmosphere. NIU has a great atmosphere here, too. When we go there, they have a good student section, and it gets pretty loud in there."
On how the team approaches the MAC Championship goal
"The end goal of the season is to win the MAC, but we're taking it one game at a time. To break it down further than that, one practice at a time. Guys come off the field asking themselves, `Did I improve today?' And that's one step at a time. With a season that's so long, it's easy to get caught up thinking, `Oh, we can go here, or we can go here.' I think it's better that guys think, `Just get better every day,' and good things will happen."
Nabal Jefferson, Defensive Lineman
On having a chip on their shoulders heading into the conference schedule
"We compete with ourselves. We just want to go out there and be better than we were last week. It just so happens to be the conference opener, and it's at Central Michigan where we haven't won. We just have a lot of extra motivation to be better than last week, and be better than last year in our conference."
On transitioning to the conference schedule
"We switched gears pretty fast. It's a different season now, in this conference play. Everyone has a clean slate. You have to go out there and win. We switched very quickly to Central Michigan."
Jimmie Ward, Defensive Back
On fast offensive series wearing out the defense
"It depends. If it's not three-and-out, I'm tired. But I push myself, and motivate myself, to keep going."