Sept. 28, 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 Minnesota game and preview the upcoming game with Akron. Linebacker Jordan Delegal (Miami, Fla./Chaminade Madonna/Joliet JC) fullback Connor Flahive (Niles, Ill./Notre Dame), Nabal Jefferson (Chicago, Ill./Marist) and Keith Otis (Chicago, Ill./Hubbard) also met with the media. Below are excerpts from the press conference.
Jerry Kill, Head Coach
"I think the kids are getting better. We're still leaving some plays out on the field and making some mistakes. As the weeks go by, I think we're improving as a football team. Defensively, we were playing without arguably a best player in Tracy Wilson. I thought the young kids who went in responded well in a very difficult situation. I think in Minnesota, we did some things. We overcame some adversity. We had a personal foul and got a stop on fourth and one. We had a big drive to go up three scores. We did some things that we haven't done in the past. I think our kids are started to figure it out. We're getting better. It was a good win and now we have to move on to the next one. Now we're into conference play and this is when the real season starts."
On if the team is where he thought they would be at this point
"I don't pay attention to the record part much to where we are. When we started the season at Iowa State, frankly, we didn't play real well in that particular game in several phases. I've asked our kids to get better every week. Our coaches have asked them to get better every week. We haven't changed when we've go to practice where our coaches are one week this way and the next week this way. We've been the same for four weeks. I think I've learned that talking to pro football coaches during the summer. You have to approach every game in the NFL like it's that game and you go to the next one and approach it the same. If you lose you, you get it over with the next day and march on to the next one. We haven't screamed and yelled at our kids. We've just told them we have to get better at this; this is our focus this week. We're a much a much better football team than we were when we played Iowa State. Usually, you improve from the first week to the second week the most, but I think we've improved every week. I think we've gradually gotten better, even with injuries, we're still able to get better."
On how the Minnesota win compares to last year's win over Purdue
"Every win is big. I think it's hard to win a college football game. Beating a BCS school, a Big Ten school, I think it's certainly a good win. There's no question about that. I think we reacted differently than we did against Purdue, for whatever reason, I don't know. It's probably because for most of the game, certainly the second half, we dominated the football game. It's not like it was a last second victory or had to do a fake punt or something like that to win the game. We clearly won the game. This group of kids seemed to play really hard, the hardest we've played, the fastest we've played, but I think they're taking things week to week and they're listening very well. What we've asked them to get better at, they've gotten better at. We needed to stop the run better and they've stopped the run. The problem is that late in the game we need to play a little bit better pass defense and we did make that transition very well in that situation of being up."
On how beating a Big Ten team can help in recruiting
"It's great notoriety. It's good for our conference. It was great for Toledo to win. It's tremendous for our conference. It's tremendous for our school and we've done it back to back years. I don't think we've done it back-to-back for a long time. It certainly helps in recruiting and nationally for Chad and his honor. All those things are good. We're not going to beat the Big Ten school in recruiting very often. They have $350 million facility and it is what is. Once in awhile we'll get one that will commit to us and they'll come back on and stay with us. It can certainly get you some in-between kids in recruiting.
On Chad Spann's performance against Minnesota
"We looked at what we did at Illinois and said we needed to run the ball better. Coach Limegrover made some good adjustments up front on the offensive line. We threw a couple wrinkles at it and got the ball out on the perimeter. Chad, like anything just got a feel for the game. You have to remember that this youngster missed spring ball. When you miss spring ball there's some timing issues. I think the big thing with Chad that I noticed from a year ago, missing spring ball and spending time with Coach Klein, he's breaking a lot more tackles than he did a year ago and finishing more runs. I think that's due to strength and the time he's spent this summer. I think he felt that Chad put in the extra time this summer to prepare for the season. I think he knew this was a critical season for him. I think that credit goes to him, because he ran over some people that we didn't block. That was excellent for him."
On monitoring Spann's workload
"I think a back tells you that. The positive note that we've gotten out of the game is Cameron Bell. Cameron is learning, and I thought he was a big difference in that football game too. When you're a 205-pound safety and you're coming up to tackle Cameron Bell and you're cutting him, it's going to take a toll on your shoulders. Then in the fourth quarter, you're not as apt to be physical. I thought his physical presence in the game helped our football team. Ricky Crider had some big runs in that game. I think we're doing a pretty good job of utilizing our backs in the situations that we need to, but at the same time when you have a guy that's running the ball that well, you want to keep him on the field as much as you can."
On Spann's prospects at the next level
"I've coached some great running backs and great players. I'd certainly take him. I can't make their decision for them, but I'd certainly take a look at him because he's unique. He's hard to tackle. I just can't put my finger on it. I've coached some awful good ones. He needs to keep the present pace he's keeping, not so much the yards as just keep playing well and stay healthy and all of those things will fall into place for the young man."
On the offense's play
"As I talked with our staff, we need to get better at the start of the game in first series and we need to get better in the second half on the first series. We seem to roll after that. We just need to get off to a little better start. I think that are kids played hard on offense. I thought they were aggressive. I think that's the best our offense has played this year as a group as far as being aggressive. Chandler's [Harnish] had some outstanding games, but if you're talking about a group effort and blocking and getting downfield blocks, playing hard and making some plays. Martel [Moore] made a critical play and a great throw by Chandler when he went up and got the ball. Some things we haven't had are falling into place better."
"I've probably spent more time on them than anybody. I have a lot of respect for Coach Ianello. I think he's hired a tremendous staff. If you look at that staff he's hired, they have a wealth of experience so they know how to coach football. Defensively, they're built and move a lot like we do. I think they look at the MAC and say that they need to run and we have to have some guys to make some plays. They're very athletic and quick on defense. Special teams, they're very solid. They give me some headaches on some things. They do a good job kicking the onside kick like we do. They do some things in the kicking game that are difficult. They're kids playing very, very hard. I think everyone needs to realize that they've played three BCS opponents. They've had a difficult schedule very similar to us.
"We have to go on the road and you worry about that taking a toll on us. We didn't back until 6:30 in the morning and we're going to turn around and do it again. We have four out of five on the road so this is a real critical game for us. It's the first game in conference, so we need to play real well. Offensively, they have a big, tall quarterback and good receivers. Pretty much in the MAC you're going to play somebody that can beat you so you have to play well. We have to continue to just take care of what we can do."
On if they learned what they needed to in the non-conference
"I think we did a pretty good job of it. We played some awfully stiff competition. Would I like to have another week to experiment with a couple things? Certainly. I would have liked to play some more players, but we didn't have the opportunity to because of the games we were in to find out more about them. There's still a couple I'd like to know more about. I feel like our kicker's gaining confidence and had an excellent game. Special team's cover guy, Jimmie Ward is doing a good job, a true freshman. [Greg] Barksdale played a nice game, a true freshman did a nice and found out a little about him. Martel we're finding out can make some plays. I think getting Cameron in the game and seeing what he can physically do and he didn't make any mental errors so that was important to me. I think we've done about as good as we can with the schedule we've been given and finding out about the players and what we can and can't do, and what we have to work on."
On not over-looking Akron
"I think it's one of those things where our kids understand after we beat Purdue and then played Idaho, I probably made a mistake and over-worked them going in to Idaho. Plus Idaho, like Akron, a very good team, but I probably made it a big deal and overworked our players. We didn't play fast in that game. I think it's a different team. I watched our team react at Minnesota and they were excited, but they also knew that we have next week. We talked so much in the off-season about our schedule and us being on the road so much early that we prepared for where we're at and we talked about how important the Akron game is. The have some older kids that have been through it. These kids talk all the time."
On if Akron's record is deceiving
"We could've been 0-4 going into this game; could've been 1-3. You start off with a non-conference with three BCS schools, they've played Syracuse, Kentucky and Indiana, and that's three BCS schools and you've got a brand new coach and you're delivering him a nice present. Coach Ianello is a good coach. He's hired good people. I know a lot of them and communicate with them quite often. I've spent some time with them and they know what they're doing. That schedule was difficult. I think people do it differently and you kind of find your slots. Both of our schools played all of that early so now we don't have to worry about that.
"It's homecoming and they wanted to play at night so we're going to play at night so we're playing at night. It's hard to win on the road and it's important for us to go down and get one on the road."
On the team's performances in the second quarter
"It doesn't matter if it's the second, third or fourth quarter, we look at our overall performance. That goes back to consistency of play. You don't know what the field position started to start the quarter. We look at those things, but there's more to it than we're giving up a lot of points in the second quarter. There's been some mistakes made in different avenues. We're more worried about the way we've played for four quarters and the consistency. Our game against Minnesota, we played more consistent. We talked about mental errors and we've had less and less mental errors as we've played. The problem is that we've had some injuries on defense. We didn't have Rashaan Melvin and Tracy Wilson. Tommy Davis is playing back there for the first time in his career and having to make calls. It's a learning experience. Devon [Butler] is a very good linebacker, but it's the first time he's starting. The defense will continue to get better if we can get injury free. Right now, we've been hit harder on defense with the injuries."
On Schiller's availability
"He will practice today. He has an ACL injury and he hasn't hit anybody. He's worked hard at conditioning, but that's not football conditioning. You have to take a lot of precautions with those kids coming of ACL [injuries]. Not only do I think about winning football games, but it's about their lives too. There's more to it and you don't want to risk it."
On Tracy Wilson's health
"His situation is a groin injury. You just don't know. I'd like to have him back this week. He's going to go through his rehab this week and we'll just see. With a hamstring or groin pull, it's tough to predict."
On the team's tackling
"We tackled better. I think that pretty evident. I don't know how many yards they had rushing, but it wasn't very many. They were a team that ran the ball on USC. I was worried about those big linemen and those backs coming downhill and their going to run the football and how are we going to stack up. We had two fourth down stops. Their fullback had no runs for minus yards and we stuck him so we definitely tackled better. It physically took its toll on us a little bit. We definitely tackled better, certainly in the last five or six minutes of the game when they were throwing the ball around and we were trying to keep them in front. Our secondary guys got people on the ground and had some good shots. We missed a few, but I do think we go better. I think it's a confidence level. Chris Smith is playing very well for us. Here's a kid with a broken wrist and he's making tackles. He's playing very smart football. He's playing with a lot of confidence and with no fear. I think we have to continue with some of the guys in the secondary now, some younger guys who are playing. They're thinking a little bit more than just playing with no fear. As they get more experience, the better they'll get. They just have to play."
Jordan Delegal, Linebacker
On the team's confidence
"The first thing that I noticed was through adversity we've built so much more confidence. The camaraderie is there. A lot of the people have meshed well together than before. It was kind of more uncertainty. Everybody is ready going into MAC play with the potential that we have, especially after the Minnesota game."
On the team's tackling
"We had to go into it with a different mindset. Coaches always say, `football is a game of inches, but every inch counts.' If you tackle a running back and he falls forward, that's a loss. We worked on gang tackles and just tackling in general because we had to get back to the basics. That was the problem, those certain areas."
Connor Flahive, Fullback
On the running game
"I think with this past game, we just put everything together. The past few games, we've had things go well. We just had one or two things that could've been the difference between a big play and a three or four yard play. With Chad, you can open a [small] whole and he'll take it 30 or 40 yards. With him, if you give him something small, he's going to make big plays happen. He just makes plays. It's fun to watch."
On not over-looking opponents
"Coach Kill does a pretty good job of not allowing us to compare ourselves to anyone. We just practice the same way week in and week out. He just does a great job keeping our blinders on so we're not comparing ourselves to anyone. We're going to prepare to win each week, but we're not just going to think that we can show up and win just because were favored."
Nabal Jefferson, Defensive Tackle
On the team's preparedness to play Minnesota
"I think we were more confident and more ready to go over there and play. We were last year to go play Purdue, but I think we were eager and ready. Last year we won so we knew that we could go over there and take one from them."
Keith Otis, Offensive Tackle
On the running game
"Everyone just had a good collective effort. I think will Illinois, guys kind of had a starry-eyed look a little bit. When we came out in Minnesota, you could just see it on guys faces on the bus, in the locker room; guys were just confident in the things that we were taught and the things that we can do. You couple that with guys having great individual efforts. Whether it was blocking or Chad breaking four or five tackles on that last touchdown, guys just came to play and individually had a great effort. I think that's what made the difference in the run game this past Saturday."
On having three newcomers on the offensive line
"When we played Iowa State, I was full of jitters and just trying to do the best I could to stay calm. There was so much adrenaline flowing. Played fairly well and came out and had a good game against North Dakota. Played against Illinois, which had a lot of guys that I came up with in the Chicago Public League and had a decent game. Then to come and put it all together against Minnesota, I think I really gave, the three individuals that came in for the first time starting, a lot of confidence. I really think the four games as a total really brought us together as a group."