Sept. 29, 2009
DEKALB, Ill. - Northern Illinois head football coach Jerry Kill spoke at Tuesday's weekly press conference at the Jeffrey and Kimberly Yordon Center to review the Huskies' game with Idaho and preview Saturday's contest with Western Michigan. Joining Kill were defensive end Alan Baxter (Buffalo Grove, Ill./Buffalo Grove), wide receiver Landon Cox (Calumet City, Ill./Thornton Fractional North), full back Connor Flahive (Niles, Ill./Notre Dame) and linebacker Cory Hanson (Minneapolis, Minn./De La Salle). Below are excerpts from the press conference.
NIU Head Coach Jerry Kill
On goals throughout the season
"Anywhere I've ever been, your goal to win a conference championship. We haven't done that in football, but we have been close. That's a goal that goes up at the very beginning. I always tell them [the team] that is the ultimate goal, now you have to do the little things to get there. You take the non-conference, which is important don't get me wrong, but it doesn't count. Right now, everybody in the MAC feels good. Some have played already, but anybody who's starting out in it feels pretty good because everybody is 0-0 so to speak. This is really when the season does start."
On a sense of urgency around the team
"I can't tell you that until I go to practice on Tuesday. I coach from week to week and we had a good meeting on Sunday. It was a very intense meeting, and a very intense practice on Sunday. We just wanted to make sure we got things corrected and understand where we have to go. I think that playing here, Homecoming against Western Michigan everybody knows what's at stake and what we need to do. I guess you could call that sense of urgency."
On MAC being very tight and competitive this year
"This is our first conference game. It's no different from when you watch college football and Miami (Fla.) is on a roll and they get knocked off. With youngsters in this day in age, there are so many distractions, it's a challenge from week to week to make sure they get ready to play. The other part of it is when everybody is about the same, there's going to be things that are going to happen. You can go back on last week, there's not that much difference between Idaho and us. Physically, they're bigger and stronger than we are, at this time in our program. We had some better skill players than they did, but in the long run, it came down to a close game. That's what I think they'll all come down to. If you don't turn over the ball, and you do the little things that you are going to play in close games every week. You have to try and find a way to win those games. We found a way to win at Purdue, and found a way to lose against Idaho. You have to find a way to win those games, and you have to have a little bit of luck."
On players having something to prove Saturday
"I am sure some that didn't play very well will have that in mind and want to play better. I think anytime you don't do as well as you would like too, I think if you are a competitive person you want to do better. So hopefully some of our people do that. If we don't, then we are going to struggle a bit. I wish I had the perfect answer what goes on in an 18-19 year old kid's head. I think the big issue for us is that the players that did struggle are they going to come back and play better?"
On ways to improve from Saturday
"Sometimes you are just physically mismatched. Somebody is just physically stronger, bigger, and better than you are. That happens, you can live with that and you get beat. Other times it's a lack of fundamentals. I think that we took it as we need to go back and look at some of the fundamental things that we're doing. We did that a week ago in kick-off and kick-off return and I thought we improved on that. Usually, when you don't do things right, it's a fundamental thing. When you don't tackle very well that's a fundamental thing. Also, mental things some what."
On how young players deal with late game pressure
"We came back Saturday. It wasn't like we just laid down and took it. We finally got going and did some things. I looked out there one time and we had Chandler Harnish who was playing quarterback, who is a sophomore. We had four sophomore offensive linemen with one senior, a junior wide-receiver and two freshmen, and a sophomore tailback. That's a pretty young football team. On the defensive side of the ball, we started two red-shirt freshmen at defensive end. You have those types of kids playing. I think we had more of a meltdown. We drove the ball 75-80 yards right down to the deal. So you can't say we weren't ready to play. Once they [Idaho] had some success and they physically came off the ball and hit us on defense. I think some of our guy's eyes got big. We told them that it was going to be physical, but until you get out there you don't understand that. They know we're going to be in a physical game this week."
On finishing drives from Saturday
"It's kind of like it was all day Saturday. We were a foot away from sacking the quarterback. We pick off a pass and they call interference. We were just like a foot away from everything we did. We miss their two guys when they ran the screen pass, they cockroached our corner and executed it and scored. It was a deal of execution more than anything. Whether it's concentration or fundamental things that maybe we need to rep more. We've done a good job in the red zone. You want to get points, but in a game like that, you have to score touchdowns instead of field goals."
On concerns about Western Michigan
"I think the biggest concern is the quarterback. I think he's special, and I think he has a chance to play at the next level. Without a doubt, he has a strong arm and can throw it all over the place. Coach Cubit concerns me because he is a competitive guy but more so, he's an offensive guy and has a very good offensive mind. His teams always present problems with personnel match-ups. He's just a very good offensive coach. We have to do a better job on third down. We've to get off the field; we've to make a punt. All those are concerns. Any time you have a senior quarterback it helps you."
On Western Michigan running game
"Last year when we played Western Michigan we struggled on defense and on offense making mental errors. The bottom line is, in football today, if you are a defensive football team you have to stop the run. If you don't stop the run, you're not going to win. If you can't run the ball, you are not going to win. If you can stop the run, you can play nickel and dime and you can bring extra pass rushers in. That's what happened Saturday. They could run and throw equally well. If you can't stop the run and you can't run the ball, you're not going to win very many games. I firmly believe. The key to the game is we've got to stop the run and we've got to be able to run it."
On Landon Cox
"I think he's one of the most important players on our offensive football team. Landon is a guy that's a slash wide receiver. He's physical enough to block as a tight end. He's playing on special teams. He catches the ball well. He's been our offensive player of the week at least twice as the offensive staff has picked him. He plays physical. He is a hard-nosed physical player."
On similarities of Western Michigan quarterback Tim Hiller and Idaho Nate Enderle
"Hiller is very accurate. They always throw a catchable ball. They handle pressure well. I think Hiller is very intelligent. Mentally, he understands the game, and you're not going to trick him. Chandler is getting better and better at seeing those things. I think Hiller has great knowledge of the game. I think Coach Cubit does a good job of making sure they are not in bad plays."
On Chandler Harnish
"He hasn't played that much really. He's way ahead of the learning curve. He's played very well. He handled Saturday's game very well. I think he felt, with all his mite, in the fourth quarter that we were going to go down and win that game. If we would have gotten another possession, I think we would have. He got hit Saturday. He's a tough kid, and he stood in there and threw it. I think his game has continued to improve and that keeps you very optimistic."
Landon Cox, Wide Receiver
On looking forward to success Saturday
"I'm going to continue to do whatever I can to help the team win. There are definitely things out there that I could have done better. I want to continue to build on what I did last game."
On starting the MAC season and talking about other teams
"For this game, we just want to go out motivated knowing that we have a goal to reach and that we want to reach that goal. We focus on what we need to do to win games and to improve from game to game. We go into practice knowing what we need to do to go out there and succeed and achieve the goals we want to achieve. We really don't focus too much on the other teams."
Connor Flahive, Full Back
On preparation leading up to Idaho
"I thought we had a great week of practice leading up [to the game]. I was kind of surprised the way we came out and played. They out-executed us. Give them all the credit, but we also came out flat. As Coach Kill says, he knows when we aren't ready to play because we weren't blocking and weren't tackling well."
On the MAC opener
"Coach Kill has always said that every MAC team starts 0-0 this week. From here on out, every game is a conference game, so it's going to get bigger every week. We need to come out on top this weekend."
Alan Baxter, Defensive End
On the defense's desire to play better against Western Michigan
"We'll absolutely be able to play better. We just have to come out more motivated and more enthusiastic and the defensive line really needs to step up. Once we do that, we know what we can do. We just had an off week but we'll definitely bounce back."
On the challenge of playing Western Michigan
"We always love a challenge. The whole defense is looking to come back from what happened against Idaho. We all just want to get better, especially the defensive line. We want to get better. The linebackers want to get better. That's our focus going in, is just to get better and better. I know we're going to fight."
Cory Hanson, Linebacker
On reaction to Saturday's game against Idaho
"We have a 24 hour rule, whether we win or lose. You have to learn from it and go on. That's what we're doing right now. We're going to approach practice today, and we're headed towards Western Michigan and that's our focus."
On Western Michigan quarterback Tim Hiller
"He is similar to the Idaho quarterback, with accuracy. He wants to sit in the pocket and throw. He's been good every year against us, and we feel that we are ready to step up to the challenge. Being in the MAC, we always face good quarterbacks. After last week, the defense is ready to step up and prove that we're ready for the challenge. It is the opener for MAC play, so we're definitely going to come out intense. There's no way we can come out like last week. This game does mean a lot more. We need a total defensive effort. Anytime you have a pocket passer you definitely want to pressure him, get him outside the pocket a little bit, get him uncomfortable, get him somewhere he doesn't have time to throw and pick us apart. As a total defense, everyone has to do their job. The DB's have to cover, the D-line has to get pressure, and the LB's have to do both."