Oct. 18, 2011
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 Huskies upcoming game at Buffalo. Joining Doeren were wide receiver Nathan Palmer, offensive lineman Keith Otis, safety Demetrius Stone and defensive lineman Anthony Wells. Below are excerpts from the press conference.
NIU Head Coach Dave Doeren
"Excited about the way our team played, particularly in the third quarter Saturday. I thought it was a really good football game, and Western Michigan is a really good team. Our team really caught fire there in the third quarter and executed. Did enough to stay in the game in the first half; had to overcome some pretty big field position adversity defensively. There were some special teams problems. The wind was a big factor in the first half in the kicking game. I thought that Western's punter and kicker were phenomenal Saturday.
"We just came out with a lot of energy and really executed in all three phases to close out the game. Chandler had a career game for him, so I'm proud of him. It's the second week in a row our offensive line has held the defense to zero sacks. It says a lot when you can run the ball and protect your quarterback that way.
"The defense had another good game. The way that they were able to keep their receiver, who I think will play for a long time, under 100 yards. He did have some catches, but none of them were explosive plays. Bottled up their QB. Although he did throw well in the wind, I thought we did enough to win. We got some takeaways on defense, and the defensive line continued their pressure - being in throwing lanes. Though our defensive staff and offensive staff both did a nice job putting together a game plan our kids could execute in the weather conditions we had. We have a big game this week on the road, and looking forward to playing a very good Buffalo team."
On holding WMU to field goals in the first quarter
"That's big. We've talked about starting fast at home; getting the fans involved and getting some momentum. They handled the adversity the right way. We were, defensively, early on trying to feel out what they were going to do. When you get in a wind like that, you're not sure. They really just ran their system. So once we settled into our game plan, guys settled down and did a nice job stopping them in the red zone."
On the defense's first quarter performance
"I think any time you start fast, it helps your confidence level. Coming off of a game where they played really well against Kent State, but nobody really gave them any credit because of the statistics that Kent State's offense has had. I think that was a big boost for them early in the game. Was it needed to play well? I don't know. But they were put in some tough spots and it would have been easy to let them score and they didn't. Anytime you're in that kind of field position and you can hold them to a field goal or less, that says a lot about the character of your guys."
On what he's seen from Buffalo on film
"I've watched all their film and all three phases; they have some really good players. Their tailback is second in the league in rushing, their quarterback's playing well. They've only turned it over five times the entire season as an offense. They haven't fumbled one time offensively - at least lost a fumble. I think that their linebacker slash defensive end, Mack, is one of the best players in our league, if not the best player defensively. He's sixth in the nation in TFLs, and he's done that against some really good clubs. They're 2-1 at home. They're kind of like us from the standpoint that they've struggled on the road and played well at home. Statistically they're a lot better football team at home than they are on the road. So we have a tough challenge this week taking what we do here and trying to do it a heck of a lot better somewhere else."
On how this week's flight to Buffalo compares to his Big Ten trips
"Hadn't really thought of it that way. It's nice to be able to fly to where we're going as opposed to being in a bus. But whatever we have to deal with; we don't have a choice. This week we get to fly, so we'll take advantage of that. Nicer than a seven-hour bus ride, for sure. But I hadn't really thought of it from a conference standpoint."
On how the flight affects the players
"I think the grind on the kids is a little better, particularly on the way back. We're going to get home at 8:30 at night, which, normally on a bus, you're rolling in here at two or three in the morning. So that's a huge difference, I think, when you're talking about just the mental fatigue that goes on as a football team on a road trip."
On NIU's secondary defending WMU wide receiver Jordan White
"Jimmy [Ward], and Rashaan [Melvin], and Johnny [Faustin] all had their parts in that, and we didn't put Rashaan on him at all. It just ended up that way certain times based on where he went to go. They moved him around so much that you can't just shadow, in my opinion, or you'll get into having to teach a ton of different things to your guys that they normally wouldn't do. When he was in the slot, Jimmie Ward did a nice job on him. When he was on the perimeter, it was one of our two corners. All of them played a part in it. They all played well enough to keep him under 100 yards, which, when you have 12 catches for less than 100, you're doing a pretty good job on the guy. They looked for him all the time. So, to keep him under 100 yards says a lot about our guys."
On the success of his defensive line personnel moves
"I like to think so. I think they've played well two weeks in a row. They're taking coaching. Coach Nielsen does a tremendous job with teaching fundamentals and technique. We had different plays last week than we did the week before just because of protection rules we saw and different ways to utilize our guys on certain players in their offense. We'll continue to try to use our personnel and keep guys fresh with a rotation. Players are getting betters by taking the coaching. We just have to continue to put them in the best possible place we can as coaches to help them."
On the defensive line's 12 sacks over the past two games
"We talk about our defense being in their backfield as much as we can. Last two games, we've had a lot of tackles back there. It allows you to be a better third down team. First and second down tackles for losses mean third and long. Now you can really do some things to get after a quarterback. That means you're getting your offense the ball, and our offense is scoring a lot of points. That's going to help us win."
On the challenges Buffalo poses
"They'll do everything they can. Like every defense we play, they're going to play their system. They'll try to fit the rules of the system to defend our plays. They're a little bit different schematically; probably more similar to Kent in their fronts. They're a lot more multiple up front than Western was. They'll be in a 3-4 look, and then they'll get into what we call a field or under look, with a three and a five to one side. They do a lot of things, and they're very intelligent about how they play number 46. I think he's all over the place for a reason and they match him up. They're a good football team defensively. They've done a nice job in a lot of the games. On offense, two weeks ago the quarterback threw for 343 yards against Ohio, against a really good team. So we're going to have a game where we're playing the second-leading rusher in the MAC, a QB that's thrown for over 300 yards many times, and a defense that has one of the most dynamic pass rushers in the country. We've got our hands full, for sure, this week."
On moving on from last week's win
"We're over it, trust me. These guys know we're one game away from being upset again. This is a very important game. We haven't won on the road, so that's our challenge right now to all our guys. To be able to focus and not just get better when you're at home, but get better when you're not home. Playing against a team that lost a tough game. I know Coach Quinn is a really good coach, and Temple took it to them. They're going to coach their guys hard, they're going to keep pounding the rock and keep getting better. We're not going to play a team that's not going to try to beat us. Coach Quinn is a Chicagoland native, and he'll want to play well against our football team. His staff will do a nice job."
On how the team is focused on Buffalo
"You just look in their eyes and you see them studying film. Right after [the game] in the locker room, we talked about what was next, and you can see their demeanor. It's important to them. As much as the Central game hurt us, we've done everything we've done since then to still be in the race. So that's where this game takes us. It's just one more game that we have to play well in to continue talking about being a contender. It's the next game, it's the most important game, and there are no games after until we get through this one. That's all their focus is. It's fun to see how many guys that have come in to study film since the game."
On if there's been a change in the atmosphere after vaulting back into the MAC West race
"It's hard to say. I've got my head in film for 48 straight hours, so I really only see who's walking through the hallway. When I'm talking to the guys, they're watching film and talking about Buffalo's personnel. So I haven't really gauged that."
On taking the season one game at a time
"That's the only way you can do it. We put ourselves in that position early on, so we're in a do-or-die, one week at a time season. That's how we're going to approach it. Good teams show improvement week in and week out and that's what we're going to talk about. As good as we played Saturday, there were some awful plays that happened on the field that we have to do better. So that's what we're talking about; taking our mistakes off the film, continuing to improve as a fundamental football team, and try to play all four quarters in all three phases."
On where the Huskies can improve
"Special teams. We had a punt there in the first half where the personal protector stepped in before the ball cleared him, and that's something that has never happened - through spring, fall, games. That's a mental mistake, and we can't make mental mistakes on an easy thing like that. That's one example. We didn't field the ball well in the wind conditions Saturday with both of our returners being out, so we have to do a better job from that standpoint - and we will. But those are details in the first half that hurt us. We were 8-for-10 in the red zone. I still think Coach [Canada] would tell you he wants all touchdowns and not field goals. That is something we can continue to get better at, and we will."
On the experienced defensive players stepping up
"I think one of the things that I've talked to the defensive players about, the ones that have played a lot, is having a motto of `Not on my watch.' When you can impact the game where the play is yours to make, you have to do that. You're not the young guy that's just trying to do his job and is nervous about everything. You're the old guy that's done his job a thousand times and now you need to make big plays for us when they're there. You can't go outside of your element to do it, and end up not doing your job. But I think you see that. You see Sean playing at an extremely high level. Pat's playing at a high level right now. Jimmie Ward is playing at a high level right now. The guys you know can do it have to consistently be performers. Alan Baxter got back to himself on Saturday and made some nice plays for us."
On Michael Santacaterina's reappearance in the linebacker rotation
"Santa is a very, very smart football player that can help us in certain situations. I've coached other players like him. He's just very intelligent. He understands tendencies, situations, down and distances, and plays really smart football. Just a way, we thought, to help Delegal, and Bass to have a rotation where those guys were more fresh. Early in the year, they were playing a lot; no one was coming in for them. They just weren't playing as well as they could. We felt like each of those guys had a piece of the pie, they would all play better. That's kind of what we do with the defensive line. We don't do that with Pat, because he's playing at a really high level. We felt like Bass and Delegal's play would get better if they were sharing some of the reps, and I think it has."
On taking what's given to them
"We're always going to try to establish the run game. It's part of what we are. But we're also smart enough to take what they give us. If teams are going to drop both safeties down in the box and play zero, we have to be good enough to throw. We've proved that in the first game with Army - we threw for five touchdowns, or six, whatever it was. So that's kind of what we challenge are guys. Take what they give you, and execute. If it's the pass game, that's what it's got to be. On Saturday, it was the run game. Not sure what Buffalo will be, whether the safeties are back or up, we have to be very good with what they're going to give us and executing, catching the football, and doing things with it when we do throw."
On Buffalo's run defense
"When you watch that game against Temple, it wasn't like there was a bunch of big plays that were run. It was methodical. Temple's defense played extremely well, so they were out there a lot on defense, Buffalo was. You look at them statistically and you watch them in the run game, they do a nice job of plugging gaps, shedding blocks, and tackling. That was an uncharacteristic performance. I think Temple is a really good football team. Whether we can have the same results - I'm not sure, we'll see. I know they're like anyone else when you talk about being a blue-collar team, which they are, they're going to want to stop the run first."
On the threat Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack poses
"They do both. They move him around and even rush him inside in some packages. I think they're very intelligent with what he does. He's a really good football player. He did it against Tennessee, a great team in the SEC. He did it against Utah. He played well against Temple. You read the quotes from those head coaches and their stuff. Everybody's talking about how hard he is to block and how disruptive he is. We're going to have our hands full with him. We'll have to play extremely well and make sure we know where he is."
On the Buffalo defense being a great test
"Going into Kent State, I thought their defense was fantastic. They're a really good blitz defense. They do a lot of stuff. Their linebacker, No. 43, was all over the field the game before hitting people. Obviously we've played some other good defenses this year. To answer your question, yes, it's a huge test for our front to be able to handle this guy. Kent State had the nose guard that was player of the year the year before. So we've seen some disruptive players. I think he was the player of the week of the conference this week on defense. So we've seen some guys that know how to disrupt the game."
On Mack's alignment
"He moves around quite a bit. He's mobile in 3-4 and 4-3. So he's down and he's up, then they'll put him inside at linebacker for some of their stuff and blitz him in the A or B gaps. They'll put him on wherever they think he can get stuff on, or wherever they see a protection thing and they want to try to blitz. I don't know what their game plan was in those games particularly, but you do see him all over the field.
"You have to run your system. Like I've said before, every play we run, we have to block the people that are in that design, and we better know where he's at."
On where NIU's defense stands at this point in the season
"I think we're a better defense than we were at the beginning of the season. We're playing four quarters, we're playing more sound, we're keeping the ball in front, we're not giving up as many big plays. We're being put in some tough spots field position-wise and responding. We're making big plays. We're a lot better than we were. Are we established and all those things? That's a body of work that you look back on at the end of the year. We can't be up and down. We have to continue to play well. This is a huge test this week, because this is a good team."
On the team's defensive goals
"I just don't know many teams that have won a championship giving up 40 points a game. It's something that we're not going to try to be. I think any time you can hold a team under 20 points, you have a chance to win, particularly when your offense scores as much as ours can. Our goal every week will be the same - to be the best defense that we can be, to hold that team to the fewest number of points we can, and try to score one more than they do.
"I think if you're 19 or less, you're going to find yourself in the top 25 in scoring defense."
On NIU's statistical rankings
"I'd rather be the best team in the MAC than say that we're No. 1 in offense and defense and be third. If we end up with those stats at the end of the year, that would be a great feather in our cap, but I'm more concerned about winning than I am about that."
On Chandler Harnish running the ball
"I think he accelerates pretty quickly. I think he's faster than you probably think. 40-time-wise, I couldn't tell you. But for a 220-pound guy, he accelerates. He actually reads the holes very well, his feet run on contact, can jump over an arm tackle. He's very strong, so you can't just reach out and get him. I think Jordan Lynch might be a step faster than him, but when you run like he did in the third quarter against a speedy defense, which I think they are, he has some speed to him."
On running the ball in the second half
"I was more concerned about our guys. The play we were running, our guys executed last drive of the first half. During the two-minute drive, we ran it twice and ate up the field with it. I told Coach [Canada], let's see if they can adjust at halftime. We didn't run it the whole first half, and they didn't get a good look at it during two-minute. I said run it as many different looks as you can. Let's try to get it going, get our running backs and quarterback going and it worked. Was the plan to run it as many times as we did? No, I thought they would adjust better and they didn't. It's a tough play. They don't run it on offense. To be able to stop it in a full-speed setting when you don't see it every day at practice, that's tough. It worked for us. I know being on the other end of that, it's not a fun deal."
On the offensive line's performance
"Any time you can run the ball for 500 yards, that's a lineman's dream. Those guys take pride in that. If you ask the line what they could do, if they said they could run for 200 yards and give up zero sacks, they'd be in heaven. That's like giving them free ribs for a year. That's as good as it gets for an offensive lineman."
On Harnish's decision making
"It depends on the play call. There's some plays where he's handing it off, there's some where he's definitely throwing it, and there's some where it's based on the look he gets from the defense. Once he's calling cadence, the whole offense is in his hands, where we're going with the football."
On the Harnish/Lynch rotation
"That's why we rotate him with Jordan Lynch. I think Jordan had 100 yards rushing. Whenever Matt Canada sees that Chandler's tired, he pulls him out and lets him catch his breath. That's kind of the thought process. Any time your quarterback is carrying the ball like that, you're nervous, but it's what we do and Chandler likes it."
Demetrius Stone, Safety
On what's been different about the defense the last two weeks
"Everybody's clicking. It starts with the defensive line. They get a lot of pressure. Then, going to the linebackers and DBs, everyone's just doing their job."
On getting off to strong starts on defense
"It just shows what our defense is really capable of. We had a rough beginning of the season, but the last two games we have set the tone where we actually can compete. It just set a standard that we can achieve for the rest of the game."
Anthony Wells, Defensive Lineman
On what's been different about the defense the last two weeks
"Up front, we put pressure on ourselves to make an impact on the game. Lately, the last two games, we've been doing that; we just need to keep that up. It has a lot to do with us young guys, who haven't had a lot of game experience, getting more comfortable with the system. Trusting ourselves and having confidence."
On when he really felt he made the adjustment to the interior defensive line
"The last couple of weeks. There have been a lot of things I could fix, so my coaches have been telling me, `Just keep working, it's going to come.' Sure enough, last week I finally got my first sack. It's the little things, not major, I feel it's the little things that are helping."
Nathan Palmer, Wide Receiver
On Chandler Harnish's big runs
"We kind of expect that now. We joke with him about making people miss; I think he's learned a lot lately about how to make people miss - sometimes on accident. It's fun. Now it's transferred over to where we're not watching now anymore. We're looking for that next guy to block, because we might spring him. We see that a lot with Chandler. It adds another dimension to our offense, too."
On the team's mood
"It's been a good mood. We're just ready to get back to work. Right after the game, Coach told us to be ready to work on Sunday. We came in to watch the film. We learned from our mistakes, we saw what we did well. Now we're ready to transfer that to Buffalo this week, and get ready for Buffalo."
Keith Otis, Offensive Lineman
On NIU's rushing performance versus Western Michigan
"During the week, we set the goal that if we were able to get 250 yards rushing, we would probably bring home the W. We got going, especially in the second half. We felt that in the first half, with bad field position, but once we came out in the second half, it was all good. We were running the same play over and over, and it kept working. It was a great day to be a Huskie, especially up front."