Oct. 27, 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 against Toledo. Joining Doeren were wide receiver Perez Ashford, quarterback Chandler Harnish, and linebacker Pat Schiller. Below are excerpts from the press conference.
NIU Head Coach Dave Doeren
"Excited to be playing against Toledo next Tuesday; starting the Tuesday-week stretches now. Having a couple of days to rest our guys. We've had two good practices and a couple days off where they kind of got some of the bumps and bruises out. Had a good day in the weight room today.
"Really looking forward to the opportunity to play at the Glass Bowl. Toledo is a very, very good football team at home, and has been for a number of years. Not just NIU, but a lot of teams have struggled on the road playing at the Glass Bowl. I think they're one of the best teams, if not the best team, we've played in the league so far. You watch them on film against Ohio State, Boise State, and against Syracuse. In the nonconference schedule, they played extremely well. You can go on and on and on about them. It's going to be a great game between two very good football teams. Top two scoring offenses in the league. There's three quarterbacks in the game that are in the top five in passing efficiency. There's a couple backs in the game that I think are tremendous. [Adonis] Thomas is a great player; I know he's back and healthy for them. Their defense forces a lot of takeaways. Last week we were able to do that in our game with Buffalo. It's going to be a great football game.
"When you play rivalry games, you can take all the stats and try to compare them any which way you can, but it's still going to come down to two teams playing their hearts out against each other. There's a lot on the line so, that part makes it a lot of fun for our kids, for both teams, I think to be in a November football game that's so meaningful."
On playing at the Glass Bowl
"18-2 at the Glass Bowl over the last 20 appearances there; so I think it's pretty obvious it's a tough place to play. At home, in general, they're very similar to us in the fact that they don't lose at home very often. We know what we're up against. We're very aware of it. Not going to make a big deal out of it. We have to play well; we can't beat ourselves. Any time you play in a hostile environment, I think that's why you play football. It's why you coach football, for games like this. If we want to make it a manageable place, we have to play our best to keep people quiet. The better they play, the worse we play, the more involved their stands and their fans are going to be. We've got to control the environment the best that we can and do a better job than last week at playing a four-quarter game."
On this team's record against Toledo
"Our team is 2-2, our senior class we have is 2-2 versus Toledo. I know they lost a close one there last time they were there, won here by a big margin last year. We're very respectful of them, but also understanding that if we play our best, we can play with and occasionally beat them. We know what we have to do. Whether we can do it or not against them, we'll find out next Tuesday, but our kids do understand how good Toledo is, and they also understand how we'll have to play to beat them."
On the NIU-Toledo rivalry
"For me, no and I'm not just saying that to downplay how important this game is, or anything like that. I think they're all important. This league has a ton of new coaches in it. So I think we're all trying to feel our way through the rivalry part of it. Geographically, they have a rival already in Bowling Green. So for us personally, this is a huge game. I think it was a huge game for Coach Novak's seasons because really, whoever won that game, a lot of years was in the driver's seat. That makes it a bigger game, and that's why it's a big game this time. Both of the teams are in a position where they can be in the front seat going into the last three games for our side of the league. I have a lot of respect for them - I don't feel hatred for them or anything like that. I know our fans do. You can feel that.
"For me, it's more about us. That's kind of where I'm at right now; I want to see us play well and not beat ourselves, and finish a game. I'm more worried about us than I am about anybody, to be honest with you. Because when we play well, we play extremely good football. Our challenge is to do that for four quarters. Now that's what I want to see. You saw that against a couple teams this year. I think we did that against Western Michigan and Kent State, but we didn't do that for four quarters last week, and I want to get back to where we were."
On the similarities between NIU and Toledo
"Very efficient on the offensive side of the football. Coach Beckman, he's a defensive coach like me. You see that they're a team that tries to create a lot of takeaways. They play extremely hard on defense; they're sound. Their defensive players have been in his system longer, so you can see there's a lot more in it, as far as the package, as ours is. There are a lot of similarities. I think we're both blue-collar guys, and we want the teams to be tough. You see that they're that way. I know their players are coached hard, and ours are too. I think this league in general, to be honest with you, is a very well-coached league. Just having been in it for the first year, the teams you play know what they're doing, they do it well, they play with a competitive spirit, and you see improvement in the league - on our side, at least. You're seeing a much better Bowling Green, a much better Ball State, and a much better Eastern Michigan. I think the coaching in this league has improved, and probably the recruiting."
On if this game is more important than any other game this season
"Not really, just because we've felt like since our Central game, we've been in that seat the whole time. We know where we're at. Toledo's not. Yhey could lose to us and still be in a position where things could go their way. We've felt like a one-week-at-a-time playoff team since that game. We just have to continue to stay in a one-week focus. Every team we play after this, or at least two of the three, have five wins just like us. So we're by no means feeling like we're better than anyone else on our schedule right now."
On what has been the key to NIU's three-game winning streak
"We improved on defense, I think. In all three games, obviously not the third quarter last week, but we were out there the whole time too. I think that was the biggest thing, creating some takeaways. I think our punt team did an extremely good job at Buffalo and got us out of some tough situations. Ryan Neir had a great game, so you saw him improve. Our kickoff coverage units improved in the last three games. But really that's been the biggest thing. You can go back from that game on and say we've done a better job defensively, even though statistically it doesn't show. In the Buffalo game it was 31-10 and we were playing pretty good defense. They were on the field the whole time in the fourth quarter."
On the improvement of the defense
"Kind of expected it earlier, and didn't expect - with all the new starters, and the things that happened in the offseason with Devon and how much that would impact our defense. Not having Tyrone [Clark] and Tracy [Wilson]; there were a lot of things that happened, and so there was a lot of new chemistry that had to happen on that side of the ball and to not get the normal growth you'd get from regular teams on your schedule. I didn't anticipate the two triple-option teams stunting our growth as much as they did. Even though we won those games, it didn't allow the packages to evolve the way the normally would."
"From a week-to-week standpoint, I think you're starting to see that the kids have carryover week-to-week in what they're doing, as opposed to hey, we're doing this on third down. This week, there is no third down package guys because it's triple-option for 70 straight plays. When you're doing that with nine new starters, it takes its toll on your learning curve. In fact it happened more than you would think early in the season. Once we got into a routine, and the ability to build on schemes, you saw some growth. As coaches, we had a better grasp on what our players could and couldn't do after we got through some games there. There are a lot of different things that happened. I'm just proud of the way the guys hung together and the coaches stuck together. A lot of people pointed fingers at that side of the ball, and we didn't, the players didn't. Not that were sitting here saying we're great on defense right now, because we're not. We need to stop Buffalo a lot more than we did last Saturday. But we're better than we were."
On Chandler Harnish's leadership
"As good as you can have. If you asked me what's the one thing I feel most lucky with in our program, it would be the fact that I have not only a great quarterback, but a guy that has his character. He's such a good role model. And I'm not just talking about for football players. Children come around this building all the time, and he's the first guy to greet them. He's got zero ego. He wants to give back spiritually; he's very Christian. Socially - when he talks to people. He cares immensely about his image. So just the way he carries himself to the way our younger players get to see a guy that has his success carry himself, it's a phenomenal thing. Not just as a coach, but for a team to have a guy like that around."
"I think when you're leader is that good of a person, it helps - it helps a lot. There's three things we care about: your academics, your athletics, and your social life. In all three of them he's a superstar right now. You can't help but permeate down to Matt McIntosh, who's a quarterback down the road here. Obviously Jordan Lynch has been with him for a couple years. For Matt to be able to watch Chandler handle himself this year, you couldn't have a better situation for a guy."
On Harnish's national presence
"I know from talking to coaches, he's pretty nationally known. I don't know where the media is on that, because I don't read the paper that much. I know that whenever I talk to anybody in the profession, they're like `Man, you have a heck of a quarterback.' Everybody talks to me about him. So I think his name is out there. I don't know if that's because of what happened in the bowl last year, and everyone saw that game or what. But the award he just got was a national award, so I think that shows a little bit of where he's at."
On how the turnaround happened
"I think it's just consistency and our approach. As a first-year coach, I haven't changed at all. I'm the same guy. You get the same guy at these press conferences every week. I am who I am and I come in here the same way every day with a plan. Same way we do with our kids. We have a lot of tempo, a lot of passion when we coach. We go to practice the same way, and we keep pounding the rock. We knew, I kept saying it, we were going to be better on defense, and we are. Are we where we want to be? No, but we're getting better, and we'll continue to get better."
"There's not one day that made that happen; it's just an accumulation of reps and time. It takes time. This team was with that last staff for three years. You didn't see an 11-win team for three years. The first two years they weren't that team. It took time for them to understand everything. That's how it usually is. Usually it takes a couple of years. You're seeing that right now with Toledo. He's in his couple years into it. It's his third year. You're seeing that at Eastern Michigan; he's in his third or fourth year. It takes time for young guys to understand the message. I'm glad our guys caught on after a couple of tough games. There's a lot of pride here with our kids. They really want to be good. They put in a lot of time away from the hours required, watching film. You can come in here any night, and you'll see guys at 9:30, 10:30 at night watching film."
On Willie Clark's and Tommy Davis' roles
"I don't see Willie [Clark] as a non-starter. It's just that you guys give us 11 slots, and it's kind of how it works. Willie's on the field for so many of our personnel groups offensively. We have 31 personnel groups, and he's out there for probably 75 percent of them. So I don't look at him as a non-starter. As for as Tommy [Davis], Tommy had an injury a couple weeks ago that really slowed him down. Now he's getting healthy again, so you'll see more of him as we go. But that's where it was with him. Dechane [Durante] was making some plays and Tommy wasn't able to do some things. Now that he's healthy, we're hoping we can get that thing going for him again."
On playing on Tuesdays for the next three weeks
"I think it's tougher for the coaches than it is the players, because they're used to it. They've had to do it here before. For many of our coaches, not all of them, are new to the MAC. We've got three guys that have been in it. We've tried to tweak our schedule and just kind of recalculate our days. You'll hear us talk about the wrong day a lot. Tuesday is Saturday to us now. So we just kind of recalculated our calendar. That's, when we did this thing a few months out, that's kind of how we planned it - to give them certain days off. Today is actually Thursday on your calendar, but as far as we're looking at it how we do it, it's a different day in our mind. So tomorrow will be a Tuesday to us, but a Friday, and so on."
Perez Ashford, Wide Receiver
On the NIU-Toledo rivalry
"I think it's definitely a rivalry. You can feel the tension when you walk into Toledo's stadium, and our stadium. You can just tell how focused players are and coaches are, how serious you take the week, and just how much it's talked about through the offseason and the games. Definitely a rivalry."
On having extra motivation going back to his home state
"Definitely. I played a lot of those guys in high school. Coming back to it is a good feeling, and it will definitely give me a lot of motivation. For the ones that I lost to in high school, it will make me come back, play harder, and get the win."
Chandler Harnish, Quarterback
On the NIU-Toledo rivalry
"I think it's still a huge rivalry for us. Every time you think of Toledo, you get bad feelings in your head. But then at the same time, you get some excitement going too. There's no motivation we need from coaches this week outside of just playing Toledo. That's something we remember from Coach Novak when he was here our freshman year. His animation towards them is something that's carried over, and hopefully continues too.
On Toledo's successful season thus far
"They've played some really great teams; they deserve the hype they've gotten so far this year. Coach Doeren told us yesterday at practice - we're the defending champions. They have to take it from us, and that's the way we feel about it. We still have some respect to be gained, and we want to prove that to the people."
Pat Schiller, Linebacker
On the defensive turnaround
"I knew what kind of talent we had; I knew what we were capable of doing. I knew that we had players that were capable of doing their tasks and assignments. It was just a matter of putting everything together, and players getting the confidence to know they can do it. Once we started going on that winning streak, you saw it get put together. Hopefully we can take that momentum into Toledo."
On how important this game is
"I don't think I'd have it any other way. Big-time game, winner's in the driver's seat, and it's against our rivals - doesn't really get much bigger than that. But in the grand scheme of things, it's just another game. So we have to treat it like that. But like you said, it's hard not to think of what will happen after the game and what the win could do for us. It's definitely going to be a big one; I'm excited for it."