Nov. 3, 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 Bowling Green. Joining Doeren were wide receiver Willie Clark, linebacker Jordan Delegal, defensive lineman Nabal Jefferson, and center Scott Wedige. Below are excerpts from the press conference.
NIU Head Coach Dave Doeren
"Excited about what I think was one of the best college football I've definitely been a part of. I'm sure it was fun from a fan's standpoint to watch. Toledo's a very, very good football team. We felt like there were a lot of things that happened in that game where the game could have gone either way. Just very proud of the way our football team handled the adversity of the game; how they kept coming back and sticking together. I thought our offensive coaching staff did a tremendous job of having a great plan in place. A lot of different people - I think nine different receivers touched the ball.
"Obviously our special teams gave us a huge boost in the return game. On the flip side of that, our fear of [Eric] Page and their return game hurt our defense tremendously field position-wise. Making them play on a short field all day was difficult, to say the least. So it was field position game; I think both sides felt it in the return game. We were able to contain Page in the punt return aspect of it, but not in the rest of the game. We were very disappointed in his ability to do what he did in the football game, but we got the win. We've been in a couple close ones this year where we didn't, very happy with that. Came home, got home late. Getting ready now for a very good Bowling Green team that I know is upset over how they played in their last football game. They beat a very good Temple team just two weeks before, or one week before their Kent State game. We know we have to play our best on the road, and we look forward to the opportunity to do that."
On not kicking deep to Toledo's Eric Page
"I wish we could have kicked deep to him. What happened when we studied their year of kickoff return, every team that kicked deep to him got burned. So we practiced for seven days of sky kicking with four-plus hang and landing it on the 20, which is what happened twice. Both times we did that we tackled them inside the 30. The problem was that the other kicks we had didn't do that; they landed on the 35 with less hang. So our plan didn't work all the time the way we wanted it to, and our defense suffered because of it. That's not the only thing that happened for them.
"Anytime you play on a shorter field, I don't care who you are, you increase your chances of scoring on offensive drives. We just felt like if Eric Page didn't catch the ball, and they got it on the 40, that was better than him catching it and maybe taking it the distance. He had good returns on Boise, which we think is a great team. He had good returns on Ohio State, which we think is a great team and he had a good return on Syracuse. We just felt, after watching the other teams and what they did, if we could get a good hang - obviously we didn't. So if I would have known our kickers weren't going to perform exactly like we wanted every time, then maybe we would have taken our chances. He's a really good player. I think whoever has to go against him, regardless of their level of talent, they're going to see the same thing. He's done it to everybody on film."
On being a defensive-minded coach in a 63-60 barn burner
"It was tough. I knew they were going to score points; they were in second or first or third best offense in every category in our conference. I didn't expect what happened. Part of that is the field position; part of it is our inability at times on third down to get off the field - that hurt us. We've been better in that phase until Tuesday. It wasn't any one thing. There was a couple times I think where we had bad down and distance awareness, where we were showing some pressures and dropping out. Didn't get enough depth in some zones and allowed them to hit a dig behind a linebacker or two. Couple times our rush lane integrity wasn't good and they had a pretty easy throwing lane. Their quarterback's a good player. They made some good plays; our offense made a couple more than theirs. In the end, I think the special teams returns were the difference. Really proud of our guys - we had a chance to put them away, but then we fumbled and let them take the lead. Then our guys fought back to get it back. It was a tremendous final drive, to put the game away by our offense."
On ranking first in the MAC in scoring offense, and last in time of possession
"As a defensive guy, I struggle with that. It's tough, because when you're scoring 40 a game, you can't complain as a defensive coach. I think our entire staff will tell you that when we get off the field on third down; the two games that we've played well in defensively, Kent State and Western Michigan, we played extremely well on third down. When that happens, our rep count's down. And even the first three quarters of Buffalo was the same thing. So we just have to focus on that part of our game - getting people into third and long and then getting off the field. Then you don't mind the time of possession, because you're able to get the rest you need. We rotate a lot on defense as it is, at a lot of positions. Particularly on our D-line; there's a lot of guys in and out, so they're staying pretty fresh."
On running some clock on the game-winning drive
"We did on the last drive. That's why we got the time delay; that was on me. It was funny. I remember it was first and three on the three maybe? I said to Matt [Canada], is there any way you can milk this a little bit. Because they we're getting field position - I knew we were going to have a three-point lead if we scored. With the field position they'd been getting on kickoffs, I didn't want to give them a minute to get 20 yards.
"So we were talking about it, then all of a sudden the clock was running down. They measured on that play and didn't give us the full clock. I don't know if anyone saw that, but they didn't give us the full clock after the measurement. So that was part of the issue. But the conversation Matt and I were having was about, `hey, let's use as much as we can here before we get to where we're going to score.' Then all of a sudden it was first and eight, and then with a penalty it was first and 13. It ended up working out, but it was interesting."
On Toledo's timeouts remaining at the end of the game
"I heard about that after. I didn't think about it. I know where he was coming from. He felt like they needed them on the other side of the ball. It's tough - it's a tough situation because when you get the ball back, you don't want to have no timeouts either."
On if he was surprised they didn't take timeouts
"With only needing field goal, you probably want to at least have a couple more seconds. But you know, he did what he did. Had it been on the other shoe, I'm not sure. You have to really trust your defensive staff in that situation. I know I asked Matt [Canada], when it was fourth down at one point, I said do you think you can get it here. And he said, `absolutely, we'll get it.' So I called timeout, he called the play he wanted, and we got it. Some points where you don't have it, you ask your coordinator. Had I asked our guys, do you think you can stop them, and they said yes, we'll get it done, I would have felt the same way. I think you have to lean on your staff at some point too."
On getting stops when Toledo quarterback Terrance Owens subbed in
"Absolutely. I think every stop when you're scoring the way we are on offense is a momentum swing, because it's points on the board. For our defense to get a rest is a big deal. I think early in a game, I don't know if you can blame their quarterback. We just did a couple things better in those drives. They don't really change their offense when he comes in. So yeah, any time we get a stop and a score, it's a big deal."
On the high-scoring Mid-American Conference
"It is an adjustment, just being anywhere where we're not playing to the caliber of defense we want to be every week. I knew going into the season with the situations we had, linebacker and a safety with Tracy, we were going to have some question marks. There were certain games where we answered the call better than others. Obviously, we're still standing. We just have to get enough stops where our offense can keep doing what they're doing.
"I think the thing we did extremely well in Kent State and Western Michigan was creating takeaways. If we can give our offense a short field on takeaways or blocking a punt, the special teams play that we've had some pretty good success with in most games, that's what we've got to be. We can't give up big plays. That was the one thing that disappointed me Tuesday. If we make them drive the field - we didn't do that a couple times and we have to be better there."
On the challenge Bowling Green poses
"They're a good defense; they've only had two teams score 30 points on them all season long. One of them was West Virginia, which has a really good offense. I think Western Michigan was the other one. We know what we have to do. We also knew going into Toledo that we had our hands full with their defense. We got healthy and had the 10-day break. They had the 10-day break going into our game; they're coming off a tough loss coming into our game. There are a lot of things in their favor, when you look at it from that standpoint. But we're going to have to play a much better defensive game. We can't make our offense have to score that many points to win this game."
On Tommylee Lewis' kickoff returns
"I'm not surprised at all. I'm surprised it happened at Toledo; because I think highly of their football team. I thought it would happen earlier, to be honest with you. When we brought Tommylee in here - we're fast at receiver, I think everyone knows that - and when he got into that group in two-a-days and made plays left and right, I'm like, man, this guy's got a different gear. All the coaches knew it. But we just have so many good players at receiver; we didn't want to burn his year.
"After Tommy Davis played so many defensive snaps and we weren't getting anything going on KOR's, we made the decision we have to play him. I thought in the Cal Poly game he would have some big returns. He had one I think. If you look at the timeline since Tommylee's been in there, two of the games he played in - one of them was that windy day where every kickoff was through the uprights ¬- he didn't even get to touch the ball. I think Western Michigan's kicker leads the league in touchbacks. So two of the games he didn't get opportunities because of where the ball was being kicked. Then he struggled in one game, putting it on the ground. So hopefully it'll continue. Whether it's house calls or not, I don't know. But field position for offense, as I mentioned already, is a premium."
On NIU's return game
"If you look at us before the game statistically, we weren't anything scary. I don't think they were intimidated by our return. Maybe teams now will be, I don't know. We've had two, three good returns on the year. We went from like last to eighth after that game. We're still not anyone to be scared of as a return unit, but we've improved."
On Tommylee Lewis' background
"Tommylee's a guy that everyone knows, who's smaller in stature and because of that has a huge chip on his shoulder about it. He plays way bigger than he is. He's super aggressive; not afraid of anything or anyone. Dwyer High School in Palm Beach, Florida where he's from is a great program. State championship program when he was a junior; went to the finals and lost as a senior. Was on a team where there was seven players signed that are all playing as true freshmen in Division I football. For him to be around great players is nothing; he did it every day in his senior year. So he's way ahead when it comes to the learning curve a high school guy would normally have just because of where he's from."
On how Lewis came to NIU
"I recruited that school for a long time. I know their head coach, Coach Daniels, extremely well. Tommylee, he's 5-6, and a lot of people look at a guy that short and don't give him a chance. With the way we do things offensively with the jet sweeps, I felt like he had a fit in our system. If you don't run the kind of offense we do, you may not find a guy like him attractive. I've seen how he competes. I recruited a lot of guys from that school at Wisconsin, and he was a guy I always loved to watch. So when I had a chance, I went after him."
On Willie Clark's first score of the season
"Willie's done a lot of things for our offense this year that's been unseen. I think if you look across our offense, you'd see a lot of people touch it, and that's just based on what the looks are we're getting. He's made a lot of plays. He's moved the chains. To his credit, he's continued to work his butt off even though he's not getting the ball as much. He's an ultimate team guy, in my opinion. I was really happy for him, because that was a big play. We really needed that play. It looked good in practice all week, and he took advantage of it.
On Lewis' future on the team
"I think he'll be where Perez is in our offense eventually, at Z. The jet sweep, he scored on one in the Cal Poly game. So he's already done that part of our stuff. We'll see. He's got to earn all that by playing well at practice. But that's the place he's at right now."
On NIU's defensive standouts
"I think Pat [Schiller], Ron Newcomb, Sean Progar, and Jimmie Ward are the four most consistent guys on our defense right now. Other guys have had great days and not-so-great days, so we lean on Pat to be a steady player. We've had to role play a lot of other guys, and we're looking for improvement in many of those areas. And our guys want to play better than they did on Tuesday - trust me, they know. It's going to be a great week of practice getting ready for BG for the defense."
On Bowling Green running back Anthony Samuel
"He's a good player. He's obviously getting a majority of their carries, too. He's a good player. He's second in the league in rushing right now. He's over 100 yards per game. He's a good athlete. He took one the distance from a back up running situation in one of their games - I think that was against Miami of Ohio. He's got good speed, and he's elusive. Don't think he played much last week; he had a concussion maybe. So he's probably pretty healthy leg-wise coming into our game."
On shifting the focus to Bowling Green
"We talked yesterday about where we are. Now we're tied with Toledo, and have the tiebreaker. How they put themselves there by winning a very emotional, hard-fought game. Talked about how we've become bowl eligible. Talked about how we've won four in a row and won two on the road in a row. Also talked about how now we're playing a team that beat Temple, who at the time was the No. 1 team in the East. A team that last time we played there, we lost, NIU lost, when they [NIU] were ranked 12th in the nation there, to a BG team that was also ranked. So they were two top-25 teams at the time. But BG is 10-6 all-time against NIU, we talked about that. Our guys know that we're going to get their best. We know that whenever you play a team that just lost, especially a game where they considered they shouldn't have lost, they're going to practice well and have a lot of pride in how they rebound. We're going to have to play our best."
On the possibility of a letdown
"I think I said that, I said it would be natural to have a letdown after a huge emotional win. But I don't think anyone in here wants that to happen. All the guys were nodding. I said here's how we have to do it. And we went through our plan, and what we're going to do rest-wise to get back; how we're going to sleep, how we're going to lift, and what we need to do to be ready. Our guys know what they need to do; obviously we need to go do it now. We've addressed the pitfalls of what could be ahead of us, and now we have to be mature enough to handle them."
On filling in for Jamaal Bass this week
"Santa [Michael Santacaterina] will play a lot. Gervaise Porter will play a lot, and Vic [Victor Jacques] will continue to do what he's done behind Pat. When Pat needs a blow, Victor will be in there. We play so much nickel where Jimmie Ward's on the field, so we're in a two-linebacker defense half the game anyways. It hurts obviously, but Jamaal didn't play last Saturday because we were nickel the whole game. So it hurts us, but we'll be okay. Next man in, and those guys will step up and play well."
On looking ahead to the MAC Championship
"You're way ahead of me. I'm really not worried about any of that stuff, except for what we're doing this week. We have to win at Bowling Green, then we'll come home and talk about the rest."
On the challenges Bowling Green poses on defense
"There are a lot of concerns. They have the best defensive tackle in our league, who leads our conference in sacks. They've got a great linebacker. We've got to play a heck of a lot better defensively knowing that we're playing against a defense that hasn't allowed anyone to score 30 points more than twice. We know we need to up our game there. Like I've said, we're playing against a team that didn't play well in their last game, and they've had ten days to rectify it. So, we know we're going to get a much more focused, better-prepared team."
Willie Clark, Wide Receiver
On his scoring play at Toledo
"We worked that play into the offense earlier that week. We were repping it and practicing it. We ran it a couple of times in the game and the third time we ran, it turned out well."
On winning in Toledo
"It felt good; the win was great. Being a senior, playing Toledo, finally getting that win there, being a part of that. But it's on to Bowing Green now, and that's the next step in going back to where we want to go."
Jordan Delegal, Linebacker
On being without Jamaal Bass this week
"Guys in our role are pretty interchangeable. It's one of those things where if one guy goes down, the next guy stands up. It's definitely not going to be a step back for us. It's just going to be the next step."
On the win at Toledo
"Definitely was a crazy game, on both sides of the ball. I give my respects to Eric Page, Toledo, and the rest of their staff. They definitely did a good job. Offensively our guys did a good job also. We just have to work out the kinks. Once we get that done, we'll be all right."
Nabal Jefferson, Defensive Lineman
On playing in the high-scoring MAC
"These offenses are very fast and have a lot of trick plays. But like Jordan said, it all comes down to what we do. How we stick to our roles, and play the game well."
On what the defense needs to do this week
"We're just focused on defending as well as we can. We want to stop the run, want to make them one-dimensional, and just kind of control the line of scrimmage."
Scott Wedige, Center
On the team's 24-hour rule
"I was definitely on top of the world. I could not get a smile off my face for those 24 hours, and I did take all 24 hours. I think everybody did. That was an emotional game on both sides of the ball. You have to tip your hat to Toledo. That was an unbelievable game, and I'm glad we came out on top. Especially in my senior year, to go to the Glass Bowl and come away with one. I know we are the third to ever do that in our series we've had with them. So yes, I used all 24 hours, but now it's really on to Bowling Green."
On how the defense supports the offense's quick possessions
"They're real supportive of it. Sometimes it's difficult for them to be on the field, but they say do your thing. We'll do our thing, you do your thing. As long as you score points and execute what you do, everything will work out in the end."
On Tommylee Lewis
"I remember when he first came in, his legs were moving so fast that I couldn't even see them. I was like, who is this guy. He came in late this summer, so we didn't really know who he was. I thought he was a walk-on, because he's 5'5", 100-and-nothing. Then he comes in, and all of a sudden you see that kid run. That kid's special. He's going to be a force to reckon with in this conference for a long time."