Nov. 10, 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 Ball State. Joining Doeren were running back Jasmin Hopkins, defensive lineman Ron Newcomb, and offensive lineman Joe Pawlak. Below are excerpts from the press conference.
NIU Head Coach Dave Doeren
"First of all, I want to say how proud I am of our team for winning their third straight on the road. Thought we played a very good Bowling Green team and played well in all three phases. The start of the game wasn't what we would have liked defensively, but the answer by the offense and then the response from that point on from the defense I thought was fantastic. I thought a lot of people had good games for us.
"Trevor Olson had his 50th career start, which I think is a landmark for any college athlete. To say they've done that in college football, in particularly on the offensive line, says a lot about how tough a kid that Trevor is. I thought Chandler Harnish had one of his finer days for us, not just production-wise, but the way he competed and created. It was fun to watch him play.
"I was proud of the pressure our defensive front put on during the game. They have a very good quarterback and some good receivers, and we were able to get them out of rhythm. The special teams did some nice things that go unnoticed at times. Punt team continued to help our football team. Except for one occasion, our kickoff coverage team improved; started the game with a tackle inside the 20. Those are all things we want to continue to do.
"I can tell you our team is excited about playing at home. Been away for a while. To have a blackout game and a very good Ball State team coming in that has a lot to play for, it's going to be a really good environment and a great football game against a team that's well-coached."
On the defense's second-half performances recently
"Two different games. We didn't play well at all in the Toledo game. It wasn't the second half, it was the four quarters that we played poorly. Buffalo, we played extremely well in the third quarter, and we didn't finish the game on either side of the ball. Like I said to you before, I think Bowling Green was our first road game where we played four quarters on all three phases of the game. We've learned a lot as the year's gone on as a football team. When we played Buffalo, we didn't get a first down on offense in the fourth quarter; our defense played the entire fourth quarter. There were two things to learn there - one, we have to finish the game better defensively, but two, our offense has to get first downs and close out a game. Which you saw them do against Bowling Green. Toledo was just a different ballgame. That was whoever had the ball last was going to win. Sounds like they had the same game again last Tuesday."
"Proud of the guys for playing four quarters; for playing back-to-back-to-back road games. Bowling Green had 10 days to prepare for us, and we had a normal week. So there was a lot in their favor in that game. Our guys did it the hard way, which is something we take a lot of pride in. Excited about being back here to play in front of our fans now."
On the how well the offense is playing
"They're playing at a high level. When you go five games in a row without giving up a sack, that says something about not only your offensive line, but your system. We're not just dinking and dunking it, but we're throwing the ball downfield. We're running for over 200 yards a game. The running backs that we're rotating in there are all contributing to that as well. Our quarterbacks, both of them are running the ball well. Our receivers have all stepped up in different ways, at different positions, at different times. Anthony Johnson has made some plays for us in Martel's absence. Willie Clark has made some plays here in the last two weeks. People are paying more attention to Perez [Ashford], and because of that other guys have had to make due, and they have. Jamison [Wells] had a couple nice carries for us in the game, and is blocking extremely well. Really proud of the variety of people on the offensive side of the ball that are taking advantage of opportunities when they come their way."
On Willie Clark's recent emergence
"The shovel pass against Toledo was just a called play for Willie. We do a lot of different things in our run game that's based on what guys do when we hand the ball off. They were overcommitted in a certain look on that particular play, and Willie was wide open. It was something our offensive coaches saw on film and took advantage of. Willie did a great job, just like Akeem did a great job later on off of our fly sweep. He's was wide open on an action there coming across. When you defend a team like ours and many teams like this in our league, there are many run plays that are passes as well; where you fake it, and if the guy's there, you throw it. We did a good job of making those reads. Chandler's really understanding the system right now, and is getting the ball to the right people."
On Jasmin Hopkins' season thus far
"Jas is getting better through the season. He was banged up early, and has gotten healthy here in the last couple weeks and it's shown. Jas is a guy that can make people miss - I think everyone knows that. But his leg drive, he's making a lot of things happen on first contact and second contact. That's what got him the starting job in the spring; he ran through a lot of contact in the spring. Excited that he's back to full strength, and I hope he does get to 1,000 yards. I know that's a goal of his."
On how the carries are distributed
"Our run game - we have running backs, we have fullbacks that carry it, we have jet sweeps that carry it, and our quarterbacks carry it. A lot of it's based off of what people do. When we go into a game, we don't really know is their end going to stay outside, is he going to get up the field, is he going to come right at me, is he going to squeeze. All those things, when you're a read offense, can dictate how many carries people are getting. Game to game, you're not sure. But I know our quarterback's going to get his share. We do so many different things in the read game that it's hard for people to take one guy out of a game."
On Hopkins not getting 25 carries a game
"I think Jas has. I wouldn't say if Jas was a 230-pound back and he felt like he could take 25 carries a game, we would probably have a little bit more turn around, hand it off stuff going on. But that's not where he is, it's not where we are. We do it by committee for a reason and it works."
On running backs coach Eddie Faulkner's first game against his former employer, Ball State
"I know Eddie's not a guy that talks a lot about things like that. Eddie's going to work hard no matter who we're playing. It's a tough game. When we played Wisconsin, it was tough for me. Not because of the coaches or the school, it's because of the players you recruited that are on the other team. I know McNutt had the same feeling when we played Kent State. It's just different when you're watching a guy on film that you visited, recruited, and had in your house and all those things. So on game day, it'll be a little different, but during the week, it'll be how it always is."
On stretching all parts of the field
"It helps a lot. I think we stretch people horizontally with our screen game, and vertically with our play-action passes. So there are a lot of things that are stressful for your secondary. When a tailback can break the line of scrimmage and go the distance, that really puts a premium on your tackling defensively - that the ball doesn't get to the second level. That's why one of our goals every week is to have a lot of yards after contact. So for Jas, that's a huge part of his game; he's got to be able to make the first person miss."
On if Chandler Harnish's reads are the most important part of the offense
"Yes and no. I mean, there are certain reads where it's kind of cloudy, and we're blocked up either way. So if he's wrong, it's not a bad play. The big thing is you don't want guys keeping the ball as a QB, or handing a sweep into a blitz where you're going to get earholed. So just understanding when you definitely don't want to keep it is, I think, the biggest thing. A handoff, when you're blocking everyone up front, is never a bad play."
On the national television exposure
"I think the exposure's big. I got a lot of e-mails and letters. The number of people that have e-mailed, texted, called - even if you just get on ESPN, you see more news about our football team, it's obvious that it helps us. Especially if you're playing well."
On how it feels to be on a five-game winning streak
"I think any coach will tell you he feels great after a win. After five, you feel really good. Even though I have a cold, I don't feel sick. I also know, that you're one game away from not feeling good again. I've been through that too. We know what's at stake. We know Ball State has to win out to win the West. So do we, because if we lose a game, it's out of our control and that's not what we want."
On ever being satisfied with a defensive performance like the one at Toledo
"You know what, I don't think so. When we give up that many points, I don't care what happens. We didn't tackle well, we didn't leverage well, we didn't make enough plays. I'll never be happy about that. I don't care if they score 100 points. Just as a competitor - I know we're a better team than we were there on defense."
On Coach Lembo's transition at Ball State
"Well, they're very well coached. Coach Lembo brought a staff in with him that had been together. It's not like - we've gone through some transition here, have had to learn how people are on game day, what they're like. It's similar to when Coach Kill came here and brought his whole staff. Coach Lembo brought his whole staff together. Those guys worked together. You see that early in the year. They were able to play at a high level earlier in the year than maybe most transitional staffs would - knocking off Indiana, beating Army. I think he does a tremendous job. He's well-organized. I know he doesn't have all the personnel maybe that he wants yet, on the defensive side of the ball, but they play hard, they're sound. Their quarterback does a good job; their receivers run good routes, they're technical. I have a lot of respect for what they do and how far he's taken their team in such short amount of time."
On Ball State quarterback Keith Wenning
"Strong arm. Gets the ball out quick. Can throw the ball down the field; has good touch. Can run. Not a guy that looks to run, but can run. They're a zone read team as well at times; he'll take it, get vertical, and get what he can get. Tough kid. I think he's a competitor. When you watch him, you can see his emotions are on the table. I have a lot of respect for him."
On the keys to beating Ball State
"First thing for us is just to be us. We have to continue to improve; build off of each game. Play sound, play smart, play physical, play tough, play four quarters. Not beat ourselves. Continue to run the ball, try to stop the run. Get takeaways, protect the football, play really well on special teams. Those are things I want our program to be about all the time. To beat Ball State, that's what we'll have to do. Got to be ourselves, not beat ourselves, not put ourselves in a tough position. Use the home field for what it is; use it to our advantage."
On the Lynch to Clark score later in the Bowling Green game
"We didn't really go into that drive thinking let's run out and up on them. A lot of our run game, because of how deep their corners were playing, we were taking some of the quick outs, hitches, and screen game out there. They started to tighten it up, and I said let's let Jordan throw one down the field. They were taking that away and packing it in in the box against the run. I really wanted to get another score just to put the game away. The play before that play, we ran an out route, and the corner almost intercepted it - he jumped it. So I said let's go out and up here, Matt [Canada] called it, and Jordan threw a great pass to Willie. That was it."
On not being surprised with Lynch's arm
"No. I was telling everyone in fall camp he was throwing - his percentage rate in fall camp was over Chandler's. Just the overall part of it, the decision-making; Chandler was way ahead. When it came down to just crunching numbers in camp, Jordan's a very good passer. He has a strong arm, quick release. He's scary, because when he scrambles, he can really run."
On Harnish celebrating Lynch's touchdown pass
"Those guys do that all the time. As soon as Chandler scores, Jordan's the first one congratulating him. That's what makes our team special I think; there's a lot of guys that love watching their teammates compete and play. That's a big part of what we talk about as a staff, and the players do a phenomenal job with it."
On NIU's quarterback situation
"It's exciting. I've said that all year. Happy as I am that Chandler's our quarterback, I'm also excited about the future for Jordan. Matt McIntosh has done a nice job for us developing. He's gained 18 pounds and he's getting better. Watching him in practice, he's doing good things. And recruiting is going well too, so the future's bright. I think a lot of people who watched our offense this year want to play in it. It's helped us."
On the Huskies' team speed
"I would say that's one of our strengths. The previous staff did a really nice job of recruiting speed. We have that on the perimeter of our defense and offense. Both of our tailbacks are quick, too. Everyone says that's the name of the game, and it is, but you have to physical up front. That's an area we are offensively, and I think our defensive tackles the last two games have played a lot better as well. That's helped us."
On NIU's offensive proficiency
"Be hard to say that it isn't. When you're scoring as much as we are. I think there's still times when we can be better. I guess I'm greedy - I want to score every time we have the ball. But they've been very efficient. The thing I love about them the most is that they take care of the football. Even when we're not getting points - there's nothing wrong with a punt, you just don't want to turn it over. So really proud of that part of what they're doing, and hopefully we can continue that."
Jasmin Hopkins, Running Back
On how important reaching 1,000 rushing yards would be
"1,000 yards would mean a whole lot. With the tradition the past few years, 1,000 yard rushers each year, and Chandler already rushing over a 1,000. I'm not really looking at 1,000 right now. I'm just trying to win a MAC Championship. For the last three years, I've lost in a championship game. So right now, my focus is on winning a MAC Championship, and I know 1,000 yards will come with the O-line I have."
On sharing rushes with Chandler Harnish
"If the defense is going to collapse on me, then Chandler, with his ability, is going to be able to make plays. It's all a team sport; it's all a team thing. With Chandler doing good, I'm really proud of him. I hope he keeps doing what he's been doing - he's a playmaker."
Ron Newcomb, Defensive Lineman
On how close the MAC Championship is
"You can sense it, but the focus right now is on Ball State. We know it's close and within our reach, but we still need to win out, we have to win our games at home. If we don't do that, we're not going."
On coming back to Huskie Stadium this week
"It' great to be back home. We feel more comfortable at home. It's always hard to go out and win on the road in the MAC. Especially three in a row, it's a tough stretch to go win on. Coming back home, we know we're going to be successful here."
Joe Pawlak, Offensive Lineman
On if he's looking ahead to the MAC Championship
"No. I'm putting in the same amount of preparation. I'm not focused on next week, I'm focused on this week. Taking it one week at a time."
On blocking for Jasmin Hopkins
"It's great - you just give him a little space, and he'll take it every time. All we have to do is our job, and let the playmakers make the plays."