Nov. 29, 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 MAC Championship game against Ohio. Joining Doeren were defensive end Alan Baxter, linebacker Jordan Delegal, running back Jasmin Hopkins, and wide receiver Nathan Palmer. Below are excerpts from the press conference.
NIU Head Coach Dave Doeren
"Very excited to return to Detroit. We laughed about it in the postgame the other night how long ago it seemed like we were there for the preseason event. I just remember vividly the look on our guys' faces when we walked into that building, and how much they wanted to be back. To be able to help them get there, very excited. We've had a couple good days of work, and need a couple more before we hit the road Thursday morning, which is going to be here before we know it. We're playing a very, very good team, a very well coached team. A team that has, like us, very good playmakers. Harden is going to be a 1,000-yard rusher, potentially, here before the year's over. Their kicker is one of the all-time scoring leaders. Their quarterback has broken 11 single-season records. Their receiver, Brazill, could be the only receiver in school history to hit 1,000 yards.
"Their offense is putting up 500 yards a game almost every week. We have a challenge, obviously, a huge challenge handling their skill not just with our defense, but with our special teams. Those guys are returners for them as well. I think their quarterback, Tettleton, is a really fun player to watch, and a tough player to defend. Really enjoy watching the way he plays the game.
"Defensively, they're a sound defense. They definitely tackle well, chase the football, and do a good job mixing up coverages and pressures. It's going to be a great game on both sides of the ball. People watching the game will have the privilege of watching two really good quarterbacks play. I have the utmost respect for Coach Solich, so competing against him for me will be a privilege and an honor in itself."
On if he had watched last year's MAC Championship game
"I didn't watch the game, because we don't play Miami. I've heard enough about it to know how much it hurt them. Like I said, the minute I saw those guys in the fourth quarter last year, and the pain they had, that's been part of the drive to get back there. There's no doubt about it. Even though they played the way they did in the Humanitarian Bowl a year ago, you could see there was zero satisfaction about how their season ended because of what happened in Detroit. Chandler said three or four times, we haven't proven anything yet. He wants a chance to win this game. We're playing for the last 28 teams that have been at NIU that haven't won it. That's kind of our rallying cry, `let's do something that no one's done here for 28 years.' We know we have our hands full, but at the same time, we're very excited about being back there."
On how the team feels about last year's MAC Championship game
"You can see the pain. You can see the intensity. You can see the disappointment. As people talked to them, you could also see their focus on wanting to be back. They were like,' ah, can you believe we lost that game.' I know they have an intense desire to wipe that slate clean and say that they are the MAC champs. Fortunately we have that opportunity."
On how important getting a win on Friday is personally
"That's why I'm here. I came here to win championships. That's the one that we can win this year. That's what it's all about. At the end of the day, we want to be the MAC West champion, and if we can win the whole thing every year, that's our No. 1 goal. That's why I came here. As a head coach, whenever you're the conference champion, that's the best you can do. Where that puts you in the grand scheme of things, you'll have to find out."
On if Ohio's defense will be the best they face in the MAC this season
"They're very sound. Statistically across the board, they're in the top half in most categories. To say they're best in the MAC, I thought Buffalo's defense was really good. I think Kent State's defense is really good. They've done it without a lot of offensive help. Those two defenses that we played against were the most challenging. Not having played Temple, statistically Temple's defense was really good in the league. But if you look at them [Ohio], they're anywhere from third to fifth in almost every defensive stat. They're in the top 35 in the country in almost every stat as a team, besides turnover margin. So there are a lot of things they do well as a football team."
On who Ohio quarterback Tyler Tettleton reminds him of that NIU has played so far
"He really doesn't. He's faster than any of them. He reminds me a lot of Jordan Lynch, to be honest with you, on our team. He's a shorter guy; he's kind of a running back playing quarterback. He looks to run pretty early in his pass progression. A lot of the routes on third down are down-the-field routes where they are clearing people out, so if no one's open, he can get going. He's a passer and a runner. When he runs, he's very dangerous. He runs hard. We haven't really seen a guy, in my opinion, that runs as much as him. A lot of the guys we played scramble and throw - he still does that. But he really gains yards when he runs the ball."
"I'm just saying because of his height maybe, and build, that Chandler's a lot bigger than he is. But what they do, throwing and running, our systems are very similar. He runs a little bit more like Jordan, I think, than Chandler."
On staying focused when they take the field
"I want us to be who we are. We're not going to be any different. We're an energetic, passionate bunch of guys that love playing football. That's what we'll be in Detroit; that's what we've been all year. I know there's going to be a lot of energy and excitement, but the big thing you have to be careful of is being too excited. You have to just play the game and not let it get away from you. We'll have to play for four quarters, and you can't lose your energy in 30 seconds. It's just another game. It's the most important one, obviously, because for what it is. We have to play our best and stay focused."
On drawing on past experiences to prepare the team for the MAC championship
"I haven't been in a conference championship game, but I have been in a lot of big games. The playoffs in 1-AA, and the national championships I was in, kind of going to lean on that experience a little bit. Some of the bigger bowl games you can lean on. For us, honestly, the last seven games have been a playoff. So for our guys, this is just kind of another one of those games that we've had.
"We've had three really good road games, so this is another road playoff game for our guys. For me, it's, because we don't have an indoor yet and how the weather is, it's a lot like what we had to go through at Montana in the playoffs. We couldn't be outside so we practiced in the Budweiser warehouse one year, getting ready for Georgia Southern. We're not having to do that here. But we are going inside today, because of the wind outside, so we can get some things done. I know Ford Field is a warm, dry environment, and we're going to be in a warm, dry environment today at the DeKalb Rec so our guys can sweat and get ready for that. That's kind of what you want to do. We got a pretty good start on these guys going Saturday and Sunday, so now they're back off, but get our guys really sweating today and polish up our plan."
On if practicing indoors changes preparation
"It doesn't, from the standpoint of once you're get to Ford Field. It does here, because the Rec's 55 yards long. When you get there, in my opinion, an easier place for our offense to do what they do because there's no wind. Your kicker can kick the same all the time, your routes, your balls and all the things that you do. A lot of our games here, it's what border are you in basis, what plays you run on offense on both sides of the ball. So if you're not going to have that, it's more of a level playing field for both teams."
On Pat Schiller's leadership on defense
"He's our vocal leader on defense. He means a lot to us. Sean Progar's a guy that really leads by example, and Pat's a guy that does the same, but he's not afraid to talk. He's taken it on his shoulders to help the younger linebackers, get defensive linemen lined up. He does a phenomenal job of that for our guys."
On NIU's reputation for developing under-recruited players
"We talk about it a lot. Chad Spann was a walk on here too. He was pretty good. Willie Clark was walk on here. So a lot of our really good players are guys that weren't recruited. I think it's a great example for not just our players, but for our coaches. You get caught up on who you're recruiting sometimes. Maybe the best guy is the one at that school that's not being recruited. So you have to constantly look at the talent pool and the places you go. Search for the guys that are workers, that are going to take it personal and prove a lot of people wrong. I think that's what NIU, really what the MAC is. You're taking what people consider to be second tier players that are going to have a chip on their shoulder, because no one recruited them. Then you're developing them, and if they have a work ethic, they can become better than somebody maybe in the Big Ten or Big 12."
On Ohio head coach Frank Solich's coaching philosophies
"They'll be disciplined. They'll be hard-nosed. They'll be football savvy. He does a good job of teaching football IQ. There are not a lot of things, if anything, that Frank probably hasn't seen. So he can teach his guys off a lot of experiences he's had as a player and a coach. I thought coach [Tom] Osborne, who he grew up under, is one of the greatest ever in the game, and did things the right way with class. So Frank has the same background. So his program is run the right way. I know there are going to be guys that are talked about a lot of things outside of football, guys that are well-rounded. And he's going to talk about all the things that are important outside the game. So it's going to be a classy team that plays hard and understands how to win."
On his history against Coach Solich
"I played against Nebraska when they were a national championship team. I played against them when they were on their way down with another staff. When I was a high school coach, I worked their camp. When I was at Drake, I worked their camp three or four times as a volunteer. So I know their program at Nebraska, when he was there, pretty well. Just always had such respect for him and the way he handled himself and carried himself. Now, to be a coach in the conference and being around him in the meetings, he really stands for a lot of the good things in this profession."
On those supporting the team
"There's a support group here of former players that's really strong. I get texts and e-mails every week. It seems like clockwork, as soon as our game's over, they start e-mailing me. It's the same guys. But Coach Novak's been a great supporter all season. He wants us to raise the banner as much as anybody. A lot of his players here and guys that played under coach Canada, they want to see him succeed as well. There's a very good support group, former players and coaches, and our boosters as well, that are very supportive of what we're doing."
On what a conference title would mean to NIU
"I do. When I came here, I didn't just come here for what I can do, I came here for what we can do. I think 28 years, to erase a memory like that, would make me feel good because I'm a part of it. I know how good it will make those previous 28 teams feel. That's something we can build on as a program. It's something we really want to have in our arsenal is a conference championship and recruiting, a way to help our boosters to maybe get more people back involved. It's a big deal to me and all those former players."
On former NIU Head Coach Joe Novak
"I talk to him almost every week. It was two or three days ago. He leaves me a message every, whatever night we're playing, the next morning we'll come in there will be a message for him on the voicemail. I don't know what day it was this week.
"Just talk about the game, or watched your game. You got so-and-so next. What he's seen. He's watched Ohio three or four times, so just hey, they got a good quarterback. It's always different. Just kind of coach-speak.
"A lot. I really like talking to coach. I have a lot of respect for him. He came here, there wasn't a lot going on in a positive way. Because I'm in this building, is because of what he did. This building wouldn't be here without Joe Novak. I know that, I embrace that. He left a legacy. The office I'm in still has his pictures in it. Think that tells you a little bit of how I feel about him. I could've taken all that stuff down. I have a lot of respect for him."
On not being an over-whelming favorite going into the game
"I'm sure it helps. We've been in so many tight games this year that I don't think that experience will play into a whole lot of us thinking we have to be on to win. Every week it's been a nail-biter, so I wouldn't expect it to be any different. Our guys have to not beat themselves and play extremely well to be in a four-quarter game with a team as good as Ohio. It looks statistically, other than turnover margin, they're one of the best teams in the country. We're going to have our hands full. I know last year it was the motivation to get back there, but this year there's enough games to tell that they have to play the right way to be in it."
On what team he would compare Ohio to
"They're a little bit of a blend of several teams we've played. Honestly, schematically, they're a lot like us. If you're going to compare them, you'd compare them to us. They run a lot of the same plays on offense. We have similar quarterbacks. We have similar skill. We have an offensive line, both of us, that's physical and big. Defensively, we're both 4-3 teams that play a lot of the same coverages. That would be your biggest comparison, I think."
On if Ohio's similarities to NIU helps at all
"It helps a little bit, because you know the ins and outs of both sides. But at the same time, it's about stopping what we do and what they do. I really think these kinds of games are more about yourself than your opponent."
On what it means to be in back-to-back MAC Championship games
"It would be hard for me to say what it means to the people on the outside, but it means a lot to me. I hope it means a lot outside the building. But it's really about getting our players in position where they can compete for championships, and that's what we've done. It means a lot to me to be in that game."
Alan Baxter, Defensive End
On containing Ohio quarterback Tyler Tettleton
"We've played a lot of dual-threat quarterbacks this year in Wisconsin and Buffalo. So we game plan to make sure we can stop the quarterback's running tendencies along with his passing tendencies. But it's a lot of stuff we've already seen, so I think we'll be very prepared for it as a defense."
Jordan Delegal, Linebacker
On how he feels about returning to Detroit
"We have unfinished business in Detroit. We're just going up there with a business-like mentality."
On his motivation for Friday
"As a senior class, we're ready to end this the right way. Not even do it for us, but for the rest of the team. For Huskie Nation out there, it's been 28 years since the last one. It's about time."
Jasmin Hopkins, Running Back
On how he's feeling going into Friday's game
"I have a very hungry mentality right now. Just the fact that the last two years, being so close, seconds away, fourth and 20, and 20-second punt return. I'm really hungry. We have been through a lot of adversity this year, and I think our team is really prepared for it."
Nathan Palmer, Wide Receiver
On remembering last year's MAC Championship game
"We've all thought about it, I'm sure. But we're all taking a different approach this year. We're correcting the little things that went wrong in the game last year, and make sure we move forward. This is a different team this year, different staff this year, different situation, different game, and we're playing a different opponent. So we can't really dwell on the past too much. It has been at the back of my mind. But just getting back here now, we're approaching it different, and we're going to try to get that taste out of our mouths."
On the different mindset this year
"It's a different feeling for me. As far as observing everything with the team last year, we were happy to make it there. I think this year, we're not going to be satisfied with just going. We want to win this year."
On how the regular season prepared them better this year
"Last year, we kind of went through the MAC where we didn't have too many tough games. We got in that game last year and didn't know how to respond to being down and being in a fight. This year, we've been in a lot of close battles, and the MAC's better this year. I think coming out of this year's season, having come from behind to win, and being on top and closing out close games, I think we're more prepared for anything."