Coach Lennon and the Salukis will open the 2012 season with two straight road games beginning Thursday at EIU.
Aug. 27, 2012
By Tyler Wooten
CARBONDALE, Ill. - Saluki football coach Dale Lennon held his weekly press conference on Monday. Southern Illinois will travel to Eastern Illinois to open the season with a 6:30 p.m. game on Thursday in Charleston, Ill. SIU football season tickets will be mailed to season ticket holders at the end of this week.
Q: "Since Coach (Dino) Babers came from Baylor, how much Baylor tape have you looked at to help you get ready?"
"You're aware of it, you watch the tape, you take as much as you can from it, but at the same time you don't want to put too much stock in it because there will be some variances, naturally, that'll go with it. Baylor's quarterback (Robert Griffin III) looked pretty good, that's a good offense."
"Well, honestly I'd rather not disclose that because it has to do with strengths and weaknesses. I'd rather not expose what some of those strengths and weaknesses are."
Q: "What is the challenge of opening on the road for the first game?"
"Actually, I like it. You always like to have home games, but that first game just to have your team with you on the road in a closed environment, I like that part. You get to spend some quality time with your players, there's a chance to bond, and there are some benefits to that because when you're at home, sometimes there are so many distractions around that first game of the year that you would like to have your players more isolated. I don't mind the road game for the first game of the year."
"That's what you rely upon going into those first games, regardless of who you're playing, it's a lot of the preparation that you've done against your own guys. What we do offensively is pretty diverse. We can give our defense a lot of different looks and stress their defense in a lot of different ways, and because of that we hope that it has prepared our defense to have a little easier time adjusting over the course of the week to Thursday night. It's one of those situations where we will need to adjust. We'll have to figure this out as the game progresses. That will be part of the challenge."
Q: "With the hurry-up offense, what is the defensive strategy to combat it?"
"Well, again, I'm not going to disclose what we're going to do here. With game plans, it's not a whole lot different than when you hear military people talking about going into battle. You have a plan going in, but that usually lasts about five minutes and then it's just figuring things out. That's what we're going to have to be able to do -- we have to be able to adapt on the run. We have some concepts that we think can be successful. We have to give quick evaluations over the course of the game -- are they being successful? If they are then definitely we'll stay with it. But if they're not, then we have to be ready to go to the next plan. Playing a team with the up-tempo-type offense, you have to be ready for a lot of points to potentially be scored against us fast. If you look at some of the games that Baylor or Oregon plays in, you can have a 14 or 21 point lead, but that really isn't that safe of a lead. The whole goal of the up-tempo offense is to get the ball back to the offense as soon as possible, so they want to run 90, 95, 100 plays a game, and when you get an offense with that type of mentality, the potential for a lot of points being scored is there. At the same time, when a team is very high-tempo, you have the chance to get the ball back to your offense."
Q: "You had three interceptions against Eastern last year -- how confident are you that you can force turnovers again?"
"In any game turnovers are key, especially if you're going to see the ball in the air. If they have 90 plays in the course of the game, you're probably going to see 60 of them in the air. When the opportunities are there, we need to be opportunistic. We need to be able to make the play, and that will be something that will be very important for us -- you can't give away opportunities against a team like this. That's something we've struggled with in the past, but if we have a chance to make a play, we have to make a play."
Q: "Is there a particular matchup you think you have an advantage in?"
"It's like walking through a dark room. You kind of have an idea where the furniture is, but every now and then you're going to stub your toe, and that's kind of like the first game of the season."
Q: "Are you concerned with how in-shape your defense is once they go up against the high-tempo offense?"
"We've been talking about conditioning all the way back to spring, just because this is a game we knew we would get and we knew who the coach was that was coming in and the offensive style he was going to bring in. With that being said, yes, I'm still worried about us being in shape to handle this because it's going to stress us to a high level. We have to have every player ready to play and ready to contribute, so that'll be something we'll continue to monitor during the course of the game."
Q: "Are you more confident with your receivers this year than you were going into last season?"
"Last year LaSteven McKinney hadn't taken a snap at the receiver position. Now he's at a point where he's very comfortable. He's taken a full year of starting. He's made some catches, made plays for us. David Lewis I think is finally at the point that we've been hoping that he'd be. And John Lantz is just that consistent type of player. And, if you look at some of our backups, they're seniors. I think the overall experience level of our receiving corps should allow us to be a little bigger factor than we were in the past."
Q: "Last year against Eastern was Kory (Faulkner)'s first win -- do you expect him to have some extra confidence against them?"
"Well, just having a year under his belt. Kory was thrown into a tough situation. When Paul (McIntosh) went down last year we had to play some catch-up ball, and then that next week we had to play North Dakota State, who won the national championship. He was thrown into some tough matchups, and that should help him. He should be more confident in the game plans, he should have a better understanding of the game plans, and hopefully that will translate to the ability to make more plays."
Q: "Is the kicking competition close enough where you will use one in certain situations over the other?"
"When we go with a starter, we'll go with the starter. We'll make that a final decision. I don't want them obsessing, so I may wait to tell them until right before the game."
Q: "Do you feel better about your ability to close out games this season?"
"You'd like to think so. In this league, they're all going to be close. It's just too tough of a league. You're not going to dominate anyone in this league, so if you can't win the close games you're going to be in the bottom half of the final standings. That's what happened to us last year, we've got to find a way to win those close games and make those plays at the end of the game. That's where it counts."
Q: "Will all of your running backs see playing time?"
"All three will contribute. Steve (Strother) and Mulku (Kalokoh) have taken reps at the receiver spot, too, so you'll see them all over the field."