Coach Lennon addressed the media in preparation for Saturday evening's home opener against Southeast Missouri State.
By Tyler Wooten
CARBONDALE, Ill. - Saluki football coach Dale Lennon held his weekly press conference on Monday. Southern Illinois will host Southeast Missouri State at 6 p.m. on Saturday in the home opener at Saluki Stadium.
Q: At what position does (freshman) Brandon Williams future lie -- nose tackle or defensive end?
"His ideal position is defensive end. For the nose guard position, his body type isn't quite what you're looking for there. He's just a strong kid, he gets off the ball well, and those are the traits you want for your nose guard in a 3-4, somebody that can just get a good punch, and Brandon is capable of doing that. He's going to continue to get a lot of reps for us, and we're looking forward to watching his progression, which I think should be pretty significant in each game he plays."
Q: How did Ethan Wirth grade out after the Miami (Ohio) game?
"Ethan Wirth graded out well. There's room for improvement. I'm not saying he's an all-conference offensive lineman for us, but to pick up the offensive schemes as quick as he has has been really pretty impressive. He's a very intelligent young man. He has a good football sense and a good football IQ, and that's kind of allowed him to come in and progress as fast as he has. Honestly, it's surprised me how fast he has come along."
Q: Will Wirth be able to add 20-30 pounds by the time he's a senior?
"He's a true tackle and, again, he's just a freshman. Right now he's carrying around the 280 mark. I don't want to say he's skinny, but he carries it well, and 300 would be an easy weight for him to get to."
Q: Where do you feel you made the most progress from week one to week two?
Q: Did Kory's early struggles in the game have to do with the lingering after effects of his injury and not practicing, or does he just need to do a better job?
"When it gets to game time you don't use excuses. Part of it is just getting in game flow. You can be at 100 percent health and still have a slow start. You have to give credit to the team that we're playing, Miami of Ohio. That was the one thing coming into the season, they were very high on their defense, as far as having a majority of their players returning from last year, especially with the front seven, so we knew that athletically we'd be challenged against that unit. Part of that is getting used to the tempo of the game."
Q: What do you like about the matchup between your defensive line and (SEMO's) offensive line?
"We'll see. Both are experienced. I think their strength matches our strength. Our front seven, we feel pretty good about there with our run defense. But when you defend option football, it's not as simple as pinning your ears back and going. You really have to be assignment sharp, and that's where we have to get taught here in a short period of time. It'll be one of those matchups where their strength is matching up against our strength."
Q: After two road games, do you feel the team is ready to get back home and finally have a game here?
"We're looking forward to playing at home. We're looking forward to having a normal week, and I do think that all things considered -- we're sitting here as an 0-2 football team, that wasn't part of the plan -- but our attitude is very positive and very determined. In our meetings yesterday I was pleased with how the players handled everything. I'm anticipating that we'll have a very productive week with our practice. Right now everyone is goal-oriented and the common cause is to get a team win."
Q: Have you seen a higher confidence level after this game compared to after the Eastern Illinois game?
"We'll see about that. That's the one thing that I'm looking for. You start off with two losses and you can have the 'I don't care' mentality or you can have a determined attitude. I'm hoping to see a very determined team out there tomorrow."
Q: Why was the defense so effective at keeping Harwell a non-factor for Miami?
"As I said earlier, and this is simplifying this to a point that probably isn't fair, but we always knew where he was. Even with their drops, we did more three-man rushes, and getting Coach (Bubba) Schweigert to use a three-man rush is like getting a Republican to vote Democrat. It was a good changeup for us. It allowed us to double team from time-to-time. I was happy that even though we were in a three-man rush we were able to get pressure on the quarterback. We did more four-man schemes with the rush, and then when we did bring pressure we were able to get it and get into his face. I thought it was just a good overall gameplan that game. It gave our players a chance to be successful. In fact, a couple of plays on their first touchdown, we had him in the backfield and he just did an athletic thing and breaks free of a sack and ends up making a big play out of it. If we can convert those sacks they probably don't get that first score, and the game can always go a different direction."
Q: How much do you like using a two-back system? Do you think (Mika'il) McCall or (Steve) Strother will emerge as the primary running threat?
"Each one has their own strength in what they do well, and that's something that we want, to be able to use two running backs. We don't want to have to become one-dimensional, so as we progress through the season and as our confidence grows in certain areas we'll probably become more concerned with a certain style, but right now we need both ready to go."
"Well they've been positive additions. Anytime you have a transfer your concern is always how they're going to fit in with the chemistry of the team, and what's been very impressive with all the transfers that have come in is that they're very team oriented. They're team-first, the guys have done a good job of accepting them, and the individuals have done a good job of making sure Saluki Football means something to them. They don't have that mercenary attitude that they're just here to better themselves. They want to be a part of the football program, and they're working hard to find ways to contribute."
Q: Do Youngstown State, Illinois State and North Dakota State's FBS victories the past two weeks raise the bar for you this season?
"Well the bar had been raised at the very beginning. Nothing that has happened this year has surprised me, except for us not starting a little better. North Dakota State beating Colorado State, that was almost expected. Youngstown beating Pittsburgh, I know the Pittsburgh team pretty well and they had some suspensions, but again, that didn't surprise me. Especially so with Illinois State this past week. They're a good football program. They're more multi-dimensional now, not only offensively, but defensively they stepped up as well. This is a good league."
Q: Is this a must-win game?
"They're all must-win games. That's the bottom line. Next week we'll be saying the same thing. That's the nature of football. You only have eleven games on the season. It's not like baseball or basketball where you can lose a couple and still be okay. In football, any lost game can make the challenge more difficult for you."
Q: Is LaSteven McKinney's role as a rusher with the jet sweep more likely to be seen as the season progresses?
"It all depends on what the defenses are doing, and that was the one thing that Miami of Ohio was doing. They played a 4-2 scheme, so they left the perimeter more open than other teams have. Because of that and his speed, and with Mika'il too, most of his yards were on sweep plays. Each week will be a little bit different as far as what you can and can't do. It was effective for us, but that's not always going to be there."
Q: Since you're playing a handful of true freshmen, how important will their development be?
"The reason you play true freshmen is because you feel they can contribute in a significant manner, and the freshmen that we have put into play fit that role. We're looking for significant contributions and so far everyone that we have pulled the shirt off of has been in some type of rotation where they're playing has been significant."
Q: Of these freshmen that are playing, when they were coming into the program were they players you anticipated would play?
"Kinda. You never know in recruiting until you get them on campus and how they actually fit in and their work ethic and personality, but you have hopes that the individuals will be at a certain level, and you're seeing that more and more common in college football. I know Miami of Ohio pulled the redshirt off of eleven freshmen in their game against Ohio State. The coach there had a good point: it creates more depth in your team, and that's another reason why we've done what we've done. Our depth looks pretty good on the depth chart right now."
Q: How did (Richard) Wilson adjust to being moved from left tackle to right guard?
"He did well. There's still some adjustments. He had two false starts, which was later in the game so I don't know why that is or why that came to be, if you're seeing things a little bit differently or you're just a little easier spooked when you're not at your normal comfort spot. But the thing we liked there was we pull our guards quite a bit. We want mobile guards and Richard is very mobile, especially with some of our combo blocks and in the interior, he's good at that. He's just more athletic at the point of attack in our run game, so that was the rationale for making that move."
Q: Is (Luke) Thuston's hamstring getting any better?
"He could have played on Saturday, so we're hoping that Tuesday we'll get the green light for him to be at full service."
Q: Is D.J. Cameron starting if Thuston isn't healthy yet?
"He's one of those redshirt freshmen that you're going to notice more and more as the season progresses. I like how he plays."
Q: Knowing that both of SEMO's quarterbacks are freshmen, will you implement more of a blitz defense to pressure them?
"Here's why you can't do that: they run the option game. You can blitz and have success every now and then, but if you blitz too much, they will have big plays. So you really have to be more assignment sharp. Now, when you can get them into passing situations of third and long and they have to do a dropback type of protection scheme, that's when you like to turn the pressure on. You can't do a lot of all-out blitzes against an option team."