Coach Dale Lennon
Oct. 22, 2012
CARBONDALE, Ill. - Saluki football coach Dale Lennon held his weekly press conference on Monday. Southern Illinois (5-3, 4-1) will travel to face No. 3 North Dakota State (6-1, 3-1) Saturday at 2:30 p.m. Central Time. A complete video of the press conference is available on Salukis All-Access.
Q: Do you expect this to be a defensive battle?
"You just don’t know how games will progress, and I think their defense is going present a lot of challenges for us offensively. That will be the biggest challenge, just keeping our offense out on the field and not relying as heavy on our defense as we have in some of the games. I think for us to be successful, that’s where we need all the facets ready to step up."
Q: What has made NDSU so effective in the red zone this year?
"Well, I think it’s first down. Anytime you get high third down conversion rate you’re having success on first down. I think you look at (NDSU quarterback Brock) Jensen and his completion percentage. He is about 64 percent on his completion percentage. He’s having good success throwing the football, so you can’t just work on defending the run on first down. You have to be able to defend the entire package, and when you have a quarterback that’s capable of hurting you a couple different ways, that’s where that first down success has been allowing them to have success in their third-down conversions.”
Q: How have other teams tried to attack Jensen defensively?
"Well, a lot of teams have had different approaches and not had much success. When you’re averaging 44 points per game, that’s pretty good. You just have to be able to play sound defense. There is no magic formula here. You have to be able to defend the run. They still want to run the ball at you first and, at the same time, you have to be sound in your coverage responsibilities. When they do catch it, you have to come up and make the tackle. It’s just base football. That’s what Indiana State did a very good job of. NDSU had success moving the ball up and down the field, but they just couldn't punch it in the end zone until the very end. So you just have to make plays defensively."
"Again I don’t know if it's necessarily just the game plan. The one interception was miscommunication between (Jensen) and a receiver. He threw where he thought the receiver was going, and it was a just a breakdown offensively. The other interception came off of a tip ball that went off of the receiver’s hands and into the defensive back’s hands, and he took it in for a touchdown. (Jensen) has only three interception on the season, so you’re looking at a quarterback that had -- you don’t want to say a bad game -- he just had some misfortune. The third interception they had, they were in hurry-up. They were trying to drive the ball down the field, and I think that’s obviously the key to beating anybody. You get a lead, and then you force them to a mode they’re not used to. Then you get yourself a chance to win the game."
Q: What makes you think you will have success turning over the ball this weekend?
"You have to have some type of control of the tempo of the game. When offenses are doing what they want to do against you, you’re not going to force turnovers. When offenses are looking for answers to attack you, they are going to grab back a little bit and do things here that they might not normally do. When you get an offense doing that, you are making them more susceptible to turnovers, and that’s why I think you see the turnovers accrue when they do. If you look at our game against ISU and Youngstown, that’s what we were able to accomplish, and it’s usually when they are trying to play catch up ball."
Q: Were there any specific defensive adjustments to stop Youngstown State running back Jamaine Cook?
"Those adjustments are so minor, a lot of times its just settling your guys down. It’s adjusting a call if you were there and just be more assignment sharp. I know the perception is that you go into halftime and change up the game plan, and you don’t do that. You make sure you’re executing the defense at the level you need to. That’s what we concentrate on more than anything else. You get a chance to show the guys what’s happening out there. You draw the plays that are forming out there on the sideline, and it gets a little crazy sometimes, so it’s tough to make sideline adjustments. At halftime you have a little more chance to coach, and that’s where I thought the defensive coaches did a very good job going in. Just reassuring them to play our game there and make a couple adjustments, but with our defensive scheme, when we make adjustment it’s not difficult to do. It’s just how we call the defense more so than we change our style of play."
Q: What areas of the the team do you think could still improve?
"Well, offensively, each week I think we're getting better. Against Youngstown, there was a couple of plays that we were just inches away from making that could’ve really made a significant difference in that game. So those opportunities are still there presenting themselves. Our guys are making plays, and that’s a thing I like to see too, the fact that we're doing things to take control of the football game, and that’s very positive. Defensively, we're still a little inconsistent. There are times where we play great defense, but there are also times when we lose our focus and we need to be able to recognize what we're seeing out there, making sure our communication is always sound and everyone is hearing the same thing. It’s a constant process. Each game is different, so when you go into a new week to prepare, you’re starting from square one again because you have to get ready to attack different teams. All those factors kind of go into it, but we've been through eight games. Now it’s becoming easier in our routine, and as it’s turning out I’m glad we haven’t had a bye week up to this point. So, all those things go in to your state of mind as you prepare.
Q: How important it is in this game, keeping NDSU’s offense off the field?
"Well, I think it’s as much as keeping our defense off they field too, so the time of possession could be an indicator of how the game is going. That stat in today's game is becoming less and less important. However, I do feel in this game that will be a significant stat. So if we’re having success doing what we want to do, naturally we're hoping to take some time off the clock."
Q: What is the key for you running the football this weekend?
"Just to keep the defense guessing. I like what we’re doing as far as the inside-outside options that we're creating. There are a lot of things for a defender to be watching out there. Steven (Strother) is doing a good job giving us a perimeter threat off of those fly sweeps. Mika'il (McCall) hasn't been healthy one hundred percent. He could get to that point here coming up this week and get that north-south attack going. Kory (Faulkner) using his feet too, all those factors can make us more efficient running the football."
Q: If Strother isn't available for the game, how much will that change your game plan rushing?
"Well, it wouldn't completely. Mulku (Kalokoh) is very capable, then with Mika'al, I’m hoping that he will be as close to 100 percent as he was earlier in the season. Then another guy who is a running back by trade is LaSteven McKinney. He came here as a recruited running back and was converted to receiver. He does take reps at the running back spot through the course of the week, so he is kind of the emergency guy if we ever got down to that point."
Q: Were Jensen two rushing touchdowns last week against South Dakota scrambles or designed runs?
"That game probably got out of control early. Those were planned draws inside the twelve yard line both times, and were both good calls. He had clear lanes to the end zone and took advantage of it."
Q: Are you preparing for him to be running threat?
"Oh, no doubt. You have to prepare for every quarterback to be a running threat. I don’t think his first thought is to run the football, but he is a tough kid and won’t back down from anybody. He’s one that will lower the shoulder and take on any linebacker. He's a competitor. Just watching him through that playoff run last year, he showed his toughness. If they need to use him as a run threat they will. We are preparing for him to run just like last week and the week before that."
Q: Were you surprised that you didn't get in to the top 25 this week?
"I wasn't even aware it. I don’t check that stuff. It doesn't matter this week. We do what we have to do, and after this week, if we have success, it will reflect in the polls. Polls don’t mean a thing this week, and it won’t matter until the end of the season."
Q: How is playing in the Fargo Dome different than playing in the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls?
"Both are very challenging. Right now there is a craze going on about Bison football. The fans know when to make noise and it won’t just be loud on third down. It’s going to be first down, second down, third down. So that really does put some pressure on your offense to make sure you can execute everything that you want to execute because it is deafening. You cannot here the person standing next to you. That’s how loud it can get.”
Q: In practice this week, what kinds of things will you do to get your team prepared for the loud crowd?
"What you try to do is the best you can with as much as you can, and we will crank it up as loud as we can without blowing the speakers, but at the same time we have to get some coaching in. You want to prepare guys the best you can for that environment."
Q: Do you think this is the most balanced football team you've had since you've been here?
"Well, we're finding ways to win. You know that’s the thing that’s exciting. We aren’t one-dimensional. You’re also seeing each week that it is somebody different making plays. That in itself is very encouraging. It would be one thing if it was one single guy stepping up every week, but we're having multiple people step up and make plays here or there. So you never really know where that play is going to present itself until you’re at it. So, we need to continue to do that."