Oct. 24, 2011
By Logan Lee
CARBONDALE, Ill. - Saluki football coach Dale Lennon held his weekly press conference on Monday. Southern Illinois will host Illinois State on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. in a Maroon Out game.
Q: Defensively they went from being one of the worst defensives in the FCS last year to basically a top-three defense. From what you've seen on film what are the biggest changes?
A: Well, Coach Brock Spack took over as the defensive coordinator. That's where he made his name as the defensive coordinator at Purdue. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him and how he coaches. And then I think also it's the personnel. They have some guys on their defensive line that are pretty good and they're getting pressure just with four-man schemes and a lot of the sacks that they are getting are from them. They have a good linebacker corps and they're just more solid at doing everything. They're not taking chances, they're making offenses earn everything they get. Plus they've gotten better. Watching the Eastern Illinois game from the beginning of the year to where they are now, they look like a completely different team.
Q: What's your biggest challenge when running the football against them?
A: Running the football is the biggest challenge. You have to be assignment sharp. There are no secret ingredients in running the football, you have to be able to handle your blocks up front. They're going to have some good defensive linemen, so there are some matchup issues that we'll be concerned with. Our players are confident in our blocking schemes. When a team is playing good defense, there is no magic trick to make it work, you just have to go out and do it.
Q: They have a couple of Illinois transfers. How good have they been defensively for them?
A: They fit into their schemes. They're just good athletes, and when you have good athletes they will fit into the schemes that you're a part of. They have several (FBS) transfers that have done a good job contributing, and that's where they've increased their talent level from last year to this year and it's starting to pay off.
A: We just need to score, that's the bottom line. When we have the opportunity to score, we need to do it. A big play is sometimes just making a play. In reference to Northern Iowa, we had them at third and goal on their own 18-yard line and we're getting pressure on them and hitting the quarterback as he's releasing the football. He just threw it to a space, their receiver sprints and makes a diving catch for a touchdown. He didn't see the receiver, he just knew where the receiver should be and threw it there. That's making a big play. Right now we're just not quite on the same page with establishing that. The consistency still has to be there. If you get the ball on the 50, you still need to get points on the scoreboard, whether it's a touchdown or a field goal. Now if you get the ball inside the 20, that's where it is critical that you get touchdowns. Being able to make a play here or there where you just kind of say, "Wow. That was pretty good." That's what we're looking for.
Q: You mentioned that they've only given up three sacks. Is their offensive line as good as the stats would indicate?
A: They're veteran. They have a lot of seniors up front and, if I'm not mistaken, they may even be all seniors up front. That's a group that's been around for a while, and when you have a group of guys that have worked a lot together then that number is usually going to be pretty good.
Q: Is there any situation in the game this Saturday, aside from Kory (Faulkner) being injured that we would see A.J. Hill?
A: You could see A.J. at any point in time. You could have seen him at any point in the past couple of games, too. A.J. has got to be ready and he knows that. He's been working hard to prepare and that's just the nature of being the number two quarterback.
Q: You mentioned that Paul (McIntosh) would not be available this week. There has been some talk that his shoulder has not been responding to the treatment as well as it should be. Can you go into a little bit more detail about that?
A: He's just not progressing and he's not available.
Q: Are your different receivers interchangeable when it comes to different spots on the field?
A: You have to learn different schemes. Your "X" and your "Z" are the two receivers on the end and your "Y" is your tight end, so those are completely different. Then you have your slot, which is our "H", so there is a lot of learning that is involved every time you switch an "X" and a "Z", but our receivers are expected to know every position. Our veteran receivers are very good at being able to make those transitions without much of a thought process. Our younger guys are the ones that you worry about, because there are times when you have to think in reverse, because what you were doing at "X" would be the opposite if you were "Z" so it takes a little time to translate all of that.
Q: What is Kayon's (Swanson) status for Saturday?
A: Right now, we are planning on playing him. We haven't heard anything different and we don't know what the status will be, so until we hear something we'll continue to proceed normally.
Q: And as for Mike McElroy, is it a shoulder injury?
A: He had what we think is a shoulder bruise, that's what we're hoping for.
Q: Are you moving anybody else to the safety position?
Q: Does your passing game become even more vital this week just because of the success of their rush defense?
A: The last couple of teams have had a pretty good run defense, too. We just have to do what we do best and establish what we think we're best at. Naturally, you have to expand from that and be more productive, but we have to do what we do best to give ourselves a chance and we need to be able to run the football. If we don't have that ability, then we put ourselves at more of a risk.
Q: What do you think they do better offensively, pass or throw?
A: They're running more and I think they're being more traditional. They want to establish that run game. (Ashton) Legget is a very good back, a transfer out of Michigan State, and it came down between us and Illinois State being the two schools he was looking at, so we know him well. He's a load to bring down, he's not easy to tackle. They still have the passing ability, Matt Brown is a very good quarterback that can light you up, and he has a good corps of receivers that are extremely impressive. I think Tyrone Walker has 44 receptions on the course of the season so far, which are impressive numbers. Then when you look at their second and third-leading receivers, they aren't far behind, so they are balanced. It's a 50-50, but they are more confident, I think, than ever in their run game.
Q: Do they still run out of the spread?
A: They do a lot out of the shotgun. They have done some plays from under center but a majority will be out of the shotgun.
Q: Has your training staff given you a new time table for McIntosh?
A: Right now, we are just seeing if he can get better.
Q: Is there a possibility he'll need surgery?
A: Most likely surgery will happen at the end of the season. We just have to see if we feel there will be any improvements at all.
Q: Do you expect a better focused group this week?
A: Well Todd, we were pretty focused this past week. We probably had one of the best weeks of preparation that we've had since I've been here. I'm not going to put the onus on not being prepared, we just have to take the next step as a team and just do some things a little bit better. When we have an opportunity, we just have to take advantage of it. Our guys are working their tail off right now. I'm not criticizing any coaches or players for not working hard because we are doing everything we can to get ready for this game.
Q: What was your message to the team in the locker room after the game Saturday?
A: It was emotional and it hurt. You could tell the game meant a lot to them, there were tears. It was just one of those things that when you're trying that hard to do something and then you're just not quite there yet, that's tough. It's tough as an athlete, it's tough as a coach. It's the nature of athletics, and when you walk into a locker room at the end of a game, you never know what to expect as a head coach, but what I saw on Saturday, it showed that this team cares and they have definitely not given up. I know come Tuesday we're going to be putting our best effort forward (in practice).
Q: Is this one of the closest teams that you have been a part of coaching?
A: They like each other. I even told them that sometimes that may even be a negative for them, is because they like each other too much. They enjoy each other's company. We have some characters and being a part of this team is fun. At the same time, we have to know when to go to work and it's my job to remind them when that time is.
Q: Can you talk about (Ken) Boatright's performances the past few games?
A: The thing you have to remember with Kenny Boatright is that this is his first year playing on the defensive line. He's been a safety prior to. He's one of those individuals that's continuing to improve as the season progresses. He's becoming more comfortable and you can just watch his movement on film, you don't see the thought process anymore, you just see a reaction process. I think his best football is definitely still in front of him.
Q: Were you surprised when he tried out that he had been playing safety because of his size?
A: Yeah, but he's grown lately. In fact, I went to his high school last spring and the coach pointed to a kid and said that's how big Ken was when he was in high school, and this wasn't a very big kid, so I can see their amazement in what he has developed into. He has some incredible skills and it's one of those success stories that you love hearing, because that's what makes sports fun.
Q: In your experience, is the injury to John Goode a common one for fullbacks?
A: No, I'm an old fullback myself and I've never heard of an SI injury until just a few years ago. It probably was more common, but it had never been diagnosed to the point that it is now. It's a frustrating injury because there's just so little they can do and it takes a lot of time to bring you back. The bulging disk has been around for a while. Those are always concerns with any position in a contact sport, so you always worry about the spine and protecting it.