Coach Lennon and the Salukis can secure a winning season with a victory over WIU.
Nov. 12, 2012
CARBONDALE, Ill. - Saluki football coach Dale Lennon held his weekly press conference on Monday. Following a bye last week, Southern Illinois (5-5, 4-3) will finish the regular season at home against Western Illinois (3-7, 1-6) on Saturday at 2 p.m. at Saluki Stadium. In addition to Senior Day, it will be the Black Out Cancer game with the players wearing special black jerseys. All season long, fans were able to bid to put the name of a loved one affected by cancer on the back of one of those jerseys. All funds raised from the auction will go toward SIH's plans to build a new cancer treatment center in southern Illinois. A complete video of the press conference is available on Salukis All-Access.
Q: What has been the message to the team going into this week?
"Disappointment is there, but you get over it. That's just the nature of the game itself. What we'll start focusing on today is the importance of this game. It's the last game. There's significance in the conference standings. It's our Black Out Cancer Game. There are just a lot of elements that go into this game. For us as a team, this is very important. It's one where we're not going to be hanging our heads because we didn't win the game last week. We have to win the game this week to be able to prove that we are a good football team heading in the right direction."
Q: With Western Illinois' record and the difficult games you've just had, is there any possibility that this could be a trap game?
"They're all possibilities of that, and that's why the mental preparation is as important as the physical preparation. We just have to keep the focus on us, and that's the constant message that we give each week to the team. You can't look at records, you can't look at stats -- although, they will be reminded of the stats from last year. They beat us last year on a play that was a tough way to lose a ball game, so hopefully that's a motivating factor in itself. This is one of those games you only play once in you career as a senior, that last time you put the pads on, and that's where you really hope that your seniors will step up and be the positive leaders that they are, get a good preparation and go out and play our best game on Saturday. That's what you focus on. I'm not going to harp on the negatives of the trap concept, but we're going keep the focus on us doing our best."
"I think it's important going into the offseason. You want to have a positive taste in your mouth when you're done with the season. We immediately go into year-end meetings with the players with their position coaches, and then I'll interview each player individually. When you finish on a win, usually those meetings are a lot more positive. When you finish out with a loss, a lot of times we're dealing with issues that can be somewhat distracting."
Q: How do you feel about the situation that you could finish second in the Valley and still miss out on the playoffs?
"It's not strange because we knew even going into the previous week that had we won the South Dakota State game, there was no guarantee. We'd still be in the same realm with a win on Saturday sitting at 7-4 and still might not make the playoffs. At the same time, I think the league that we play in has proved that it's pretty darn good, and we're evaluating the program and where we're at. We're taking a hard look at how we compare to North Dakota State, the No. 1 team in the country right now, how close are we to the level that we feel we need to be at to be the conference champion. That's why this game is important, too, because we have one more step to take."
Q: What has been the difference in the close games this year?
"There's not a black-and-white answer with that. We need to be better. The thing right now that we're struggling with is being able to close a game out in the fourth quarter, and that's the bottom line. Offensively, we need to be a little more ball-controlling, and offensively being able to sustain a drive. Now the games that we won while we were close, we were able to do that. The games that we lost that were close, we weren't able to do that, and that's how we got beat."
Q: Is there a position you’re looking to improve this offseason that would you win those close games?
“We need to be better on the offensive line. Everything starts up front. If you can control the line of scrimmage, you always look where you’re at there, and I think we can get better on the offensive line. I think we have people in the program who can fit the type of lineman that we’re looking. That’s where you start, and then you work from there.”
Q: What will your message to the seniors be before the game?
“I don’t want that to make that the main focus. I think sometimes if you build up too much of the emotions of the game, you don’t play your best game. We’re not going to dwell on ‘This is it. This is the last time that you’ll ever play.’ We’re going to say let’s go out and have some fun here. That’s going to be more of the direction that we’re going to take through the week and just look at it as another opportunity to do well.”
Q: What does the Black Our Cancer game mean to you?
“If I were to tell you, I’d get emotional so I’m not going to go into it. It’s a very special game with significant meaning that keeps the game of football as a game. There are things more important in life that people deal with on a daily basis that are much more important than a football game, but to have something positive come out of one game a year, this is pretty special.”