Mailbag: NIU football coach Dave Doeren

Northern Illinois coach Dave Doeren answered readers’ mailbag questions this week at ESPNChicago.com. as he prepares for the Jan. 8 GODADDY.com bowl against the Arkansas State in Mobile, Ala.

How do you prep for a team that will have an interim coach along with a new head coach who could also be on the sidelines? – John, Glendale Heights, Ill.

Dave Doeren: Because they retained David Gunn on the new staff and he was already the named interim coach and with 24 seniors, you operate under the assumption not a lot will change, especially with Gus Malzahn coaching players at Auburn. I don’t expect him to be really involved in what they do offensively.

Coach, I was in Detroit for the game, and the comeback was even more amazing after being able to watch the replay on ESPN. There were several great athletic plays, but I thought the interception by Jimmie Ward (he covered a lot of ground to get that ball) and "The Catch" by Perez Ashford stood out. Could you comment on how you saw the game after being able to see the film? Congrats. – Dan, Elk Grove Village, Ill.

DD: First, thank you. I agree on both plays. I thought Jimmie’s play was a huge play motivation-wise. Perez’s play was an amazing catch on the sidelines. Chandler Harnish put the ball only where he could it get it, so it was a great throw as well.

When will the indoor practice facility break ground? And without an IPF, practice for the bowls typically is an issue, but since it has been unseasonably warm in Chicago this year have you been practicing indoors, outdoors or both? – Tom, Chicago

DD: We’ve been practicing both. Mostly our offense likes to deal with throws that are under bowl-like conditions. Our defense and special teams have been practicing outside. The weather has made it a lot easier than it has been, I’ve been told. With the IPF, they’d like to break ground in the spring when the ground thaws. That’s not official, though.

Is Arkansas State comparable to any team you've faced this year? – DeAnte Mitchell, Manhattan, Kan.

DD: I would say they’re similar to Toledo skill-wise. They’re very similar to other teams we’ve faced scheme-wise.

What effect if any does winning the MAC Championship or bowl games have on recruiting? – Kevin, Bloomington, Ill.

DD: I think it has a huge effect especially when you win close games that are fun to watch and keep people there the whole game. Players want to play at schools that win and win championships, and they want to be in bowl games. NIU has a tradition of being in bowl games. I don’t think there are many conference champions in Division I football. To say you’re a champion in Division I, that says a lot.

A win is most important, but how much attention is there on Chandler's chance to be the first QB to rush for 1,500 yards and pass for 3,000 in a single season? As a fan, I'd love to see that record belong to NIU. – Kurt, Gurnee, Ill.

DD: Obviously, we’d love to see it as well. That’s not how we’ve got there. We’ve got here by running our offense. We hope Chandler has success. If we get close, I’m sure we’ll try to make it happen for him. But that won’t be the goal of our game plan by any means.

Mr. Doeren, how can you use the program's success in the MAC recently (winning the title) and in past years to move Northern Illinois on to even greater heights and earn national recognition? – Alec, Chicago

DD: I believe you just keep winning to do that. To get national recognition, you can’t be an every-now-and-then team. You have to be consistent. We’ve had back-to-back 10-win seasons. If we continue to be around 10 wins, we’ll have that. That’s our goal.

Hey coach, thanks for all the great memories this season. What steps does your defense need to take in order to be dominant for next season? Go Huskies! – Anthony Bertolini, Chicago

DD: I think continue to do what they’ve done the last two games. Not give up big plays, create turnovers, be consistent, tackle well and make plays in coverage and have the ability to continue to stop the run and stop the pass.

NIU's offense is explosive, but Arkansas State's defense consists of Brandon Joiner who is a Sun Belt defensive player of the year. How will NIU's Harnish face off against such player? – Manhtan Kadadia, DeKalb, Ill.

DD: It’s going to be a challenge for us. They’re the best defense we’ve played since Wisconsin. There’s no doubt about it. We’re going to have our hands full. We’re going to have to execute, use our players on the perimeter and us our tempo to make them run.

The offense had struggled in the last couple games. Why do you think they have struggled so much? How do you and coach Canada plan to change this against Arkansas State? Please don’t leave NIU anytime soon. – Ryan Gibbons, Park Ridge, Ill.

DD: We have to relax. The guys need to run the plays how we’ve run them in practice and not press too much, which I think has happened with the offense.

ESPNChicago.com: Anything you’d like to add coach?

DD: Just I appreciate all their support this season and hope as many of them as possible can find a way down to Mobile to support us.