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January 5, 2015

Chris Klieman


J.D. HAMILTON:  Congratulations to you, your staff and your student athletes for advancing to Frisco into the National Championship game.  At this time can you give us an opening statement.
CHRIS KLIEMAN:  Yeah, we're excited to return to Frisco for the fourth time as a program.  Obviously my first time as the head coach, but been there previously.  Our players are excited.  We know we've got a tremendous challenge with Illinois State, and we're excited to play another Valley opponent.  Just goes to show how good our league is and how good we thought it was throughout the year, and very happy for Coach Spack and his program to be able to get to Frisco, as well, and we're looking forward to a great, competitive game on the 10th.  It'll be a heck of a game.

Q.  Can you talk about the senior class that you have?  Obviously you lost a big senior class a year ago, but this group has had more success over the years.  Can you sort of talk about that group?
CHRIS KLIEMAN:  Yeah, it's obviously a tremendous group.  They came in during the 3‑8 season, and many of those guys were able to play early on in their career, and several of them are played obviously in the National Championship games.  Unique group in the fact that we lost so many guys from the year before, 25, 26 guys, plus a number of the coaching staff, that I felt bad for those guys because I really thought people kind of wrote them off before the season even started, that most likely we may have a pretty good season, but 8‑4, 7‑5 may be a stretch for these guys with all the young guys that we were going to have to play, and losing a bunch of coaches, great coaches, good friends of mine.  But those guys weren't going to be denied to at least put their best foot forward and be great leaders, great teammates, be people that were going to at least go out fighting.
I'm so excited for all those guys that they're getting an opportunity to get back to Frisco.  For us to win the Valley was our first goal, but for us to get back to Frisco with a bunch of new players and a bunch of new coaches I think is really remarkable because it's so hard to gel so quickly with players and staff.

Q.  Where does Zach Vraa stand in his preparation to try and play this week?
CHRIS KLIEMAN:  We're still working on that.  We'll find out more this week.  He's running around.  He hasn't practiced yet, but he is running around, and we're hopeful that he can participate next Saturday.  Obviously we've got a few days, but this week will be big for us.

Q.  Talk about your change in roles, Matt Entz taking over as defensive coordinator.  Can you talk about the job he's done?
CHRIS KLIEMAN:  Yeah, he's done a phenomenal job.  I've been friends with Matt for a long time.  We grew up in the same hometown, and it's a guy that I have a tremendous amount of respect for and somebody that I wanted to get on my staff any way I could when I got the job.  He had to leave a really good job with Coach Nielson at Western Illinois to come to Fargo with his family and take a chance, and he did that, and he's done a remarkable job of being Matt Entz, of not trying to be anything that I was or Scottie Hazelton was before, similar to myself, trying to make my own niche, Matt has made his own niche, and the guys love to play for him.  He's done a great job of game planning each week as well as our other defensive staff members, and couldn't be happier to have Matt on my staff for the long haul.

Q.  When you say that, what has he done this year putting his stamp on the program that's different from you and‑‑
CHRIS KLIEMAN:  Well, he didn't want to reinvent the wheel, so I don't think‑‑ it's not like we've done a bunch of different things schematically, I think it's just his demeanor.  He's a very polished coach that will be a guy that's going to get on a guy, but he's going to love him up.  He's going to get to know those players so well.  You know, there's nothing totally different that you'd say, boy, we're a different coverage, we're a different pressure team.  He's just been a great leader, and his leadership style is different than mine.  It's different than what Coach Hazelton was, and when I replaced Scottie, and it's really meshed and worked well with our guys.

Q.  Considering you didn't play Illinois State during the regular season, how much did you really invest time‑wise into learning about their team during the year, or didn't you because you weren't playing them?
CHRIS KLIEMAN:  Well, you don't, because you're focusing on the team that they're going against.  Now, the thing that I think Brock and I would both see is we saw each other so much on crossover film, and we'd look at that and say, boy, Illinois State is really good at that position, or boy, that's a really tough play that Illinois State ran or what a great defensive scheme that they would run.  But you weren't game planning for it.
But we did see each other so often on film that you kind of marveled at the talent and how good they were.  We saw as the season was progressing how we were undefeated, they were undefeated, and it looked like it probably was going to come down to a one‑loss team winning the Valley, and both of us were in that position.  I couldn't be happier that we're getting an opportunity just like I'm sure Brock is excited about having the opportunity, getting a chance to play each other, and it's an all‑Valley final.

Q.  The experience factor of you guys being down there several times before and Illinois State has not been there, is there a best way for you guys to maximize that to your benefit, or are there things that you guys have gone through in the past that Illinois State is going to have to go through?
CHRIS KLIEMAN:  Yeah, obviously it benefits us, I think, just from the environment standpoint of understanding‑‑ I know we're at a different hotel, but we know the practice facility, we know the locker room, we know the game day rituals that they do.  I mean, I guess that would be an advantage only because some of our kids have done this before.  But in the same respect, we've got so many guys that all they were was on the football team.  Some of them were in the stands as redshirts, some of them were on the field in backup roles and weren't playing.
I don't know how those kids are going to respond to the lights being on them.  You look at a kid, something as simple as Carson Wentz.  He's been on the sideline for the last three years, but he hasn't played any significant snaps in a championship game.  How will he handle playing in a National Championship game.  Well, I think he'll fare pretty well, but there's some unknown there, where if you flip it around and say, how will Colten Heagle and Carlton Littlejohn and Emanuel and Dudz handle it, well, you know how they're going to handle it because they've been on that stage and been on that field for four years.  There's some advantages knowing what to expect as you go down there, but in the same respect, it's still a football game, and you've got to be able to execute and you can't turn the football over.
I think once the ball is kicked off on Saturday, the experience factor is pretty much out.  It's now who executes the best.

Q.  You mentioned Carson Wentz.  What's been the key in his development this year going from a backup who you really thought was talented to seeing him actually prove it on the field?
CHRIS KLIEMAN:  One, we saw some glimpses obviously in my previous time here when he was the backup or even as the scout team guy that he was unbelievably talented.  I think Coach Randy Hedberg, our quarterback coach, has come in and done a remarkable job of developing Carson, of sitting in the film room with him, of getting him prepared on a daily basis and a weekly basis as well as how‑‑ Randy's demeanor is really calm and relaxed.  Carson's demeanor is really calm and relaxed.  So those two have such a great rapport with each other throughout the week and especially on game day.  Just for what Carson has done, running the football, throwing the football, putting us in the right play, which he's an extremely intelligent quarterback, I think everybody understands you've got to have a trigger man in every level of football, but obviously in the Missouri Valley you've got to have a great quarterback to have success, and we're fortunate that Carson was ready to take that mantle from Brock and has had a great season.

Q.  The injury to Beck, who has really stepped in for him, and what effect has that had on your defense?
CHRIS KLIEMAN:  It's had a big effect.  Travis Beck is one of the top players in FCS, and he'd be another one that would be a four‑time player in a National Championship game as a linebacker, and Travis is so talented because we didn't have to change personnel as much.  He was able to play basically a safety, an inside linebacker, an outside linebacker, and it makes me sad that he's not going to be able to play because he is really one of the heart and souls of our defense.  But injuries are a part of the game, and we lost Travis before the playoff run, so it's not like this is our first game without him.  This is now our fourth.
And Nick DeLuca is the guy that's really stepped up.  Nick is a true sophomore from Omaha, and he's got an unbelievable amount of ability at 6'3", 240 pounds, and can run extremely well.  Now he's gaining that confidence of having that experience of playing.  He played a few games in the regular season when Travis was hurt, and then kind of took it over in the playoffs when Travis was out for the year, and Nick is the guy that's really stepped up and has made our defense extremely, extremely talented and really good.

Q.  Kyle Emanuel, obviously he's a very accomplished, talented player.  What stands out about his talents and what he can do to disrupt an offense?
CHRIS KLIEMAN:  Well, he's got a great motor, and he understands offenses so well.  He's a student of the game, so he understands formations and back sets and demeanors of linemen and so forth.  But he's got great work ethic, he's got great quickness off the football.  He uses his hands so well.  He's a very strong guy.  We are excited because we finally for the first time since Iowa State have his counterpart, Mike Hardy, healthy at the defensive end.  Mike has been hurt since Iowa State, and this three weeks has been a great benefit to Mike to be able to get him back healthy.  We like the fact that for Kyle we actually have another good defensive end to go with him for the first time since Iowa State that's healthy.

Q.  As far as Illinois State's offense, the combination of Roberson and Coprich both being able to rush the football, what challenges does that present your defense?
CHRIS KLIEMAN:  Well, it's unbelievably challenging.  They're both great players, and both of them can beat you for a big play at any given time, and so for us to say we have to just stop one of them, the other guy is going to beat you.  But in the same respect, you're not going to stop both of them.  They're too talented, and they've got too good a scheme and they've got too good a coaches.  They're going to make plays.  We've just got to eliminate some of their bigger, explosive plays.  You know they're going to get the 10‑ and 15‑yard run periodically throughout the game because they're that talented a guys.  We've got to try to prevent what we've seen on film of those guys getting the 50‑yard run, the 80‑yard run or the big, big explosive plays that flip the field, and that's our challenge on defense.

Q.  I know with Zach Vraa being out lately, Urzendowski has kind of emerged for you.  What has he meant to the playoff run that he's been able to be a contributor with Zach out?
CHRIS KLIEMAN:  Well, for a true freshman to be able to do what he's doing is pretty unique in the fact that he's got better speed than people think.  He runs great routes.  He's got as good a hands as anybody on the team, and the stage has never been too big for R.J.  He's made the biggest plays at probably the most critical times, and Carson has got a great amount of confidence in him.  It's hard as a true freshman when you're starting on August 2nd, and you're still playing in January, a lot of these guys are halfway through their high school basketball season or wrestling season.  These guys are still playing football.  He's maintained and hasn't gotten to that phase of being burned out.  I think that helped having a week off before our first playoff game, and then obviously the time between the semifinal and the championship has kind of rejuvenated the young man a little bit.
But he's not a true freshman anymore, and he's not playing like one.

Q.  I asked the same question to Coach Spack.  When you look at the general strength of your conference, is this a conference that generally speaking, if the entire conference were to move up a level and play at the FBS level, could this conference compete with any other conference at that level?
CHRIS KLIEMAN:  I think that would be difficult on a week‑to‑week basis.  You know, I mean, we beat Kansas State in 2013, but the following week I think we played a Division II school or something, and then we beat Iowa State, and the following week we were able to play Incarnate Word.  So for us to be able to play them consecutively, we would struggle at North Dakota State with only 63 scholarships and stuff.  We really would struggle.  If the whole league wanted to go to 85 scholarships and that stuff, it would take some time to compete on a week‑to‑week basis, and I think that's the thing that‑‑ we've been fortunate in catching some of our FBS opponents at the right time, whether it was Kansas State when they lost a bunch of guys, Iowa State had some coaching turnover from the year before, Jerry Kill's first year at Minnesota and so on and so forth, that we caught people at the right time, but I think we would‑‑ we like the stage, we like the challenge of playing that big FBS game, but to do it nine or ten weeks in a row like a Big 12 or a Big Ten level, I think we'd get beat up too badly.

Q.  You kind of hit on something I was going to ask you about, just the cumulative effect‑‑ you mentioned cumulative effect.  You guys have played so many games over the last four years.  How much of an impact does that have?  I think this will be your 61st game in four seasons.
CHRIS KLIEMAN:  It's crazy to think we've played that much football.  We had a press conference today with our local people, and if you're a senior like Colten Heagle or Christian Dudzik, it's all you know.  You came here as a freshman and you've played in January every year.  I know it takes its toll.  I know that your body gets beat up, but those guys are so used to it.  It's those new guys, maybe one of our new offensive linemen or a new tight end or something.  That's a long season, and 16 games is a really long season.
Now, this is an odd year in FCS football where we've had a 12th game that a number of us played, so now we are into that 16th week.  For us we don't start spring ball until April, and we need it.  We've got to come back here middle of January, get our guys kind of recovered, a lot of the freshmen will keep going in February and March, but spring ball for us with the weather here pushes it back until April, and then the kids are kind of hungry to get back out on the field.  But it's remarkable the amount of games that some of these guys have played at the FCS level.

Q.  You're basically playing an NFL length schedule this year.  You hear the talk about FCS.  You've already heard people talking about maybe they should go from a 14 to an 18 playoff and expand that, and if course if they went to an 18, it would be half the field of an FCS playoff.  What do you think when you hear people start talking about that?  Do you think something like that would work on that level, considering the amount of games?
CHRIS KLIEMAN:  I mean, you're always going to‑‑ was it four teams this year and there was a couple teams that felt they could have been in it and rightfully so, and if you get to eight, then what are you going to do with nine and ten?  For us at the FCS, when I played and when I was early coaching, it was 16 teams, and it was done before Christmas, and that was a grind, but it worked.  They've gradually moved it up to 24.  I think it's great because it gives more teams an opportunity to make the playoffs, and one thing that you find out about the playoffs is, and Illinois State is a great example of this, even though they've had a remarkable regular season, they had to go on the road and win, and that shows you the character of those kids at Illinois State, the great coaching, the great players they have.
You know, if you can win on the road, that's pretty special.  And if you get eight teams, whether they do a home and home or make them all bowl games, obviously they've got to make their ‑ but I would think eight teams would be better probably for FBS to get a true champion, and 24 is a lot in FCS with some of the schools that have‑‑ we played Georgia Southern for two years.  They're no longer FCS.  They're FBS now.  24 is probably max that I think that FCS should go to.

Q.  Fourth year in a row coming to Frisco, and every year I've been to that game I feel like I'm at a North Dakota State home game.  Talk about that a little bit and what it says about people that support your program.
CHRIS KLIEMAN:  Well, this place is really special, and I guess you've got to be here to understand it or be around NDSU football.  We have 18,000, it's sold out every game before the 1st of August when they put them on sale, so our kids know they're going to play in front of a packed house at home at all times, so we've got a great fan base around here.
We go to Iowa State, we probably have 7,000, 8,000 people at Iowa State.  We travel wherever in our league, and we always get a great following.
To go down to Frisco the previous three years like I have, and I remember the first year in 2011, I said, wow, this is pretty neat, all these fans came down, and I couldn't tell you the number that came down, and then in 2012 I was just astonished at how many more came down than 2011, and then last year in 2013 when we had almost the full stadium full of Bison fans, and I was moving into the head coaching position, I remember looking at my family and saying, boy, did I make a great decision in getting a chance to stay here and staying at NDSU because this is hard to match.  You don't see this many people travel that far, and I can't say enough about Bison Nation and the fans.  I think we'll be down there in droves again this year, and I'm really excited and blessed to be the head coach here.

Q.  Of course we're griping because it'll probably be in the high 30s, but for you guys it'll probably feel nice and warm this week.
CHRIS KLIEMAN:  Well, you can get somebody from Fargo to travel to Dallas.  It is a vacation to get away from here.  Now, it is minus 6 on my phone right now, but there's no wind, so it's really not a bad day here.
J.D. HAMILTON:  Coach, thank you very much.  We thank you for your time and wish you the best of luck this Saturday.

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