Northwestern players and coaches were available today for the only time this bye week. We caught up with Pat Fitzgerald and Tyler Scott as they prepare for Michigan a week from Saturday
With your teams’ struggles off bye weeks, is there something that makes if more difficult to prepare, or is that just how it’s gone?
No, I just think it is what it is. It is what it is.
Is your preparation different with the bye week a little later?
Yeah. We’ll make it more kind of like the start of bowl practice. We’ll do some things early with the young guys, and as we move here later in the week we’ll start working on the things we need to improve on, our fundamentals and obviously, getting ready for our upcoming opponent.
Do you prefer having a bye week during the season?
I’d rather have it where our kids could go home for Thanksgiving. That was one of the traditions that I really loved as a player, but it is what it is. The season falls the way it falls. We just go play it.
Back at Big Ten Media Day you suggested that the Big Ten do a selection committee for the championship game this year because of the two ineligible teams. Do you feel like that would have been a good way to go, considering how the season has played out?
Again, I don’t know where those conversations went after our brief little discussions about them at the Big Ten Media Days, but obviously I trust and respect the decisions and the thoughts the commissioner and the conference have. They made the decision to go this way, and obviously we fully support it. At this point, it’s too late to discuss wouldas, shouldas and couldas.
Did you discuss it with (Big Ten commissioner) Jim Delany?
It’s irrelevant if I did or I didn’t. What I think is important is we made a decision and that’s what we’re doing, and we fully support it.
Will you be watching specific games with interest this week or are you solely focused on yourselves right now?
Right now, today, we’re focused on what we need to do to get better — today and tomorrow in practice — and getting our gameplan going, getting healthy and finishing up academically, but Saturday, I’m going to be a football fan. Obviously, it is what it is. We need Michigan State to win to open the pandora’s box up, and obviously, I’m looking forward to watching that game.
In the preseason you kept talking about how the pass rush had to improve and now you’re leading the Big Ten in sacks. Is this exactly how you had hoped this year would go?
I was just trying to improve from last year. As a defensive front, as a defense in general, we’ve definitely improved in that area. It’s been kind of fun — sacks are always fun — and just seeing everybody across the board get more sacks this year has been huge.
Did you envision the line being this deep?
We knew we had a lot of talent in the two deep — first and twos — and we definitely just focused on fundamentals, and people have really come along and shown what they can do.
Is it significant for you, being No. 1 in the Big Ten in sacks?
No. Right now, it’s just going 1-0 every week and just getting that goal each week as a team, and coming out, whether it’s a one-point win or a 15-point win, that’s the goal.
Has (freshman DE) Dean Lowry been more of a contributor than you expected?
As a freshman it’s hard to play. He’s done an amazing job so far. He’s picking up stuff really quickly and he’s got a lot of room to improve, but where he’s started right now is awesome and he should have huge things in the future.
What’s his skill set? What’s he best at?
He’s a big guy. He can run. He’s not afraid to be physical, so he’s a good kid to be around.
You and Quentin Williams — do your skill sets complement each other or are you similar players?
The thing is, me and Quentin actually talked about this. We try and be just as good as each other and we try to critique each other here and there on different blocking schemes and what we see in films. I think (we) really help each other each week.
When you and Quentin both had clubs on your hand in the same game, is that something you hadn’t seen before?
Last year I know we had a couple people in clubs. One week, I think it might have been Kevin Watt — Kevin Watt had one, Brian Peters had one, so I think that club tradition is something that Northwestern holds.
Is that something you haven’t seen anywhere else?
This is the first experience I’ve had with that many clubs on a team, so it’s pretty funny.
Is it difficult to play with that on your hand?
I think it’s something that I’ve definitely gotten used to. It was weird here and there playing, just not being able to grab and pull and push, but it’s something you get used to.
Have the guys rotating at defensive tackle impressed you this year?
They have. They’re definitely playing really fundamentally sound and have allowed our linebackers to come free and make plays, as well as make plays for themselves. They’ve really stepped it up this year and Brian Arnfelt has done a great job bringing them along and teaching them, and it’s been fun.
Was the defensive line’s ability to get pressure important in helping the pass defense last week?
It always is. That’s our goal up front — to get to the passer and affect him as much as we can to help them out back. They’re great and we have a bunch of athletes out there who can do the job, but our goal every week is to get as much pressure on our quarterbacks as we can.
Is it difficult preparing for quarterbacks who move as well as Denard Robinson and (now) Devin Gardner? What’s the biggest thing you guys need to do to stop them?
It’s definitely a challenge with a great athlete like those two, especially Denard, who, you get an inch of space and he could ben gone. I would definitely say it’s definitely about pass rush lanes, and keeping aware and contains so he can’t find those little creases and beat you up on those.
Is there something you earned from facing Robinson last year?
I think just habing our responsibilities in our pass rush lanes and really being focused on containing him.