Northwestern held off Purdue, 21-14, on Saturday at Ryan Field to pick up its eighth win of the season. The Wildcats struggled for most of the game, but the defense stepped up late, and Clayton Thorson led a touchdown drive after being replaced by Zack Oliver midway through the third quarter.
Here's what Pat Fitzgerald and Northwestern players had to say after the win:
- Fitzgerald: "I'm never going to apologize for going 1-0 in a Big Ten game." But, he acknowledged that his team has to be a lot better.
- Fitzgerald said he spoke with offensive coordinator Mick McCall after Thorson's interception: "We just felt like we wanted to take him out, let him take a breather for a second here. We've talked about that quite a bit...when you've got a rookie quarterback — even a veteran quarterback — sometimes if you take him out and give him a series, he gets a chance to take an exhale and then go back in and go play.
"So would we have kept Zack [Oliver] in if we had gone down and scored? Maybe. Would we have gone back to Clayton? Maybe. I just felt like after the turnover, we wanted to go back to what we were doing. Clayton had already, I think, settled down. Felt good about where he was at, and that's why we made the decision to do that."
- Fitzgerald said he uses the analogy of a fireman for the defense when the offense is turning the ball over. "The bell rings — when you're a fireman, it's time to go put the first equipment on. When you turn the ball over, there's a fire out on the field, and you have to go put it out. We did that 100 percent today, which was the difference in the game."
- Fitzgerald said there were "way too many one-man breakdowns up front" on offense.
- Fitzgerald took a picture on the field after the game with all senior students that were in attendance. "That's who we play for," Fitzgerald said. "We're their team."
- Fitzgerald on the seniors: "I had them stand up this morning in the team meeting at the hotel... It seems like yesterday that I'm in their homes, or if the guys had walked on, their family came down to do an unofficial visit. And I just told them I wanted them to enjoy the moment. And to know once we finally got that first down that we were going to win the game, that's the group I thought about. Not only our young men but their families.
"That's what makes it such a privilege to be in this role. I get the opportunity to coach the best and brightest young men because of the way they were brought up at home. We've got an unbelievably big, diverse team in all aspects. Racially, religious-wise, region of the country, family make-up. And to see that group come together the way that they have, to battle through challenges the way that they have, I think is what makes my role and my being here at Northwestern so special."
- Henry called Senior Day "bittersweet."
- Henry called Purdue a "great team." He's been coached well...
- Henry, laughing, on the injury that forced him to the sidelines for a play before he returned to the game: "I think it was my shoulder. Something was hurting."
- Henry, unprompted, ended his portion of the press conference with a "Go 'Cats" and a wildcat claw gesture.
- Walker said the difference for the defense in the second half after Purdue's touchdown drive to start the half was just about "going back to what we were coached to do." Walker said the defense had a few "letdowns," and that it was about correcting those, rather than changing anything, that allowed them to stifle Purdue late in the game.
- Thorson was very tight-lipped about his benching. He said the coaches were "very open" about it when they made the decision, but wouldn't say much else.