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Press Conference Notes: Full quotes from Northwestern's 19-10 win over Duke

Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

DURHAM, North Carolina -- Northwestern continued its strong start to 2015 with a 19-10 win at Duke. Here are full quotes from Pat Fitzgerald, Anthony Walker, Solomon Vault and Dean Lowry, as well as Duke head coach David Cutcliffe and Blue Devil players:



On the game overall:

"[That was a] great team win. We knew this was going to be a dogfight. I have great respect for Coach Cutcliffe, his staff and his young men. We felt they had a huge advantage. We talked to our guys all week about it. They could be vanilla against their first couple opponents. They had us on our heels because we didn't quite know how they were going to play us offensively with their defense. They did a great job in the first half, but I felt we adjusted very well in the second half and our offense got moving. Defensively, we have to start faster. We can't give up those plays and that long run in I think the third quarter or midway through the fourth when we fit things wrong. But we were pretty dominant on third down. We knew that the character of Duke was outstanding. And I talked about that regarding the kicking game. We thought their kicking game was outstanding. Our guys really took it to heart this week about how we had to prepare and how we had to go out and perform. And the big play by Solo[mon Vault] to start the second half and obviously the ten guys up front. Great job by [assistant coach] Matt McPherson with the scheme and then great execution by the guys. And then to go down and run the football the way we did at the end. Everybody in the building knew, everybody on TV knew we had to run the ball and to be able to get that done hopefully is a positive morale booster for our offensive line. A lot of work to do. Great team win. Now we have to get our bodies back and get back home safe and sound."

On second half adjustments:

"I talked to the guys about coming back in here 30 minutes later and singing the fight song. That was the only motivational talk that I spoke to them about. I didn't need to give them a fire and brimstone speech. I thought we were very focused. I thought we needed to do is give them a better plan, especially offensively. They stormed the fort and came after us. And, obviously we've got a lot of work to do offensively. But at the same time, I thought we came out with the right kind of adjustments to take advantage of some things. I thought the way that we were able to finish the game running the ball was big, hopefully a confidence booster for our offensive line."

On stamina in warm conditions:

"I would say that our guys, we played -- and I don't know how many actually played -- but we played an overwhelming majority of our football team that came down here today. I don't think our back up quarterbacks and our backup kicker played. Everybody else played. That was the plan coming in. I though we executed that pretty well. We knew it would be a four-quarter game and we needed to be as fresh as possible at the end and it looked like we were."

On the defense:

"Outside of maybe a couple plays, I think this is the best we've tackled. Again, the credit goes to [defensive coordinator Mike] Hank[owitz], the staff and the guys. We work it every single day. We work it every day in the offseason and every day with the fundamentals of it. Reading a lot about their team speed, I don't think we had a speed issue today. I think we looked every bit as fast, and I challenged the guys to that. Just kept reading articles in the offseason, the previews, all the stuff about speed. I think we're a pretty fast football team. I don't know what the thing is about people thinking the Big Ten can't run, I think we can run. We needed to adjust. I told them that this morning in the hotel. We knew we were going to have to adjust. Get prepared for it. The guys did a great job of doing what we were asking them to do. A terrific job by the young men.

"I think we did fundamental things well. I think we got off blocks well. I think we fit plays well. I think we were well-prepared. We did not know what they were gonna do, but what we did -- I'm not going to share. We had really good research. I thought Hank and the defensive staff had a really good plan. I didn't feel like we saw anything that we didn't expect to see. We did see some things that they had not run. I thought the guys executed it pretty well.

"I think we're pretty athletic. That really helps when you close time and distance. They try to play on the flank a little bit and I really don't remember seeing, maybe there might have been an initial miss, but the cavalry was coming. We played defensively with just terrific and, at times, relentless effort today."

On learning from the 4-0 start to 2013:

"I would say everybody behind me here is not concerned what other people think of us. We've been a part of that roller coaster ride here for a couple years. We've torn down that roller coaster. Burned it. We're focused on us and trying to get better. That's where the guys are at right now."

On start to the season:

"How many teams have done that? How many teams have played two Power Fives? I don't know. But we're not afraid to take on that type of competition. The academic comparables standpoint to us -- Jim [Phillips] is the best athletic director in the country -- to set a course of plan like this and then be able to go enact it, that's big time. Obviously, winning out in the arena helps us in recruiting. I think that as we've started the season, these are two huge recruiting wins for us. Hopefully that'll pay dividends on the road, continuing to bring the best talent to Evanston. I'm just proud of our guys. We've flushed what's happened over the last two years. This is a totally different team. Quite frankly, I think everybody behind me is tired of talking about it. It's time to start talking about the 2015 team, if you don't mind, that'd be good. But I understand that you have a job to do too."

On Clayton Thorson's performance:

"Have you written a perfect paper yet? Yeah, neither have I. That's not the expectation, right. The expectation is to take care of the football and play within the framework of the offense. I thought the first throw probably should have been a throw away. Credit Duke. They played quarters coverage and the WILL under cut it. He probably should have thrown it away. The second throw. We were running double post, everybody runs it. Outside post is open for a touchdown, you know. And he just made a decision that you just kinda go, ‘eh, alright.' He came over and I talked to him and said, ‘what do you think?' He went through his thought process there and I said, ‘okay. How about you do me a favor? You just take a deep breath and a walk before you get on the phone with [offensive coordinator] Mick [McCall] and you're going to need to go out and make some plays.' There was one that was under-thrown. We thought we might have had them there at the end. Could have had a big play on that third down play. He's 3-0. He's 1-0 three times. Frankly, that's all that matters. He's going to learn from all these experiences. And so is Zack [Oliver] and so is Matt [Alviti]. Both those guys are learning from this. I'm really proud of those two guys. They were awesome on the boundary. They were in his ear. Those guys and their attitude...they're still preparing like they're the starters. I'm proud of them."

On Duke:

"There is no doubt. This is a team that knows how to win. Like I said on Monday -- and this isn't lip service, this is the truth -- there's no man I respect more than David Cutcliffe. I get the privilege to be with him on the [American Football Coaches Association] board and listen to the way that he talks about what's right for our game, and he's what's right for our game. The way he runs his program is what's right for our game. When you play against a friend and you play against someone you respect that much, you know what kind of game it's going to be. It was a hard-fought battle like we knew it was going to be. My hat's off to coach and his program, but we focus on us, and I'm just proud of the ways the guys are battling. As you can see from the stat line, we've got a lot of work to do."


On whether he realized he was having a career game:

"[I was] just in the flow of the game. You never want to get too high or too low. Defensively, we came out with an attack mentality. I've got to give credit to Duke, they came out to play as well and it was a great, hard-fought battle in the first half and also in the second half. I just like the way the defense came to play today."

On defensive versatility:

"I think we have confidence that we can play against any style. We still have a long way to go though. We are definitely not where we want to be at. In order to be the top defense that we want to be, we need to correct a lot of mistakes we made today."

On improvements the defense has to make:

"Tackling. That's number one. We missed too many tackles in the first half. Also, just gap assignment, just making sure everyone stays in their gaps, especially me. I made a few mistakes today. I like the way we play fast to the ball, everyone's running to the ball and stuff like that. It kind of has a way of shadowing the mistakes that we do make. But as long as we're playing together I think we're fine."

On giving up the first touchdown to Duke:

"The crowd started chanting a little bit, 'Where's the shutout?' We just, you know, we wanted to flush it. Like, c'mon. We still have a long way to go. We knew the offense was going to start picking it up and we just wanted to keep them in the game. The defensive mentality after that was we don't let them score anymore."

On Solomon Vaults' touchdown:

I'm not gonna lie to you, that Solomon play struck a lot of fire into the defense. We knew that it was our ball game then. That was a big play in the game and a great momentum changer.


On the return touchdown:

"It's something we've worked on everyday in practice, ever since camp. Coach Fitz came to me at halftime. He said it was a special teams type of game and that we needed a big play on special teams. I just wanted to make a play for my team. The guys up front on our attack team did a great job of selling it and getting their blocks.

"In my head, I was already thinking that we need to make a play. The offense was kind of stalling. The defense was playing their butts off the whole game and I kind of felt bad because we weren't putting any points on the board. If we couldn't do it on offense, I figured I'll do it on special teams."

On Thorson:

"He's young. It's only his third college game. He's going to make some mistakes. Our job as running backs is to run the ball. If he struggles, we have to be great. Coach Mac holds us to a high standard because of that. I think Clayton did a good job and managed the game. We won the game. He can play better, he knows that. Ultimately, we got the dub and that's all that matters."

On what makes this team different from 2013:

"I can't speak on 2013. I wasn't part of the team. But speaking on what happened last year, it's just the camaraderie. I feel like it's a different vibe in the locker room. I feel like it's a lot closer. I can talk to anyone on the team, whereas last year I don't think that's the case. I can honestly go up to anyone and have a genuine conversation. I think that's the camaraderie, the trust we have in each other that really separates this year's team."

On how close he is with his fellow running backs

"We put in a lot of extra work together. When you do that, you grow close. I want to see Justin [Jackson] run for 100 yards. Warren [Long] had a great run today. We were the first ones to congratulate him. Same thing with me when I had my return, they were the first guys I saw on the sideline. We really feed off each other and really complement each other well. They're probably some of my best friends."


On what was said on the sideline before collecting back-to-back turnovers:

"We just regrouped on the sideline. It's always our emphasis playing Northwestern football to get turnovers. We knew it was going to be a big emphasis in the game, a big turning point in the game to get turnovers. We just regrouped and made plays."

On conditioning in the heat:

"The first quarter was pretty tough. It was humid out here. We adjusted well to the heat. Hydrated well. We just really conditioned well all week and throughout this whole summertime. We knew this game would be hot and we were prepared for it and we just went out there and finished strong in the fourth quarter."

On the differences between Stanford and Duke:

"I think Stanford's more of a physical team, a little bigger. But Duke's definitely a great team as well. They're a team that's really tempo-ed, great speed on the perimeter. It was a great challenge coming here to play them in their own house. I'm sure they'll have a great year and probably be up there in the ACC again.

"It was definitely contrasting offenses. But we definitely see a lot of these looks in practice. There's a lot of similarities between our offense and Duke's offense. I think that's a great team win against a very good offense and we're real excited about it."

On Chick Fil A:

"Yeah, it's huge. Last time we had Chick Fil A was, I think, the Notre Dame game. It's definitely good to get Chick Fil A again and it's definitely always a good time eating Chick Fil A on the bus."

I would say just consistency. That comes with the right work ethic and attitude every day. We've got to prepare for Ball State come Monday. We'll enjoy this while it lasts, maybe tonight, tomorrow. But we're facing a really good opponent in our house next Saturday. We've got to practice hard and prepare for another really good team.



On Duke not playing as hard as they could have:

"I didn't say we didn't play hard. We played hard. We just didn't play. We didn't make plays. We didn't compete to the next level of making plays. Defensively we played our rear ends off. They had 57 total yards of offense in the first half. You can't play any better than that. Offensively, we created no explosions. We out-gained them 175-57, but you cannot get your rear end beat on third down both halves. The defense got beat in the second half on third downs. You can't lose the kicking game, that means giving up a touchdown, and turn the ball over. All of these things are my responsibility 100 percent and it's shocking. Hats off to Northwestern, but it was more Duke with an array of mistakes as opposed to anything Northwestern did. We played hard. Those kids don't know anything other than to play hard. They play about as hard as anyone I've been around. We've got some talent. We just didn't utilize it as well as we can today."

On what Northwestern was taking away preventing Duke from throwing the ball downfield:

Notre Dame all over again

"I don't know that we had to. You're in a situation where they were intent on stopping the inside zone or the inside read run game. When you effectively do that and then just try to keep everything in front of you, that's what teams are going to do if they can get you to play in a box. You have to establish early. First half we had the opportunity to hit Johnell [Barnes] on a post for a touchdown and we just didn't execute. Second half we had a chance to hit T.J. Rahming on an inside dig-and-go and we didn't execute. We may have to get more opportunities to do that because we can't play in a box and beat good teams. Today, Northwestern was the better team. They did a good job from a penalty standpoint. They had a couple of interceptions - and we got after their quarterback like crazy - but overall they did a better job of taking care of the ball and doing the little things. That's the bottom line."

On what he learned about his team today:

"I don't know that there's anything schematic from that regard. I think we learned a lot about ourselves, what we're doing, some things we have to look at such as how you practice. What you see generally, not always, on Saturday are a product of your habits. Whether there's a penalty or too many penalties or you don't take care of the ball...I want to look at our tempo on offense. I want to continue to look at creating some explosives that help you score points. We haven't been great at that yet. You obviously have to look at what went wrong in the second half on third down. They converted 5-of-10 third downs in the second half after being 1-of-10 in the first half. Offensively we were 2-of-9 in the first half and 1-of-8, neither half was good. Even the kicking game we probably lose because we didn't play third down as good as you have to play. You know this: against Georgia Tech you better, on defense, be ready to play third and fourth downs. We're going to evaluate what our health is, who we have available. We've got to address a few things and then we have to just prepare ourselves with excellent habits for a great Georgia Tech team."


On the battle at the line of scrimmage:

"It was something we knew coming in, that it was going to be a huge part of the game. They've got a big offensive line and a big defensive line as well. We kind of took that upon ourselves in the trenches to make sure that we could handle their size and speed. It's something that we'll obviously have to improve on."

On Northwestern's defensive linemen batting down passes:

"On film we saw it a few times, especially 94 [Dean Lowry]. He was a big, tall guy that we knew had some length and ability to jump. Obviously it's tough to read on the offensive line, especially on the fly. That's something we're going to have to work on too because people are going to see that for the rest of the season and are going to try to do the same thing."

On what the team can take away heading into next week's ACC opener:

"The importance of elimination of penalties and keeping the ball on offense. Those are a couple of things that we didn't do as an offense that we normally are very good at. Obviously, those things can lead to a loss like they did today. We'll watch the film as well. It's one thing playing the game and seeing how you felt, but it's another thing actually going and sitting and studying the tape. We'll see where we go from here."


On how the game felt on the line:

"We knew it was going to be a tough battle in the trenches from day one last week. We just tried to play every single play as hard as we could, and at the end of the day, I thought we did. They played a little harder than us."

On Northwestern running back Justin Jackson and the Wildcats' run game:

"They were a high-powered running offense. I probably hit him a few times. But they did a really good job of running the ball. We just didn't get it done towards the end of the game."

On whether Northwestern did anything unexpected:

"I don't think so. We knew they were going to run the ball a lot. I thought we did a really good job most of the game, but obviously not good enough because they scored some points."

On what lessons can be learned heading into next week:

"It's never a good feeling right after the game, but I think in the long run we can collect ourselves and put our heads down and work as hard as we can for next week and the weeks coming."

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