After a 19-10 win at Duke on Saturday, Northwestern is 3-0 heading into its final non-conference game. Ahead of the Wildcats' matchup with Ball Sate, Pat Fitzgerald and players met with the media Monday to talk about the Cardinals, the Duke game, Clayton Thorson and the Northwestern's spot in both the coaches and AP polls that came out this weekend.
Additionally, the Week 4 depth chart was released and the starting time for Northwestern's Week 5 game against Minnesota was announced.
- Fitzgerald on Warren Long's special teams effort: "He played as well in the kicking game as we've maybe had in my 16 years here on staff." Long won special teams player of the week as well as offensive big playmaker. Dean Lowry was defensive player of the game after a "dominant" effort, according to Fitzgerald. Godwin Igwebuike and Anthony Walker were defensive big playmakers, as well. Dan Vitale won offensive player of the game.
- Fitzgerald, the team and Ball State will be wearing patches on Saturday for the Coach to Cure initiative. It raises awareness for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.
- Fitzgerald on Northwestern classes starting today: 'Challenging week for us as a program, starting school today and how the guys handle that and time manage and kind of eliminate their free time."
- Fitzgerald on Ball State: "They started a little slow against Eastern (Michigan) but 28 straight points, they made some big plays on fourth down to keep some drives alive... Then you look at them on defense and they're aggressive."
- Fitzgerald said the team "blocked atrociously" against Duke, he noted how well Duke safety Jeremy Cash played, but Northwestern's lack of blocking made him look like a Butkus award winner. He says Christian Jones must be better and take responsibility.
- Fitzgerald on the Ball State offense: "Ball State does a great job with their zone scheme. I'm really impressed with their offensive line. Their center [Jacob Richard] is one heck of a football player. Their backs are patient... Their backs are very similar to Auston [Anderson]."
- Fitzgerald on playing a lot of guys: "I'd love to play everybody. If we could play 65 guys in a game, I'd do it between now and the time we play at Soldier Field." He also said that Lowry only played 60 percent of the snaps.
- Fitzgerald on Clayton Thorson's game at Duke: "I don't think he'll forget it."
- Fitzgerald says the focus, maturity and camaraderie in past locker rooms wasn't nearly as good as it is this season. "They've really bought into each other... The challenge is earning it every day."
- Fitzgerald on early losses from perennial favorites and Northwestern's current high ranking: "You're three weeks in of playing games. I wouldn't evaluate any team until probably four conference games... The final four conversations and the ranking conversations for now are awesome for blog sites, fans and everyone that wants to have a discussion about everything that doesn't matter."
- At halftime, Fitzgerald thought Thorson was pretty calm although an early hit on him in the Duke game rattled him.
- When asked if there was ever a thought of replacing Thorson, Fitzgerald replied with a resounding "No."
- Fitzgerald on Justin Jackson's 35 carries: "He probably had too many touches on Saturday, but he's a guy that can handle it. He's a throwback running back. He's one of those guys, he just gets tougher the more he carries the ball."
- Fitzgerald said cornerback Keith Watkins was "taking off like a rocket ship" before an injury against Penn State last year. Thought he played "really, really well" at corner against Duke and is fully embracing role in the kicking/punting game.
- Fitzgerald noted that the difference between some of the starters on the offensive line and the backups is minuscule, and until five guys emerge, there will be competition and change at some spots.
- Fitzgerald said that he preaches creating turnovers in practice, and Igwebuike's forced fumble and recovery was perfect. "That goes on the teach tape until I die."
- Fitzgerald noted that Ball State will challenge the Northwestern secondary with downfield passes. "This is a very, very skilled and speedy group of wide receivers."
- When asked what's different between this year and last year, Drew Smith said, "We're holding ourselves more accountable and we're not getting complacent."
- Vitale on the offensive struggles: "We have to execute consistently. We had a lot of one-man breakdowns. You can't do that on offense."
- Watkins on embracing his special teams role: "You have to get in the film room, just study the other team that you're playing that week... just going out there and having fun."
- Vitale said the big thing on Saturday was letting Thorson know that the team trusts him and knows that he can make plays. "I think he's ready to bounce back, he's ready to respond, and I'm not worried about him. I don't think anyone on the team is."
- Smith said seeing Walker play well is "like seeing your little brother do well."
- Watkins: "We knew Duke was a pretty good special teams team. I know a lot of our teams are going to take our special teams very seriously now."
- Watkins said the camaraderie between the defensive backs is "great." He said they hold each other accountable for everything, with seniors Traveon Henry and Nick VanHoose being the leaders. "When we get out there we just have to ball out. Like I said earlier, just keep having fun."
Here is the full video of the players' portion of the press conference: