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Pat Fitzgerald and players Week 5 press conference notes

Lots of room for improvement was the theme

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Pat Fitzgerald

Offensive player of the week: Austin Carr; Big playmaker: Justin Jackson - “He’s been playing really physical, I’m proud of what he’s doing without the ball in his hands.”

Defensive player of the week: Tyler Lancaster; Big playmaker: Godwin Igwebuike

Special teams player of the week: Flynn Nagel

Fitzgerald gives credit to a couple players on defense: “I thought Jaylen Prater was very active in the game, and I thought Godwin, aside of a couple missed opportunities, played very well.”

On the upcoming trip to Iowa: “We’re going to one of cathedrals of college football. Coach Ferentz and his staff have done a terrific job, Kirk’s the dean of the Big Ten and he’s done a terrific job for 18 years. They’re schematically outstanding and have talented players, and combined with the homefield advantage, this will be a terrific test for us.”

On Kinnick: “This will be a huge challenge and a great first test.”

On his coaching style: “I haven’t been changing my coaching style. My routine through training camp and through the first month of the season hasn’t changed a lot the last eight or nine years.”

More on Iowa: “They’re great running the football. Schematically they know what they’re doing; when you take one thing away they’ll go to something else. Defensively, they do a terrific job with their four down front. Their linebackers are always on the same page as their d-line. They execute very well, always have an outstanding special teams and kicking game. Outstanding, solid squad, top-to-bottom.”

On questions surrounding next week’s kicker: “The plan on Saturday is whoever has the most consistent week will go out, the plan is to make field goals and extra points.”

On the struggles of Jack Mitchell: “There’s some inconsistencies fundamentally, I think he hit the ground a couple times on field goals, he hit the dreaded straight ball, for all the golfers in the room. He’s just been inconsistent and he has to get consistent fundamentally. When his plant foot and hips aren’t all in concert, he’s going to push the ball off the right. That has to get fixed, he really hasn’t been doing that in practice, just in the game.”

On recent staff shakeups across college football: “My thought is always about the players, you run a program for the players, to give the guys the best opportunities to succeed. As for as personnel, you have to make sure you make the best decisions. From a staff standpoint, I look at it from a body of work, that’s not a daily decision, that’s a 365 days a year decision. I believe in our players, I believe in our staff.”

On Anthony Walker: “He was around the ball a handful of times and just didn’t make the plays you really want to make, especially that interception opportunity that could have changed the outlook of the game. He plays middle linebacker, people are going to block you. Last year, teams ran, especially early on, to the perimeter and he was unblocked on a lot of plays. But the last couple weeks he’s been in better game shape.”

On kneeling for the national anthem: “It has not come up in discussion.”

On staff continuity: “Being in this leadership role, you need to have the right people in place. You teach and make people better. Are you the right character man, schematically are we doing the right research, and are you building the types of relationships with players that is going to make them better? I’ve been blessed, Jerry has been here 24 years. He and Mick and Hank are part of the leadership team. We’ve won more football games than any other staff in program history. We graduate 100% of our guys, I look at it holistically, do I always think we could be better, yeah, but it starts and ends with me. I think we’ve attracted, recruited, and maintained a terrific group of coaches and I’m very thankful for that.”

On rushing defense: “We let up too many explosive plays.”

On Matt Micucci: “He’s been really consistent in practice. Last year when Jack had an injury Matt stepped up on kickoffs. My hope is both guys have a great week and that I have a tough decision for Saturday, I’ll probably make the decision on Thursday.”

On practice: “The issue has been game execution, and in practice, trying to put them in the most realistic situations are possible. Especially the last two weeks, we probably haven’t had this intense of practices in the last five years or so.”

On Clayton’s performance last week: “I’d probably give it a C-plus. We can’t turn the ball over in the redzone ,we can’t take two sacks in the high redzone when we crossed the 50 and were moving the ball well. He’s got to be much more consistent, he knows that.”

On the fake field-goal attempt: “It was the same fake that Cal ran against us a few years ago, so give Sonny (Dykes) and his staff some credit. We would have had 13 or 14 seconds left which would have given us two shots in the end zone. We just didn’t block everybody. The call did not have to do anything with Jack, we wanted to score a touchdown.”

On comparing Ebert to Carr: “They’re a little bit different, Jeremy was a high school quarterback and really became the receiver he was based on a ton of experience. He just got better and better each year. And Austin’s a guy we didn’t know anything about, he just showed up. Early in his career he was just a special teams guy. Both guys were tireless in their preparation and work ethic, and to see the success that Austin is having is not a surprise. Both guys’ work ethic are just unbelievable. I’m really happy for Austin because I don’t think anyone works harder. Austin is off to a great start to have these comparisons to Jeremy, but that has to continue throughout Big Ten play.”

On the success of Trevor Siemian: “We’re very proud of him and we’re ecstatic with how he’s playing. I have some of my guys give me updates on how he’s doing because Sunday’s are pretty busy around here. But nobody’s been talking to me about Zach Strief, he’s multi-year captain for the Saints, nobody wants to talk about the tackle. (laughs) Trevor is playing for an outstanding football team, the reigning super bowl champions. We knew his best football was ahead of him, he just needed the right opportunity and the right place, I think we was incredibly fortunate to be picked where he was and in the organization with John and Coach Kubiak and Coach Knapp, I think you have an unbelievable brain trust of quarterback development, He has an unbelievable supporting cast. He had what, four touchdowns and no picks yesterday? I don’t think he did that here. He has a bright future ahead of him, he’ll be very successful as a husband, a father, and whatever he chooses to do after football. We’re really proud of him.”

Defense: Tyler Lancaster, Nate Hall

Hall: “We obviously let up too many explosive plays, just too many missed assignments and missed tackles. We’ll work on it this week in preparation for Iowa.”

Lancaster: “It was those key plays that really hurt us, if we can limit those explosive plays it can really make a difference.”

Hall: “In order to win Big Ten games you have to stop the run, and that’s a big part of what Iowa is and always has been. We’ll take a look at stopping the run first.”

  • On Walker’s health:

Hall: “We’re a team defense, Anthony will continue to make plays like he always has. We look at the film together as linebackers, we just go out there and continue to do what we do.”

Lancaster: “We’re just going to keep doing our job and play as if he is or isn’t there, it doesn’t make a difference to us.”

  • On third down struggles:

Hall: “We just got to go out there on third down with the mentality of getting off the field. “

Lancaster: “I think we have the talent to get off the field, I think it’s just trusting ourselves, sometimes we might try to do too much. It’s all about trying to do our job and maybe the right mentality hasn’t been there, that’s what we’re doing to work on.”

Offense: Tommy Doles, Andrew Scanlan

Doles: “If we can give Clayton time, our receivers can get open, they’ve been playing phenomenally.”

Scanlan: “It about how productive we are on third down when we need those five yards, I think guys in our room are really working hard to do that. Guys are doing a great job getting where they need to be.”

Scanlan on WR improvement: “There’s an attitude towards improvement every single week, we always want to get better. We see the wins and loss column, it’s not where it was last year, but in our room we’re more productive. In order to get those wins we want to do more. Guys are really stepping up, and that includes special teams, something that is really overlooked.”

  • On national anthem protests:

Tommy: “We’ve had discussions in the locker room, this is a socially conscious football team and we’re at Northwestern, but no protests have been discussed.”

Scanlan: “It’s important to talk about, but Tommy and I haven’t heard of any protests or anything going forward in the locker room.”

Scanlan on Clayton: “Clayton’s done phenomenal I think, he’s really seeing the field well. I think something that’s helped is meeting with the receivers three-to-four times week. All of us come in here and we try to read what he’s reading and feel what he’s feeling just so he feels more comfortable. You see how he’s talking to us and talking to the o-line, he’s definitely taking a step forward every week and we hope he continues to improve.”