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Northwestern vs. Illinois press conference notes

Pat Fitzgerald and players reflect on the team’s seventh consecutive victory.

Will Ragatz

Northwestern won its seventh straight game to finish the regular season 9-3 after dominating the Illinois 42-7 on a chilly afternoon in Champaign. Here’s what Pat Fitzgerald and the players had to say.

Pat Fitzgerald

  • Fitz opened the press conference by crediting Illinois for how they played and for the wrinkles they put in the offense early that Northwestern had to adjust to.
  • Called the defense “Absolutely dominant.”
  • Praised Adam Cushing for the adjustments he made at halftime that helped Jackson break his 79 yard run and the improvement of the line all year.
  • On the winning streak: “This is one of the hottest teams in the country and a team that has improved more than any team in the country. The response we’ve had over the past few months is a direct reflection of how they’ve prepared.”
  • Fitz said that “this is a big game for our program” and that Paul Ryan told him that this game (facing Illinois) means a lot when he took over as head coach in 2006.
  • Fitz called Northwestern a “pretty attractive team” and looks forward to fielding a lot of calls from bowl games.
  • Fitz continually emphasized how hot the team is after winning 39-0 against Minnesota and 42-7 against Illinois.
  • Says the players showed a “Chicago work ethic” after the slow start and went to work: “42 unanswered I think is a statement.”
  • Fitz said he’s proud of the team this season but disappointed that they’re not in the Big Ten championship game: “The destination we want to be at is Indianapolis.”
  • Fitz said he already voted for Paul Chryst for coach of the year.
  • On the practices: “I don’t think I’ve had a team that has prepared as well as this team has prepared” mentioned they’re finally taking the preparation to the games.
  • On the youth: “We’re playing 25 freshman and redshirt freshman.” Said he’s excited to work with the young guys in the upcoming weeks.
  • Fitz also said he’s done with the narrative that formed after the Duke game and wants to put that to bed.
  • “We may be the best tackling team in the country.”
  • “The strip sack touchdown was huge, in a sleepy building to get that sort of juice going.”
  • On Tyler Lancaster getting a couple carries: “That’s kind of a tradition, obviously we didn’t want to try to get a touchdown but we wanted to get our No. 1 something out of the ordinary there.”
  • On the CFP rankings: “There’s a team on the other side, that’s ahead of us (Michigan St) that we beat. I don’t understand that.”
  • Fitz said that Justin Jackson is going to go down as one of the best running backs of all time and in the Big Ten amongst some names that etched on Heismans. Also praised the kind of young man and teammate that Jackson is.
  • “We've got one more opportunity to earn respect nationally. There’s so much amazing momentum going on right now in our program.”

Clayton Thorson

  • “We don’t really try to pay attention to anything outside of our building, but we feel we can be on the field with anyone.”
  • On the deep ball: “I had full confidence in [Bennett] for catching that pass.”
  • On the reaction to the defensive TD: “Oh sweet, that’s an easy possession for us.”
  • On the pick: “Linebacker just undercut, probably just have to come off it, but he made a nice play.”
  • On prep: “Getting in the film room together has been something we’ve been trying to do over the course of the year.” Said all the offensive units watch film together and have trust.
  • On not having Justin Jackson next year: “It’s weird, going to be different not having him back next year, but I know those other guys will step up and Justin’s left a huge legacy behind.”

Paddy Fisher

  • On his INT: “Great call by the DC, read the quarterback’s eyes, baited him a bit.” It was Fisher’s first interception ever.
  • Fisher said that everyone was freaking out a bit after giving up the opening TD, but the linebackers calmed them down.
  • On the rivalry: “It means the world, it’s a dream come true. Getting to play with these guys, I love it.”
  • Fisher said the defensive touchdown was a big momentum swing for the team and the defense.

Joe Gaziano and Tyler Lancaster

  • Lancaster on his carries: “Pretty awesome, I didn’t even know about it until yesterday afternoon.” He said that they pulled him aside after practice to let him know, also that it was supposed to be a touchdown, but Jesse Brown scored that TD earlier in the game instead of going out at the goal line.
  • Gaziano on the Miller TD: “Happy to be a part of it and a cool play for Sam to get in the end zone as a freshman.”
  • Gaziano said that the defense as a whole did a great job stopping anything Illinois threw at them.
  • Lancaster on the improvement during the season: “Intensity in practice, our work ethic has just taken off. These past seven games our practices have been so much harder.”
  • Gaziano on the improvement: “The practices help a lot but we’ve had a lot of confidence after the three overtime wins.”
  • Lancaster on the rivalry: “Any rivalry game is going to be hectic, you have to ready for anything, records don’t matter. Winning the Hat is something special.”
  • Gaziano on the win: “Playing for our seniors including Tyler, to be able to go out on a high note like we did today is a blessing.”

Justin Jackson

  • On the 79-yard rush: “Probably one of the easier runs of my career.”
  • On the team’s 306 rushing yards: “The guys up front were really working, they did really really well against their d line.”
  • Jackson on Illinois: “Glad we can go out beating them like that, they’re a team that are going to talk trash even down 40, but it is what it is. We got a win and get out of here.”
  • Jackson on the mindset: “Just trying to run the ball right down their throat and that’s what we did today and that’s what we did the last four years and that’s what we’ll keep doing.”
  • On Jeremy Larkin: “He’s a really really good back, it’s really fun to watch him. Looking forward to see what he does the rest of this year and when he really takes hold of that starter spot next year.”
  • On next year: “I’ll be watching every game and screaming my head off at the TV.”
  • Jackson finishes the press conference by saying he thinks Larkin will be spectacular.