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Big Ten Championship week press conference notes

The biggest week of the year is upon us.

Fitz was joined by a litany of players to discuss the challenges of the week ahead and the state of the program.

Pat Fitzgerald

-Fitzgerald opened by acknowledging J.B. Butler and Blake Hance as offensive players of the week, and Blake Gallagher on the defensive side of the ball. Jake Collins was noted as the special teams player of the week.

-On Dwayne Haskins: “He’s a complete quarterback. His poise, understanding of the offense. He does a phenomenal job of taking what the defense gives him. If I had a Heisman ballot, I’d vote for him. I think he’s a phenomenal football player.”

-On Ohio State’s speed: “Schematics are different in each game, I think they took advantage of some things against Michigan. It’s a credit to the execution of their guys, they played phenomenal against Michigan. That was as clean of a game offensively that I’ve seen in a long time. They’re going to make plays, you gotta limit explosions and do what you can. If you can limit 7s to 3s then we can have a shot to win.”

-On the disrespect towards Northwestern: “A couple weeks ago, you come off a big win, I rarely use external motivators. I don’t know anyone outside of here that would pick us to win, I guess my parents will. I expect our guys will prepare like it’s a one game playoff to go to the Rose Bowl. If that doesn’t motivate you I don’t know what does.”

-On Tommy Doles: “Tommy’s been phenomenal. He’s such a terrific human being. He’s maximized everything that we’re about. To be elected captain by his peers speaks for itself. I’m excited to have a couple more games with [the seniors].”

-On prioritizing the Minnesota game over the Illinois game: “The Minnesota game, you’re on the road, my concern was more of a mental letdown. I was really proud of the way the guys responded coming back that Monday, I would’ve managed the game differently in Minneapolis if we hadn’t given up that late score.”

-On the uniqueness of the experience: “Preparation wise, we’ll treat it like a normal game. We put the Illinois game to bed and got to work on the Buckeyes. Even if our guys haven’t played in a Big Ten Championship game, they’ve played in big games, especially our veterans, so we have to draw back on our experiences.”

-On the future of the program: “The future is bright. We’re so thankful for the support. Every time I walk in this building I think of the guys in the 70s and 80s that didn’t have this support. I hope we represent that group the right way. I hope those groups of men take pride in where the program is today. Number one graduation success rate in the country, won 15 out of 16 league games, the future is bright. I’m extremely proud of these guys and the staff.”

-On the nickname “Cardiac ‘Cats”: “We’ve been doing that for a while. I would prefer it not to be that way, trust me. It just ends up being the way that it is sometimes.”

-On a turning point in the season: “I think the brotherhood has been the glue that has kept us together. We faced some adversity early in the year and that brotherhood was the glue that kept us together. The Nebraska drive was a big moment for our team. I just think it’s the brotherhood.”

-On the 2004 win over Ohio State: “For me, my role was pretty simple, find a way to stop the run. We didn’t do that good of a job but we found a way to win, it was a heck of a win.”

-On Ohio State’s passing game: “Scary. Three backs that can score if you miss a gap, every receiver can catch a hitch and take it to the house. Very physical and massive up front. It’s a group that has depth. They’re playing a bit of a wildcat package in the tight zone too, so there’s a lot of complexity to it.”

-On what gives him confidence: “We’re the Big Ten West champs. That happens because you’ve earned it. Our guys went out in the arena and they earned it. Our staff is well-prepared for a game like this, and I’ve got great confidence in our talent, our willingness to compete. I know our guys will prepare relentlessly to be ready to compete.”

-On dealing with Ohio State’s pass rush: “You gotta execute. Number one we have to execute our plan, number two we can’t make love to the ball, gotta get the ball out of our hands.”

J.B. Butler

-On Ohio State’s pass rush: “They’re talented up front, gonna pose a huge challenge for us this week. The biggest thing for us is to win our one on one matchups, that’s how we’re going to be successful.”

-On emotions going into the game: “I would say more excitement than anything. This is the biggest one we’ve played here, you don’t get these opportunities every year. Ready to go out and play, try and leave a lasting mark on this program, so more excited than anything. This is one of the goals that we have, you have to build on this, this needs to be an every year thing. It’s a building block.”

-On if Northwestern has anything to lose: “I think we can play free. The past couple of weeks were weird. This week we can cut it loose and play free, I’d say we have a chance to be physical and win which is awesome.”

-On his relationship with Blake Hance and Tommy Doles: “Blake’s been my roommate for the past three years, we’re really close. We’re super tight knit, same with Tommy. All three of us coming together we’re tight friends. Tommy is a super person in this program, he brings it every day, Tom Doles is the same every day. I think together our dynamic is awesome, we’ve gotten a lot of flack the past couple of years. To have this success and be going to the Big Ten Championship game is awesome.”

Cam Green

-On being an underdog: “I love it, love everything about it. I love having people not think you’re going to win a game, because it feels so much better when you prove them wrong.”

-On blocking: “I’m small, smaller than a typical tight end. Trying to block is different for me than other traditional tight ends. I love going up against someone that’s bigger than me. [Absolutely] it’s nice having a guy like [Bowser] behind you. I’m happy he’s got his chance to shine.”

-On his friends at Illinois: “It was fun to play against them, I haven’t played with them in a couple years. It’s awesome to see them succeed, playing in the Big Ten. It’s a lot of fun. It’s fun to see people that you know do well.”

-On Fitz’s role in his recruitment: “He was one of the key guys in my recruitment. I remember on my visits I’d come and ask him what his goal was. He told me being a head coach wasn’t his dream job, he wanted to be a position coach, but the circumstances presented themselves, and he’s thrilled to be in the position that he’s in. It meant a lot to know that he wanted to be there not just for me but for everyone. It’s fun to watch him grow as a coach and win more games. He pushes us to be the best that we can be, whether it’s conditioning, practicing, he believes in us.”

Jared McGee

-On his status for Saturday: “Yeah, whatever I play, whether I play 50 snaps or 10 snaps I’ll embrace my role and do the best I can.”

-On his impressions of Fitz when he was recruiting: “I do remember being surprised at how he acted when he first met me, as if he knew me already. That has stood since I’ve been here. I didn’t know a whole lot about Northwestern before they came to talk to me, it was like, what conference is Northwestern in? I couldn’t have asked for a better head coach.”

-On Ohio State’s wide receivers: “They’re well-rounded. They have a great running game that opens it up, Haskins doesn’t get antsy back there, the receivers run really good routes. Like we say around here, they’re gonna do what they do and we’re gonna do what we do.”

-On the team’s road success: “I don’t know, we just get up a little different. I think the guys have that much more motivation to prove the naysayers wrong. Just have that much more of an edge. Fitz does a great job of preparing us for those games.”

-On Travis Whillock: “He keeps preparing the way he does the sky is the limit for him. He watches a lot of tape. He’s a real student of the game, he’s got a bright future.”

-On embracing the underdog role: “It’s the biggest game of most of our careers, it’s the first time we’ve been here. Whether we come in as a favorite or an underdog we’ll prepare the same way. It’ll help us come in with a chip on our shoulders.”

Joe Gaziano

-On the lack of blitzes against Illinois: “I mean this week our gameplan was to keep the quarterback contained, we didn’t blitz a lot. Coach Hank will come up with a great gameplan and we’re willing to execute what he asks of us. Stopping the quarterback will be a key this week, whatever they throw at us we’re ready to counter.”

-On Fitz’s Coach of The Year candidacy: “He’s the face of this program and he’s a leader for us. Week in week out he gives us a great plan and motivation. He was a Big Ten champion, he went to the Rose Bowl. To have that experience is a testament to why he’s in consideration for that award.”

-On Haskins: “First and foremost, he has a big arm. A lot of talented receivers that he can throw the ball to. I think he’s very good at reading through his keys, but he’s also able to move the pocket, whether it’s designed or not, he’s able to extend plays with his feet. Our secondary will do a great job this week, they’ve had some setbacks but they’re ready to step up.”

-On red zone defense: “As a defense, when the field shrinks it poses an opportunity to create momentum and give the ball back to our offense. Our main goal is to stop them from getting in the end zone and stop them from scoring. We do whatever we can to stop that.”

-On Hartage: “He’s an All-Big Ten level player and I hope he gets recognized this year.”