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Illinois gameweek press conference notes, injury news, depth chart

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Pat Fitzgerald was joined by Andrew Marty and others for the final Monday press conference of the year.

For the last time in 2019, Northwestern’s head coach stepped up to the podium to answer questions on Minnesota and look forward to Illinois (and the offseason). First, though, there was some depth chart news to discuss.

Here’s what everyone had to say:

Pat Fitzgerald

Opening statement: Happy Thanksgiving week! There’s lots to be thankful for. Players of the week on offense it’s Andrew Marty, Riley Lees was our big playmaker. We had no defensive player of the week but Joe Gaziano was our big playmaker. To be an all-time sack leader in program history that’s something that is earned. I’m really happy for him. It’s a fun week in college football. Rivalry week you give everything you got. It’s not just about you but also your fanbase and we’re fired up to compete. We’re playing a confident team that has gotten themselves in the postseason.

On Andrew Marty’s late season appearance: Yeah I would agree it’s a good question for Andrew. He’s learning and growing all year. He had an absolutely terrible week of practice last week. I think he has a bright future a lot of leadership skills. I thought he played tough, got the ball out quickly and he had a great day today. Hopefully he’ll continue to progress. He just hadn’t executed properly in practice, he came out of camp as the fourth quarterback and all of a sudden he gets an opportunity. I’m really proud of him but he’s gotta become consistent in his execution.

On Andrew Marty being a ‘gamer’: I’m not a gamer believer. You gotta earn it. That’s not the way I feel about Andrew but that’s my view overall. You have to earn it.

On the quarterback injuries: Hunter will be out, Aidan practiced today so we’ll see how it goes.

On Hunter Johnson’s three sacks: As I look at those plays specifically there are some breakdowns maybe on the one, we had an open guy in the flat twice and we have to get the ball out. We gotta help him and help him be confident in throws.

On the importance of this week’s practice for next season: Have you ever touched a stove when it’s hot? I hope you learn. Guys need to do what they need to do.

On Northwestern’s fan support: Well you get what you earn, right? But, they’ll be back next year. Did you see all the purple that was in Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship? So you get what you earn. I’m disappointed that we’ve disappointed our fans. But when you get to my age I don’t get to tailgate, I have to work. You’ll regret not going to these games when you’re in the real world. But we’ll get it done and we’ll see you in the Big Ten Championship next year, how’s that.

On missing bowl season practices: When you look at where the depth of the squad is this year, it basically turned into what would’ve been the extra 15 practices with who was getting the reps. I’m a believer in the bowl season, it’s awesome. And we’ve lost that chance. But from a practice standpoint, I don’t think it’s going to hurt us as it has in the past.

On Evan Hull: Well I think Evan works really hard. There’s the eight hours in the offseason and the 20 hours in season and there’s Evan getting extra hip work in on his own. I’ve just been really impressed with his work ethic and I think he has a really bright future ahead of him. He’s done a great job.

On Andrew Marty’s traits that led to his recruitment in high school: I liked his size, all the intangibles out of high school. This was a guy that really wanted to be a college football player.

On Flynn Nagel’s Tweet: “I don’t know, call Flynn. I’m sure he’s free. He’ll take your call if he’s tweeting, but I love Flynn, he’s a great guy.”

For context on the since-deleted tweet:

On the Illinois rivalry: It’s our only trophy game, we’re playing for the Land of Lincoln. I have a ton of respect for Coach Smith and you go back to when we were struggling in the past or when they’ve been struggling it’s a throw the record out type game.

On the Pass Interference Penalties: Fundamentals first. You have to be great with your feet and your hips. I also think we’ve had some calls that have been tough to swallow. I think that’s fair, I’d rather donate money to the charity of my choice. I’m struggling with the inconsistency in the call. The play on Riley and the play on Paddy looked identical to me.

On challenges for pass interference: I think the one percent rule in the NFL ahows that it doesn’t matter. And I respect what those guys do. We need more officials and I try really hard to educated guys on rules and how they’re going to be called. Pass interference is really complicated and there’s so much that goes into it. I think we have to get together and discuss it in the offseason but I have so much respect for what the officials do.

On the outlook of the program: I have one hundred percent that we’ll be back competing for Big Ten West championships.

On P.J. Fleck’s praise of him (Fitz): He’s a coach and he watches our tape. We have a body of work and I appreciate his comments. I’ve said it a million times, it’s not rocket science watching our tape. We’re just not doing the things winners do.

Riley Lees

On Marty’s performance: Yeah, he played really well. It’s kind of just been a weird year with the quarterbacks. Hoping he keeps it up.

On Marty’s practice performance: I’ll agree with Fitz on that one week, it was really bad. But he played really well this week.

On the student turnout: I don’t think we’ve done much to bring people to the games. It doesn’t really affect me either way though.

On an imbalanced run-pass breakdown: I think ultimately running the ball opens the passing game, it makes it easier. When the opportunity comes to pass we have to capitalize.

On what the final game means: We’re just trying to go 1-0 and bring the hat back, go into the offseason with some momentum.

On what the mood is heading into the offseason: My freshman year was the Pinstripe Bowl year and no one was happy with that year, we went 6-6. So everyone going into the offseason looks at the little things and where we can clean stuff up. We have to set the tone for how we’re going to approach things.

On if recent success against Illinois matters: It’s rivalry week so anything goes. We’ve been in their situation and they’ve been in our situation. We’re ready to go to try and win the hat.

Chris Bergin

On Jared Thomas’ comments that the team will be hungrier next year: I couldn’t agree any more, I think that’s how we feel. We’re going to want nothing more than success next year. We realize this year how earned success is.

On his performance this year: I know that there’s a lot of stuff I have to work on and you’re never a finished product. It’s really valuable when you have experience to see what you’re missing as much as anything.

On if the fan turnout bothers him: Not at all. That’s a result of our team’s success. I don’t blame them. If we want people in the stands we need to win.

Andrew Marty

On what took him ‘this long’:I can’t put an answer together to that. I’m not sure. I think I’ve always been confident in myself. It’s just the way it went this year. I just went out and played football.

On his long standing desire to be a quarterback: Funny story. When I was in seventh grade I would go to the high school after middle school practice and work out there. I went home with a flyer from Randy Bates (then linebackers coach) and told my mom I want to go to Northwestern.

On if he got antsy this year: I think with patience comes maturity. That’s just how I’ve had to grow. It’s hard to be patient when you’re playing a game you love. You just gotta work with the people in the room to elevate their game and yourself.

On his Sunday morning after his first game time in years: I got a massage for the first time, that was fun.

On if he considered taking a baseball scholarship: Football was my passion. I talked with Xavier but they were too close to home.

With Fitz saying that Smith may be available for this Saturday, and the general tone of the rest of his comments on the QB situation, our post-presser take on who will lead the offense as they try for the HAT: