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Michigan State gameweek press conference notes

“Stats are for losers”

NCAA Football: Big Ten Media Days Jim Young-USA TODAY Sports

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald addressed the media after his squad’s victory over UNLV on Saturday. Safety Travis Whillock, linebacker Chris Bergin, and offensive lineman Jared Thomas also took the podium and answered questions. Here’s what they had to say.

Pat Fitzgerald

On Drake Anderson’s breakout performance against UNLV: “I think it’s the opportunity. He was really close to playing last year. We went up to Michigan State last year not really sure where we were at yet [at running back]. We were very unsettled at the position. You saw him get a little bit of time in that game,...and then we go to Rutgers, and Isaiah [Bowser] took it over, to his credit. An opportunity presented itself. When he’s ready I think he’s a big time player who will be a great player for us for a long time.”

On Michigan State’s top-ranked defense: “It starts with their personality. They’ve got all-Big Ten players across the board at every position. They’re well-coordinated; they’re on the same page; they play physical; they play great team defense. You rarely ever see them beat themselves. They tackle incredibly well, and then they’ve got the change ups which keep you honest to complement their base defense...This is as good as we’ll see all year”

On Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio: “Quite frankly his DNA in his coaching career, he’s one of the best coaches ever to coach our game for a reason. He gets his guys to play at a high level for a reason. They play just outstanding team defense.”

On quarterback Hunter Johnson: He took what the defense gave him. He didn’t try to force anything, and I think he learned from that rep [his interception in the 2nd quarter] a lot. He got a little greedy, tried to play a matchup instead of a scheme, and their kid made a nice play. He [Johnson] had great command of what we’re trying to get done. He was opportunistic with the football, running it too. He’s gotta do a better job of taking care of himself at the end of some plays, but I thought he did a nice job improving, and he’s going to keep doing that week after week after week.”

On Michigan State’s football program: “Coach Dio [MSU coach Mark Dantonio] and I have been in the league now for a long time, and most of these games have been really close because we play, although maybe not the same schemes, a very similar style of football, and I think that’s why the games are so close. I think both teams are very disciplined in what they do and how they do things. They play team football, complimentary football. Both teams are smart and sound in the kicking game. Coach has probably been a little more aggressive, better names for trick plays than mine.”

On injuries to the running-back corps and MSU’s top-ranked rush defense: “I’m just gonna pray and hope it all works out. We’re gonna practice and try to execute. They try to make it hard. They’re really good.”

On Michigan State’s offense: “We’re gonna have our hands full on that side too.”

On whether Hunter Johnson should protect himself more when he slides: “I’m gonna put a neck roll on his shoulder pads...yeah of course. He’s gonna learn. This isn’t Brownsburg High School, where he could hit a seam and go for 70...Maybe we’ll reach out to Joe Girardi, see if he can come in and teach him to slide.”

On lineman Jared Thomas: “He’s just an unbelievable representative of our program...He’s truly taken full advantage of everything our program has to offer...He’s going to have his hands full, so he’d better sleep well, eat well, practice well. It’s going to be a long day.

On conference scheduling and start times: “I prefer a 10-game conference schedule. The nine [game Big Ten schedule] just doesn’t make sense to me...I hope the Pac-12 adopts 9 a.m. start time. I could use that against them in recruiting. That would sucks for a player”

On preparing for games: “Gameplan each opponent for what you think you can accomplish against each team.”

Travis Whillock

On the defense: We want to be the best defense, so day-by-day, learning from past mistake, not dwelling on them to give ourselves the best chance to win the game.”

On friendship with J.R. Pace: “Being able to communicate on every single play, I think that definitely helped, then off the field too, I think our relationship has grown, and I think that’s something that’s really helped carry onto the field.”

On being healthy for Saturday’s game: “I’m just so thankful that I’m hear now and just really trying to be present with it all and just take it day-by-day, learn and grow and get better one day at a time.”

On MSU’s Brian Lewerke and the RPO: “Their quarterback is good: He can throw it and run it, so we need to make sure we’re locking in on our keys, having good eye control, and just doing things to the best of our abilities.”

On upcoming schedule: “It’s only gonna get tougher from here on out, week-in and week-out. That’s why it’s Big Ten football and you gotta love it.”

Chris Bergin

On defensive mistakes early against UNLV: “On the sidelines, We remained very calm. Mental errors are the most fixable errors. One guy’s mistake is minimized by 10 other guys. With three of four guys making mistakes, then it turns into something bigger.”

On his family’s connection with MSU: “Contrary to popular belief, our dad [Chris’s and NU DB Joe Bergin’s], die-hard ‘Cat fan. You wouldn’t think so, but I try to think of it from his perspective, and if your kids went to Northwestern or you played at Northwestern and they didn't get recruited at all, I guess you root for your kids, and our dad supports us more than anybody.”

On the hype with MSU’s defense: “I think that adds fuel to the fire, but we don’t really worry about them as much as we worry about ourselves.”

Jared Thomas

On offensive line coach Kurt Anderson: “I think it would be a little surprising to some because you see videos of him at practice and he’s very animated. He’s a very calm and relaxing presence during games.”

On Drake Anderson’s performance: “Drake was out there?”

On the offensive line’s improvement from Week One: “We got better from one week to another. Our goal each and every day is to get 1% better, one day better, and I think that’s what we did.”

On Big Ten play starting: “Conference play is where you define what your season is going to be.”

On MSU’s run defense: “As the offensive line, we want to run the ball no matter who the defense is. We know it’s going to be a dogfight as soon as we step on the field on Saturday.”

On the rotation of QBs and RBs: “It doesn’t matter who’s back there. Ultimately, our job is to block for the pass and the run, and whoever’s back there we can trust that they can get the job done.”

You can watch Fitz’ full presser here: