Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald was joined by Joe Gaziano, Jared Thomas and Drake Anderson to address the media after this game. Here’s what they had to say:
Opening statement: Congratulations to Mark Dantonio. To become the all-time winningest coach of a storied program is impressive and well-deserved. All the players and families that have been a part of that program, I just want to congratulate Mark and Becky [Dantonio]. There were just opportunities that we missed today. We weren’t able to sustain drives and get first downs. We get the ball on the one and go backwards. We start by looking at out plan. Did they beat us at the point of attack? What did we do wrong today? The pick late, we can’t have that. We come out in the second half knowing it’s going to be crucial to sustain field position, you couple that with the turnover ratio and it’s really disappointing. Lotta ball ahead of us and we’re going to get working on it right away.
On replacing Hunter Johnson with Aidan Smith: Well you know all of our quarterbacks are young. We were sputtering a little bit, it’s kinda like going to the bullpen. In this game and also thinking big picture, I was trying to get him some experience, make it a two score game and lets go.
On taking timeouts at the end of the first half: We were trying to see what they were in formationally, it didn’t work. I could’ve kept the timeouts for halftime lunch, they ran a good double move and executed. Good for them, well done. They won the one-on-one and hit it.
On the run-heavy offense: I would say about 15 of those were opportunities for throws too.
On the fourth-and-goal play call: We felt like we could capture the edge, obviously we had a missed assignment. Simple option two man rule, and we didn’t execute it. We’ve probably run it 20 times on the goal line in my time here, it’s worked a lot.
On the team’s struggles in September: I would say every year is a little bit different. Last year we play a pretty good Duke football team. I’m being very specific, get some self-inflicted wounds, we just didn’t execute offensively. Before I got asked about October, write what you want to write, I don’t have an answer for you. It’s not good enough.
On if the team was comfortable coming into the game: I would never say you’re comfortable playing Michigan State. Typically this game is really close and hard fought. We’ve made some big plays offensively the past three games, and when you don’t make plays against this defense it becomes really hard for you.
On Joe Bachie: The thing that makes Joe so good is his ability to diagnose. He’s reeally athletic and can get downhill in a hurry. Their front does such a great job of penetration and havoc that he’s able to roam free. I thought he played really well today.
On the offensive thought process at the end of the first half: I was thinking about trying to score. I think they just took a timeout so we thought we had them reeling a bit. We don’t need to compound the problem. It ends up being fourth down I might just end up going for it. I really like the call, but it was just a mistake. We have to coach them harder, teach them harder and we go to work. It’s the only thing you can do.
On Skowronek’s injury: I don’t have anything for you.
On the team’s struggles in September: It’s a new team this year, I can’t put my finger on the theme of slow starts. It’s a matter of what can we do better, we’re looking at it as a whole and game by game. It’s definitely a problem we have to fix.
On the frustration level for the defense when the offense struggles: For us it’s not really frustrating. We’re dealt the hand that we’re dealt, and we just want to put our offense in a position to succeed. We’re focusing on going out and making plays. That can jumpstart the rest of the team, we’re thinking about how we can be a catalyst.
On his four-year sack streak against MSU: It’s a cool milestone, it’s a cool trivia question in five years, but we lost today and I could’ve done so more. I’m thinking about those plays and not the sack.
On the defense’s reaction to Fitz’s timeouts: For us we’re just trying to get a look at their mindset. We want to see how they’re going to attack us, what coverage we’re going to be in, and I don’t call the timeouts I’m just analyzing myself. You’d rather be off the field than on the field as a defense. But for us you can’t have a long memory in this game, it’ll drag you down. We’re not trying to think about what happened in the past.
On if the team missed Trae Williams: I think it’s not a great situation having a starter and captain out, but you gotta roll with the punches. It’s a long season but you never know what is gonna happen. It’s next guy up and that’s why Fitz consistently preaches competitive depth.
On the mindset between drives when the offense is struggling: It just comes down to getting first downs. In Big Ten play, with a game that has only a few turnovers, you need to capitalize on those opportunities, and we just have to execute. That starts with the offensive line and it’s about executing down the stretch.
On the goal line stand: Think we just gotta execute better. No surprises with the call, every front that they had everything that they did, it’s just about execution and winning your one-on-one matchups. Coach Anderson said this week he had a suspicion that there was going to be a pivotal moment on the goal line, and we didn’t execute.
On staying in the present during a rough patch in the season: I think it’s different every year because you have to have a short memory. You start looking ahead or behind, that’s when problems happen. You just have to stay in the present.
On being able to separate: I don’t really see it as a good day for myself. I just have to win the one-on-one matchups.
On having a short-term memory: It’s everything that has to be in the rearview, we have to get back in the lab and worry about Wisconsin.
On his on-field vision: That redshirt year allowed me to get in the weight room and in the playbook a lot more. We played a hell of a game but I just have to capitalize on those situations.