Following a 43-3 Northwestern win over Maryland, head coach Pat Fitzgerald, quarterback Peyton Ramsey, running back Isaiah Bowser, safety JR Pace and linebacker Paddy Fisher and took to the virtual podium.
Opening Statement: “Like I said early in the week, I’ll be rooting for the Terps every week except for this one. I’m a huge fan of Locks and I know a lot of guys on the staff. Wish them the best of luck.
I thought our guys prepared incredibly well. It’s been a long road to get here to game night. The job that our medical team did in Jeff Mjannes and Kevin Kikugawa and their staffs at Northwestern medicine, NU health services, all our first care providers.We wouldn’t be here without them. A lot of help from folks in the athletics department too, there’s too many to list. We started down a road to get here tonight and it was just a great time to be out here tonight.
Really proud of the overall team performance. It’s an indication of the preparation getting ready here for tonight. We changed some things up a bit with our routine the last 24 hours and then we went into a two-week game prep last week, and our guys were really focused in on what we needed to get done and how we needed to do things. Really proud of the overall performance, a lot of great individual performances and it was pretty darn clean in all three phrases of the game.”
On Peyton Ramsey: “I thought he played really clean, made really good decisions with the ball. He looked very poised for a young man that’s only been in our program now for months, even though he’s got years of experience in the Big Ten, to see his teammates elected him a captain speaks to his leadership.
Really proud of his performance today, I thought he spread the ball around very well. Also a great called game by Mike Bajakian. The last couple weeks we honed in to get ready for tonight, even as late as this afternoon just looking at some stuff on the play call sheet. It was a great first week, but as you move forward, it just gets harder and harder in Big Ten play, and it’ll be harder for us next week on the road, but I’m just really proud of Coach Jake and Peyton.”
On the up-tempo offense: “There was a great response (to it). That first third down conversion was really important in the game. They (Maryland) had a good first drive offensively, good job by them. I thought our offense being able to sustain a drive the way they did allowed us to get a lot of confidence as a team. And obviously being opportunistic as a defense and putting points on the board every time we forced a turnover was key.”
On the secondary: “A lot of young guys played tonight, but a great job by them being prepared. We’ll get guys back hopefully sooner than later, but I was really proud of the way the entire secondary stepped up. JR was elected as a captain for a reason. He did a great job and there were a lot of plays being made all over the field.”
On reaching his 100th win: “It’s an honor. It’s humbling. It’s about our players. It’s about our staff. It’s about our players’ families. It’s about our staff’s families.
So many people contributed to this. I’m looking at our [former] captains, two pages of captains, to see what they’re doing for a living now. One’s in the army, I’m not going to tell you his branch but he’s a special guy, Boston Scientific, guys in the NFL, coaching at Yale, corporate partnership executive with the Falcons, AXIA consulting with the Vikings and the Colts, Clayton playing, Justin playing, Tyler playing, Montre playing, and these are just the highlights. It’s awesome. It’s about the players, it’s about the families. I’m so proud of those guys and I’m honored to be their coach and I’m just sorry it took so long for us to get to 100.”
On tight end John Raine: “We changed the name for a reason. Super back was great to us, put a lot of guys in the NFL. We tried to keep John really quiet, but he’s a really good player and an unbelievable teammate. Him and Peyton coming in and making an impact like they have speaks not only to their skill set but also to the team, welcoming those guys with open arms. Charlie Mangieri played really well too, helping us run the ball with two tight ends out there. I thought our offensive line was outstanding. Nik Urban was our captain up there, and Ethan, Gunnar, Sammy — those guys are veterans. And to get Peter out there for his first experience was great. Really dominant performance from our offensive line.”
On running back stable: “Knock on wood, we got to keep them healthy. That was the bugaboo a year ago. I thought those guys played outstanding tonight. It was great to get IB (Isaiah Bowser) back. Drake showed his explosiveness, same with Evan and Cam got in the action there at the end too. Great to see all those guys get going.
[I’m] not surprised, Lou Ayeni is one of the best coaches in the country. He’s destined to be a head coach one day.”
On Bajakian: The way he approached things, you could tell he was a veteran. He’s been through a lot of games. He had a sound mindset on what he wanted to do offensively. His philosophy is to get the ball into our playmaker’s hands in advantageous situations offensively.
He’s very calm with the headphones, great conversation from a dialogue standpoint with the entire offensive staff. You would have thought that this was their 70th or 100th game together. They’ve meshed and molded really well. It’s a credit to Dennis Springer, Lou Ayeni, Bob Heffner and Kurt Anderson to come in with Jake (Bajakian), as he puts his offense in for all those guys, and to come together and create solutions for our players. Great first one but still a lot of work to do to keep getting better.”
On Brandon Joseph: “Brandon is a great player, great athlete. He’s a young man who we thought could have the opportunity to be an instant impact player and his performance tonight demonstrated that along with the depth of the entire secondary. Really good first step for him tonight.”
After the final question, Fitz ended his portion with a shoutout to Teddy Greenstein, who recently announced he’s leaving the Chicago Tribune after covering Northwestern athletics for the past 24 years.
On playing football again: “It was a lot of fun. Felt like a long time coming. Probably a lot nerves and anxiety, but once we got rolling it was a lot of fun, and that’s what it’s all about.”
On how he’s adjusted to the new offense: As a new quarterback in this offense, having older guys that have played, that helps us all the more just having those leaders in the room. Specifically the older guys in the receiving room, they’re super experienced and I think that’s made a huge difference for us.
On the fast start: “Setting the tone early is something we talked about all week. We want to start fast, and then after that you want to keep the pedal down and that’s what we did.
I think that’s a credit to the preparation we had this offseason. Even when we weren’t able to practice, getting those extra throwing sessions in, and extra time in the meeting room some of the guys about small nuances in our schemes, that comes with guys who have played a lot of football and have a lot of experience. But yeah, just credit to our gameplay and preparation.”
On what he can improve upon: “There were guys running wide open that I missed in some of my progressions coming back to the sidelines, but that comes with it. It’s the first game of the year, I’m shaking off some of the rust and getting used to the speed of the game again. But just going through my progressions, trusting what I’m seeing, that’s the biggest takeaway for me.”
On getting the ball in different guys’ hands: “Establishing run w/ Isaiah and Drake was big. You saw John Raine, Kyric, Ramaud, you just saw everybody gettin involved. When you have that many different weapons, so. many guys with the ability to make plays, it makes you hard to defend. That’s a credit to those guys on the outside.”
On playing football again: “Great time being out there again, especially after the hold out, not knowing if we were gonna play, but we had a lot of fun putting up points and hopefully we can do the same next week.”
On the new offense: “Leaders are getting young guys going and the young guys are making plays, so we just got to keep on going with that.”
On the offensive line: “I think they played amazing tonight. We had 300 rushing yards tonight, and you can’t just do that alone. We’re going to lean on them going forward, so they get all the credit.”
On the performance of younger guys in the secondary: “It’s exciting. It’s their first time playing meaningful minutes, and to make those big plays is exciting. That’s good for us to see for the future, to see them come out fast and make those big plays.”
On his interception: “They had a run a bang and corner route, and they were running a bang earlier and B Joe almost made a play on it. Pre-game, Coach Matt (MacPherson) came up to me, and told me, ‘Watch out for this route, it’s something they might do,’ and so that second time, I trusted it. So instead of running back, I just went for it, and B Joe was able to protect his side, and I made a play on the ball.”
On his “If you cheer us, hear us” video: “I was honestly surprised at the reactions and the amount of reach that the video had. I definitely feel like we got good responses from the video all-around, and I think the video was able to speak for itself.”
On forcing four turnovers: “We continued to put an emphasis on it during camp. Trying to reemphasize everyone breaking on the ball, reaching their cues and trying to make punches where you can. It’s a start and we got a long way to go, but that mindset’s been instilled in all of us.”
On prepping to defend Maryland’s JeShaun Jones: “We watched some of his plays from his last year (2018). We knew he had big playmaking ability. We tried to stop him from breaking big plays, and he had five catches for 37 yards, so I think we accomplished that.”
On what the development of younger players means to the defense: “That next man up mentality is something we preached all off-season, especially with Covid and everything. It only takes one play for somebody to have to go in, so people have realized and studied just in case they do have the opportunity to go in.”
On bringing their own juice: “I think we came out there and executed on all levels, from the secondary down to the D-Line. We took the ball away which was huge. We came out and had fun, and it was evident out there on the field and on the sidelines.”
On starting the season with a win: “It’s crucial. The one thing we preached all off-season was starting fast, and we came together in the off-season and really attacked it.”
On forcing four turnovers: “Coaches are just there to really harp on it, and we’ve created more drills in practice to create more turnovers, and to find new ways to the ball back. It’s been talked about all practice, every practice.”
On Fitz’s 100th win: “It says a lot. Getting to 100 wins isn’t easy. It’s something not a lot of coaches have accomplished, and he's going to have 100 more.”
On what the development of younger players means to the defense: “It shows the leadership on our defense. We’ve got leaders at all positions, and it shows the amount of work that everybody puts in, and just week in and week out, we’re ready to execute and it’s the next man up.”