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Iowa gameweek press conference notes

Everyone was in good spirits but acknowledged this week brings a different animal.

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

After a dominant win over Maryland to open the season, Pat Fitzgerald and a handful of student-athletes addressed the media as they open up the week of preparation for Iowa.

The team released its depth chart for Week Two, which didn’t feature many changes except at defensive tackle, where Joe Spivak and Jake Saunders replaced Trevor Kent, who was inactive Saturday, and Jason Gold Jr., who left the game early with a lower-body injury.

Pat Fitzgerald

Opening statement: Fitz opened the press conference by wishing his father a happy 76th birthday. He named the players of the game: Peyton Ramsey on offense, Cam Ruiz on defense and Bryce Jackson on special teams. The practice players of the week were Bryce Kirtz on offense, Gunner Maldonado on defense and Cullen Coleman on special teams. His playmakers of the week were Drake Anderson on offense and the entire secondary on defense. Fitz also congratulated Charlie Kuhbander for being named the Big Ten’s Special Teams Player of the Week. He praised the “young guys” who made an impact on Saturday, namely Brandon Joseph, Rod Heard, Coco Azema and Tomi Adebawore. Looking ahead to this weekend, he called game against Iowa a “huge challenge” for the ‘Cats in terms of navigating the unique logistics of playing an away game during a pandemic for the first time. He called the Kinnick Wave “one of the best, if not the best tradition in college football,” and said he looks forward to participating in it once again. As for the team’s performance in Saturday’s blowout over Maryland, Fitz said the team “has to play a lot better.” He was pleased with explosive plays on both ends of the ball, but said teams typically make their greatest strides of the season between the first two weeks of the season “if you put the work in during the week.”

On areas of improvement: “You see fundamentally, if it starts up front with the O-line, our base, our feet, our hands. There’s some things in the backfield we want to get cleaned up. We have to start faster defensively.”

On not having fans in Kinnick Stadium: “Every year I’ve been to Iowa City, people have really liked me. Kinnick is a cathedral of college football. It’ll be disappointing, because I think Iowa’s fanbase is one of the most high-level football IQ fanbases in the country. It’s a challenge for all of us in every game. Having a night game, you could watch everybody. But we’re just thankful for the opportunity to play.”

On offensive line and running backs: “Some of the things we did really well in practice, we abandoned a bit once we got in the arena. They played well enough for us to win, but there’s huge room for fundamental and technical improvement...We’ve got a huge test against the Hawkeyes, they’re outstanding in their front seven.”

On rotation vs Maryland: “I thought the game would be a lot closer than it was...Typically, when you’ve got a big lead, head coaches want to get as many guys in the game as you can. And then, once they get in, you want to play a clean game. No twelve men on the field, no penalties. I thought we handled that all pretty well...I apologize if we didn’t get anybody in.”

On whether the offense exceeded his expectations: “Ultimately, everything we look at is as a team. We came with the right mindset. We needed to get off to a fast start with the offense to gain confidence. The prep was really well executed...everybody from our players, our staff, our support staff handled it really well on the offensive side of the ball. Once we got our first first down, we got rolling a little bit. Hopefully consistency will come at a higher level.”

On what Iowa’s defense does well: “They’re consistent fundamentally, they communicate very well. That’s a hallmark of Coach Ferentz’s team. That front seven year in and year out has been physically dominant. Their secondary is outstanding, they call it their cash package. Coach Parker does a great job with that back end.”

On team’s current mentality compared to last year: “Every team is different...any time you put the work in like our guys have and you get rewarded with that type of performance, you’re excited. It’s great because you can’t party postgame, so I do it at home by myself...I enjoy winning, I really enjoy winning, but it’s been kinda frustrating. I mentioned my dad earlier, it’s kinda been a tradition that I give him a hug after we win, so to not be able to do that kinda stunk Saturday, but I was thinking about him no doubt.”

On pre-game preparation: “We have a lot of things we have to change. We’ll take more buses than we’ve ever taken. We’ll do more of our pregame prep here. We’re happy that it’s a 2:30 game, gives us a little more time. The rest of it there will be similar. Kinnick will be like it normally is. For guys who have never been there it’ll be unique, but for those of us that have been there over 20+ years, it will be similar.”

On facing new QB Spencer Petras: “He’s really impressive. You read about everybody’s teams, he was excited like most first time starters would be. Some really uncharacteristic things happened for Iowa in that game, especially the turnovers and the pre-snap penalties. They had a self-inflicted wound with the ball getting punched out by a teammate, that’s an anomaly. They just missed a screen play when they were about to score at the end. We’ll see a different Iowa team on Saturday, they’ll get those things fixed. Really impressed by their O-Line and their physicality. They’ve got great weapons in the backfield and with the receives, and their personnel is outstanding.”

On opening second half drive: “I liked the adjustments we made at halftime. I spent a lot more time in camp with the offense and all through game on Saturday. We adjusted well, but the credit goes to the men in the arena. Our guys went out and executed well, made some conversions. It was a great way to start the second half and a great way to “finish the game.’”

On opening vs Big Ten opponent: “We typically have a big game to open things up, sometimes it goes well other times not. As a coach, I’d vote twice to play eight league games. As a fan, I absolutely love Big Ten ball. I love competing against the best teams in the country with the best talent in the country. I hope the fans enjoy getting to watch the teams that we love.”

Cam Ruiz

On being a veteran in the secondary: “I knew I had to step in as a leader this season. Greg has still been helping as he’s been out. I want to be a leader for the younger guys.”

On going up against Iowa’s weapons: “They’ve got a great receiving core with 6 [Ihmir Smith-Marsette], 12 [Brandon Smith], 89 [Nico Ragaini] and their quarterback [Spencer Petras] has a great arm. Need to make some picks and makes some noise again.”

On playing in a hostile stadium: “I don’t try to listen and hear the fans when we play there. My first ever start was at Iowa, but I don’t think it [no fans] will be in our mindset when we go there.”

On forcing turnovers: “We only had three interceptions as a secondary last year and now to have that in one game is great.”

On whether he dressed up as a football player for Halloween growing up: “I personally did, but that was before I started playing in second grade, I think.”

Charlie Kuhbander

On his process: “I got to stay in my own world, not up when the offense is up or down if they’re down. Just stay level headed and prepared...I’ve gotten a lot of help from my long snapper Tyler Gillikin. He helped me work through my injury. We’re really clicking as a kicking unit right now.”

On what he did in the offseason to improve: “The last two years after my hip surgery has really just been rehab. My junior year I came back earlier than I was supposed to because I thought I could help the team out, so it was really just about focusing on getting healthy and getting that confidence back up.”

On whether he dressed up as a football player for Halloween growing up: “I used to dress up as a running back, but that didn’t work out for me.”

John Raine

On his impressions playing in his first Big Ten game: “It was awesome. It was a great team win. Obviously we didn’t have our fanbase behind us, but it was still exciting.”

On how he built his rapport with Peyton Ramsey: “Peyton got here a few months before I got here, so when I got here, we immediately connected. We threw a lot together. I can’t say enough about him, his work ethic, his talent, everything put together. A great teammate and an incredible person.”

On whether he knows what a superback was: “I’ve heard about superbacks, I know they’re good, physical football players. That’s about all I know about them.”

On his role in the offense this year: “I think we’ve got a great room with a lot of depth. Charlie Mangieri’s a beast. I think we’ll be utilized in a lot of different ways, and I’m excited for how Coach Jake plans to use us.”

On what attracted him to Northwestern: “The first thing I did the moment I knew I had an opportunity to come here was watch Boston College’s film from last year. I saw how effective the tight ends were, and on top of that, the culture was amazing, Coach Fitz was amazing, and it just seemed like a great opportunity.”

On whether he dressed up as a football player for Halloween growing up: “I lived in Boston for a little bit, so I had to bother the Patriots fans a little bit by dressing up in my Miami Dolphins gear.”

On potential similarities between Fitz and Lane Kiffin: “They’re similar and different at the same time. They’re both great at what they do.”

Drake Anderson

On what he saw after he broke through the line during his touchdown run: “I actually had a really similar run in practice. I had a huge hole, bounced it to the right, saw the backside was open so I made a move over there. Peyton was over there, Kyric was over there, and I was able to walk into the end zone.”

On Northwestern’s running game: “I think Coach Jake said there were 20 or more plays that had 20 seconds on the play clock, so we were pushing the tempo. And then, with the rotation of the backs, somebody is able to come in when you need to catch your breath. So we’re always able to have a running back at 100 percent.”

On seeing Peyton Ramsey block for him: “It’s big time. I would do the same for him, but it’s even more impressive that he would be willing to sacrifice his body for me. He’s strong, he’s tough, he’s played in a couple Big Ten games before, I think he’ll be alright.”

On what has changed that makes the run game more of a threat: “Being a threat throwing the ball. We can throw the ball to the receivers, we’ve got John Raine, everybody’s a threat at all times.”

On whether he dressed up as a football player for Halloween growing up: “I think I was Reggie Bush once, my dad before and Barry Sanders a couple times.”

On how the mood has changed from last season: “Last year was tough, some of us were checking out, but this was like a rebirthing of our offense. Everybody was smiling, everybody was flying around, having fun.”