Following a thrilling come-from-behind victory against their Hawkeye rivals, head coach Pat Fitzgerald, Peyton Ramsey, Jesse Brown, Brandon Joseph and Chris Bergin took to the virtual podium for the postgame press conference.
Opening Statement: What a resilient win by the guys. You spot a team 17 points on the road, obviously that’s not the way we wanted to start, but sometimes things happen. Tough punt there in the wind, and we’ve got to respond and get off the field, and we didn’t do that. Credit Iowa. Then we get another turnover, again credit Iowa for punching the ball out. We’ve got to get off the field, and we didn’t. We put ourselves in a hole, but we got together at the end of the first quarter to do the wave, which is one of the best traditions in college football, and they kind of all looked at each other, like “Let’s get it going.” We got the wind at our backs, which helped and then we made a decision there at halftime to have the wind for the fourth quarter. It kind of felt like it was going to go down to the wire, and we went back and forth about four times on what to do. You know I kind of slowed our offense down in the third quarter to get the wind, and thank goodness our guys made me look right. It was one of those kind of games. Really proud of our guys. Proud of their resiliency, proud of their response. Proud of the job they’ve done to this point. I think it will be even more challenging going home on Halloween night like it is for all of us. We’ve been COVID free since we got back together, and it’s a credit to our guys and their family members and all those associated in their friend networks. We’re really appreciative of the job they’re doing now with Halloween night going home. I don’t know about you guys but when I was in college Halloween was a pretty awesome night, especially after a road win. So I hope that night tonight means going home and going to bed. We’ll have to adjust our schedule to have our guys who haven’t voted yet vote on Tuesday. Our Tuesday will go to Monday, and our Monday will go to tomorrow, so we’ll get back together tomorrow when we typically take Sundays off, and then we’ll take Tuesday off, then we’ll be back to our typical Wednesday-Thursday schedule. Really proud of our guys here on the road, a little surreal not having fans here in one of the cathedrals of college football. I hope to never come back here to Kinnick without fans. I know they’re hostile, and they don’t like me, but college football isn’t the same without these great Hawkeye fans. My hope is that we can all fight through this pandemic together. We beat a very resilient Hawkeye team, and I’m proud of our guys’ response.
On record against Iowa as head coach: The credit goes to our players and staff. It’s our guys in the arena that made the plays. We adjusted some things today, and our staff did a good job. We’ll look at what we did early, and we’ll be very critical of ourselves. From my standpoint, it’s my job as a leader to get our guys prepared to play each game. I’ll go back to when I was a player here — this rivalry was created by us for a reason out of respect for Iowa and their success, the job they’ve done over a long period of time, and that was started by Coach Barnett. This is a rivalry from our side about great respect. It’s always close, and it was one of those again today.
On the come back: When we got together at the end of the first quarter, I usually don’t bring the squad up at the end of the first. They thought I was just going to talk them about the wave. I told them to settle down and settle in. It’s going to be a four-quarter game. You don’t lose a game after one quarter. Games are won in the fourth quarter. Obviously we needed to get another first down. We’ll take a look at our four-minute offense, which wasn’t very good today the first time we ran, need to look at what we did and how we did it, and the great job our defense did in response meant in a lot. You go on the road it doesn’t matter if there’s one fan or no fans or 75,000, you spot the home team 17 points and come back to win, that’s a heck of a a response. You hope to improve, to get better, and you know I don’t want to say anything yet, but these are the games you got to win if you want to have a special year.
On rushing game dominating the snaps: The wind was a factor. Half the game you’re going into about a 20 mph wind that was gusting at 40. I’m assuming there wasn’t a ball thrown further than 15 yards going into the wind by either team. It was definitely a factor early in the game. That ball was going into the boundary for Kyric and then it took a snap hook. That a situation you learn from, he’ll learn to “hot it” and get out of the way. But I like the way he responded too. I told him, “You go right back out there, you’re our guy if Riley’s out for the game.” Credit Kyric for the way he responded, kind of indicative of our team.
On last two defensive stops: We feel like we got lucky on that second to last drive. They had a guy open. But again I thought our defensive guys responded and played hard. Huge play by Gally, stoked to see him go down. Usually when guys who are No. 51 get the ball in their hands they get excited, I know something about that. To see him go down, that’s a huge play. We worked the snot out of situational football, two-minute football, four-minute, we were great in two-minute defensively, not so great in four-minute offensively. We’ll take a look at ourselves and be critical and get that fixed for next week.
On Riley Lees’ injury: Plan-wise we just plugged and played. Next man up mentality. That ultimately is the mindset we have with every player. Our guys know that, that’s what we talk about all the time, next guy up. Plan-wise I wouldn’t say it changed that much aside from our punt returns. He’s hanging in there. He just got a little freak deal on Thursday, and then he said he didn’t feel well today. I’d probably list him as day-to-day right now, that is what it is. My heart breaks for him. He’s an unbelievable guy, named captain this week, and my heart breaks for anybody that gets hurt.
On Brandon Joseph: We’ve got pretty good depth back there right now, knocking on wood with the Covid stuff. Young and talented, man. That’s all I’ll say. It’s tough to be young and talented in the Big Ten with the receivers, quarterbacks and explosive offenses we’ve seen. They’re growing up in front of us right now. We expect to get Greg back soon, and it was great to have Cam back out there. Feeling solid about our depth there right now.
On Jesse Brown: We knew it was going to be a physical game, and that’s right up Jesse’s alley. He’s tough, physical, and that’s what we knew it was going to be. He was hitting the hole, even if there aren’t very many creases against the Hawkeyes. There are some crease there we tried to get to. Sometimes we were successful, sometimes we weren’t, so credit them. We’ve got a lot of guys in the backfield, and we don’t have enough carries and touches for all of them. Jesse’s a great player. Evan Hull’s a great player. Cam Porter’s a great player. It’s a long year. That’s a great group, and they’re making an impact in a lot of different ways. Just got to be patient because they never know when their number is going to be called.
On forcing three interceptions: We’re two games in so obviously I don’t have a complete picture yet. The only decision that upsets me was the third and 14. Let’s just throw the ball away, live to fight another they, and Peyton came up to me and said that was a terrible decision, and I told him, “Well at least you know that.” I’m usually pretty chill in those situations. Some coaches in those situations, it’s like they never played the game. Guy misses a tackle, and they’re screaming, “You missed a tackle! Why’d you throw that pick!”, and they’re like, ‘Thanks coach, I know that.’ That’s all I needed to hear from him because he had to go back out there and lead a drive. He’s a veteran guy, I think he’s pretty unflappable. He’ll probably say this wasn’t his best game, and he’ll work his tail off to be better next week.
On the first quarter huddle: We knew going into this game it was going to be a four-quarter fight. We knew it wasn’t over, we knew we had a lot of football left to go. Just had to regain some momentum. Offensively we came out flat, and we picked it up there in the second quarter and turned it around. We knew it was a four-quarter game and just kept on fighting.
On his scrambles: Iowa did a good job of getting their hands on guys at the line of scrimmage. On some of our short and intermediate stuff, they rerouted our guys pretty hard. I’ve got to get the ball out of my hands quick. They did a good job spying me and not letting me get out of the pocket. I got to get the ball out of my hands quicker, and that’s something that’s on me, and I got to do a little bit better.
On leading the offense back from down 17-0: The very first thing was to just get a first down. We realized that we were able to move the ball and ran it really well tonight. We just needed to see a first down happen and carried that momentum through the rest of the game. We knew it was going to be a dog fight. We knew it was going to be physical. We knew we were going to have to run the ball. Once we got that rolling, we continued doing it, and that was the spark we needed.
On McGowan’s touchdown run: It was a good play call. We wanted to get the ball out on the perimeter. That’s where he’s best in space. I’m just executing my job and letting the playmakers make plays. It was as simple as that.
On performance of offensive line: They played really well and fed off that energy once we started playing well in the second quarter. They’re tough, physical guys, and they just kept fighting. They’re very prideful of taking care of the running backs and me as the quarterback. They were pretty great against the Iowa D-Line, and I’m just proud of those guys.
On how they’re going to stay focused: Just by relying on each other and playing complementary football. The offense picked up the defense, and the defense picked up the offense when they needed to. Continuing to stay in it together in this football family that we have, it’s a special thing. Just have to focus on each other, coming in every day and getting better, and that’s what we’re going to continue to do.
On the last two defensive stops: We had an opportunity to put the game away, and that was our mindset going into it. Momentum is a powerful tool, and we felt we felt like we had it going into the second half, rode that momentum and tried to create takeaways. That’s what we preach and that’s what we practice.
On what they’ve learned from last year: Our defense through and through last year was resilient. We carried that over to this year, and luckily thanks to Peyton and the boys, that resiliency carries over. Us not having the mindset that the game’s over kept us in it, we kept fighting possession after possession, and you saw momentum swing in our favor. We just learned a lot through quarantine, through the offseason, through last season, just resiliency, and it’s powerful.
On turnovers: It shows maturity. We got a pretty experienced defense out there. A little bit of inexperience in the secondary, but more talent than we could’ve asked for out there. Brandon Joseph had two, Blake had one, but Brandon was just flying everywhere to the ball, and that’s how we play. We run to the ball every play. What we heard from our defensive staff on the sideline was “They’re beating us in the takeaway battle.” Early on, they got two takeaways and got up on us, and we had to get it back. The takeaway battle is everything and our defense took care of business when we needed to.
On his two touchdown runs: Definitely a great feeling. Thank God for the guys we got on this team and our brothers up front. But it was really a team effort on those. As far as the running back room, we’ve got tons of guys who could have done that — I was just the guy that was in. All praise to the O-line and the fullbacks that come in, the tight ends, everybody.
On what changed in the second quarter: Nothing really changed. We’ve always had the mindset that we’re the best team on the field. We’ve got talent up front, in the back, out wide, and we’re going to use our playmakers to get things rolling Our mindset, our tenacity our drive, it was just all four quarters this whole game.
On Bajakian’s offense: Coach Jake was a great offensive coordinator, and we had a great offensive plan heading into this week. He’s really great at feeling out what the vibes are on the field and calling the right plays, so whatever happened on the field was what needed to happen.
On the running game: The running back room, we’ve got a bunch of talented guys, which is definitely a threat in all fronts of the game, even passing. We can be used out wide. We can be used in the backfield. Our running back room is as strong as ever, and we’re going to keep taking advantage of that this year.
On his two interceptions: This is a mindset. Not just me but the whole DB group. I did it today, but they did it last week, and now we’re going to try to go out and do it again next week and the week after that. It’s a mindset that we have to get turnovers, and we’re going to continue to do that every week.
On work during the offseason: This offseason, the DB’s, we all had this mindset to create turnovers. Me and Coco were catching balls every single day after practice, so that’s why our hands are the way they are, and we’re just going to continue to work like that. But putting an emphasis on catching the ball, so that there’s no missed opportunities on interceptions, and I’ve just been working on tackling because that’s something I need to continue to work on.