Following their 27-20 victory over the Purdue Boilermakers to put themselves in prime position in the Big Ten West, head coach Pat Fitzgerald, Peyton Ramsey, Greg Newsome II, Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman and Eku Leota took to the virtual podium for the postgame press conference.
On the framework for success this season: I think you gotta put the work in the offseason. This isn’t something that’s happened the last four weeks. Go back to the work our guys put in starting in January when we got back together, their focus was to improve and get better and doing everything in our power to get ready for spring ball knowing we had a new offense to install. They did a great job doing that, and then, you move forward, eight practices in, and everything goes out the window, and we had to adjust our plan. Our guys did such a great job staying in shape, and we came back, got going, got shut down, got back going. Right now, what do you have to do? You gotta be COVID-free. It’s been several weeks since we reported; we haven’t had a positive test COVID test, and I’m knocking on wood right now. Our guys have been so disciplined when it comes to social decisions. Our staff, our support staff, everybody around our football program that’s in our tier one have been absolutely phenomenal. It’s going to continue to be a challenge, and it goes beyond the football side.
On Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman: [It’s] awesome, just awesome. You want to talk about a guy who’s been relentless in his work ethic? When Peyton [Ramsey] made the decision to come here, he and RCB were in constant communication. That’s what older leaders do, and I’m just so proud of him. I’m not surprised though. He’s put the work in, and I think his play tonight speaks for itself. He took a big hit over the middle and was the first guy up, maybe I saw it incorrectly, but that’s just tough stuff man. That’s middle-of-November Big Ten football. A big win for the guys, and I’m really proud of RCB.
On David Bell and Greg Newsome II: I thought it was a high-level performance from both guys, two outstanding football players that went at it. We knew what we wanted from a plan standpoint, and they knew what they wanted. Two guys who slugged it out, and I’m a little biased, but I’m going to give Greg the win. I thought he balled his rear end off. He was excited to be out there and excited for the challenge, and I thought he rose to it. I said it Monday, and I mean it: I think Bell is the best wide receiver in the country and to have that type of performance from Greg and our entire sky team was awesome.
On the defensive line: Eku [Leota] was phenomenal. He was active. The whole group, Earnie [Earnest Brown IV], Tommy [Adetomiwa Adebawore], the list goes on and on. The way that Joe [Spivak] and Jake [Saunders] are playing inside, and we’re rolling our next group of guys through, it’s been healthy competition, and all those guys want to play and make a difference not only against the run but also making an impact in the passing game. There will be a lot we can improve on but nonetheless a very active night from our defensive line.
On Purdue’s defense: From my vantage point on the boundary, it seemed like nine [Purdue defensive tackle Lorenzo Neal] was dominant. It looked like he played his rear end off. Credit him; he’s a great player. It looked like some other guys were really active too: 55 [Purdue linebacker Derrick Barnes] was jumping off the tape to us when we were watching them. Some of their guys played very well. They had quite a few guys in the box, and we tried to take some shots, and they reacted pretty well, credit them. We found a way to get it done. Really proud of our offense for the way they responded after some really tough plays. They did a good job.
On Zander Horvath: Just tackle the damn ball carrier. Put that on a t-shirt. That’s all I’m gonna say. Tackle the damn ball carrier. It’s not rocket science. It’s fourth down. Hell of a play by him.
On what’s surprised him halfway through the season: I just think our guys are tough. There haven’t been any yellow-brick road games, I guess the Maryland game, but they’re a damn good team too now. I think they woke up after they played us. We’ve taken on three of our west foes. We’ve found a way to get it done, and we’re gonna enjoy this tonight, get back home safe, rest up for obviously a huge challenge for next weekend. I’m just proud of the guys’ resiliency and toughness. You keep going up the latter, and it’s going to keep getting more challenging.
On how this year’s defense compares with previous years’ defenses: We got four regular season chapters to write, so I would say that the first four chapters of the book have been pretty outstanding. It’s been D-Line making plays, linebackers making plays. We’re getting production from all three levels. When you have that, you have the makings of a group that, if they keep playing this way, could be pretty spectacular. It’s from the work they’re putting in during the week. They’re putting it in with film study, with the way they’re taking care of their bodies and the way they’re practicing. I’m really proud of the way those guys are going at it.
On Peyton Ramsey: If he’s not the most experienced quarterback in the Big Ten, I’m not sure who is. He shows it. He was really mad at himself when he fumbled the ball and didn’t have two hands on the ball and scrambled. The pick: we make that play that close to really being a special night. I don’t want to speak for him but it looks like he’s having a lot of fun. This guy is awesome. He’s a fun guy to be around every day. He’s got a great demeanor. He’s a terrific leader, and he is who he is all the time. He doesn’t just show up in the building and act a certain way for game day. He’s been so consistent since we’ve had him and so thankful that we do.
On the secondary: The way we’ve reacted to adversity: I think we’ve responded boldly. I don’t think we’ve gotten down. There’s been some things that have happened that have been self-inflicted. Purdue, they’re on scholarships too; they’re gonna make some plays. I think our defense has been just incredibly resilient. We won the game, and someone finally scored in the second half, so we can finally stop talking about that nonsense and just move forward and just keep on trying to be better.
On the field goal unit: It starts with the snap. Doc [LS Tyler Gillikin] does a great job. You talk about a guy in medical school doing a great job snapping the ball. Unbelievable. I can’t even spell some of the classes he’s in. He’s a stud. Derek [Adams] and Charlie [Kuhbander] are new battery. Derek’s doing a great job holding. I just see Charlie’s at an all-time high confidence-wise. Jeff Genyk did a really good job with Charlie handling kickoffs this year, staying in the game. He’s done a phenomenal job.
On sustaining momentum throughout the season: It’s a one-game season. I think all coaches say that. We must have the same book where we get that. We’re going to enjoy this tonight and get ready for an outstanding football team next week. At the same time, we have to rest and recover. I think our guys have put in so much work to get to this point: No reason to stop now. Keep the pedal down and keep grinding.
On the opening drive touchdown: We all do the same thing. You put together your first 10, 15, 20 plays that you feel really good about, that you feel like potentially could end up working out well for you, and then you build complements. It’s a great job by Jake [OC Mike Bajakian]. We’re four weeks into this staff being together. I see us growing. We’re going to keep getting better as a staff. After that, we can become better teachers and coaches to our guys. It’s a work in progress and we just gotta keep grinding.
On RCB’s play: It was awesome. If you’re inside our facility, you know what he brings to the table. He’s a really good player and a really hard worker. He works on his game and on his craft so much to be a great player. It was fun to see him out there have a really big game for us today.
On how he leads the offense: Keeping the guys rolling on the sideline, making sure that our confidence is high, showing those guys that we’re able to move the ball even when our run game isn’t rolling. We have so many talented guys on our offense that as long as we get the ball in their hands we’re going to be alright. I don’t think the leadership has anything to do with touchdowns. I think it’s the communication on the sidelines and the communication on the field and then just staying calm and composed when we’re out there.
On regaining momentum after his interception: It’s always hard when you put your defense in a tough spot. The last thing you want to do is give the other team the ball with good field position. Personally, I knew how big that next drive coming out was and that we had to regain momentum and get some confidence in our offense. It was a big drive we were able to string together and put points on the board. We just had to shake it off, had to flush it and try to go get some points.
Greg Newsome II
On competing against David Bell: I love competing. He’s a great receiver. Statistically, you can tell he’s a great receiver. It was a competition, I knew I’d be following him the whole game so I was ready.
On the secondary’s confidence: It’s unbelievable. We’re at an all-time high right now. We talk a lot but we’re confident. We know that if we keep our eyes in the right position we can make plays. I love the way we’re playing right now. We have a bunch of guys out there that are playing hard. We have AJ coming in, Rod coming in, Cam coming in. We had about four or five of us on the field at one time. I think we’re playing at an all-time high right now.
On the plays he made against David Bell: Just him running fades. I know that’s something they like to do. I’m a press corner, so I’m going to press. I know there’s going to be some shots down the field. I was just happy with the way I played the deep ball today.
On what he was thinking after his first touchdown: Let’s go get another one. I was super excited, but I was just ready for the O to go get another one.
On Peyton Ramsey’s communication: Peyton, since day one, has taken initiative. Whether it be meetings, film, extra throwing sessions, food, he’s always taking lead. That goes into the communication piece. He’s taking care of business and making sure that everybody else is taken care of.
On wide receivers’ chemistry with Ramsey: We’re playmakers. Coach puts us in the right position to win, and Peyton puts the ball in the right position for us to win. Peyton trusts us and we trust Peyton. That’s how that thing works. From there, you just go. You go play and you play fast. You don’t really think about anything else.
On what he’s learned from last year: Through the losses, through the adversity and even through the wins, there are always diamonds in the rough, teaching points and things to learn from. Obviously last season didn’t go as planned, but we were able to learn as a team. For myself, I just really honed in on my skill as a receiver: watching film, watching how I was winning, how I was losing, how I was sharing reps, and I took that and worked on one thing every day in the offseason. It’s been paying off for myself and my teammates. We’re just going to try and continue to ball.
On the defensive line’s performance: I thought it was really good. I gotta give credit to the guys on the interior, 49 and 99, Tommy and Ernie B, for just pushing the pocket and making these rat holes where the quarterback comes underneath, and I can easily make the play. I gotta give credit where credit is due.
On the defense’s strengths: Our D-Line is always penetrating and making plays. They can’t run the ball on us because we just hit them in the mouth every single play.
On preparing for Purdue: We knew that Purdue liked to pass the ball a lot, and we knew that their quarterback liked to hold on to it. This week was a big stunt week for us pass rush-wise, so we put a little bit of different stunts that worked and it got home.