Fresh off of their comeback win in Iowa City, Pat Fitzgerald, Paddy Fisher, Jake Saunders and Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman adressed reporters. As the team prepares for its Week Three matchup with Nebraska, it released its two-deep, which remains unchanged from last week’s. Shortly after the press conference, the Big Ten announced Northwestern’s November 14 game at Purdue will kick off at 6:30 p.m. CT.
Opening statement: Fitz opened with this week’s players of the game: Kyric McGowan on offense, Jake Saunders on defense and Derek Adams, whom he lauded for safely fielding a high snap on the final punt of the game, on special teams. The playmakers of the week are Jesse Brown on offense and both Brandon Joseph and Blake Gallagher on defense. Fitz’s practice players of the week were Greyson Metz on special teams, Ben Wrather on offense and PJ Spencer on defense. Fitz then addressed on the passing of Bill Jarvis, the long-time equipment manager after whom Ryan Field’s equipment room is named.
“We lost a giant in the Northwestern football family in Bill Jarvis,” he said.
Fitz then mentioned a schedule change, telling reporters that the team held its first workout of the week on Sunday night instead of Monday morning in order to give players and staff the day off on Tuesday to vote. Fitz himself said that he’ll be voting at 6 a.m. on Tuesday. He then turned to the Wildcats’ upcoming opponent, the Nebraska Cornhuskers, whom he called “explosive on offense.” He called the Huskers “incredibly talented” and said that in a variety of areas, the result of Nebraska’s 52-17 beatdown at the hands of Ohio State were not indicative of their quality of a football team. He said Nebraska is “as talented as anybody we’ll play all year,” but says the top priority right now for the team is getting themselves rested after a Sunday practice.
On the status of Riley Lees and Greg Newsome II: “We’ll release our active list on Saturday, but thanks for asking.”
On developing the team’s ability to generate momentum in the offseason: “I think, first of all, credit goes to our players. Last year it was a really sour taste in our mouth and we all owned it…Credit goes especially to our older players. I think that they came into the offseason and attacked it and wanted to work restore the pride that a lot of these guys have and they’ve earned. That’s what it takes, you’ve got to go out and earn it in the arena, and they came in ready to go when we got into spring ball.”
On the team’s engagement in the election: “I think everybody across the country is really engaged. It’s always important that we do this from a standpoint of being actively involved and making our country and locations better and really doing things we can do from an opportunity standpoint to make people’s lives better...The Big Ten has done a lot of initiatives, our athletic department has done a lot of education initiatives. We’ve worked hard from an education standpoint about how to register to vote, how to do absentee and mail-in voting and strongly encouraging our guys to get out tomorrow and be a part of the civic opportunity that we all have. I’m proud of our guys. We got a lot of guys engaged. I know that Bryce Jackson is on some committees with the Big Ten, really proud of him...same thing with Coach Lou, Coach Springer, Coach Long, getting some engagement opportunities with the Big Ten. The entire group has done a really job of listening to each other, learning from each other, being empathetic, and then respecting each other and being brothers and sisters together to learn from each other. I think we’ve all grown.”
On controlling COVID outbreaks after issues at other Big Ten schools: “It’s been one day at a time, one social interaction at a time…it’s on all of us, it’s from our equipment staff, our athletic strength and conditioning staff, our coaching staff, our support staff, our players, families, the significant others in our lives. Everybody’s got a role in this, we’ve got to make sure we’re making the best choices we possibly can. I’ve talked to our guys about tightening up their social circle. Stay consistent with who you’re around, know who you’re around, know what they’re doing.”
On facing a Nebraska team coming off a bye: “It’s a big advantage for Nebraska. They had a week off to rest up, they obviously got to a chance to watch us play. We were in a four-quarter war, and a really physical game, you could see the whole program here, so we just have to get recovered. That’s the whole staff, too, not only our players. So, yeah, it’s a huge advantage for them. I know they would have much rather have played last week, I don’t think that’s hidden in any shape or form, but it’s a fluid situation for all of us, and we’ve got to get rested and focus on our recovery.”
On any times he can recall having a schedule in flux: “The last time, and this is a tragedy, I remember a disjointed schedule like that was 9/11. We were getting ready to go out to practice and obviously everything changed in a moment’s notice. Two very different times, but at the same time it’s influences outside of your program that impact your day-to-day routine. This is a fluid situation for all of us in the country, let alone college football, so I’m really proud of our guys. They’ve made great choices.”
On facing Nebraska in Scott Frost’s third year: “Year 3 is very different. Year 1 you’re just getting to know everybody. Year 2, everybody knows what to expect and you start to really get your systems honed in and knowing your personnel. Year 3, you’ve got three classes in the building. They’ve done a great job in recruiting. They’re very, very talented, and they’ve got some new pieces that are also very talented. We’ve got to play a lot cleaner, we’ve got to take care of the football better, we’ve got to start faster. There’s a lot of room for improvement for us, that’s been a big focus for us.”
On slotting Joe Spivak at fullback: “Just kinda talking about what fullbacks we wanted to have… When we said, ‘Hey, would you be willing to be maybe a short yardage guy, a package guy maybe on the goal line, would you be interested,” he said ‘hell yeah, brother, let’s go.’ He’s all jacked up...I thought he played really well Saturday at d tackle. He’s just relentless, he and Jake did a great job and we’re gonna need him to do so again against a very athletic, explosive and dynamic offense in Nebraska.”
On Bill Jarvis: “I don’t know how to put into words just a guy who was selfless, would do anything for our players or staff. Everybody knew Jarv. If you were to talk to anyone about Mr. J, they would just tell you how much they loved him, how thankful they are that he touched each and every one of their lives. I’m going to really miss him. To say that he and I interacted weekly would be an understatement. It was very frequent, and he was someone I loved dearly. He’ll always have a special place in my heart. He’s probably up there talking with my mom making jokes about me.”
On whether he’s anticipating a close games against Nebraska after the last few years: “Sure, why not expect a close game. It’s all about the fans, so let’s keep it close to keep everyone watching all the way through. We’ll be ready to adjust with poise and find a way to win.”
On the defensive line’s limited rotation: “It was tough, but I think we were well prepared from practice throughout the week... obviously, we would love to have Jason and Trevor back, but we played the game with the guys we had and we knew we’d have to fight with the depth we’ve had. I thought we did great. I thought the young guys stepped in when they had to….they were vital, stepping up when they had to…I thought Spivak and I fought hard. It was probably more snaps than we’ve ever had in our career but I think we were ready for it.”
On playing alongside Joe Spivak and watching him make plays at fullback: “Joe is one of my best friends on the team. He brings insane energy every day. No matter what, you can count on him to bring the juice, and that creates a great chemistry when we’re out there. He’s a great communicator, he’s vocal…If I have a bad play he’s there to pick me right back up.
“He was unaware of the stat of the fullback assist, so I had to inform him there was a stat our there that showed he was doing his job…We got to get him a better-fitting helmet for when he’s out there landing some of these blocks on people, it seems like he might be cutting his nose up a little bit. Lot of good fullback assists out there, and he brings the juice as soon as he gets back. That gets him going before we go back out on defense.”
On Nebraska’s two-quarterback setup: “It’s going to be a challenge, most definitely. They’ve got two great quarterbacks, McCaffrey and Martinez who’s been there for a couple of years now…They’re both tremendous athletes and passers, so it’s going to be difficult for us to come up with a game plan to stop both of those two and really limit them. And the tempo too, they’re both going to come out in tempo. We’ve got to prepare for that, so that adds another wrinkle, too.”
On how preparing for Nebraska’s tempo in practice: “Yeah, our scout team is doing a tremendous job of getting the tempo really fast, we’re out there and they’ve got the scout cards on the big screen so they can look up instead of huddling up, so they’re able to go lighting fast, and that helps a lot.”
On generating more takeaways this season: “You know, it’s just one of those things. Last year we didn’t come out with the ball as much as we wanted to, and in my opinion, it was just kind of an anomaly of a year. Now this year, we spent a lot of time in the offseason and in practices harping on it...so just really getting that ingrained in our minds, making it muscle memory and second nature. We’re starting to see the pieces come together, and there’s no explanation for it other than that we’re really thinking about it every play. Of course we want to tackle the ball carrier, but we’re thinking ball every play. Our back seven, our safeties are doing great jobs of breaking up passes, making interceptions and taking the ball away.”
On what steps he’s taking to have a stronger mental approach this year: “There’s a learning curve to it. It’s one thing to start and begin making it muscle memory, harping on the takeaways, it’s one thing to be in the beginning stage. When you move forward and progress, you get out of the learning stage, and now it’s repetition so many times that it’s all you’re thinking about..but you’ve got to get past this learning curve first, and that’s when it flows smoothly and comes together.”
On the “next man up” mentality: “It’s good to see, we don’t want to see guys coming in and not knowing what to do, what to expect in the playbook...It’s good to see guys come in and really care and want to make plays, step up and really be there for the greater good of the team…We’ve been really holding each other accountable, especially on the defensive side, because we don’t know, especially during these times, you could miss two-three weeks with a positive test and injuries as well.”
On who has been bringing the juice most in the first few weeks: “Non-travel guys, but also some of our guys that travel with us that may not have a role on the field with special teams or in the two deep, those guys have been really bringing the juice. Ray Niro to think of one, Spivak of course, but it’s a group of guys that just kinda sell out for those 60 minutes of ball that we’re playing, and they’re being really selfless, making it fun for us out there.”
On whether he expects anything new from Adrian Martinez this season: “There are definitely throwing in some new things with him, some new runs…he can make you miss tackles and make people miss. He’s extremely good throwing the ball, extremely good on his feet. We’ve seen a lot, and I know we’re gonna see more. Two weeks ago, he looked really good. They’re throwing in more wrinkles, and there are more things we’ll have to adjust to.”
On his responsibilities on running plays as a wide receiver: “As a receiver there’s always been an emphasis to be on the outside…there are steps that we can take to be better, especially after this week, but it’s just base rules, feet apart, strike. It’s important in this offense, to say the least. Being able to block on the outside open things up in the pass game as well.”
On his connection with Peyton Ramsey: “The connection is great, I’ve felt that since the first day I met him, even before we started throwing. It’s really good to get those completions in the game, but it’s not surprising. It’s what we do during the week, it’s what we did all summer, so it’s normal. Want more, always want more.”
On whether he wishes the team passed more: “I’m always excited, whether there’s a run play or whether there’s a pass play to win and to do my job. Even if it’s not a pass play, it’s opening up opportunities.”
On voting initiatives within the athletics department: “There have been a lot of initiatives. One that sticks out is NU Votes has been working hand-in-hand with the athletic department. We got on Zoom as student-athletes and they walked us through — especially for those of us from out-of-state, which is most of us — registering us to vote here, locally. I’ll be going to vote tomorrow. There’s also been other initiatives and other opportunities, providing actually learning what’s on the ballot, who’s on the ballot, not just voting for the president, learning about the voting process and it’s been great.”
On whether playing Nebraska without two-key defensive backs in the first half is exciting: “As receivers, our mouths water over any DB we face. It’s an opportunity on Saturday to go ball and show everybody what we’re about. Whoever is in is in, we study film the same way, whether it’s the starter, whether it’s someone in the two-deep, or someone who’s never played, we’re watching film on him to give keys to us so that we can be dominant. Adjusting is the same thing. We do what we do.”
On what he wants to see improve in the passing game: “When our number is called, we make the plays. Coach Jake is gonna get us there, and Peyton, as you’ve all seen — it’s not just Peyton, it’s our o-line and the RBs.”
On whether he’s seen his route tree change: “We’ve got options. We’ve got field to work, we’ve got space to work. The big thing is just being able to be the receiver you are in this offense, and really use your skillset. Coach Jake is great at getting players in places to be successful. It’s not just a system, it’s also coaching the players in the system.”