After defeating Wisconsin 17-7, Pat Fitzgerald, Kyric McGowan, Charlie Mangieri, Blake Gallagher and Brandon Joseph spoke to the media via Zoom. The Week Six depth chart remained unchanged.
On Mike Hankwitz: There’s probably no more successful coach as far as wins in college football right now than Hank and the humility that he approaches every day with. From the way that he works with our staff, the way that he teaches fundamental football... He just does a great job working with our offense too. He’s really just incredibly unselfish. He’s a great teacher of the game, a great teacher of life, a terrific man. It’s been just a joy and a privilege to work with him.
On the rushing attack: I think we’ve played some really good defenses. They’ve done a good job. And we gotta win our one on one battles. That is where our biggest opportunity for improvement is... We’ve got huge room for improvement in the run game. And it’s not gonna be easy against Michigan State. Let me be very clear: It’s going to be very challenging. But, we’ve got to get a lot better. It starts with all of us. It starts with us as coaches, putting our guys in the best positions schematically. We’ve gotta get better fundamentally, we gotta get better with our eyes. We’ve gotta hit the seams where they’re at. We’ve got to create bigger and better seams with the blocking of our offensive line and our tight ends. But, it’s a collective effort and we’ve got to continue to improve in that area. No question. That’s probably what’s most exciting right now about our football team is we haven’t played still a complete game. Again, that’s not disrespectful to our opponents. We haven’t put together a full three phases. We’ve found different ways to win but there’s no secret, we’ve gotta be able to run the football better. It’s gonna be a huge challenge against the Spartans.
On the linebacking core: I think Tim McGarigle does an unbelievable job with those linebackers. I had the privilege of coaching him. The way he teaches fundamental football at that position is outstanding. And then the guys taken to it. He’s not gonna be a guy who’s gonna sugarcoat anything. Our guys play the way he coaches them and teaches them to play. I see Tim’s DNA all over the group. Paddy, Blake and Chris have been just as good as anybody I’ve had the privilege to coach as a collective group. They want to do everything they can to be incredibly unselfish teammates to help our team win. That’s what those three guys are doing. They are the heartbeat of our football team, there’s no question about that.
On the rollercoaster of this season: The discipline that our guys have demonstrated socially has been something that has been incredible. As we started training camp to today, knock on wood, we have not had a positive COVID test in our entire football program. I think that credit first and foremost starts with the players. We as coaches and staff members, I remind everybody if not daily, pretty darn close to daily, about the choices we have to make. I know it’s a great sacrifice on our families. But, we are all doing everything we can to be in somewhat of a pseudo-bubble. I think it was a rollercoaster to start. It was tough. It was really hard. Since we’ve gotten back together, they’ve been really focused, they’ve been really disciplined and I think its carried over into our play.
On the season so far and similarities to 2018: We’ve got a bunch of chapters left on this one before I’m ready to look and give an overview of it. But I would say, through five weeks, there’s similarities in the preparation. This group really takes the time at all three levels to truly get themselves mentally, physically and emotionally prepared to go compete. I think our communication is similar, I think they’re bought into each other. They are playing for each other. Those three similarities really jump out to me, if I were to name three. But, like I said, we got chapters to go and games to go. It’s a fun group to watch play. They play hard.
On the comparisons to 2018: We’re just focused on going 1-0. That’s all that matters. A year ago, you can go back and read the articles, it’s here, it’s here, right? That’s the feeling. It’s kind of like everything else. We wanna ride that rollercoaster. I hope you’ve got a vomit bag with you, it’s a wild ride, right? You gotta stay focused on what’s important. That’ll be what we’re doing right now. Every team is a little bit different. No one could have ever predicted what we are going through right now, from COVID and everything off the field. It’s hard to reflect when we still have huge challenges and opportunities in front of us.
On the team’s handling of the pandemic: I think it starts with our medical providers first. Jeff Mjaanes, our great team physician, and Kevin Kikugawa, our head athletic trainer. Since the minute we came back, it’s all been about the health and safety of our young men and then the health and safety of our entire program. So every policy, every procedure, every protocol that we put in place is with that in mind. Has it been fluid? Yeah. And have things changed and evolved? Somewhat. At the same time, I think the credit goes to our players. I think it’s really hard to be a college student-athlete and say ‘hey guys, listen I don’t want you to do anything socially.’ And then for them to follow up and really follow through with that. I think they’ve done a great job just staying in self-contained bubbles families to the best of their ability. Our families have been awesome. When our families have come into town, we’ve worn masks, we’ve stayed socially distant. We’ve done the hygiene side. The credit goes to everybody in their individual day-by-day choices. Again, I’m knocking on wood, we are very respectful of the pandemic, we understand that this is real and we’re working really hard to do everything we can that we can control to keep our guys healthy and safe.
On the Fightin’ Rece Davises: We’ve got a lot of guys that are playing as well as Joey Galloway. He was a heck of a player. I think our guys ran with it and had a little bit of fun and enjoyed it. We had Rece join us this morning for our squad meeting. He was awesome. Earnest [Brown IV] was cheesing him after the game and Rece was cheesing him today. It was a lot of fun, we really enjoyed it. Listen, Rece is a great guy, Joey is a great guy. We had a little bit of fun with it. The guys said it to me, I didn’t even know about it. Kyric sent it to me in our unity council group chat last week and said, ‘Hey I guess you’re the best Rece Davis coach in the country’, so we’re having some fun and enjoying it. You gotta try to find humor in a pandemic and a very challenging situation.
On Michigan State: They’re playing the way the Spartans have always played. Schematics are a little bit different. A lot of retention on the defensive side of the ball, obviously a new coordinator and a new DNA. Offensively, very different schematically. As far as what they have always been, Coach Tucker is going to put his philosophy and the way that he wants his team to play. In the first year, you look at all the coaches books. You’re normin’ and stormin’, right? You are creating new norms. You are creating new expectations. You are kind of going through a little bit of a storm while all those changes are happening. Once you get through that, there comes the formation of the foundation of what you are doing. You are starting to see that happen right now. They are incredibly talented. They’re not very far removed from being at the top of the Big Ten. It’s a very, very talented roster.
On the team’s preparation: You gotta understand why you win. You win because of the way you prepare. I say the same things every week because that’s what I say to the team. I’m not focused on anything other than getting our team ready for tomorrow’s practice. That’s our challenge as a staff and that’s our guys challenge. We’ve gotta get healed up. That was a very physical game so we’ve gotta get healed up. Our guys are going to take care of their bodies and get their recovery in the right spot. We’ve gotta put together a better plan as a coaching staff. We found a way to win, but we were very critical of ourselves, especially offensively yesterday, and we want to present a better plan to our guys so that they can go out and execute and play to the best of their abilities, as fast and as physical as possible. We’ve gotta do what mature teams do, you move on. You go back, you have a 24 hour rule, win or lose. You celebrate the victories, you learn from the defeats. You wake up on Monday after you get done watching the tape. And then by Monday, when you leave the facility, you’re moved on.
On the passing of former strength coach Joe Orozco: Joe has the best line: ‘if you are juiceless, you are useless’. We’ll start there. If you met joe for one minute, you met Joe for a lifetime. He had so much passion and energy. He was a great teacher in the weight room of fundamental and technique to keep our guys healthy and safe. He spent a lot of time with our big guys, with our O-line and D-line. Not that he wasn’t with the other guys, but that was his primary focus. I think to show how he grew and developed, professionally, to have Adam Cushing get his first head coaching job and to take Joe with him in a critical role to be his head strength coach I think speaks to the impact that Cush knew that Joe would have. Our guys absolutely love and adore Joe. To have his family with us postgame was something I’ll never forget. It was really special and just thankful that they were able to be a part of it. So, we are going to miss Joe dearly. His spirit will be with us, we hope to carry on his spirit with the way we live our lives, the way we impact others. Just so thankful to have him be a part of our lives.
On his first career TD at MSU: Definitely. I for sure remember that. I think they busted coverage, ended up getting behind them. It was a pretty good feeling to get the first TD under my belt. Definitely excited to get back to it.
On the trust between the WRs and Peyton Ramsey: Our wide receiver core is at an all-time high right now and it’s also at an all-time high with Peyton. We believe that he’s gonna put the ball in the right place and we just gotta trust that we’re gonna get in the right spot. As long as those things work out, we’re gonna be successful in moving the chains and scoring touchdowns. It also allows us to play a lot more confidently knowing that we have someone back there that we’re gonna trust to get us in the right checks, make the right reads and stuff like that. It’s honestly got the whole offense playing really confident right now.
On his role in the offense this season: It’s grown a lot. From getting handoffs and going deep to going across the middle, it’s all been really fun. I’ll say that to begin with. It’s put a new perspective of just making plays for me. I’m usually making different types of defenders miss, sometimes its D-line, sometimes its linebackers or safeties. Doing that, it kind of helps out my game and my matchup who I’m going against. I’m seeing a lot of new positions and see a lot of new matchups. It’s something I really like and look forward to each game.
On the pressure of scoring in a low score game: For us, on the sideline, it was one, just stay positive. We knew it was only going to take one big block, one big play, to get things going. Also, we were talking on the sidelines, like, we’ve gotta capitalize off these turnovers that our defense is causing. Whether it’s an interception or fumble recovery, whatever it may be, we gotta come out of those drives with points and not just go completely three-and-out.
On NU traditionally winning games with defense: It’s kind of different. We are a threat on offense. Whether it’s out on the perimeter or running the ball. I don’t feel like we’ve, yet, put all phases together. When we put all that together, we will be really, really lethal. I think we’re playing really confident. I don’t think that that’s been there necessarily in the past few years... that’s kind of the difference right now.
On RCB: I am really excited for him. He is getting what he deserves, but I am not surprised. He has always been ready, just preparing for that moment when his name is called. He stepped up big time. I am proud of him for that. He also was the first one to say when we were off the field to say ‘Hey, flush it. Get back to work,’ with being a leader to the young guys. Also, still playing special teams on our punt unit, that speaks a lot for itself. That’s not something you see a lot from a starting WR, especially in the Big Ten. He’s a good all-around guy and his leadership is unmatched.
On the tight end’s usage: I think he’s done a really good job integrating us. I think we work really well together, me and John. He’s a good route runner, stuff like that, he can also block. When we can both come in, I think it’s a good mismatch for both of us to be in there on defenses and switch it up a little bit.
On his first career touchdown last week: It’s definitely a moment I will never forget in my life playing against a great team like Wisconsin, a top 10 matchup. Honestly, I was just thinking about doing my job. I’m not really the first read there. But, first read gets covered, I’m in the back, hopefully something good will come out of it. Kinda made eye contact with Peyton, threw my hand up and the rest is history there.
On the outside noise: We didn’t really pay attention to too much of the outside stuff. We knew what we had in this building and we knew if we put it all together on the field that we were going to have a special group. That started in spring ball when we were able to get spring ball practice and then we all got sent home. Continued to work. We knew we had a special group. That’s what we’re doing right now. We just need to keep tunnel vision on one week at a time. Just worry about going 1-0 every week and let the rest of the stuff work itself out.
On not finishing the regular season after Thanksgiving weekend: It’s a weird year in general. We have to adapt and do a bunch of different things. We’re just kind of adapting to the practice schedule just a little bit to make sure we’re fresh on game day, but we’re still gonna practice hard, practice fast. All of that stuff will work itself out. It will be a little bit of a different schedule having that longer stretch after Thanksgiving, but we didn’t have games on the front end. So, I think it all kind of levels itself out a little bit.
On his ability to intercept the football: Intercepting the ball is just something I’ve always done. I’ve been playing safety since I was in fourth grade. I’ve just been reading quarterbacks. Being able to see where they want to put the ball. And then film study and learning the route combinations and learning what this offense and what the opposing offenses are going to do. Just doing everything I can when I’m out there. Combining all those things is the reason I am able to get these interceptions.
On his approach to the game: We’ve just been putting an emphasis on turnovers. After that Maryland game, I knew I was able to play college football. I got those nerves out and I was like ‘alright I can do this.’ And then, go out, week two, get interceptions against Iowa, I’m like ‘alright, I guess I can still intercept the ball in college.’ And then I go out and keep trying to do it every week.
On the secondary’s approach after Wisconsin’s first TD: Flush it. Plays like that happen. We play football, you get beat sometimes, you flush it...Cam [Ruiz] knew he got beat and he didn’t let it happen again. That’s our mindset when we go back out there. If it happens, alright. That happens, it’s football. It’s not going to happen again. That’s the mindset that we have around the field. If we give up a play, get back out there and do your thing. We were out there every time not letting the offense score.
On the area of his game that he is working to improve: Intercepting the ball, playing the ball is something that I’ve always done. Getting to this transition of college, I really wanted to focus on tackling. That’s a part of my game that I want to continue to improve on. I’m making tackles, I don’t think I’m doing it the right way. I think I can work on my technique and continue to improve on the tackling standpoint.
On the swagger of the secondary: Them boys love talking. I am not out there talking so much. Them boys love talking. It’s a swagger that we have and it’s been working for us lately. We think we’re out there, we gonna win every single rep and we’re gonna continue to ride that wave. Greg talks the most. He talks to everyone. He’ll talk to coaches, players, everyone.