Following Northwestern’s 21-13 win over Nebraska, Fitz, Peyton Ramsey, Riley Lees, Brandon Joseph and Chris Bergin addressed the media.
Opening Statement: Our thoughts and prayers are with the Kraft and the Jarvis family. We lost two giants in the Northwestern Athletics family here over the last couple weeks, and our thoughts and prayers are with their families. Appreciate our partners in Under Armour here on the eve of veteran’s day. Are thoughts are with those who serve and have served, and we’re very thankful for all your sacrifice. For the game, we got going going with a pretty good drive but the turnovers stopped us from getting anything going offensively. Our defense saved us in the first half. We got the big return to start the second half and that got us kickstarted. To put the drive together and seize momentum was key. Big stops in the red zone — big interception by Brandon. Credit Nebraska, they’re so talented offensively, and defensively they were able to stymie us a little bit. We are going to work diligently to improve this week. Really proud of the kicking game. I thought that was key in this game. The great punt coverage, explosive returns, great punting by Derek. I know Charlie had the one that he missed, but he struck it well — it probably would’ve been good from 60.
On holding opponents scoreless in the second half: We’ve got a veteran group over there that are pretty unflappable, and I think our young talent is gaining more confidence as they play. And our veteran staff, I think this is Hank’s 396th win. When you have veterans calling the game, it gives you the confidence to go out and execute.
On Nebraska’s quarterbacks: We looked at this game with their offense as an opener. We had one game of empirical data with this team, so we looked at it like the opener. To have McCaffrey come out late, both of those quarterbacks are absolutely outstanding. I think they averaged 60 yards per quarterback draw, so lots of room to improve for our defense.
On matching last year’s win total: We talked about it last year to make a decision individually, collectively and as a program on how we are going to respond to never allow what happened last year to happen again. The credit goes to our players and how they’ve handled it and to our staff — just to stick together and working to get better. Today was an ugly game. We’ve got to get better in a lot of ways, but a win is a win. I’ve approached this year with a thankful mindset just to be able to coach these guys and have the opportunity to be out on the field. I can’t thank our medical team enough.
On Brandon Joseph: B-Jo is a heck of a player, and he’s a young guy. He and I were walking into the tunnel together into the Bueller Athletic center after the game. I saw he had a look on his face like he was a little upset, and I said, “Tell me about how you played. You look like you don’t think you played very well.” And he was like, “No I didn’t play very well at all.” Brandon is a young player that this started last year. He diligently worked to learn the defense. We put a lot on our safeties. Mike Bajakian at one of our spring practices, he didn’t know anybody’s name, he was like, “Who’s 16? That guy’s pretty good. Do you think he can play on offense?” For an independent person who hadn’t been around our program to be able to say that is indicative of Brandon’s first three weeks and offseason.
On Peyton Ramsey: I thought the first one was a freak deal. If he puts one more yard of air on it, that’s an explosive pass play, and credit Nebraska for that play. Then, their guy jumped the out cut. A couple third downs down the road, we ran the exact same idea. It sure helps to have a veteran at that position. I think he’s been really good when things haven’t gone well. He’s tough as nails. He’s 1-0 three times.
On Isaiah Bowser: IB just wasn’t quite full speed this week. He wanted to play in the worst way today. That was our decision. We’ve got a lot of big games ahead of us. We wanted to give him a week to get as close as he can to 100%. We could’ve had him as an emergency back today. We made the decision pregame not to dress him. I think we have really good depth there. That strength staff should take a lot of credit for getting our whole roster prepared, not just the starters. Evan looked physical. He’s doing yoga every single morning. His time will come. I’m really proud of Drake and the way he played today.
On Ramsey’s leadership: I think he’s been really calm. He’s a coach’s son. He’s played a ton of football in this league. He’s had really good games and a couple of tough plays, but he’s responded consistently in the same mindset every time. That’s what you want out of your offensive leader.
On the pass interference calls: You’ve got to respond. Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% what you’re going to do about it. I thought our guys were awesome on the field. They had a great look in their eye, great confidence. I thought they responded very well.
On Paddy Fisher and Chris Bergin: That group of three with Gally, Bergin and Paddy, it goes back to the way they prepare. Those guys are relentless. They practice the same way they play — I have to slow them down sometimes. I think their backups are pretty darn good too. Timmy McGarigle does a fantastic job with those linebackers. I think they’re outstanding leaders. Win or lose, there’s a consistency with the way they play.
On bouncing back: We just knew that we were beating ourselves. The message was simple: “Just keep chipping away and execute one thing at a time, and things are going to fall into place.” Credit their defense, they’re good, but we didn’t execute as well as we should have.
On his performance: Not my best for sure, especially in the first half, but at the end of the day, made plays when we had to — a couple scrambles there, a couple big throws in the second half. I can be better, I know I can. I’ve been better all week at practice. Just bouncing back and continuing to go to work, but I can be better for sure.
On John Raine: John’s a really good player, really talented. He’s a matchup problem there for linebackers and safeties because he’s so athletic in space. We saw it coming. We knew he was a good player. We saw it that first week against Maryland. He can get open. He can cause problems — much improved blocker as well. We’re excited he’s on our team because he’s definitely a playmaker.
On Riley Lees touchdown: Just a simple progression for me. He was actually yelling at me before I threw the ball, clapping his hands telling me he was open. He made a great play. It was good for us — big momentum booster.
On his touchdown: I got a little excited, and [Peyton] heard me. When the ball comes our way as receivers, that’s when we got to go try to make a play, and that’s what happened.
On coming back from injury: This year has made me super grateful for football in general and having to miss a, it game sucks, but I was really happy to be out there with the guys. As for the receiver room, I think we have a lot of depth, and the young guys that are coming in are doing their job and making plays — you saw that with Bryce Kirtz and Malik today, but we got a lot of guys that are capable of making plays.
On shutting out opponents at halftime: We go into halftime knowing the game’s not over yet, even in that first game against Maryland when we were destroying them or this game or last name when it was close. That’s the mindset that we have going into the second half — the game’s not over yet, and we just have to keep pushing.
On penalties: We see a penalty, and we keep playing. We keep going. We know we’ve got to get that stop.
On facing dynamic quarterbacks: We let them get loose a few times out of the pocket, and that creates another threat on the ground, and it’s something you’ve got to keep an eye on the whole game. We can play a lot better in that aspect. We let Martinez and McCaffrey get loose way too many times, and that’s on us as linebackers to contain and corral a player like that knowing that’s what they’re going to do.
On shutting out opponents at halftime: It’s a 60-minute fight every game. To go into halftime thinking that the game is over would be extremely immature, and that’s not the kind of defense we feel like we are.
On penalties: Penalties are part of the game of football. We don’t think too much about it and we respond. If we were to sit there and think about it, we probably would’ve given up a lot more points. You take it for what it is and live to fight another down. You can’t get a touchdown on a penalty.
On red zone defense: It’s a personal challenge. Threes don’t beat us. We get down to that red zone and we fight. We know what’s at stake — them scoring a touchdown vs. a field goal is night and day in terms of momentum and confidence.