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Postgame press conference notes from Northwestern’s quality win over Illinois


Following their dominant rivalry week victory on a freezing Evanston morning, Pat Fitzgerald, Paddy Fisher, Earnest Brown, Peyton Ramsey and Cam Porter spoke to the press.

Pat Fitzgerald

Opening Statement: “I’m really proud of our seniors, to get our sixth straight win against our rival is something we take very seriously around here. For our seniors to lead us to that victory today, just really thankful to them. Incredibly thankful for their families. A little bit of a different senior day without being able to honor them on the field like we typically do and not being able to honor them at the house. It’s something Stacy and the boys and I really look forward to after the last regular-season game and not being able to do that is disappointing. But just really thankful for those families. We also have great senior athletic trainers and equipment staff members, and they all know who they are. I said thank you to them on Thursday in front of the team. The team gave them a standing ovation. That’s what college football is all about. I know we’ve got the Army-Navy game coming up here, and it’s something that Stacy, myself and the boys always look forward to watching each year. It puts everything really into perspective about our game, it’s the purest form of college football. As I saw this morning, the commanding officers talk about brothers in arms. To those two great institutions at West Point and Annapolis and to Coach Niumatalolo, who’s a very good friend of mine that I’ve gotten to know incredibly well and obviously Jeff Monken at Army. Those two guys are the best, I texted with both of them this morning, wishing them both the best of luck. Just thankful for those types of things. It’s been a great season for us. We obviously stubbed our toe one time. But the rest of the year those guys have been resilient, they’ve been through a ton. Our entire football program has been through a ton. To go undefeated in the West again is something we take great pride in. To see the way that we finished this off today, giving a lot of guys the ability to play was a lot of fun. We’ll enjoy tonight and obviously on to a huge challenge this upcoming week. To all of the seniors that are covering us and I know maybe a lot of you are at home, just really, thankful for you, thankful for the ride. Hope you guys have had as much fun as I’ve had being with you.”

On run game: “We had, unfortunately, two weeks to prepare. We talked a lot last week about getting the run game going, like we’ve talked about all year, having competition in the backfield. Those guys haven’t been very pleased at all with our production. They’ve all been working really really hard, and I’m very thankful for them. They all want to carry the ball and they all want to play and I get it and I understand it. But it’s a production business and two guys really, obviously, Evan Hull and Cam Porter played outstanding football today, and I’m really proud of those two young guys. The first credit goes to the offensive line. We thought we were going to be able to win the six-inch war today, and we did. I’ll be very frank with you, our guys get called out, being called a little brother this week. If anyone would like to say anything derogatory to our players, please do so repeatedly this week. I would greatly appreciate the motivation. So, I will tell you that was not taken very kindly in our locker room.”

On who Peyton Ramsey is: “Winner. Gritty. Leader. Great teammate. Unflappable. Mature. Experienced. Just a joy to be around. Just to name a few.”

On Cam Porter’s role moving forward: “Like I said, we wanted more production out of that room. We have open competition at every position every week. If you make it close, we’re gonna try to play a lot of guys and rotate guys. If you solidify your job and play at an All-Big Ten level and play consistently, you’re typically going to earn that role, and you’re going to be in there probably the majority of the reps. We just haven’t been able to get the consistency going upfront. We haven’t been able to get the consistency going in the backfield. But we were able to put it all together today. Really proud of that offensive line, the tight ends, our receivers blocking and then obviously our two backs, the way they played. As far as schematics moving forward, I’m not giving you a peep on that, but we’ll get all of that figured out.”

On defensive consistency: “It starts and ends with Mike Hankwitz. Our guys call him the GOAT. I think today was win number 399 for him. The next one’s a pretty big deal to our players for him. I don’t want to get emotional right now, but he’s the best. When I decided to make a change a number of years ago and found out he was available, the first guy I called was Gary Barnett. I learned defense through Hank’s tree, through Ron Vanderlinden. I just said you got to do everything you can. I gave you an opportunity to go to the Rose Bowl Gary, so you got to help me get the opportunity to get Hank. He said ‘sounds fair to me, so payback,’ and he did a great job helping me. Hank and Cathy and Jake and Hank’s wonderful family, he’s the best. He’s a great teacher of the game, No. 1, he teaches our coaches, our young coaches. He’s unflappable with the staff. He won’t get too high or too down. He asked me a question today, and I got after him a little bit. He kind of looked at me like ‘I don’t wanna hear that,’ and we’re up by four scores. I hope I have as much juice and passion as he has when I get to be as distinguished as he is. It starts with him, and I think he does a great job allowing our assistant coaches to coach. As much experience as he has, he’s not a guy that runs every meeting, he’s not a guy that micromanages that side of the ball. He lets Marty Long, our great D-Line coach, Timmy McGarigle, who I brought back on staff and I thought was going to be an important piece, and then Matt MacPherson, who I moved over from offense. That group has just gelled so well, and it’s because of Hank’s leadership, so I know the guys were excited to get number 399. We were disappointed that today wasn’t number 400, but we got some opportunities ahead of us.”

On Big Ten allowing Ohio State to play in Big Ten Championship: “This is a very fluid season. It’s been fluid since day one. I think it’s a challenge for, most importantly, all of the players in the Big Ten and their families. We put a lot of hype into different things and into different decisions here or there, but the priority has been health and safety. We could never predict where the pandemic would lead each and every team on a day-by-day basis. To Ohio State’s credit, they’re undefeated. They’ve beaten everybody that they’ve been asked to play. Regardless of what would have happened today in the Michigan game, they would’ve earned the privilege out of the East to play in the Big Ten Championship game. I fully support the decision if that’s what the Big Ten decided to do. We’re just going to focus on what we can control and that was getting ready to play today. Then obviously it will be getting ready for next week starting here first thing in the morning.”

On next week’s matchup with OSU: “You guys aren’t even going to give me like an hour! I mean jeez, this is unbelievable. They’re a top-four team. If I had a vote, I’d vote them No. 2. I think they’re a complete football team, all three phases. It starts in the backfield, and he’s a great player. I said it last year, I was so blown away when I met Justin Fields and his family when he came here to campus. I was awestruck at who he was as a young man and his family, and I’m not surprised at all with the way that he’s played. Their offensive line and tight ends are physical, their backs are physical, and they take you to the house. All of their receivers are highlight reel guys. I mean, every time they touch the ball it’s a highlight reel. What jumps out to me is their defensive front linebackers. When I popped on the tape from last week’s game against Michigan State, their front seven dominated. Absolutely physically, fundamentally, pressure, dominated. They’ve got multiple first-rounders that are unbelievably talented. They have the best punter maybe in the nation. Punt returner, kick returner that can take it the distance. I’m sure we’re going to be underdogs by like 70. We’ll try to put together a good week and get ourselves prepared to represent the Big Ten West, again, which we’re very proud of. Any questions for me about my team?”

On the running game against Illinois: “The weather was quite a major factor in both of the past two years’ games. It was awful this morning. It got a little bit better around halftime and then got a little nasty again. I think the weather dictated some things that we had to do in both years’ games. Credit to our staff for putting together a really good plan and our guys executing it.”

On ‘Little Brother’ comment from Illinois’ Milo Eifler: “It was sent to me by somebody, and I made sure it was conveyed to the guys, very crystal clear, the level of disrespect. That’s ok. It is what it is. HAT stays in Evanston.”

On success against Illinois over the past two years: “Really unique season last year at the end. We had so many guys banged up, Ray Niro and Coco Azema really had to step up for us in the backfield. Andrew Marty had to go do some things a little bit unique that you probably couldn’t sustain throughout the whole season. We were only on the field for 14 plays in the first half. They were dominant a year ago. We let some things happen today, looked like we gave up some tackles by slipping, being a little bit out of control early. Credit their backs, they’ve got a really good offensive line down there in Champaign and two really, really physical, dynamic backs. We knew it was going to be tough stopping the run, but we also made it a little bit easier on them. We shored things up, I love the way our defense rose up on a sudden change. You give a team the ball inside your 20 to start it and they walk out of there with no points. That was big-time response by our defense.”

On early in-game adjustments: “I think it starts at the belly of your defense. From my vantage point, it looks like we were getting cut down on the backside, defensive linemen, and the ball was creasing inside where he got cut. It looked like we were sticking on blocks and not shedding blocks very well at the point of attack. Looks like our linebackers didn’t fit very well and then when we were there, we were a little out of control and missed some tackles early. Same thing with our safeties, kind of the third level of defense, when the ball gets there and you really haven’t slowed the running back down it’s a recipe for disaster. It was really one series, that second series. The guys came over, and they were really mad at themselves. You’ve got a veteran group, they were mad at themselves, and they just fixed it. They said instead of taking one extra step, we got to take two or three extra steps when we go tackle because the field was so slick. Credit to our players. They just settled down, settled in, played really well and played really dominant football. Our twos gave up some things at the end but our ones played their fannies off. To get them pretty much rested for pretty much the whole fourth quarter was awesome. Give a lot of credit to our guys, we knew we wanted to get a couple of scores in the third quarter to bring some guys into the game and some guys out of the game. Obviously, would have much rather would have scored on the fourth down that we fumbled, would’ve rather not given up the touchdown at the end. Credit the Illini on that.”

Paddy Fisher

On key to consistently high-performing defense: “Obviously we want to send Hank off with a win and get him to 400 career wins. He’s doing an unbelievable job, he’s always done a great job of play-calling and calculating play calls at the right time and the right situation. We’re playing for him, and we want to send him out right.”

On defending mobile quarterbacks: “We were confident going into this week. With a few minor changes with the D-Line and things of that nature of stopping the QB draw. We knew that that was one of our weak spots, so we attacked that and we’re confident moving forward.”

On the best thing the defense did today: “I think the best thing we did was get off the field. On third downs and fourth downs, we got off the field and gave our offense the opportunity to go score and make some drives happen.”

On comments from Illinois: “There’s some talk in the locker room. We take it personally, we kind of looked at that as a sign of disrespect. We’re not gonna let anyone disrespect us. We basically said, if they want to call us little bros then we’ll go out there and show them and earn our respect.”

On sending team out with a win: “I think it’s unbelievable. It’s something that hasn’t been done here in a long time. I know the record’s seven, but just to be able to send our seniors off with a win here, at home, on senior day, beating our rival for six years straight is just unbelievable.”

On finding out they were going to play OSU: “We were excited. We knew it was coming. We knew that they were going to let them go and play. We’re excited to hear that they’re going to be playing against us. A win against them, thinking about Coach Hank, sending him off with 400, that would be unbelievable, so we’re excited.”

On preparing to go head to head with OSU next week: “It means that we really need to just hone in our fundamentals and technique. We just need to have that focus throughout this week and that sense of urgency. We know what kind of team they are and what kind of plays they can make. It all comes down to our fundamentals, technique and doing our job.”

Earnest Brown IV

On defending mobile quarterbacks: “Just keep practicing because we know it was one of our huge mistakes in the last game. We let the QB scramble way too much. Just keep everything tight, don’t give them enough room, don’t create rat holes so he can have space to run is basically what we worked on this whole week.”

On the best thing the defense did today: “Constant three and outs. Giving the offense the chance to score, that’s really what we did a good job on.”

On comments from Illinois: “We felt a little disrespected, given the past six years now. You just gotta back up what you’re talking, that’s all it is. It just was motivation and fuel for the game. We just used that against them.”

On the sending team out with a win: “I mean this is huge, six straight, you can’t ask for much more. We fought hard, let the seniors out with a win, can’t ask for anything better than that.”

On finding out they were going to play OSU: It’s very exciting, competing against one of the best teams in the country. Just putting forth that effort, executing everything and finally we reach here, the biggest stage. Some of these players, the younger guys, the biggest stage of their careers. It just means a lot.”

On preparing to go head to head with OSU next week: “The main thing around this week will be focus, focus, focus. With this team, you can’t have too many mistakes. Really good team, we got to do what we got to do. Defense, we’re going to come in with a bang. Offense got to do what they do. We just gotta focus in.”

Peyton Ramsey:

On 17-play TD drive: “I think that’s kind of been something that we’ve done throughout the course of the year is go for it on fourth down. I think we really respect that because Coach Fitz is telling us that he believes in us, that he has faith in us to stay out on the field and go and execute. I think it sent a message to us and the rest of our team to continue to march and convert on those fourth downs. Kinda sealed the deal with that drive even though it was early on in the game.”

On confidence in defense: “We already have confidence in our defense. It didn’t take a goal-line stand, but it was a momentum changer in the game for sure. They gained it really quick and then our defense had a stand which was huge. We were all able to go down and score. Obviously playing with this kind of defense already gives us a ton of confidence.”

On returning to Indianapolis: “It’s kind of poetic, really. The opportunity to go play in the Big Ten championship, something I’ve dreamed about for so long. I took a step back this week and kind of thought about my journey. As it’s nearing the end, not taking anything for granted, enjoying every moment, enjoying every practice, every single day coming in and hanging out with the guys. It’s kind of just me taking a step back and enjoying it because it’s something that I’ve dreamed about for so long.

On respect from Indiana program: “It means a lot. On social media, people reaching out to me, former teammates and coaches from Indiana, it’s special. Spending four years at a place and investing everything you have into a program and walking away and leaving for your fifth year, they could treat me a lot differently. They could see me in a negative light, but they don’t do that. It’s really special that I have the support coming from all of those IU fans and people involved in the program as well.

On strong defense: “They’ve been awesome. We come here every week and we talk about how well a defense played. I think that gives our offense some confidence. When we come off to the side after a bad drive, after that first turnover, our defense gets off the field and they give us some momentum and they give us some confidence. They do it every week, it starts in practice with the preparation and the way that they approach the game every single day. It’s been a blast, it’s been a joy playing with those guys, they’ve been a lot of fun.

On last year’s team: “From afar, you don’t look too detailed into things. I knew that had to be a fluke. Northwestern going 3-9, that’s not common, that’s not acceptable, not something that’s the standard. I knew going in, we played against them last year, I remember preparing for the Northwestern defense. I knew they were a really good defense, well-coached. When I took my visit, when I was deciding where I was going to come, I was confident in the guys in the locker room. Their belief, the way they feel about this place, the way they feel about each other. I think more than anything, that’s what it took to sell me. We have the opportunity to be a good football team and kind of put the pieces together. I think Coach Bajakian has been a big player and played a big role in that. I knew it wasn’t common from afar, I knew going 3-9 was not going to happen again. I’m glad that I’m here, and I can be a part of something so special.”

Cam Porter:

On the wildcat formation: “I think having some success in the wildcat in the Michigan State game gave coach Bajakian some confidence. I knew coming in that I was going to get a couple of reps, not really knowing how many reps I was going to get at wildcat. Definitely a blessing, I tried to take advantage of it and it was great to get things going.”

On his role in the game plan: “Coming into the game I knew I was going to get some carries. Like I said, I didn’t know I was going to get as many as I did. That’s just kind of how the game went. Kind of just went with the flow.”

On today’s running game: “We knew what type of game this was going to be. We knew the weather, we knew the elements and we knew that we were going to have to run the ball. All week we understood that and our mindset was just run the ball downhill, that was our main focus all week. I think we executed well.”

On the opportunity to contribute as such a young player: “Thanks to them [the coaches] again for believing in me and trusting me. I know it’s not common for a true freshman to get a lot of carries. I’m thankful for it all and I’m ready to keep rolling.

On adjustments as a freshman: “The biggest thing this year, I’ve just been taking in a lot. I’ve been trying to take in everything. Blitz pickup, routes off the backfield. It’s definitely been a lot but I’ve learned so much and I’m thankful to the older guys in the room like Isaiah [Bowser], Jesse [Brown] and Drake [Anderson], they’ve taught me so much and I’m appreciative of it and just thankful for it.”