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Postgame press conference notes from Northwestern’s Big Ten Championship loss

Fitz and the players struck an emotional tone after falling to the Buckeyes.

Pat Fitzgerald

Opening statement: Incredibly disappointed in the outcome of the game. First and foremost want to credit Ryan, his staff and his players. With them being short-handed and with the injuries we had in-game, we kinda had a short-handed game on both sides, want to credit them and want to credit their players. This was a hard fought battle, they earned it and they’re Big Ten champs for a reason so congratulations to them. I’m hurting for our seniors. We didn’t come down here to play hard, we came down here to win, and not to get the job done is bitterly disappointing. I’m really proud of them, they’ve led us to this point and now through adversity they’re going to have to lead us again as we get ready for a couple weeks from now the privilege to represent the Big Ten in whatever bowl game destination that we get the privilege to go to. We’ve never been four-time bowl champions in a row so we’ve got a lot to play for. I’m sure we’ll play a great team in an unbelievable city in an unbelievable venue, but we wouldn’t be here without those seniors and I’m just really thankful for them.

On what they showed today: We thought we put together a really good plan and we executed it really well for about three quarters, and then we just misfit gaps, you know, we had guys that needed to be in a certain spot and weren’t and now our linebackers and safeties are having to fill two gaps, and the Buckeyes are too good to allow that kind of space and time. Offensively, I think we’re going to look at this tape and see missed opportunities. Again, credit to their defense. We’re building a championship level program. It’s not just good enough to be here. Our expectation is to be Big Ten champions and not to get it done today is really disappointing.

On missed opportunities: I think if we had an extra 10 points on the board I think we’d be Big Ten champs, or pretty close to it. I think it would be a different momentum. You’re playing a great team, you’re playing a final four team, and when you’ve got opportunities to put points on the board and don’t it makes it really challenging. This was a team loss. We had to adjust better in the second half as a staff and we’ve gotta learn from that and be better. We’ve gotta adjust our game in-game as you learn as a player, how they’re attacking you, what they’re doing, how you’re winning your one-on-one or maybe not. We gotta find a way as a team to finish those drives. But collectively as a team, we all miss, and it starts and ends with me as as head coach. I’m so disappointed for our fans and I’m so disappointed for our seniors.

On how this team is defined: I’m a School of Ed grad, and I’m very proud of that. I’m not a marketing major so I can’t answer that question. I’ll just talk about how we play. We play with a blue collar mentality and we’re gonna fight for every inch on the field and I think that’s what our guys try to do. We just gotta continue to work hard and get better and build as a program. To be here now two out of three years is really special, but the next step will be even more so. I’m just disappointed.

On defending Justin Fields: Justin’s not a good player, he’s a great player. He’s a top 10 pick for a reason. We were able to get some pressure early, we tipped some balls, we had good coverage concepts, our guys competed. He was maybe off on a couple throws, it wasn’t very much but down the stretch it’s probably where I’ll spend most of my time, in our run fits and in our gaps fits and our block destruction and tackling. It didn’t look like us there in the last quarter and a couple minutes, so we gotta get those things fixed, it’s something we pride ourselves in, and again, I’ll credit the Buckeyes for that, they’re really, really good.

On why Ohio State should be in the Playoff: I believe the Buckeyes deserve to be in the College Football Playoff because number one, they’re undefeated. Number two, they have an incredibly talented team, they’ve overcome a bunch of adversity through COVID and run the gamut of the Big Ten season with the ups and downs. I don’t think everyone understands the emotion that goes into the challenges that they’ve been through. When you look at their skill, they had to put some new guys in today and they played outstanding. It wasn’t like they really skipped a beat with a lot of those guys out, it’s one guy goes down and there goes another four- or five-star talented player. I think they’ve got as much talent as anybody to go compete for a national championship, and I think they’re Big Ten champs. I think there’s a lot of really good football teams out there. To play the Big Ten gauntlet with the physicality that our brand of football plays in this league, if you’re an undefeated champion here, in my humble opinion, you deserve the privilege to play for a national championship and I believe they should be in the final four.

On how to take the next step: I gotta coach better, we gotta coach better as a staff. We gotta be better in the weight room, we gotta get bigger and faster and stronger and more explosive. We’ve gotta create more competitive depth across the board in the roster and recruiting. We’ve gotta be able to create more explosive plays offensively and the kick game. We’ve gotta limit those on defense, and we’ve gotta be the most sound fundamental blue-collar football team that there is in the country because when you face adversity those are the things you fall back. You fall back on your training, and today it looked like we abandoned a little bit of that and that’s my fault as a head coach. We’ve gotta do a better job training our guys in the moment at this level, and again, some of those guys will learn from this and be back. They’ll be back with a burning desire to show that they’ve improved, but ultimately that’s my responsibility.

On the adjustments Ohio State made at half: They did make some adjustments but so did we, how about that first drive coming down offensively, right? I mean, there were some really good things that we put together on both sides of the ball, that to me, it was fundamental stuff. We didn’t see anything tonight that we didn’t prepare for, that would basically be the gist of how the game turned out. I don’t think it was a schematic issue, I think it was a fundamental, technique, gap fit, tackling, straying to finish blocks, being a block away, turnovers, opportunities to score when we’re across the 50, third down conversions that we didn’t get off the field with early defensively. There’s plenty of opportunity to improve.

On Peyton Ramsey’s play: They did a good job. They were able to get some rush when we got down. We were able to move the ball pretty well. I thought he played really outstanding, there’s probably a couple plays he’d like to have back, but there’s a couple calls I’d like to have back too. He’s been guts, man, he’s been nails all year. He was the glue that we needed as a program, we needed to settle our quarterback position into a winner and that’s what he proved. I’m bitterly disappointed that he didn’t get the win in the house that Peyton Manning built, but if he comes back his challenge will be to get us back here and get it done. I sure hope he does. It would be great if you guys @’d Peyton Ramsey, whatever his Twitter is, and tell him to come back to the Wildcat nation. I start the campaign right now, but that’s just me.

On their first touchdown drive: It was huge. Against the Buckeyes, you gotta avoid those first four rounds. They knock so many teams out in those first four rounds. When you watch them on tape, they’re so explosive and they’re so violent on their front seven. I really think Jake and the offensive staff presented a plan to our guys that our guys bought into. We’re going to look at a couple of plays, and my great friend Bill Curry says “the pain of discipline or the pain of regret, you choose.” I think we’re just gonna have some plays that we look back at but you gotta learn from them. I’m gonna give the guys a couple days off and tomorrow afternoon we’ll find out who we’re playing, we’ll game plan early in the week and we’ll get back going mid-week with a little bit of modified practice, get some work for our younger guys and wherever our destination is we’ll create those plans accordingly, but it’s a tough pill to swallow, I’m not going to lie to you. We had our opportunity and we just didn’t get it done, it’s so disappointing.

On defending Trey Sermon: He’s a heck of a player. Number one, he’s a very talented guy. We had guys there one-on-one, he ran through them, and credit to him. But we had some misfit gaps, we had some guys out of position, and that put a lot of pressure on our linebackers to fit the right gaps and we were falling off tackles, we weren’t running our feet, and again we really pride ourselves fundamentally and technically on those things. To not accomplish that, first and foremost, I gotta give credit to Ohio State and their talent and their players. We gotta get that fixed when we want to put that beautiful Big Ten trophy in our case. There’s two teams that were here, and there’s a bunch of other Big Ten teams that were watching. Where we want to be, we just gotta continue to put the work in to get over this next hurdle, and I know our guys will because they have a lot of pride and an amazing brotherhood.

Peyton Ramsey

On the progression of the program: We’re constantly striving to be better. Neither of us (him or Brandon) was here for the last [championship]. Every day, it’s a consistent drive to get better. That’s a contagious kind of attitude that’s kind of gone through the entire program, just continuing to work every single day and do it consistently, and I think that’s really why we are where we are right now.

On what OSU did in the second half: It came down to mistakes that we made and shooting ourselves in the foot. I can only think of one three-and-out, we were able to move the ball and get up and down the field on them and tempo them, but it was mistakes on our end that ended up killing us and putting our defense in really bad situations. Credit them, obviously a really good defense, they have a lot of talent on that side of the ball, but a lot of those mistakes were things that we did to ourselves and not necessarily things they were giving us.

On plays he may want back: You try not to do that. Obviously I wish I could have done some things over, and especially watching the tape tomorrow, there will definitely be some things that I wish I could have back, but I’ve just gotta be smarter and take care of the ball better than I did in the second half. Like I said, we had some momentum, but there were times where we just killed that momentum. I’m not gonna pinpoint one play, I think we just gotta be better all around.

On the first drive of the both halves: I thought the O-line did a really good job on a critical third and short on the first drive that we were able to convert and we just kinda got loose, got back and got loose there. In the second half, I got a matchup I wanted on that interception to John, got John matched up on a linebacker. I would throw it again if I had that opportunity but I just gotta put it in a better location and just be better all around.

On their up-tempo offense: When we were getting a couple first downs we just wanted to keep the ball moving. We didn’t want to change personnel too much. It was a point of emphasis for us to try and wear them down a little bit and try to tempo them a little bit. They did a good job there in the second half, but it starts with us getting first downs, getting that first big first down so we can and have the ability to tempo them.

On whether he may return next season: I haven’t thought about it at all, to be honest with you. That’s the way it’s been throughout the course of the year, just focusing on our opponent on Saturday, but I’ve got a little bit of time off. I’ll definitely sit down and think about what’s next for me, but it’s not something I’ve considered yet.

Brandon Joseph

On shutting down Fields: It was an expectation we had coming into this game. We knew how strong this defense was and we knew if we went out and executed we would do our thing. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to stop the run game, but back end we did our part in the pass game so we’re happy about that.

On the progression of the program: Talking to dudes that have been there (the 2018 title game), it seems like they were happy to be there last time. It seems like Northwestern has a steady mindset that we now expect to make it every time, and whenever we do make it, we’re not just happy to make it, we’re trying to win.

On his interception: That was just a straight man. Dude ran some type of fade out and up, I don’t even know what it was, and I just saw the ball and was able to go get it. It’s something that we practice, making plays, and something we expect in our secondary, so this is the standard that is set for this secondary at Northwestern.

On OSU’s run game: We went out there and trusted Hank’s plan. They were able to open some big plays and they were consistently moving the ball, and it’s something that we don’t really expect from our defense. I don’t know exactly, I’ll have to go watch it, if it was more on their offense or our defense, but that’s something that’s not supposed to happen around here.

Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman

On the differences between this game and the 2018 Big Ten Championship: Coming out we started fast, offense did their thing and we were moving down the field, and our defense was getting stops, holding them to a field goal and we used that momentum.

On the defense’s struggles in the second half: It’s a three-phase game with special teams, offense and defense, and it doesn’t help when we don’t put up any points in the second half. It’s not just a defensive thing. It’s just tough when you don’t put up any points as an offense as well.

On this senior class: [It’s a] Special group of guys. To be honest, I was just talking to Paddy about it. I know everybody is probably saying that it’s a special group of guys, and Fitz probably says that every season with every senior class. But for me, obviously being a fifth-year, I’ve gotten to see it play with a lot of amazing players and be around a lot of amazing guys who have helped me — JJ, Isaiah Walker, Austin Carr, Matt Harris. The list goes on. For me, to be a fifth-year, a senior on the team, just embrace not only your role but also the guys that are around you, and for me the senior class, one word is perseverance and grit. And talent. A lot of times we might get the compliment of being able to persevere and having grit, but we talented man. We talented.

On his performance today: For me I had a couple of plays that I should have made or gotten open to make it easier for the quarterback. What you guys see on TV, is maybe Peyton getting sacked or him rolling out, but sometimes that’s on us as receivers. I could have definitely played a lot better, but at the end of the day I was just trying to do my job and do it to the best of my ability. When the ball is coming my way, [I try to] make the play.

On being a part of this era for Northwestern football: It’s one of those, ‘good, now let’s go be great’ type of mentality and feelings. It’s felt really good to go win two Big Ten West titles. But it’s good, now just go be great. Be appreciative of guys who have come before us, have helped us achieve that part of our Northwestern goal. But now I’m honored and humbled to be a part of the wave that sends us to the next goal, the great goal, which is a Big Ten Championship and to compete after that wherever the cards lay.

On his moment with Paddy after the game: We talked to each other. I told him I loved him and that I’m appreciative of him, and for me, I was just taking in those last couple of steps. Something that we’ve been talking about is just enjoy it and live in the moment. As college athletes, it’s hard sometimes. It’s easy to say it but it’s hard to actually do it. Being on the same schedule day-to-day, going 110% in the classroom and on the field, just being able to take in the moment, I know it wasn’t the victory we wanted and the outcome we wanted, but to be here was obviously amazing and I’m taking it with me.

Paddy Fisher

On the differences between this game and the 2018 Big Ten Championship: As a defense, we needed to limit the rushing yards and amount of points scored by the opposing team, and that’s what it came down to in my opinion. I think we did a great job coming in and preparing, handling the big stage and big arena, having poise throughout the week and on game day. I think this time around, as a defense and as a front seven, we didn’t execute and make the plays that we needed to.

On how the defense dealt with Justin Fields: We had some pressures dialed up in the game plan, some blitzes too. It just came down to our fundamentals on those critical plays. I thought we did a good job of getting off the field on third downs, winning first and second downs as a front seven. Just in those pressures, there were a few where we had some one man breakdowns. I take full responsibility of that, I should have made some plays out there. At the end of the day, I think it just came down to our technique and fundamentals.

On the differences between the first and second halves for the defense: Going into the second half our mindset didn’t change. It was to expect victory. We were expecting to come out here with a win. I think what happened in the second half was that the front seven, we didn’t play as hard and as well as we needed to to win. We gave up several big runs that led to scoring points, and that just can’t happen in games like this.

On the senior class: I’m just super proud of this group of men and who we’ve become and how much we’ve grown. I was just talking to Ramaud and I said, “I’m just so proud of you. Just who are you, what you stand for, and just the person, and the leader and the character you instill into your everyday life and to other’s.” Obviously we’re special. Unlike any other in my opinion. These are relationships and bonds that I’ll keep with me till I take my last breath. I’m just so proud of these guys and who they’ve become.

On being a part of this era for Northwestern football: It’s unreal. Just to come in here and have that bar be set to this, to winning the West and competing for a Big Ten title. That wasn’t the standard when we go here, the bar wasn’t set that high when we got here. Obviously, hats off to Fitz and the coaching staff and everything they’ve done in getting us ready to go. It’s just been unreal to have that standard set so high with a great group of men like this and for the younger guys as well.

On locker room mood after the game: It’s what you’d expect after a loss in a big game. Fitz told us he’s proud as hell of us, keep your head up, finish this thing and wherever we go for our bowl game and win four straight.

On his moment with RCB after the game: I just told Ramaud I loved him, that I’m super proud of him and who he is as a person, just told him I loved him. He’s a man amongst men who carries himself to the highest standard every day. There’s none like this guy over here and I just told him I loved him so much and that I’m truly grateful and thankful to do this ride and be a part of this journey with him.