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Ohio Gameweek Press Conference Notes

There was an interesting tone in this week’s presser.

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Duke William Howard-USA TODAY Sports

This week, the media spoke to head coach Pat Fitzgerald, linebacker Peter McIntyre, safety Coco Azema and wide receiver/punt returner extraordinaire Ray Niro III ahead of this weekend’s game with Ohio. These are the most important highlights of each of their brief sessions.

Pat Fitzgerald

Opening statement: “Good morning, everybody. Hope everybody’s doing great. Happy birthday to my son Ryan. He turns 15 today, I know he won’t be watching this later, but his grandparents will be so happy birthday to Ryan. Love you and excited for you on your day, but I’m even more excited to get back into Ryan Field in front of our students. Man, it’s been what since 2019? I can’t even do the math on those numbers since the last time we had our students in the building. Looking forward to them having a good morning. So excited to see our students in the building and can’t wait to play in front of you and for you. A couple of guys I’ll mention about players of the week for last week. Offensively, it was Andrew Marty. I thought he came in and executed really well, gave us a spark in play. You know, fairly clean football there. Unfortunately, he got banged up, but I thought Andrew played really well. We had no Defensive Player of the Week. Our Special Teams Player of the Week, there are a number that were mentioned, but Derek Adams is punting the ball really well and again, had a great day down in Durham. A big playmaker on offense was Evan Hull, he continues to just play better and better. I think that whole room is playing pretty solid, it will be tough sledding against the Bobcats this weekend. But I think that whole group, you know, with Drew and Trey, I think all three of those guys are playing well. Rod Heard had two big plays, a big punch out in the tight zone defensively and then a big play fumble-cause fumble recovery that then ended up leading to seven points. So you know, Rod himself basically had a 10-point swing. Practice players Jake Arthurs, PJ Spencer and Jack Moses, those three guys were great. I think eight or nine guys were mentioned for Practice Players of the Week. So you know, excited and proud of those guys. We had a couple young guys get the first taste of the end zone with Marshall Lange getting in there and then same thing with Jacob Gill. I think Jacob had about 20 to 30 family members there at the game so to have that experience happen for him was awesome. But, you know, we’ve got to play cleaner football. As I talked to the guys this morning, we can’t put ourselves in a hole against teams, you just can’t do that. We cannot turn the ball over at the rate that we’re turning the ball over and expect to be successful. Over my time our hallmark has been execution, the turnover ratio, and then playing with just a relentless Wildcat effort. We’ve played with pretty solid effort. It’s not where it needs to be yet. We can’t turn the ball over and not take it away and expect to win games consistently beyond other areas that we need to work on. So it’s never not a point of emphasis, but it will continue to be as we move forward through this week.”

On this tweet and whether it had any truth: “No, I would say in preseason it goes all the way back through spring ball. I think that the guys had a pretty good competition. It was really close. At the end of the day, we had to make a decision, we made the decision to go with Hunter, so that was a decision that we made.”

On students returning to campus: “I don’t wanna speak for guys, I’ll speak for me. I miss them. It’s something that I look forward to and cherish. I jumped out a little bit at Wildcat Welcome last week on my way home late. Outside of Bobb, they were having a good time and saw some of our freshmen and I had a chance to communicate with some of the other students that were there by the basketball court. So it’s just great. I just look forward to it. That’s something that makes college football special is the pageantry, and I’m really looking forward to getting them back, especially for those that are there for the first time, getting them in Ryan Field, playing well for them and then getting them back for Big Ten play once that starts.”

On the defense building on its second half performance: “We’ve got to limit explosive plays and self inflicted wounds. I think that’s painfully obvious. We’ve got to get off the field on third down. That would be also painfully obvious and then, you know, just play the way we’re capable of playing. That’s on us as coaches. We’ve got to make sure the guys aren’t overthinking, that we’re not trying to do too much, just settle them down and play better at the start, we’ve got to start faster. I mean, we really didn’t make any adjustments at all. We want a little slight tweak to one formation that we made an adjustment to at halftime, but the rest was just get our mindset right and go execute and attack. To our guys’ credit they did. We’re going to build upon that. I’m really proud of the way that we finished. We were probably two or three plays away from putting ourselves in every position to win that game at the end. We were just a few plays short and that’s why you got to start faster. You can’t put yourself in that kind of hole you know repeatedly and expect to have success. It’s just it’s too daunting against good teams. We can’t keep beating ourselves.”

On Chris Bergin’s play thus far: “Chris’ motor never stops, you know, he’s a relentless player and puts the work in in the film prep. He puts it in with the way takes care of his body. He puts it in the way that he practices and the energy that he brings every day. So you know, he’s playing at a high level this year, he’s played at a high level throughout his entire career. Hopefully he’s a guy our younger players can emulate.”

On lessons that can be learned from past seasons: “You’ve just got to execute as quick as momentum can go negatively or positively. Just getting our guys from a coaching standpoint to execute so that they can go out and play as fast as they possibly can, as physical as they can, and then the rest of the stuff will take care of itself. Obviously, we’ve got a lot of work to do this week, but I’m proud of the way our guys fought at the end. We’re going to build upon that right now with this year’s team. Every team is unique and different. This year we’ve got to grow up in some areas in a hurry and we’ve got to help guys do that. That’s why they call you coach, we’ve got to get them back and get them going. So that’s our plan.”

Peter McIntyre

On his career-high tackle performance on Saturday: “I definitely still didn’t play to my expectations for myself. Definitely came out not to the way that I want to play in the first half. I think that’s the same for the whole team. We need to have better communication, we can’t make the fundamental errors we’ve made in the first half and be the team that we want to be moving forward.”

On the defense’s poor performance against both Duke and MSU: “That’s on us. Coaches will say sometimes that they didn’t coach us properly, but that’s 100% on the players [for] making mental errors, not having their eyes in the right spots, not having our eyes on the right keys, but we won’t let that happen again. We’ll be prepared on the first play of the game next [time].”

On what he’s learned from Blake Gallagher, Paddy Fisher and Chris Bergin: “Yeah, I’ve always been able to learn from Blake and Paddy and Chris. They’re a lot more experienced than me, so I’m just kind of picking their brains and hearing what they have to say about football and and Big Ten play especially. Paddy has been a great role model for me, just talking about how to find trust in yourself and trusting God knowing that you’re fully prepared and you’re ready to play football, and just having confidence in yourself. But Paddy has been a great role model for me throughout my time here.”

Coco Azema

On how he defines his style of play: “‘I’ll say just like an old school safety [and] hard nosed. I started off as a linebacker in high school, so just coming down, being physical and setting a tone, that’s how I’d describe myself as a player.”

On how the secondary can start getting interceptions after having none though the first three games: “Just working on it and emphasizing it in practice. Taking the ball away doesn’t start on game day, it starts in a week of preparation, so just put emphasis on that, and we’ll be good.”

Ray Niro III

On what’s helped him prepare for his more prominent role on the team this year: “Just that it starts with practice. You got to be able to work hard at practice if you’re going to be able to do it in the game. No matter what your role is, you got to keep working hard and practice. And even if you’re starting, you got to keep that same energy.”

On the hype videos he used to make for other players on the team as a freshman: “Yeah, that was really fun [during] my freshman year. As school picked up, I got more interested in other things, but it was fun to do that while it lasted.”

On the punt return unit and what’s helped them succeed thus far: “Just the physicality of the group. I know sometimes it’s just role players on the jet team, on the punt return team, but they’re all being really physical and letting everybody know that. One, it starts with Coach Genyk creating a great game plan, and then two, it starts with the physicality and the unselfishness of the people who are blocking for the punt returner.”