Opening statement: “Good morning, thanks for being with us and greatly appreciate you taking your time. This weekend, will be a great opportunity for us to partner with Hilinski’s Hope. October 2 begins Mental Health Awareness Week, and we’re looking forward to that partnership. Our guys are just terrific in their willingness to give and partner up. So, you know, obviously, we’ll work to break down the stigma and offering quality resources and letting student-athletes know how much we care and where they can find those resources. So, you know, really honored to be partnering up with Hilinski’s Hope and then hopefully raising awareness, you know, through this weekend.
Looking back at last weekend’s game, our Offensive Player of the Week was Evan Hull, and we just found out he was named the Big Ten’s Offensive Player of the Week. You know, he had his own blocker a handful of times, but I thought our offensive line did a good job creating a new line of scrimmage and you know, he obviously had an outstanding day. Jeremy Meiser was our Defensive Player of the Week. You know, really active and all over the place. Special teams-wise was Troy Hudetz, kind of taken over that captaincy role a little bit in the kick game. Big playmaker was [Stephon] Robinson. He had a great great game, not only catching the ball, but also being physical at the point of attack. And big playmaker on defense was Adetomiwa Adebawore. Again, continues to play at a high level. Jake Arthurs, Greyson Metz and Mac Uihlein were our Practice Players of the Week.
So now, we head out of preseason and into the Big Ten gauntlet and noting those different challenges in this week in Lincoln. I had a chance to get home and watch you know their battle against Michigan State, and just was so impressed with not only that game, but then you know, you go through and watch the way the Cornhuskers are playing. It jumps out to me. Obviously defensively, they’re playing at an incredibly high level. I mean, it’s, it’s 11 heartbeats operating as one. I know the pride they have in their blackshirts, and it’s really impressive to watch. They’re rolling multiple guys in there also, but I’ve been impressed with them since I’ve gotten into the league as a coaching staff. And I think Erik [Chinander] does a great job there. This defense is well-coordinated. They fly around, they’re physical and they get their money’s worth on every play. And so we’re going to have our hands full offensively. I think Matt [Lubick] and Scott [Frost] do a great job with the offense. They move the ball at will. Itt was a tough outcome to the game Saturday for them, but you can just see, they had Oklahoma on the ropes and had every opportunity to win that game, one-score game. Same thing with Illinois, was a one-score game, same thing last week with Michigan State in one-score games. So this team, I know everybody wants every game to be won. But I think this is an incredibly improved Nebraska team that is playing at a very, very high level right now. So we got to have our best week of prep. We get to go play and one of the cathedrals of college football — Memorial Stadium — and one of the best fan environments that there is in the country. So we’ll have to have a great week of prep and take it with us to Lincoln. So big week ahead, but excited to get back into Big Ten play.”
On leading Northwestern’s upset over #9 Nebraska in Lincoln nine years ago: “You caught me off guard. I can’t tell you I thought about that this morning. I was too worried watching Adrian Martinez go through everybody like you know what and their defense knocking people’s lips off. Nine years ago. Wow. I don’t remember man. These games have been close. There’s some Tommy Boy scars. I just remember a Hail Mary being caught out there. That feels like Tommy Boy. But we’ve got great respect for the Cornhuskers, and I think it’s a two-way street. This game just seems like it’s just always just down to the wire. But we’ve had some great battles, and I don’t think this one will be any different.”
On Ryan Hilinski having to make plays rather than relying on the ground game like he did against Ohio: “I kind of got a little bit excited. I saw the ‘Cats getting some Power I, made me think I was coaching at Carl Sandburg High School again. I mean, that’s what we lived in. We needed to run the ball. We got an advantageous formation that we felt very comfortable and confident that we were going to be able to get hats on hats to run the ball, and that’s exactly what we did. You don’t have your audible button for Madden in that type of offense, so I’m not gonna apologize for that. We’re gonna do what we have to do to win — that’s all I care about. The rest of the stuff I don’t waste my time with, so we’ll put together a game plan that we believe that we have to do to be able to attack to the best of our ability this outstanding defense that they have. If we’ve got to run triple option and that’s what we think we’re going to do, then that’s what we’ll do. Maybe we’ll play CJ at quarterback this week and start doing a little riding and deciding and running some triple option.”
On tackling Adrian Martinez: “Yeah, I mean Adrian, he’s a human highlight reel. He has been since he got in there. He’s gonna make some guys miss and he’s going to make some plays. You know, you just can’t give up the explosive touchdown when you know it’s either designed run plays. I mean, I think you know it’s a high percentage of quarterback-centric runs that they have, and I would too if I were them. I mean, he’s so dynamic with the ball in his hands, and then he can get the ball down the field throwing it, too. So, he’s a true dual-threat that makes you stay up late at night, and we’re gonna miss some tackles against athletes like that. I mean, that series against Ohio U, we had some younger guys in on the defensive line that skewed it a little bit with a couple of misses, but we just gotta keep working on preaching what we do and getting great Wildcat effort and getting population to the ball. It’s not a sin to miss a tackle, it’s a sin if you miss it the wrong way and it’s a sin if we’re not playing with great effort to get to the ball. So, [we] want to be aggressive, and Adrian’s gonna make his plays — we’ve just got to make sure we don’t make those mistakes for explosives or even more deadly touchdowns.”
On preparing for a familiar Big Ten opponent: “I mean, they have familiarity with us, and we have familiarity with them. We get this week back into West play, and then we’ll have a bye — a couple weeks out of it — then back into West play. It’s kind of a unique way that we’re starting off Big Ten play with an East team, now a West team on the road and then two more East teams. Just a unique schedule for us. So we’ve had unique challenges, especially with the new kind of new collective defensive staff getting together and having to work through things. Nebraska puts — from the minute you get in the building — they put pressure on you. The fans are great, the environment’s great. Schematically, what Scott and his offensive staff do with with their talent — which is outstanding on offense — they tempo you. They make you play the whole field horizontally and vertically. The quarterback run, plus-one runs, the physical nature with the running backs, the way the offensive line, tight ends can get down the field, they’ve got explosiveness on the outside at receiver. So they’re a complete offense. So we’ve got to put together a good plan. We’ve got to execute it. We’ve got to find a way to be there at the end of the fourth quarter and find a way to win.”
On the obstacles of playing on the road in front of a massive audience: “Yeah, I mean, the Duke environment was pretty awful, to be honest with you. I mean, that was a ‘Bring Your Own Juice’ day. Kind of felt like last year all over again a little bit. And we obviously played down to it in the first half a little bit, I guess. That’s my fault. I mean, I’ll take responsibility for that. Tried to warn them that it was not going to be a great environment. But the environments have been great here at our place, for Michigan State. And then last week, our students were awesome. It was great to have all of our students there. They were absolutely terrific. We felt them. They were great. You know, I saw them outside my office at soccer. I know there’s been at volleyball. Just appreciate our students coming out and being a part of it, and we can look forward to having a fun homecoming here with them in a couple weeks.
But from that standpoint, we’ve got ways that we go about our routine when we go on the road that I’ll execute here this week — that’s probably not unique to us. But you just gotta have focus, you gotta have discipline and you gotta you control the controllables. And if we do that, then we usually end up executing pretty well. But it’s gonna be a challenge, there’s no doubt about that. It’s great a environment, it’s a great fan base, it’s a great venue. It’s kind of what college football is all about.”
On encountering a ferocious Nebraska defense: “Well, they held Michigan State zero first downs in the second half, and it was one of the most dominant defensive performances that I’ve seen the Big Ten in a long time. I mean, that was incredibly impressive, and I think Michigan State’s outstanding on offense. You just got to look at the the talent individually and your one-on-one matchups, and you got to win them fundamentally first, you got to win them physically second, and then we’ve got to put our guys in position schematically to put us in the right angles and in the right place based on what they’re doing schematically.
They’re they’re an outstanding defense. Like I said, Eric does a great job. I mean, I’ve had great respect for him as we got ready four years ago with what he did at Central Florida as we were doing our advanced scout. Now, to see the way that they’ve recruited defensively and the way that that group collectively is playing, I think, again, as a football fan first from the Midwest, it represents what I thought when I was getting recruited a little bit — I mean, like .00001% by Nebraska and Coach McBride back in the day — what the blackshirts represent. And I’m sure their entire fan base is incredibly proud of that defense, and I think they put everybody else in the Big Ten on notice last weekend on the road with the way that they played in that second half. I mean, it was as dominant of a performance as I’ve seen, like I said. So, we got our hands full, but we’ll put together a great plan and hopefully we’ll have a great week, and take it with us for one heck of a battle in Lincoln here this Saturday night.”
On preparing for Nebraska’s defense: “I mean, there’s not a lot of teams who can do what they did defensively against a team like Michigan State and Oklahoma two weeks ago. So they’ve been really strong defensively, really physical. They throw a lot at you. So it’ll be tough for us. We’ve gotta be great in our preparation, our intensity this week and just go and execute and be physical because you know they’re gonna bring it and you know they’re gonna execute really well like we’ve seen these past few weeks from them.”
On playing his first game at Memorial Stadium: “Yeah, I’m really excited for it, honestly. I haven’t really had a chance to play in front of a crowd like this in my career so far. But I know they always pack the house at their place. And, you know, it’s gonna be a challenge for us in terms of snap count and being able to communicate on the offensive side. But a crowd like that, that’s really fun to play in front of, even if you are the away team. We hope we can keep them as quiet as possible, obviously. But I’m just excited for that and hoping we can get our communication right and make sure they don’t play a factor in how our offense executes.”
On whether playing a Big Ten West opponent ups the intensity of a game: “Oh yeah, for sure. I mean, obviously not that we weren’t preparing and focusing really hard on those on non-conference teams. But I think just being against a Big Ten West opponent like Nebraska that our focus and our intensity becomes that much higher. Just going into this week and knowing what it means for us and playing in the Big Ten, for sure.”
On his self-evaluation of his performance this year: “I think there’s still a ton of room for improvement. To be honest, I think I got away from myself a little bit fundamentally in some of the past few weeks. But I think last week, myself and the offensive line really got together, getting back to what we did camp and what we were doing last year. So I think I’ve improved in some ways and still have a lot to work on this year, both in the run game and the pass game. But just not really so worried about the result, but just the process and continuing to get better.”
On Northwestern’s RB room’s performance thus far: “Well, first off, we got to give it up for receivers, O-line and our tight ends. They do a great job to create holes, create lanes for us to run through. And, like you saw, we just all bring something different to the game. Evan [Hull] bringing speed; Ant [Tyus] power; I kind of bring speed and power; Trey bringing speed and power. We all do something different, and it’s just like having a three-headed monster. Having different people to run the ball can tire a defense out.”
On his impressions of Northwestern so far: “I love it here. Everything. The coaches, support staff, training staff, everyone. Everyone here has been an impact on me. I hope I’ve been able to do the same. I’m honestly very satisfied with the choice that I made to come here. I love my teammates. I have no complaints. This is definitely one of the best programs across the country. And then academically, you just can’t get better than a Northwestern degree.”
On preparing for the Cornhuskers’ stingy defense: “Our mindset [is] always gonna be match physicality with physicality. Up front, across the board, we’ve just gotta be physical, we’ve gotta play hard, we’ve gotta play fast and we’ve just gotta execute. If we’re able to do all those things. I’m pretty sure we’re going to be able to move the ball, we’re going to be able to compete, and, like Coach Fitz said, in the fourth quarter, we’ll find a way to win it. So it’s it’s gonna be a good competition, it’s gonna be a good test for us to see how we’re able to compete with a defense that actually does fly around — a defense that that plays hard. And we’ve just gotta show up.”
On Adrian Martinez’s athleticism: “Yeah, Adrian’s obviously a great quarterback. [He] can hurt you with his feet and his arm. We’ve just gotta make sure tackling, we’re taking the right angles, making sure that we’re flying around, getting to the ball. As Coach O’Neil always talks about, effort erases mistakes. So we’re going to make sure we’re taking proper angles, getting to the ball and making sure that our tackling is on point this weekend against such a mobile quarterback like Adrian.”
On his thoughts on his performance this year: “Honestly, I need to be much better. I hold myself to a higher standard than I’ve been playing the last couple games. I think there’s definitely a lot of things I need to work on and that I am working on that I definitely look to improve over the next couple of weeks of the season and throughout the rest of the season. So there’s definitely things that I need to clean up and be better at, so I’m looking forward to doing that.”
On comparing this year’s linebacking corps to last year’s: “Yeah, I think the identity is very, very similar. I think we need to go out and execute the game plan to at a high level and make sure that we’re flying around and making tackles and doing our job and making the plays that we’re supposed to make. But I’d say the identity is very, very similar in the room this year. There’s an expectation that’s been set, and we are living up to that and gotta live up to that expectation and play the way that we know we can play.”
On increased physicality for a Big Ten West battle: “Yeah, the Big Ten West is obviously very physical, and we know we have to be physical as a linebacker group. So these games, definitely you’ve gotta up your level of physicality and really make sure that [these are] some of your most physical games of the year. So I’m excited.”