After five straight losses, Northwestern had a bye week to sort out the problems that it has. Now, the team comes off an extra week of preparation with a conference test against Maryland. Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald, wide receiver Donny Navarro III and safety Jeremiah Lewis answered questions as Northwestern resumes play on Saturday.
Opening statement: “Thanks, Paul. Happy Monday, everyone. I hope you had a great weekend. And it’s great to be back with you back in season so to speak after a bye so you know, a good week for us. Started the week early on the road recruiting and you know, it was great to get out. And you know, it was a lot of traveling but a lot of fun. And we came back and two coordinators had developmental squad practices early in the week with our guys that are kind of aren’t in the rotation right now. We came back and got after it Thursday, Friday pretty hard, and then gave everybody the weekend off and back at it this morning. So great to be back in a new Game week. Here we go with a couple of games stretch on the road, starting in College Park, obviously where I had the privilege to work early, my first year as a coach. So it’d be great to get back out there. And then, you know, obviously worked on the staff there with Mike Locksley. So I’ve known Locks for a number of years, he’s doing a great job running the program, they’re off to a terrific start, you know, very easily could have won the two games that they lost. So they’re playing a very high level, you know, lost their quarterback, but then Edwards jumped in and man it was, it was impressive to watch the way he played down the stretch. That was a tough, hard fought win on the road in Bloomington on Saturday, and watch the way that he stepped up was really impressive, and a huge turnover late that they created was Indiana was driving. So very talented team. And, you know, we’ve obviously got to play a lot cleaner. You know, taking care of the ball, like I’ve said, I mean, that’s been our biggest issue, by far is our turnover ratio. And in particular, our inability to take care of the ball as an offense is really put us in some tough situations, momentum wise, tough situations as far as scoring points, and then, you know, put our defense in some tough spots too. So a lot of things we’ve worked on this week, and hopefully we’ll take it with us to College Park. So with that, we’ll answer your questions. Good. appreciate you all being here with me.”
On the bye week: “I mean, I think from a standpoint of you were the bye fell kind of gave us a chance, I think for our players to kind of unplug a little bit. I told them, I want them to get out of the building for a little while. You know, like Monday, Tuesday, we had a lift forum and we did some active recovery stuff and treatment stuff, but kind of wanted him to kind of recharge a little bit, you know, and then we had two really good practices in the last week. Not surprising. I mean, this group has been working really, really hard. And I’m really proud of them for that. I just got to get them to trust themselves and play that way on Saturdays. And, you know, I thought they came back, you know, refreshed today. We had a good workout this morning, and we’ll get into our normal game week here starting tomorrow with our more typical practices. Our plan is to be in Ryan Fieldhouse, this week with the wind this week. So we typically do that on the road anyways, simulating crowd noise and things of that nature. So calm for a beautiful day in College Park. So it’s going to be like mid to high 60s, with a light breeze so it should be should be a great day to play. But yeah, everybody’s recharged ready to rock and we got half the season left and everybody’s excited.”
On Peter Skoronski and Adetomiwa Adebawore: “Well as players, great question as players obviously competing against each other not only on the field, but then you know, both guys have you know, freakazoid strength numbers and, you know, we condition and we do different things, the offense and defensive lines, typically, you know, big guys go against each other and quite a few things. So just to watch both their maturation as far as athletically, competitively, fundamentally on the field, I think both have really pushed each other, which has been fun to watch. And I think they both just continue to grow that way. And same thing from, you know, a leadership standpoint, you know, I think as a young player at times, you kind of wait your turn, just kind of the nature I think of football. We don’t want it that way. But, you know, that’s why on our leadership council, we’ve got younger players that we’re trying to foster an environment where guys will feel comfortable being in that role. And they usually are in a smaller setting, maybe sometimes in front of the team, they’re not. But you know, really this last offseason, you saw a big jump from both Tommy and from, from Peter, you know, to a standpoint where I think they’re very comfortable, not only with who they are and what they bring to our program, but also, you know, the willingness to hold others accountable, and then bring people more importantly along with them. It’s been great growth and a lot of fun to watch and something that we’re all very proud of both those guys here, the way they are the way they carry themselves, the type of teammates that they are, and obviously been two very good players for us.
On them lining up in practice: “I think like anything in practice, there’s ebbs and flows. I mean, there’s no doubt that those guys enjoy competing against each other. And they’ll they’ll let each other know who won it at times, especially in training camp and spring practice, you know, but in season, it’s a little bit different when you’re kind of getting ready gameplan wise, you know, but from that standpoint. They’re great teammates, but they love to compete against each other.”
On Brendan Sullivan: “Yeah, I thought he had a really good week of practice last week. And he’s practiced well all year. I mean, it’s not 50-50 as far as the reps, the one and the two, it’s probably, you know, 65-35, 70-30, you know, I mean, so he’s been getting quite a few game plan reps, and maybe certain things that he gets actually more reps at, maybe, than Ryan. So, you know, he’s practiced pretty dang well, I mean, again, this competition wasn’t like it was really divided with a cavern as we came out of training camp. We thought both guys had good camps. Both guys had good offseasons. And, you know, I thought I thought when he came in, I thought he was I thought he was gritty, I thought he was gutsy, I thought that he did some things really well. And I also think it looked at times, like it was his first time being out there. So, you know, kind of all wrapped up. But you know, Jake does a great job with those guys. And it was great rapport and camaraderie in the room. And, you know, however, we decide to deploy our quarterbacks, you know, both guys, I think will be, you know, each other’s biggest fans. I mean, Sally has been for, you know, X amount of weeks. And, you know, Ryan as he’s recovering was the same way last week for Sully. So you know, that’s what I expect.”
On expectations for the second half: “I expect to go 1-0 each week I think that’s kind of we’re always at and that doesn’t change or deviate whether or not you’re where we’re at right now. Or, you know, you’re 5-1, 6-0, 4-2, it doesn’t change, you’ve got to consistently prepare, you’ve got to, then that gives you a chance. And then you got to take that with you and trust yourself and go play on Saturdays, you know, in ways that we want to.. And that’s, like I said, that’s the area that I need to continue to drive this team, we’ve got to just be trust ourselves and execute on Saturdays the way we are during the week and take care of the football, you know, we got to take care of the ball. And I’ve coached a lot of really successful teams around here. And it’s not rocket science, you can go back and look at a lot of the reasons why. And you know, the number one kind of correlation is our ability to win the turnover battle. And we’re not where we need to be right now. I mean, it’s that simple. And so it’s something that we work every day. It’s something that we preach, and we’ve just got to get it done on Saturday. So that’s something that’s a huge point of emphasis on both sides, taking care of it and taking it away. But again, it’s nothing new. But it’s obviously something that we’re not being very successful at right now and we need to get that fixed in a hurry.
On the gameplan with Taulia Tagovailoa’s injury: “Well, you know, as you watched as Billy went in, and like I said earlier, I thought he did a phenomenal job. I thought he played very poised, very confident. You know, there was some nuances of their game plan that maybe look like they felt like fit him pretty well. There’s quite a bit of quarterback run. I think a little bit of that is obviously his skill set, their scheme and then also a little bit of what Indiana was doing schematically on defense. So they did a great job. Danny does a phenomenal job. He’s a great offensive coordinator, known him for a long time. And so they’ll play to his strengths. You know, Danny’s been around the block a time or two. So he’s, he’s done a really good job in every place he’s been. So what do I expect? I expect if he’s healthy, he’ll play if not, you know, Edwards will play and they’ll they’ll deploy you know, what they think fits that their scheme best because they’ve got weapons all over the place. I mean, they got like, I don’t know how many guys are 20-plus receptions. Both tight ends up they play multiple running backs. I mean, they’ve they’ve got a very, very talented offense. And, you know, defensively, I’ve been so impressed with their physicality. They’re playing a lot of guys, you know, kind of similar to Penn State a few weeks ago, just the amount of players that they’re playing. And then to see the way they had a bunch of adversity strike in Bloomington and, man, it was really impressive to watch the way the entire team responded. That was Locks doing a great job that was impressive to watch the way that that team responded in Bloomington.”
On Evan Hull’s importance to the offense: “Yeah, I think for everybody, it’s probably a good week to recharge. You know, we’ve leaned heavily on him. He’s a complete back, you see him running the ball. Obviously, we’ve tried to put him in advantageous matchup situations. Sometimes we’ve got him the ball sometimes we haven’t we’ve had him. I think there’s really good spots where he hasn’t gotten the ball and we got to just continue to stress that and then he’s made some huge plays for us. And, you know, for us to kind of get you know, ourselves kind of back rolling in the right direction win-column wise he’s going to be a big part of it offensively.”
On this past weekend: “ Yeah, I did. It was great. Yeah. Saturday, I got to be a dad. So I got to watch a high school football game at nine. It was absolutely beautiful weather out. It was a little chillier than you wanted on Saturday at 9am. But I got a chance to watch my son Ryan and then my older son Jack played at 1:30. So a chance to watch that so didn’t get chance to watch the early games, but got home in time for you know, the field goal heard round the world. That thing I kind of looked like my golf shot that went over the upright there. So it was fun to watch, I get a chance to watch a little bit of the end of the Utah game. That was what do I think? I think it’s awesome. I think college football in between the white lines has never been a more competitive game. I think that there’s talent on every team. I think every team is well coached. And every game is entertaining and exciting. And I’m a fan first. So, fun to watch good stuff, man. And it’s gonna get even better yet. You get into the heart of October and then in November. You got conference teams playing each other. Rivalry games. I mean, this is this is when it gets and then what do we only have Tuesday off right now football, right? We got Monday Night Football tonight. Nothing tomorrow. And then Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday. I mean this is and then obviously the pros on Sunday. So it’s if you’re a football fan, man, this is like Nirvana. This is this is awesome.”
On Donny Navarro III: “Yeah, though, first of all, you know, we were kind of done with our class, and then we had a scholarship become available. So that was kind of how things progressed, I guess as far as us looking, we had, you know, going back to when Donny was in high school, you know, knew about him and watch them, and he transferred down to Illinois and had a really good run there. And when he went in the portal, we, you know, we, we vet everybody, I mean, we’ve got a group of our recruiting staff that vets, everyone, and, you know, everything, everything checked and aligned, and then we just, you know, got in contact and started talking, and, you know, got him up here, and most importantly, got him around the players, and he already had a relationship with some guys, being a Chicagoan and knowing some of our players and, you know, we’re ecstatic to have them. You know, it’s, it’s a little bit different, and you probably first started covering the team and when I first started coaching, you know, to hear that a guy would transfer from School A to School B within the conference was pretty much unheard of almost, I think it was a big 10 policy that you couldn’t do that. And to where we’re at today, this is the new normal, I guess you’d call it. So we’re looking for the right fit, whatever that means, right? I mean, starts academically, you know, do we think the young man could come here to compete or to start? And then does he fit the culture of our locker room for the type of young man that we want in our community, in the athletic department here on the Northwestern campus in the greater Evanston community? So, looking for that, I mean, Danny checks the boxes with A+’s for all those areas. And he’s done a really good job for us in the kick game and also same thing obviously at receiver making some big plays and we’re gonna lean heavily on him here the last half.”
Closing statement: “I appreciate everybody, hey, big weekend in Illinois high school football here you know, right last regular season game and I know my boys have got a big one. So I want to wish them well, but huge games, a lot of conference championships being decided and obviously, playoff berths and you know, playoff seeding goes into this weekend, so just want to wish all the Illinois high school players high school coaches the best of luck here this weekend. Appreciate everybody if you travel with us, be safe. Go Cats.”
Donny Navarro III:
On Northwestern being his best fit and going from Illinois to Northwestern: “Yeah, you know, I think when I went into the portal, I was looking for really the right fit for me. And really, for the right fit for what the team needs. I had a lot of really good conversations with Coach Springer, like Coach Bajakian, Coach Fitzgerald. And ultimately, academics obviously, was a really big factor in my decision, and what, you know, Northwestern had offensively and what they kind of planned to do with me and things like that was attractive to me. So I’ve developed really good relationships with coaches here, and so I’m really happy with that. And then as far as just the the change from rival to rival, I think it was really, you know, awesome that the guys who were very welcoming, you know, coming from rival school you may not know what to expect, right? So I was able to gel with these guys really quickly, coming out in the summer, working out in the summer and kind of just developing relationships was great. So they’ve been great. teammates have been great. I’ve been really happy with just that transition.”
On being in touch with former teammates: “Yeah, I’m in touch with them for sure. Yeah. You know, there’s obviously relationships off the field, right, that I’ve kind of kept in contact with, which is really great.”
On the difference between Ryan Hilinski and Brendan Sullivan: “Both really good leaders in the huddle, very good communicators both prepare really, really well. You know, I’ve been, you know, in my preparation, I’m in contact with the both of them, you know, sending video to that both of them, you know, so that they understand we’re on the same page, obviously, you know, Brennan showed a little bit the Wisconsin game in what he can do with his feet, and things like that. And Ryan’s been great, you know, throughout the year throwing the ball in the air. And so I’ve enjoyed developing relationships with them. And I hope to continue to keep working every week to establish timing and keep that going as we as we get into the second half of the year.”
On feelings after the bye week: “ Yeah, definitely. I think the bye week was a really good time for us to reflect as an offense, as a team, and, and individually? Look at some of the things you do good, looking at some of the things need to fix ,and then how we’re going to fix it. So it was good to kind of take a step back, reflect on that. And then you know, come into this week, looking to improve, bodies feel great. So just looking at you know, improve, coming up with a good attitude every week, coming in ready to learn, and execute in practice.”
On the offense preparing for a road game: “It starts from practice, of course, the way we start everything, right. So the way we attack our stress, the way we attack every single period from start to finish. So I think developing that mindset prior to and hopefully that carries over on Saturdays.”
On road game excitement: “Yeah, it’s exciting for sure. I mean, you look back at Penn State and the conditions and taking everything into account, it’s definitely exciting going in there and being you know, outnumbered as far as fans go. You kind of have play a little bit more of a chip on your shoulder, you want to silence the crowd, things like that. So we look forward to being on the road this week.”
On why Northwestern has performed better on the road then at home, and why playing on the road is exciting: “Playing on the road it’s always interesting, at least for me, going to different places that I personally haven’t seen before, you know, different players and so forth. Typically Big 10, bigger state schools, so it’s always going to be an excitable, you know, atmosphere that I personally haven’t experienced. And I think many others on the team, at least the younger guys haven’t experienced, too, that we use as as a way to kind of, you know, build momentum, and and kind of give us more fuel to our fire throughout throughout games and throughout the season.”
On road games and lifting performance: “Yeah, we know, games like that, where we may not have the crowd involved, that we have to start fast. You know, essentially, that we’re working against the crowd the whole game, the best thing for us to do is to, you know, show that we can stop the run, you know, limit limit big plays and effort to essentially keep the crowd out of it. Ireland was a neutral site, but unfortunately, Nebraska did travel well. So it was it was a similar instance. And of course, like you said, Penn State, you know, we knew we had to stop the run, especially with the weather conditions for that specific day. But I think overall, we try to keep the same approach both home and away, but always playing on the road, kind of kind of gives everybody a spark.”
On progression from the defense: “Yeah, we keep using those games as building blocks. We use every game as building blocks on, you know, we have somewhat, you know, entry bugs but enforces that, you know, everybody needs to step up whether freshman sophomore, the list goes on, we all have great players on this team, regardless of classification, that we seek to keep improving throughout the season.”
On the importance of the bye week: “Yeah, I think it was much needed by everybody on the team, you know, kind of get back to the basics, get back to the fundamentals that we kind of established throughout fall camp. And this kind of gives us time to kind of self evaluate ourselves as far as you know, things we did well, for the first couple, for the first half of the season. Different things that we expect our opponents to kind of look at to exploit us defensively. So it kind of allows us to kind of self evaluate, take a step back, you know, breathe, relax, and kind of enjoy the game of football. Of course, you know, there’s a lot of good games this weekend, but also kind of give us some extra time to prepare for Maryland.”
On his acclimation from Duke to Northwestern: “Yeah, I think both from Duke and Northwestern are very similar institutions as far as you know, the academic rigors, I would say the biggest change for me has been the weather. Unfortunately, it’s getting a little chilly up here for me. But overall, I mean, I feel very good, very comfortable around the guys as far as the locker room. You know, Coach O’Neill and coach McPherson have done a great job as far as helping me since I learned the safety position. I played corner at Duke, so it was a bit of somewhat of a change. For me. I played safety in high school, but just kind of essentially seeing the big picture back there on the back end that they’ve you know, taking the time out their day, kind of make sure I understand it.”