Following Northwestern’s ninth straight loss to Minnesota last Saturday, head coach Pat Fitzgerald spoke to the media Monday; players usually accompany the HC, but none joined him due to conflicts with classes and exams. Read below to hear Fitzgerald’s thoughts on Malik Washington, Adetomiwa Adebawore and Charlie Schmidt; the success of other Wildcat teams; the rest of the year; and, most importantly, making possible changes after the final game of 2022.
HC Pat Fitzgerald
Opening Statement: “Thanks, everybody, for being with us here this afternoon, obviously with a heavy heart hearing about the tragedy at the University of Virginia. Want to lift up our thoughts and prayers to all those families that have been affected, Coach Elliott and obviously the program. There’s obviously a very small fraternity and sorority that are in college football, and [a] lot of young people we get to know in recruiting. It’s devastating to hear that news. Our hearts are broken for everybody impacted by that, and our thoughts and prayers are with them.
“Looking back at last week’s game, I’ll talk about our Players of the Game, changing gears. Offensively was Charlie Schmidt; we think he’s playing some of the best football of his career right now, and definitely the year. Does a lot for us up front, not only making our calls, but also, obviously, physically in the execution. Defensively, it was Rod Heard II. Very active all day; all over the place. Had a really, really solid game. All three of our safeties, we thought, played really well. Adam Stage, kick game again. Two big kickoffs; a big field goal. Big Playmaker was Malik Washington; his six catches for 97 yards tied for a career high, which he set against Nebraska. It’s pretty great to see Malik be able to do that. Big Playmaker on defense was Devin Turner; DT’s big fumble caused gave us a chance to get off the field — potentially get some momentum defensively. Jake Arthurs, Jack Kennedy and Joe DeHaan were our offense, defense and special teams Practice Players of the Week. Those guys do a great job every week; they have their entire career. Veteran guys. Just really thankful and appreciative of their hard work.
“We obviously have some teams doing awesome here at NU that I’m really proud to be the colleague and friend of a lot of these coaches. Huge fan as a Wildcat grad, and obviously a part of the athletic department. Tracey Fuchs and our field hockey team with a huge shootout win; I had a chance to actually watch that from the Walter Athletics Center yesterday, watch the end of it with a lot of our staff. Back-to-back Final Four appearances for the first time in program history. That was so fun to watch, and we wish them the best of luck Friday, when they go out to Connecticut. Michael Moynihan’s great women’s soccer team got the first-round win, and now into the Round of 32. And then Jill Miller and our cross country program earned a top-two finish at the NCAA Midwest Regionals and claimed an automatic berth to the NCAA Championships for the first time in 20 years. My niece Mia Mraz is a part of that team, so I’m really fired up for her in her first year and obviously her great teammates. Lot of exciting things going on here in the athletic department led by great coaches and great people.
“Gonna have a huge challenge here on the road. I think Coach Brohm’s team is playing as well as they have all year. Great comeback on Saturday; wasn’t a huge deficit, but they outscored Illinois 24-10 down the stretch. A ton of yards. One of the best quarterbacks in the country in Aidan O’Connell; he’s just been so efficient throughout his entire time there at Purdue. Charlie Jones we competed against when he was at Iowa; he has 87 catches for about five million yards and is having a great year and a great finish to his career. What jumps out, really, is the way their offensive line’s playing. They’re really physical and doing a lot of things, I think, really, really well. The catch and plays that Payne Durham had at tight end, especially last week, were spectacular. I’ve just been really impressed by their defense. We kind of followed Purdue a little bit in our cut-ups. Really physical up front; they did a really good job getting after the passer on Saturday. Really competitive group in the backend; they’re gonna challenge you in the entire back seven. The ‘backers, which are fitting really well. They’re got explosive guys in the kick game that make it really challenging. They’re playing with great momentum. They have a lot to play for, obviously. It’s our seniors’ last opportunity on the road in the Big Ten, and we expect to put together a great week and hopefully go play our best game of the year down in West Lafayette.”
On Malik Washington: “Really consistent. Really proud of Malik. A young man that, I think, he’s just improved every year that he’s been a part of our program. He’s done a really good job leading; it’s not easy to lead when you’re going through adversity and challenging when we’re not getting wins. To see the way he’s been consistent in his approach has been something that I know we’re all very thankful for in our program Making big plays; making guys miss. Running through contact. I think of his yards on Saturday, I think 40 or so of them were after contact. Having a really, really good year. Really proud of him.”
On making changes given lack of results: “That’s a fair question, and it’s something that I think I’ll look into after the season. I think right now, my focus is on finishing the season off, number one, for our seniors — I think that, as a coach, your job is to do everything that you can to help them go out the right way, and that’s kind of where we’re at right now. Two games left. After practice this morning, we got nine days that are guaranteed, or whatever it is. Or 13, whatever — excuse my math. I don’t want to insult anybody in the econ department I took classes with. I’ll look at all those things. I go through a macro evaluation of everything. I kind of do that throughout the year, and then I do the same things micro-wise.
“But yeah, we gotta be better across the board. It starts with me. Incredibly disappointed in the outcomes and results of our games. There’s no question about that. Ultimately, I’m the one who’s responsible for that, to create that positive change to get back to where we’ve been and compete for championships and win a bowl games. That improvement, it’s gotta start with me, and that’s my focus as I’ve tried to go through. Trying to push the right buttons motivationally. Trying to make sure we’re putting the right things together schematically in the micro, in this year and each week, because each week’s a little bit different. It’s its own separate entity; it’s its own season. Your roster’s different because of injuries, performances and where things are at. And then who you’re playing dictates some of that.
“But some of those big-picture things will be things that I look at after the season, and do what I think we have to do to make sure we get our program back to where we all want it to be — and that’s to be competing for championships, and playing the way we’ve played during my time, which I’m very proud of, frankly. I’m very proud of the guys that I’ve had the privilege to coach and the guys I’ve had the privilege to work with. Same thing with this group. I’m bitterly disappointed that we haven’t been able to help them get the wins that we all want. Absolutely love the group; they’re a terrific group of young people that, I think, have an incredibly bright future.”
On Adetomiwa Adebawore making the Senior Bowl: “Fired up. Really excited for him. It’s one of those that he’s definitely earned. He’s been a very consistent player, very consistent leader. A guy that’s got a ton of passion and want-to for this program. Just really thankful for him. I found out late last week. I talked to him yesterday; I didn’t want to distract him. I think I got the information on Friday, so I didn’t want to distract him before the game. We had a great chat last night, and just really proud of him.”
On Mac Uihlein’s first start: “Very active. I thought Mac was very active in the game. I thought he was putting himself in position to make the plays that we were gonna need our Mike ‘backer to make against that offense. For his first real time starting a game — he’s been out there before, but first real start — and having to be the guy, I thought he prepared like he always does. He always prepares to be the starter, but it’s a little bit different when you are. Thought he put together a great week last week and was off to, I think, a really, really good start.
“It’s funny: I talked to him maybe a series before [the targeting penalty], and he was really kind of upset with himself that he had missed a couple of tackles. I just asked him, ‘What did you think?’ He was really hard on himself. I go, ‘Great! They’re not pitching the ball, but it’s like playing an option team. You might end up with 25 tackles. Just stay positive and get after it, man, next series.’ Maybe I pumped him up too much. A penalty of aggression you never want to see, and there was no intent to injury. Just gotta lower the strike zone. I thought he played active and I thought he was physical.”
On motivation for the rest of the year: “Well, we’re pretty hungry for a win. I’ll leave it at that. If that doesn’t motivate you, I’m not sure what does. Your water tastes better, and everything tastes better, when you win. I think that’s motivation enough. The guys have been preparing. I thought we started the game fast on Saturday. We got stoned on fourth down — that ended up being a big stop in the game. When you look back and you watch certain elements of the game, there’s just some plays that we had an opportunity to swing some momentum up there. I thought our guys came ready to play. Disappointed, but another huge opportunity in a team that we have a ton of respect for. We had a hard-fought game last year, and then a couple mistakes down the stretch cost us. Coach Brohm’s done a phenomenal job. They’re very well-coached in all three phases. They’re a very talented football team.”
On injuries: “I don’t get my injury update [until] after today’s treatments later on this afternoon, so I’m sorry for that. But yeah, it’s been a little bit of an issue this year. I think we’ve got around 15 guys [injured], 14 of those guys starting in the two-deep. It’s been challenging on those guys in particular. Someone who’s had a major injury in my career, it’s not easy mentally, it’s not easy emotionally, it’s obviously not easy physically. But they’re in great hands with our medical team, and we’re here to do everything we can to support those guys. On the flip side, it’s somebody’s opportunity that gets presented. You never want to have that type of opportunity happen because one of your brothers gets injured, but all you can control is how you get prepared. I expect guys, if their number’s called, to get prepared the right way and go do everything they can to help us win.”
On Charlie Schmidt: “Experienced guy that’s been really consistent here over his time in the starting roles. Battled through a lot early in his career, and just stayed the course — kept developing physically, strength-wise. And then got out there and got the experiences that he needed to be able, I think, to get confident in his game. He’s on the exact same page as Kurt Anderson with what we’re trying to do as far as calls and targets and all that stuff in the run game, in the pass game. He’s kind of one of those quiet leaders. He’s got a calming force that, I think, is really good with the offensive line. Same thing with the quarterbacks. He’s just been so consistent. Beyond his personality — he’s a funny guy and a fun guy to be around — I think that’s something we all respect about Charlie is just how consistent he’s been.”