Nov. 24, 2012
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Northwestern vs. Illinois
Nov. 24, 2012
Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald
"I appreciate everyone for being here. Happy Thanksgiving, a little belated, and happy holidays to you and yours. I'm obviously very happy for our seniors, they have led us to the point where we are and the kind of success that we've had this year. It speaks to their leadership and it speaks to the attitude they've had approaching the season, as far back as last January. As soon as we got back from our bowl game, we identified some things that we needed to correct or fix and the catalyst to those corrections were our seniors. We're very thankful for what they've done. They've invested greatly. David Nwabuisi gave a very appropriate chapel last night. He talked about how perseverance builds character and character builds hope. I think there was a lot of hope and belief within the locker room this year. We've battled through some difficult injuries, we battled through some difficult times as a team and didn't end up where we wanted to but right there were our seniors to step up and lead. I'm very thankful for them and very happy for them to win on Senior Day.
"It was great for them to win in Ryan Field one last time and get the Land of Lincoln hat back, finish strong here and, in my opinion, make a bold statement. They added a resume-building win and a resume-building finish to take us into the postseason. We're a very hot football team right now. If you look at all of our games, we could very easily be undefeated, we've been winning every game. I think wherever we end up we're going to be very thankful and privileged to have that opportunity. Whoever it is who makes that choice to bring the Wildcats and the Wildcats Nation down to their home are going to get a very hungry football team and get a very focused football team that understands what this kind of opportunity means for us. They're going to get a fan base that goes down and supports the community and spend a lot of money. [Laughter]"
On the success of the rushing game...
"I think today was a microcosm of the entire year. We've been able to run the ball pretty efficiently all season long. We felt, going into the game, that if we could establish a run game we would have success in the game. A great job by our defense creating turnovers and giving us a short field and our offensive line controlling the line of scrimmage. When you control the line of scrimmage, you can control a lot of football games."
On Northwestern's special teams...
"We have some guys [on special teams] that have really needed to step up from losing guys like Collin [Ellis] and we didn't have Traveon [Henry] and those are a couple of the guys that have been pretty influential in our kicking game. So then you see guys like CJ Bryant make a big tackle and force a fumble and Cameron [Dickerson] recover the fumble. We're seeing a lot of young names out there making big plays. Jeff Budzien, how he's not a finalist for the Groza Award makes me scratch my head, I have no idea. I'm done. I'm getting off that voting committee, I'm not doing that anymore. He has missed one field goal and it was from 50 yards and a couple. He should be a finalist for that award, he's had a terrific season all year long. I'm a big fan of not having to punt the ball. We knew with the wind today that the punting game would be tough but I thought that our kicking and return teams finally got some things going."
On potentially making it to the national championship next year...
"Absolutely. I absolutely think we can make it, we're a tipped ball, a fourth quarter and a fourth quarter away from being in the conversation, so absolutely. Talk is cheap, though. It's all about attitude and how much you're willing to invest. Our first opportunity to be a champion is this upcoming bowl game in a few weeks. That'll be the death of this year's team and the birth of next year's team, it'll happen simultaneously. Again, I'm very thankful for our seniors and what they have done and what they have accomplished but we talked about putting an exclamation point at the end of their careers. We've put the first line, now we have to dot that exclamation point."
On this year's bowl game prospects...
"We're going to play a great team... we're going to play on the road, we're going to play in Florida somewhere, we're going to play an SEC team in their backyard and we're going to be the underdog by 75 points [laughter]. Nothing is new, bowl season for the 'Cats. We don't play MAC teams or Conference USA teams, and that's not disrespect to those teams. We play the best of the best. We have in the past and we've gone toe to toe with them. It's going to take our best preparation for whoever we get the privilege to play. I promise that our guys will be fired up and excited for it. That's the beauty of being a Big Ten football player, you get to play the best of the best in bowl season."
Northwestern Player Quotes
QB Kain Colter
On offensive depth...
"We have a motto that says that, "Everybody eats." Everyone wants a taste of the end zone and making plays. That's one thing that has developed since I have been here. Everybody is competing and everyone wants to get on the field. That just really improves our depth. Of course me and Venric [Mark] want to score but it's also exciting to see some other guys like Tyris Jones step up. It's good to see that happening. We want all of our teammates to go out and make plays."
On NU's Senior Day...
"I've been a part of two different senior classes and this year's class is the closest that I've been with. Here are guys like David Nwabuisi who hosted me on my visit. I've really grown accustomed to these guys and have a good relationship with a lot of them -- especially the offensive linemen like Brian Mulroe. It was definitely an emotional game. You're playing a rival and also having Senior Day; but, you can't let those emotions take control of you throughout the game...you have to control them. We had a business-like approach during the game, but once we got that victory, you were able to see a lot of emotion from a lot of guys -- especially in the locker room -- knowing it was going to be the last time playing on that field. It really is a great feeling. Only we know what we put in day in and day out throughout the season and in the offseason. That really forms a brotherhood among us. Some of our brothers are going to be leaving us after the bowl game so we just want to go out and play hard for them."
RB Venric Mark
On today's game...
"The O-line has been playing phenomenally. After missing the Michigan State game, I was itching to get back on the field. It just felt good to be there with my teammates. We came into the game very confident. Illinois is a great team, but we knew what we had to do and we got it done."
On winning the Land of Lincoln trophy...
"The feeling is great. We knew we wanted to come in and win the game. They put up a tough fight and are a great team, but I think that trophy belongs in our trophy case and it should stay there for a while."
LB David Nwabuisi
On his interception...
"It really wasn't that hard of a throw. It was just a good defensive call, and I just happened to be there to make the play. Had someone else been there, they would have made the play, too."
On today's victory...
"It was a great win. We were playing for that trophy [Land of Lincoln] of course, but especially as a defense we had to go out there and prove ourselves. These last two years [vs. Illinois] didn't go as we needed them to and we blamed that a lot on ourselves. We came out to prove a point. We started out a little slow, but we definitely bounced back and made a statement today. It was a great team win. Everyone -- special teams, offense, defense -- was clicking. We always talked about if all three teams were clicking, then no one would be able to stop us. So, it was great."
DE Quentin Williams
On Senior Day emotions...
"I didn't know how I'd feel when I got to Senior Game. Skip [Mylenski] did a story on the seniors and interviewed me, Chuck Porcelli, and Brian Arnfelt. He asked us what it was going to be like walking off the field. I told him that I remembered the past four senior classes going through. When it was their time to leave, they said it went by quick and that it was crazy how fast it goes by, but I never thought I'd be in that position. I knew it would eventually happen, but I never knew how it would feel. I'm not sure that it has quite hit me yet, but it's obviously great to end the regular season on that kind of note. I couldn't ask for a better group of guys to do it around. I am just really thankful."
On importance of winning a bowl game...
"It's definitely important. Bus and I [David Nwabuisi] have had the privilege of playing in four different bowl games -- this will be number five -- and we haven't gotten the job done yet. It's hard to diagnose a problem when it goes on for that long, but I don't think we have that problem this year. I think we can finally set that legacy and do what we do out there."
Illinois Head Coach Tim Beckman
"Just to start off, way to end a rivalry by any means. Credit goes to Northwestern, Coach Fitzgerald did a great job. I think Mick McCall and Coach [Mike] Hankwitz did a great job offensively and defensively. I think the Wildcats played an outstanding game; played hard, made plays when they needed to make plays. So credit goes to where credit is due and that's them. We had too many penalties. Some things that you can't do. And we ended up doing those things. Turnovers, penalties, not tackling as well as we are capable of tackling, it just altogether wasn't one of our better games again and when you are playing a team right now that's won a lot of football games and is considered one of the top 25 or 30 teams in the country, then you're going to have to play a lot better than we did. But as we said to that football team, we are moving forward, we have to move forward. There's only one way you can go: forward. So our coaching staff will be out on the road tomorrow and we'll get it together and see what we have to do to get players in here to the University of Illinois, which is a great place, great institution, great football tradition, and do what we've got to do to get the program back on top."
On what goes through your mind with the season over...
"A lot. A lot. You know you're in this game for the players. You're in this game so you see the players experience things. Great things about this game, this game is an unbelievable game. You get so close to one another as a family. Kids coming over to your house eating Thanksgiving [dinner], just doing all those things. But the losing really hurts. You want your kids, just like how you want your sons, to experience winning. We didn't experience winning this year, it was one of the hardest years I've ever endured."
On what made Northwestern hard to stop...
"I think Mick does a great job of changing some things up. I've been here three times, I've played him three times. I can see the team getting better and better each year, no question, getting some good players involved in their program. I think they really believe in what they are doing. Their players do and you can see that."
On what needs to change for next year...
"Again, I think it's just the attitude, the belief, doing the little things you need to do to be successful. To me the game of football is controlling it. And what I mean by controlling it is taking care of turnovers, and taking care of creating turnovers and taking care of the football. If you look, we are last in giving the ball up too many times. And you can't do that and win football games. You have to control the football. We didn't create enough takeaways defensively. And you can have the best defense in the country, and if you can't take the football away it doesn't matter. And having success in the red zone, those have been some of the Achilles heels and now we've done well defensively in the red zone, but we've given up big strike plays so we're going to go back and do our plan. The plan, it does work, it has worked. Didn't work this year, but there are reasons that it has worked and there are beliefs behind it. You go with it and make sure you recruit players who believe the same thing."
Illinois Player Quotes
RB Josh Ferguson
On the season and moving forward:
"Personally it hurts, all season not just this game. We have got to try more and just fix things."
On Northwestern's confidence:
"I don't know what to tell you, they did everything right. We turned the ball over, which always hurts from an offensive standpoint. We didn't score enough."
QB Nathan Scheelhaase
On the end of the season:
"We've been disappointed and frustrated for a while. Obviously we wanted to finish on a good note, but that didn't happen today. We have got to take that mindset into the off-season, that's the only thing you can do as a team. As the guys who are returning, take what's going wrong and learn from it."
On how he will remember this season:
"I hope that this is the one season that felt like it hit rock-bottom, the season that I learned the most from. That's the key, learning from what this is like and not accepting what's going on and not accepting losing in general."
On moving forward:
"(This season has) been hard on us as a football team, and we have nowhere to go but up. But it doesn't happen by just saying something. At the end of the day, behavior is what changes. That's what we have to have, a different attitude, a different behavior, moving forward.