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    Weekly News Conference Transcript

    NUSPORTSDOTCOM Head coach Pat Fitzgerald reviews the Vanderbilt game and previews the home opener vs. Illinois State.
    NUSPORTSDOTCOM
    Head coach Pat Fitzgerald reviews the Vanderbilt game and previews the home opener vs. Illinois State.
    NUSPORTSDOTCOM

    Sept. 7, 2010

    Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald
    Weekly News Conference

    Opening Statement...
    "Thanks everyone for being here on Labor Day. Looking back at our players of the game, for his first real college start I thought Dan Persa played outstanding, 19-of-21 and there's maybe one throw in the entire game he'd like to have back. Danny was our offensive player of the week. Our offensive big playmaker for catching the football, blocking well on the perimeter, he had a big touchdown catch, I thought Jeremy Ebert played a great game. We also name practice players of the week as named by our graduate assistant coaches. Kain Colter had a great camp and that continued last week so he was our offensive practice player of the week.

    "On defense it was great to see a couple guys stepping up, and it started up front with Jack DiNardo. He was active all night in the running game and in his pursuit to the ball so he was our defensive player of the game. Our big playmaker of the game, in a very productive afternoon, was Nate Williams. Double-digit tackles, tackle for loss, he had a great touchdown-saving tackle where he nearly pulled the ball out. One of our young guys was practice player of the week, Ibraheim Campbell. He also had a great camp, made the move from corner to safety and can play both positions, so he has a lot of flexibility there and a bright future ahead of himself.

    "In the kicking game, for his first collegiate time out there catching a snap I thought Brandon Williams did very well. He had a net punt a little over 42 yards and did very well for his first time out there. Our special teams practice player of the week is Collin Ellis, who has competed from the get-go and has done a nice job.

     

     

    "As I look forward to this week, we're in a normal game-week routine. It started this morning going through video and then had a pretty extensive workout with the guys. Looking at Illinois State, they were in a similar game to us in one that went all the way down to the wire and it was a hard-fought victory. I'm impressed by Matt Brown, their quarterback, he came in last year as a redshirt freshman and did well. They have a stable stream of backs all with Big Ten experience, Eric Smith, Ashton Leggett, Clifton Gordon. I believe they have seven total Big Ten transfers on their roster so this will be a talented team. On defense, they have a safety in Kelvin Hempfield that I'm impressed with. Same thing with their linebacking corps. E.J. Jones is a guy we looked out of high school and initially went up to Minnesota, but he's now back at the corner position. They have an active defensive front at that's been a staple of Brock Speck, his defenses at Purdue were always outstanding and aggressive. I have the utmost respect for him and I know a number of their coaches but more importantly for us it's about our attitude in tomorrow's practice. There are a lot of things on tape we can learn from and we need to improve on those."

    On the issue of single-man breakdowns on the offensive line vs. Vanderbilt...
    "That's exactly what happened. We were a block away, a finish away from making three-yard runs into six-yard runs and six-yard runs into 12-yard runs. I give credit to Vanderbilt, I thought they played well on defense. We had a good plan and we just need to execute a little better. It's different when it's the first time you're going out blocking someone in an opposite color jersey. When we were running north and south, I thought we had some good things going."

    On Vanderbilt's defense of the run game...
    "We gave up 11 tackles for loss which is the most we've given up in a long time. On about half of those we targeted the wrong person so we had someone free on the perimeter, which was a little disappointing. We missed some assignments, we had a couple finishing issues, we knew a few times they were going to knife underneath us on the perimeter and we allowed it to happen. There were just some things we had breakdowns on but we didn't see anything we weren't prepared for. We thought maybe we over-prepared them with the whole offseason, we studied every game and probably got them prepared for too much. At the end of the day, we learned from them and we coached them up today, so we'll improve on it this week."

    On the play of the running backs...
    "As I look at some of the plays that (Arby Fields) got carries on, our execution wasn't great. At a certain point you kind of have to just stick your nose in there and live to fight another day. Jacob Schmidt has to hold on to the ball, he's been very reliable and there's no one that feels worse about that than himself. He prides himself on being physical and paying attention to detail so I chalk it up as an anomaly. I thought Stephen Simmons played OK, we just need to execute better."

    On if he is worried about over-using Dan Persa...
    "No, I want to win and we're going to do whatever it takes to win. If we have to run the quarterback that's what we'll do. If I start worrying about things that are out of my control, I'll be hitting the golf course and I'll see you because at the end of the day, that's football. Do we need to take some carries off Dan's hands? Absolutely but there were a bunch of runs where they were trying to blitz us and you can take advantage of that by running right by them. He did a nice job taking care of the football and executing. We coach him to be smart and make good decisions getting out of bounds where he can or getting down in the open field. There was a big third down with about seven minutes left where they brought pressure and we picked it up well but Danny scrambled to his left and made a linebacker miss, then dove at the first down instead of trying to go for 20 yards. He played smart on Saturday."

    On opposing teams game-planning to face Dan Persa...
    "When you have a dual-threat quarterback it presents a lot of problems for a defense. You have to be sound and if you aren't that kind of young man can make you pay. If you play max coverage he can scramble, if you blitz our offense can take advantage of that so a dual-threat quarterback really gives you a lot of trouble as a defensive coach."

    On the play of the superbacks on Saturday...
    "As I watched the game on tape I thought Drake (Dunsmore) was pretty well involved. Some of the throws that were designed to go to him schematically he was covered or timing was off a little bit. Drake's a playmaker and he played well, he blocked really well - it might have been the best game he's blocked his entire career. He's starting to become the total package there. I thought Josh (Rooks) played well, there are some places he'd like to improve in the running game but he caught it well and he has caught it well all camp. They're weapons for us. We have a plethora of guys on offense -- Brendan Barber got his first catches for us, we had a lot of young guys out there. Mike Jensen, Venric Mark, Rashad Lawrence were all out there, more young guys than I've had that were redshirt and true freshmen out there. Walking around the locker room and looking at them after the game, I had a little chuckle when I asked how that felt and they were all kind of big-eyed. It will be better this week."

    On avoiding the possibility of being over-prepared...
    "It's more from a coaching standpoint. We're going to still turn over every stone and we literally did that for Vanderbilt. Their running game coordinator came from Tulsa so we looked at some of their stuff. Sometimes you can get paralysis by analysis so you have to make sure you don't overload the guys. We had some busts on defense on elementary things and some breakdowns in communication. They had six big plays, four of which should not have happened. I have to give credit to Vanderbilt for making the plays. If we eliminate those, it's a totally different game. I could probably say that a lot on Mondays, but those are little things we can correct and fix and I know we will."

    On the addition of freshman Will Hampton to the two-deep...
    "Will has done a nice job in camp, I was impressed with him from the minute he walked in. He has been our next guy in line and with Niko (Mafuli) being out for a little while - how long I don't know but he won't play Saturday, that's for sure - we need to get another guy into the rotation and Will's ready to step into that role. Marty Long visited with him last night and I don't think I've seen a bigger smile on a guy's face so he's chomping at the bit."

    On the use of Venric Mark on kickoffs late in the game...
    "He's a member of our hands team which we had out there. We have him deep because he may be the fastest guy on the team so if they kick it right or left we'll trust his speed to go over and get it. We lined up in a formation with our hands return and I'd just like to have him do what I told him to do which was go down before contact, but that's OK. He saw the window open, I saw it on tape too, and he was an arm-tackle away from taking it to the house. He'll be more involved. He's a true freshman and I don't want to overwhelm him."

    On the use of two long snappers...
    "We made the move to two snappers because John Henry (Pace) is a senior and I wanted to get Pat Hickey some experience early this year. I thought Pat did a nice job throughout camp in both phases (short-snapping and long-snapping) so I thought getting him out there right away was the right thing to do. I like both guys, they can both handle both operations so it gives us some depth and gets Pat ready for the future."

    On Brandon Williams' debut as a punter...
    "I thought Brandon handled things well, he learned a lot from the experience and he'll be better as we move forward. He had a great spring and training camp and he carried it over. He hit a 59-yard punt on his first kick so I told him the good news is it was a great punt, the bad news is it can only go downhill from here. He chuckled. But he did a great job for us."

    On increasing the level of passion among players on game day...
    "It was the first game so guys are still getting into it. First of all our crowd was unbelievable. It was special to run out of the tunnel right away and see all of our fans, families and students right away, first off the bus and again during pre-game warm-ups. But like I said, for a lot of young guys it was their first time in the arena, so the first time going through a game-week experience. We just will continue to prepare consistently like we do. You've been to our practices, it's high-energy, high-tempo and high-passion, they just need to bring it with them to game day."

    On facing an ISU team that scored 55 points...
    "I think stats are for losers. We won the football game, gave up 21 points, I don't think we struggled I just don't think we executed very well. We can definitely improve though. But their quarterback is extremely efficient, they're very focused on the running game. They handled the ball well in inclement weather with a 77-minute delay due to lightning, but they came out focused and handled it well. Brock has been in our league for a long time, he has a great attitude, he's a great football coach and they have tremendous players across the board. You add the distraction of it being the home-opener and it will be a huge challenge."

    On the play of left tackle Al Netter...
    "Al was recommended for player of the game but unfortunately Danny and Jeremy Ebert played a little better than he did. He was the most consistent up front, other guys had too many one-man breakdowns. It always seems like when you have one breakdown that's the gap where the run is designed to go."

    On the idea that teams improve most from week one to week two...
    "I was waiting for someone to ask me that. There's no doubt in my mind that's true, No. 1 because you've played in a game. You've been up to game speed, played against someone else who reacted a little differently than you saw in spring practice and fall camp. And you learned about yourself, how you went about your routine and how you can improve your play. At each unit there is room for improvement in the little things, finishing, but at the end of the day we just need to consistently prepare the right way and execute to the best of our ability. Good news is we found a way to win and now we need to do it again."

    On preparing for an FCS school...
    "It depends, we'll take a look at their last 13 games and then hone it down based on what we see on tape that's similar to us and prepare accordingly. A year ago, Illinois was kind of similar to us on offense but I don't think you'll only look at that video and not look at the other 12 games. It doesn't matter what level you're at, there are great players and teams. Just ask Ole Miss, ask me against New Hampshire. Trust me, I'm aware."

    On Dan Persa's preparation...
    "He's a real humble guy and one of the hardest-working guys there is. I'm not worried about Dan getting a big head, I promise you that. At one point during halftime I basically told him to be quiet because he was so mad he turned the ball over because he didn't have two hands on it. He's driven, focused and wants to do everything for the team to win. Now everyone around him has to raise up to that level, which they will. He's doing a good job leading them and he's getting better each week."