NORTHWESTERN WILDCATS

Official Store

    Weekly News Conference Transcript

    NUSPORTSDOTCOM Northwestern faces its stiffest test to date when defending MAC champion Central Michigan visits Ryan Field.
    NUSPORTSDOTCOM
    Northwestern faces its stiffest test to date when defending MAC champion Central Michigan visits Ryan Field.
    NUSPORTSDOTCOM

    Sept. 20, 2010

    Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald
    Weekly News Conference

    Opening Statement...
    "Our strength staff did an outstanding job this summer getting our men in shape and prepared for what we had to encounter Saturday night. We got a little break not having the sun but it was humid and we were in great shape, we played everyone we anticipated playing, which was over 60 players. For the most part we dealt with it extremely well and the credit goes to Larry Lilja, our head strength coach, and his staff, as well as Tom Christian, who runs our conditioning and speed training.

    I'd like to express my thoughts and prayers to (Michigan State head coach) Mark Dantonio, a good friend and a tremendous coach, a gentleman I respect as much as anyone in the country. I know he's battling through some things after their big win so from our football family, the entire athletic department and from Northwestern University I'd like to express our thoughts and wishes for a speedy recovery to Mark and his family. He's a tough guy, knowing Mark the way I know him he'll be back with a vengeance.

    As we look forward to this week, we are playing a team that through three weeks is playing outstanding football for Coach Enos. They're a championship-caliber football program with four straight bowl appearances, three of the last four MAC championships and they're out an outstanding program before I even start talking about individual players. We and Central are both playing well defensively, not giving up many points, they rank in the top 10 like we do. They haven't been scored upon in the first or fourth quarter this year.

    It's going to be a great challenge for us but we're excited for a lot of reasons. No. 1 is to be back home, it's really our home opener even though we played here a few weeks ago, this is our first game with all our students on campus with classes starting tomorrow. Saturday is Evanston Day and Take A Kid to the Game Day at Ryan Field. In anticipation of that, we're going to have a pep rally in downtown Evanston. I appreciate Mayor Tisdahl and every Evanstonian supporting that, I think it's going to be a great day in Ryan Field and I'm looking forward to having a full student section for the first time this year."

     

     

    On his reaction to hearing about Mark Dantonio's heart attack...
    "First my thoughts were, No. 1, hopefully he's OK. Second of all, as tough as I know Mark is, I hope he does what his doctors tell him to do which is to get a little rest. I know it's hard, we're competitive people and he's a tough guy, his team shows that and plays with his intensity. I try to keep myself in shape to the best of my ability but I have a small issue which is that I enjoy food. I'm not overly concerned about my health but I try to stay in the best shape I can. There are a number of coaches battling some issues. When you're a coach you live in front of the camera but there are a lot of people in professions that have stressful jobs and tough situations. Coach Parker at Iowa, Coach Kill at Northern Illinois, there's an assistant at Notre Dame that's been going through some difficult times. But it's not just coaching, it's any profession.

    Nobody on our staff can beat Marty Long, he lost 60 pounds this offseason and we were calling him Jared from Subway. We try to work out every day. You see the way we coach in practice, like our hair is on fire sometimes, and on Sundays and Mondays we try to get out for runs in the afternoon. We're a pretty active staff and I want them to do that, but more importantly they want to do that. All of our guys get comprehensive physicals in the offseason to make sure things are going well. But Marty battled last offseason and we've had some tough things. But if you want to be a great coach you have to be healthy, but sometimes things are out of your control obviously."

    On his impressions of Central Michigan...
    "There's a little mix of what I saw from them last year on video, some zone reads, then there's the Michigan State look with the I-formation last week against Eastern with some deep zones, split zones, some power. They have a Wildcat package in short yardage. I've been really impressed with Ryan Radcliff. I know Dan (LeFevour) got drafted, he's a local product with the Bears now, but Ryan has picked right up where he left off. Each game he gets more and more comfortable and I thought he played well against Temple also but he played extremely well against Eastern."

    On Quentin Davie's development since his freshman year...
    "First of all he's bought into strength and conditioning, he came here at about 205 pounds and now he's 235 or 240. He can play multiple positions for us and he's been a tremendous student of the game. When the NFL scouts come by and I get a chance to visit with them, I don't make excuses for Q but we've had him playing two positions for multiple years so I can only imagine how good of a player he could be and will be if he only could focus on one. His natural position is to play on the outside, he's got great pass-rushing ability, he plays well in space and a good player in the kicking game. No. 1 has been his attitude and No. 2 has been his dedication in the weight room and his ability to pick up what we throw at him schematically. I think for the future for him, his ability to play multiple positions shows flexibility on the field and his football intelligence.

    "First we looked at his length, he was 6'2" in high school and played multiple positions and was kind of a jack of all trades, master of none at Cardinal Ritter. He did a little of everything and did it all well, but it was a matter of what position he projected to be. Because of his size we thought it would be linebacker or superback and he says he'd rather played linebacker, so the rest is kind of history."

    On how Quentin Davie has been able to pick off three passes...
    "One, he's disciplined in his drop plans, he's right where he's supposed to be. We've also gotten good pressure; on the three picks this year, we hit the quarterback or got in his face and forced him to make a move. It's a nice job by Q securing it. I make fun of him for the ones he dropped just because I had two in my career and dropped about 12 so I can't forget those drops. What goes around comes around."

    On who Quentin Davie resembles as a player...
    "He's similar to John Pickens but longer, he's a tall, rangy guy. John Pickens was about 6'3", a captain with a lot of the leadership qualities of Q. I guess there are some similarities there just because of how rangy they are."

    On running fewer option plays at Rice...
    "We go into each game with the mindset of players, formations, then plays. We look at what our players are doing well and what formations will let them execute well. There are a few things we thought we had early, they tweaked some things and then we had to adjust. Our offensive coaches did a great job of that, midway through the second quarter but then especially at halftime. We're going to run the quarterback, it's a big part of our package, at the same time he's not going to be 88 percent of our offense."

    On achieving success with limited running success...
    "Well we had 144 yards or so, as long as we're efficient that's all I care about. We want four or more on first down, half of it on second down, pick it up on third and score on the goal line. We're close; we're not there yet but we're close. A finish here or there, running through arm tackles, picking our feet up, give the ball on some option looks instead of pulling it. It's good to be 3-0 and not be where we need to be, it's encouraging."

    On the ability to stop the run...
    "You come to practice and see the emphasis we put on it, defensive staff does a great job, we work diligently on our fits, where each position belongs on each specific play. They made some tweaks we had to adjust to in the first quarter, credit goes to Rice, but we shored that up pretty well. We run well laterally in the second level and I thought our safeties fit a little better as the game went along."

    On improvements in the kicking game...
    "We were a little more efficient in our operation, I thought the snaps and holds were good, Stefan (Demos) put good swings on all of them, and we protected well. It's a four-headed monster. We kind of had a little bit of this and that the first three weeks; once it's a protection breakdown, next time the snap was low, next time Stef hit a little high on the ball."

    On Hunter Bates' emergence as a safety...
    "We actually have third and fourth options now, Davion Fleming played quite a bit in nickel so both those guys got more reps than they had previously. Both played well, Hunter played well from a standpoint of it being his first time being out there and making the communications with Brian (Peters). Can he play better? Yeah, he needs to tackle a little better in the open field, and we had to take him off some kicking game reps but I thought he handled everything very well."

    On the team finding its identity...
    "I think we're coming together. We put them in positions in practice to prepare them for tough games and we've been in some unique game situations. We played in a sold-out environment in the opener, came home against a team that had an explosive first week and played well, then went on the road and thought we handled our second road test better than our first road test. Our focus was better in the way we went out and started, even though we didn't put points on the board we still drove the ball and played well in the kicking game. We're evolving. We're a young football team but I like where our leadership's at and I still don't think we're the finished product. That's encouraging to me. We found a way to win three football games without playing our best football in all three phases. This will be our stiffest test of the year, no question, playing a championship-caliber team that I believe will challenge for the MAC title. They took Temple toe-to-toe on the road, played outstanding against Hampton and again against Eastern so it's going to be a fantastic test."

    On breakdowns in the kicking game around the conference...
    "Well I can't say I saw everything you saw but speaking from our own experience, a lot of times it's your next level players, your 1-B's, that's their role but early in the season you're going to get some growing pains as they go through their first experiences. It's one-on-one battles where you have to do your job and 100 percent of what is asked of you. You don't have protection like you do in other circumstances; in a kickoff return rep it's one on one. There is a lot of room for improvement for us. We're a little better but not where we need to be and some guys need to take that role on their shoulders and run with it. I was encouraged by the step we took down at Rice, but we have to execute and that's what special teams are about. They aren't about scheme, they're about execution. If you go out and execute, do your job, good things happen."