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    Weekly News Conference Transcript

    NUSPORTSDOTCOM NU coach Pat Fitzgerald says the Wildcats had a productive bye week.
    NUSPORTSDOTCOM
    NU coach Pat Fitzgerald says the Wildcats had a productive bye week.
    NUSPORTSDOTCOM

    Oct. 18, 2010

    Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald
    Weekly News Conference

    Opening Statement...
    "On a sad note, we'd like to lift our thoughts and prayers up to (Rutgers defensive tackle) Eric LeGrand and the entire Rutgers family, obviously a difficult weekend and we'd like to express our thoughts and prayers in this difficult time. Greg (Schiano) and I are pretty close friends, hopefully our thoughts help support you in this difficult time.

    "I'm excited about this week, obviously with it being homecoming and expecting our largest crowd of the year. We're playing an outstanding football team off to one of their best starts since I think 1966 at 7-0. We have a busy week with a pep rally at Deering Meadow at 7 p.m. on Friday followed by the (Homecoming) parade at 8 p.m. We're going to have a very special guest with coach Ara Parseghian as our honorary captain this week. He'll arrive Friday and be a part of our NGN luncheon and part of our walk-through Friday night. There will be a very special reception for him and his players at our team hotel Friday night and then pregame we'll honor him and the young men who played for him in his time at Northwestern.

    "I had the great opportunity to spend about four hours with Coach Parseghian on our spring break down in Marco Island, he was very gracious to allocate that time for me and I'm thankful for him to find time to come back and be part of our football family and let us honor him the right way, lift those great teams up that played for him. We're looking forward to seeing all those guys as they come back.

    "For us it's back to a normal game week, we gave the guys Saturday afternoon and Sunday off and we're right back at it this morning. We're playing an outstanding football team and it's going to be a huge challenge for us."

    On his similarities to Coach Parseghian...
    "Well we were both football coaches at Northwestern, I guess that's the biggest common thread. He told me some great stories from the day he showed up in the training room and there was a light bulb hanging from a wire, that was how they lit their training room. He saw some things that needed to be improved and he went about that plan, how he built the program into a national championship contender. To me it was inspiring. Outside of a few personal things with my family it was one of the best four-hour times of my life."

     

     

    On the reasons behind wanting a balance between pass and run...
    "We want to run the football but we want to win football games. We looked back at the tape and I'm not going to belabor the outcome, but we missed some things and we had some calls go against us. We had a couple single-guy breakdowns but we're close, we're not there yet but we're close. It's Big Ten football, you have to have some semblance of balance. We've been working on it for the whole season so hopefully we'll build on that.

    "You want to be able to control the football, to move the football and to score. As you move down the field, the field shrinks, so you have to be able to run the football most importantly to have success in the red zone. We're going to do everything we can to win, we've taken a hard look at everything we've done in the first half, some things have been positive and some have some room for improvement -- the run game is one of them. Hopefully we'll build off this week off and continue to get better."

    On discussing the underdog mentality with his team...
    "We just try to be consistent with what we do, that's out of our control. I'm not as concerned about that. Do I talk about it to the team? No, not at all. I talk more about the things we need to do to win, our mindset, our attitude, the work ethic that needs to go on to be consistent. Our team is maturing and starting to come together a little bit. I just had a great leadership council meeting with the guys so I asked them what they learned in the bye week even though we didn't play. I thought their mindset was in the right spot. We look at each game very similar from a standpoint of how we prepare and then on Saturdays we go out, we stick together and make those plays happen when they present themselves. Is there anything magical? I don't think so. After watching football this weekend, the conference is as competitive as its ever been and when you have that happen, each contest is a 60-minute street fight. Whoever plays best on that day has a chance to win. I thought Saturday was symbolic of that. Wisconsin played outstanding; they were an underdog too so I guess that's a good question for Bret (Bielama)."

    On if he watched Michigan State play Saturday...
    "I got home after the first quarter, I did the Big Ten Network and embarrassed myself doing that. I picked Jack up from a class here at Northwestern and then watched the game, then went out and played some football with Jack and Ryan."

    On the firing of Tim Brewster at Minnesota...
    "I gave him a call last night on my way home just to wish him luck and hope that everything works itself out for him. He's a great coach and a great guy and unfortunately it just didn't work. It's a tough deal, it's a production business, you have to produces and unfortunately for Tim he didn't do it at the level the administration needed to be done. He'll be fine, he'll land on his feet and he'll do a great job wherever he ends up."

    On what his leadership council learned during the bye week...
    "The first thing Quentin Davie said was the importance of the kicking game, how Wisconsin seized the momentum with that big return. We've made some improvements in some areas but there are other areas we need to improve in the kicking game, they're pretty obvious. But we're in a position in the next six weeks where we can take a step in that area. That was one thing, another was that they echoed what I thought which is that any given team can win on any day. As a fan, to be able to watch that and also see it from a players' perspective gives our guys a sense of where our league is at. They talked about how hungry they are to get back to practicing and playing; as a competitor it's no fun to watch. They're excited."

    On what he witnessed during practice last week...
    "We had quite a few freshmen and sophomores in the depth taking a ton of reps earlier in the week. I like the week Tim Riley had, I've been impressed with our skill on offense, that's why most of those guys are playing. I like the week Paul Jorgensen had, he's had a really good start to the year, he's just going to continue to get bigger, faster and stronger so he has a great future in our program. I like the job Ibraheim Campbell did, Tony Jones, Collin Ellis, those guys have been pretty consistent."

    On Michigan State LB Eric Gordon and who from past NU teams he reminds him of...
    "He's so consistent, he's instinctual and physical, he can run sideline to sideline, he's been such a good player because of how consistent he's been. Comparing my athleticism to Greg Jones is an insult to Greg. I think Danny Sutter was one heck of a player that isn't necessarily up on walls or posters. Everyone knows about Barry Gardner, Kevin Bentley, Billy Silva, Napoleon Harris, but Danny Sutter was such a consistent player for us on that Rose Bowl team whose play maybe went unseen a little bit, probably because he didn't talk a whole lot. He was a silent assassin. He was one heck of a player for us."

    On Illinois' defensive success against Michigan State on Saturday...
    "I thought Illinois' defensive line was very active. Corey Liuget is legit, I heard Eddie George make that statement on the radio and I agree he was really active. Their front-seven was flying around, they had some zone pressure to try to take away some of the base plays Michigan State will run but I thought Illinois played pretty solid in the first half. Michigan State has been outstanding on offense. Kirk (Cousins) does a great job, he's as consistent a quarterback as there is in this league, they have weapons on the perimeter, they've got a three-headed monster at running back, they're very physical up front and they run it well. They have a great play-action pass off it similar to what we see from Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa in their approach."

    On how much a bye week allows you to institute new packages like Purdue did vs. NU...
    "On defense we saw about 15-17 new plays or formations that we had to adjust to on the sideline. I thought we handled it pretty well. When you look back at the tape we gave up two plays; they both hurt and we have to fix the explosion plays, but I thought our staff and players did an outstanding job adjusting. We knew that was going to happen. I think we're in a different position from Purdue from a standpoint that they lost their starting quarterback the week before so we all knew there would be some change. How much will we? I don't know. We've got some things we continue to evolve as the season goes along. We're just trying to get better. (Two years ago coming off a bye week vs. MSU) we dropped a kickoff return and before anyone's fannies were warm in the seats we were down 17-0. I also remember we shored some things up and battled back to get it to a one-score game before they put a couple drives together and put it away. We're playing an outstanding football team."

    On how they went about improving in the bye week...
    "We set a couple goals, we wanted to improve in the kicking game and also get some rest to recharge emotionally, mentally and physically. I think (the team) looked that way when they came in not only today but more importantly when we got back together Thursday and really started practicing with the varsity I thought their attitude was fresh and they were in a good mindset entering practice, I thought that showed some maturity."

    On kicker Stefan Demos...
    "How's he doing mentally? He's doing great. He wants to make every kick so he's disappointed about some of the momentary failures he's had. He's been extremely consistent his entire career, he's been kicking the ball off very well for us. There have been some operational issues, especially early so you have to give credit to Purdue, they got some push and blocked it, then we missed the spot a little bit on the next one and pulled it. I have all the confidence in the world in him but it's also a production business so he has to continue to produce and be consistent and he knows that. He's been consistent in practice so hopefully he'll continue to do that. Unfortunately if it doesn't happen we'll have to make a change but I don't anticipate that happening. At least it doesn't look like my golf swing."

    On his appearance at the Chicago Blackhawks game...
    "I got out there, I've never played hockey except on a pond, and they said, `Coach you have to go fast, we're about to get fined,' so they put the puck down, I whipped it up there three times, I don't think I even hit the net. It was a lot of fun. Gene Honda, who does the PA, is an Orland Park native and Stacy said he was making fun of me but if you can't laugh at yourself, who can you laugh at? I'm very appreciative of the Hawks, it was great to take Jack and Ryan there, it was a great atmosphere."