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    Pat Fitzgerald Weekly News Conference Transcript

    NUSPORTSDOTCOM
    Pat Fitzgerald

    NUSPORTSDOTCOM
    Pat Fitzgerald
    NUSPORTSDOTCOM

    Nov. 7, 2011

    Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald
    Weekly News Conference Transcript

    Opening Statement...
    "Looking ahead now to Rice, we're excited to be back home. I think we're the only team in BCS football to play six games on the road. It's going to be tremendous to get back. Watching Rice on tape and knowing (head coach) David Bailiff very well, I have a ton of respect for David; we've had a chance to spend a lot of time together. It seems like both of us, ourselves or Rice, either win or tie for the No. 1 graduation rate in the country each year. To watch the way they played against Purdue, then to watch the way the season went along, obviously they were right there in the thick of it against University of Houston a couple of weeks ago. Then there was weather, and U of H got hot, but I thought they played very well. Then against UTEP, they racked up 449 yards passing, 671 total, to win 41-37. (Quarterback Nick) Fanuzzi 30-of-43 for 405, (wide receiver) Vance McDonald, 157 yards.

    "They've got a lot riding on this game. They can go 2-0 against the Big Ten, keep their bowl hopes alive. Their team is excited coming off the win. We know what we're getting into, but we'll focus on us. We've put together two really good weeks of preparation and I thought the attitude was really good today coming back. They were really focused; I don't think the guys thought they accomplished anything besides winning one game. I'm obviously proud of them for that.

    "A lot of special things this weekend; Saturday is military appreciation day, so all active military will receive a free end zone ticket to the game when they show up with a valid military ID. It's available on the day of the game only. Our wounded warrior for the game, as we continue to support our ongoing tradition of honoring servicemen and women, will be Sgt. Matt Johnson of the U.S. Marine Corps. He'll be our guest this weekend. I'm really excited to have Jason Wright be our honorary captain. He'll be with the team on Friday, like all of our honorary captains, and then be with us on Saturday. Special guests come out on Saturday. Working closely with Dance Marathon, this week we'll be welcoming DM's beneficiary, the Be Positive Foundation to practice. The Be Positive foundation is all about helping kids to fight cancer by providing financial and emotional support to their families as they battle through that difficult disease. More information can be found at bepositive.org. We're so excited to have them come out.

     

     

    "We see the challenge in front of us, and it's obvious after watching the Rice Owls on tape. I'm really impressed with them offensively; they're using (running back) Turner Petersen in a lot of unique ways. A lot of similarities when the quarterbacks are in, but using him a lot more to run that quarterback zone, read, power play, everybody's got a different name for it. Vance McDonald, big receiver, 6-5, 260, doing a lot of good things with him. They've got an experienced offensive line. Defensively, there are a handful of guys that we saw a year ago. Chuck Driesbach, their defensive coordinator, was DC up at Michigan State; he's got a lot of familiarity in the Big Ten. Johnny Reagan and I, their offensive coordinator, we recruited Houston together, so we know each other well. I've got a lot of respect for this team. They won four straight a year ago at the end of the year. You can see that same kind of momentum building, so we're going to do everything we can to prepare for that. It'll be great to get back in front of our students and back home. "

    On the feeling of the win against Nebraska compared with other big victories...
    "I'm just happy for the guys. They've worked hard; they've finally figured out the kind of preparation it takes to be successful. We've done it now two weeks in a row. We haven't been perfect but we've been consistent, and it all goes back to our preparation. They all count for one win, so I think they've all been pretty special that I've been part of."

    On changes in preparation for the game...
    "Defensively, some of our young guys are starting to mature a little bit. They understand just how hard it is to win. Regardless of what situation, home or road, conference or nonconference, it's really hard to win. You have to do the things that winners do during the week, film study, getting your rest, eating right, preparing right on the practice field. We try to out our guys in real difficult situations. This week we're going to see a team that offensively, in 101 plays last week, 82 plus against U of H, averaging in the high 70s for play total. They're going to play up-tempo; they're going to be a glance team. They're going to look over, they're going to try and see what you do, and it's going to be a great challenge for our defense. Offensively, I think they're at about 38 or 40 percent blitz. It's a pretty high percentage. The last team we saw with this high of a percentage was probably Michigan. It'll be a big challenge on both sides. In their kicking game they're very sound. You read David's quotes, outside of maybe last week; they've been really good in the kicking game. Again, it'll be a great challenge. But to answer the question, I think it's just maturing."

    On injury updates...
    "Danny (Persa) ran today, and where his status will be for tomorrow, I don't know, I'll list him day-to-day for tomorrow. I asked him today before I got down here, and he told me he's going to play. You can tweet that. Jeravin (Matthews) is going to play. Jack Konopka has a bone bruise, so that's real positive news for Jack. I'd list him as day to day, and then I'll give you for the game what I've got on Thursday after we go through the week.

    On the hard hit Jeravin Matthews absorbed...
    "Yeah I'm not quite sure what a defenseless player is anymore. It's funny, we sit in these rule meetings and we put all these rules in to protect offensive players as being defenseless. Then I watch that play, so I think we've got a lot of things -- I don't fault the (Nebraska) kid, that's a legal block, there's no fault there, and I don't fault the officials, it was a clean block. It's the old linebacker in me, you know, you knock a guys lips off on defense and it's a penalty, offensive guy knocks a guys lips off and it's no big deal. I don't know, it's an offensive game."

    On remaining focused following a big win...
    "We've won four games and have been very inconsistent this year. That's our responsibility as coaches and theirs as players. If we get too high after winning one football game, then we've got bigger problems than Rice. We'll prepare, we'll have a great week of practice from a standpoint of structure. After daylight savings I'll take one period out of Wednesday, it's pretty typical of what we do. We don't do it on Tuesday, but as we get to November we go into our November plan, go helmets and shoulder pads. Not necessarily less physical but not as much taking to the ground, except for controlled settings."

    On the new signal system on the sideline...
    "Yeah we've done it the last two weeks and we'll do it this week again. Obviously with a tempo team, with your communication going from the box to the boundary to the field, with the coordinator on the sideline, you take one step out of it. We've also got our alternative signal systems when these no-huddle teams try to steal your signals. It's a little bit of counter espionage."

    On depth at the linebacker position...
    "They're all close. You know my philosophy, and the program's philosophy, that if guys are close, we're going to rotate them. Put them in a role where they can help us win. Put them in a position -- players, formations, plays -- players, defense, schemes. We're trying to put those guys out there to play to their strengths. I like the young guys, they're starting to get a little bit better, starting to settle down a little bit in the game situations. I think the game is starting to make a little bit more sense to them at the college level. I'm happy with the way they're progressing. Fundamentally, they're still not where I want them to be yet, but hopefully we'll just keep working on that. Footwork-wise, taking on and getting off blocks, we're still not as consistent as I'd like to be at the second level."

    On the difficulty of selecting a defensive player of the week... "There were a lot of guys, more guys than we've had all year. So I guess that's a great problem. A couple weeks ago you guys made a big deal about us not naming anybody. Maybe you can make a big deal out of us naming just one out of a bunch being nominated. I'm proud of the kids, they've stayed the course, they haven't listened to the naysayers, hopefully they'll be humble in the way that we've had success. We're kind of at that 180 degree opposite, as I told them, no girl wanted to talk to them on campus three weeks ago, and now every girl wants to talk to them, so congratulations."

    On the offensive line's key approach to each game...
    "Consistency, fundamentally. That group graded out at 89 percent on Saturday. We had four of the five guys nominated for player of the game. Probably as many knock-downs and as many finishes as we've had in a game. They've been pretty consistent all season long, but we feel strongly that we've got to control the line of scrimmage every game in order to have success. We're becoming more consistent, not only on the offensive line but also up front on the defensive line. I thought that was their best week of preparation and their best game as a group up front on defense. That's going to need to continue because Rice is going to present a lot of problems with their zone read scheme, the way they run their quarterback very similar to what we've seen. You look at our league, Michigan, Indiana, Nebraska, the way that they've done some things. There will be a lot of challenges presented for our defense this week, fitting right, being gap sound and option sound."

    On Kain Colter's responsibilities and being named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week...
    "He's been really consistent, from a standpoint of his preparation he's had to. No. 1, he started off going into the year as a quarterback. He had to pick up the flag and run with it, and I think he did a very good job. Then once Danny was able to come back and play, he's wearing multiple hats. He only gets 20 hours of work with Mick (McCall) a week, so he's got to do a lot of things on his own from his film study to his prep; all the little things that it takes to be a great player. What I really see is his maturation in his leadership; he's really stepping up.

    "Players know players. When you ask the guys who they would have thought would be one of our more dynamic players in the preseason they would have said Kain. They've really followed his lead really well. Again, I like Danny, he goes out, looks me in the eye and says, `I can't go right now, it'd be more damaging than good.' Then the first guy he goes up to is Kain, and he says `Go out there and have some fun.' That kind of leadership from a senior that has been a little dinged up is pretty special. I think having Danny there has helped Kain from a standpoint of showing him the way a little bit but I think the credit goes to Kain for just being humble and working really hard to be successful."

    On Persa's leadership helping Colter...
    "When I watch the way that he goes about mentoring him, just showing, `here's what we should be studying, here's where we should go, where you're going to be,' and then taking the approach from the quarterback side. Then when he goes out to play receiver, saying, `OK here's the concept, what are you thinking here?' Maybe that's a little bit different than Jeremy (Ebert) or Drake (Dunsmore) or any of the other wide receiver that we use, so that they get on the same page not only quarterback-wise but also going out conceptually on pitching and catching. It's a pretty dynamic duo we've got there. It's pretty neat to watch."

    On confidence in Colter's ability to throw...
    "Yeah we felt confident. We have felt confident with him running the entire offense all season long. There's been no limitation on what our thoughts were. Again, I think he gets a bad wrap on his arm strength because of coming off of last year with a torn labrum. At the end of the season, he was really just about 12 months removed from that surgery. That has not derailed him in his belief on what he can do. He made some really good shots in some small windows on Saturday, based on the scheme that Nebraska runs. We'll see a lot of man (coverage) his week, based on what I've seen from our film study, unless they adjust what they do exponentially to get prepared for us. We're going to need to be successful, be accurate. Hopefully we won't have gale force winds, looks like the weather will be nice."

    On improvement in the defensive line...
    "I thought they got off blocks better, I thought we took proper angles to the ball, we had great swarm and we tackled better. We missed the same amount of tackles that we had on average but we had better swarm and better pursuit and better passionate football. That's encouraging, it seems like the guys are starting to grow up a little bit. It's about time, but we're starting to see some positives, some flickers, like that light, a little flicker of semblance of a Big Ten defense which is encouraging."

    On Dan Persa's toughness...
    "He's just a tough guy. There's no other way to describe it. Our team's success is so important to him that he's willing to give up of himself for the greater good of the team. He talked about that on Thursday, about playing for each other and giving everything you've got. When you can't go anymore then let the guy behind you, who has prepared the right way, get a few reps for you and that's what I see happen right now. He's a great poster guy for our program. There's a lot of unselfish guys with high character that are willing to give all they've got for the program, and we need more of it, especially now here right in the heart of November, a critical time for each team in the country. Nobody feels good right now. Everybody in the country is beat up. That's the great thing about football, who's going to be mentally and physically tough enough to fight through it. That's how you get into the postseason. That's how you win football games."

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