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    Weekly News Conference Transcript

    NUSPORTSDOTCOM Pat Fitzgerald sheds light on the recruiting process of Evan Watkins, who will make his first career start at quarterback Saturday.
    NUSPORTSDOTCOM
    Pat Fitzgerald sheds light on the recruiting process of Evan Watkins, who will make his first career start at quarterback Saturday.
    NUSPORTSDOTCOM

    Nov. 15, 2010

    Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald
    Weekly News Conference

    Opening statement...
    "I just want to give a quick update on (injured quarterback) Dan (Persa). Surgery went great on Saturday as expected, our orthopedic surgeon Mike Terry and his staff handled the surgery and everything that transpired was as expected. A full recovery is anticipated. We would target some time around spring practice on that return so we'll obviously update you around February or March about that.

    "Danny's in great spirits, I went and saw him yesterday. I was going to see him down at Northwestern Memorial but by then he was already out, back up in Evanston with his mom and dad. He'll be part of everything this week, he was part of the team meeting today and based on how he feels he'll be at practice and also a part of game day, for sure.

    "He was 32-of-43 (against Iowa), we had three drops so he was 35-of-43 for the game. Spectacular performance and in my opinion he's had an All-Big Ten-type year, an MVP-type year. He ranks first nationally in pass completion percentage, first in lowest percentage of interceptions thrown and first, second or third in every major statistical category in the Big Ten. He closes his season with a 73.5 percent completion percentage, which is the single-season best in Big Ten history and I think that speaks for itself.

    "Looking forward to this one, it's going to be a spectacular atmosphere, it's going to be a lot of fun but all those things are kind of icing on the cake. This is a big game because it's two in-state schools that have the utmost respect for each other, it's a rivalry game and that's why it's a big game. It's big for our program, our guys are excited for the challenge and we're looking forward to a great week of practice."

    On the limited space between the back of the end zone and the Wrigley Field wall...
    "We'll see on Saturday. When Coach (Ron) Zook and I were down there over the summer a couple years ago, we both said we were for it as long as the health, safety and well-being of our players is the No. 1 priority. It got turned over to the Universities and they were the ones making the decisions. If you think back, it took some time for the T's to get crossed and the I's to get dotted so I think both universities felt great about it from a risk-management standpoint. It will be an element in the game but we'll plan accordingly."

     

     

    On the added factor of Illinois needing a win to be bowl eligible...
    "It's probably a better question for Coach Zook, we're focused on us and we're working our tails off to improve. I believe since our bye week we have. We're still not playing a clean football game for 60 minutes so we have a lot of room for improvement this week. We know it's a big game on both sides. But when we look at our opponent as we do on tape, they're playing very, very sound and solid football, playing with great emotion, great effort. You see the footprints of both new coordinators on everything. This is a Coach Zook team. They play with a lot of passion, a lot of emotion and they're very physical."

    On who his backup quarterback will be Saturday...
    "It won't be me. We'll figure it out. Both those guys have taken reps with the two's throughout the year and they both are involved in every practice in one way, shape or form. They've gotten a ton of reps. How it all plays out? It will be dictated by what happens in the game and where things go."

    On his decision to go for a punt block late against Iowa...
    "Multiple things on that play. No. 1, I wanted to be aggressive. No. 2, it was there. We had a guy come free and he didn't rush, so we had them outnumbered. Lastly, we were nine yards short of a touchback. It didn't work, oh well, move on."

    On preparing Evan Watkins mentally for his first career start...
    "The adversity that Danny is facing equals an opportunity for Evan. You hate to see that happen to anyone, but there are 85 guys on scholarship for a reason. Our two's are conditioned from day one that you're a play away, and the only thing you can control is the way you prepare, not necessarily how you take over role. With that being said, Evan's been preparing. You look back to the Indiana game, Danny goes down, it's a big third down and to show you the confidence we have in Evan, we don't run the ball, we throw it. We've got the utmost confidence in him and he has confidence in himself. I was joking with him last night, I asked if he remembered when I recruited him and told him he was going to make his first college start at Wrigley Field against the Illini. Just like we scripted. He's excited for the opportunity, he knows he just needs to be himself. He's an extremely talented guy. He's a dual-threat quarterback with his size at 6-6, close to 250 pounds, a kid that can run. He's got a great arm and understanding of our offense. Same thing with the other two guys, they're young but they have a great grasp of what we're doing.

    "You think back to the situation we've been through over the last few years. A few years ago we had C.J. (Bachér) go down, in comes Mike (Kafka). Last year, Mike goes down, in comes Danny. I think a great story is Mick McCall and the quarterback development he has done over the years, not only here but at Bowling Green. The job that Mick has done with our quarterbacks and our offense, I think, is something pretty spectacular. Evan will be ready."

    On Evan Watkins' recruitment and development...
    "The first thing that jumped out to me was his size. I watched him in a playoff game his junior year against Mount Carmel when he took his high school to the state championship game. He was playing free safety and just playing ball like in the backyard. The awareness and the football sense that he had was exciting. You watch the way he was able to run that offense at (Glenbard) North and they did a great job with him. Since he's been here, he's worked diligently to improve and get better. His knowledge of the system, of defense, the speed of the game at the collegiate level and becoming a leader... All those things, for every quarterback, are a work in progress but he's done it really well. I'm excited to watch him compete."

    On tweaking the offense to fit Evan Watkins...
    "How we look at things is always players, formations, plays. That's how we do it, philosophically, for our entire football program. We're going do what our players do best and put them in situations to beat the best schemes. It's somewhat of a simplistic formula, but it's not, `This is what we do and either you fit or you don't.' We're going to make it tailor-made for what those guys do best and we'll have a great plan for him."

    On being able to finish the victory over Iowa unlike in previous weeks...
    "We do what we do. We fell on the short end a couple times but it happens, it's football. It's kind of like life sometimes, it doesn't work out the way you want it to. The credit goes to our players and staff, we've stayed the course, we tried to work hard to improve and I thought we were able to accomplish that for the most part on Saturday -- not totally clean. You have to give Iowa credit, they put together two great drives and Ricky (Stanzi) made a lot of throws. They ran the ball well. That's a great football team we just played. That being said, they're going to make plays and you have to respond to it the right way. I thought our young men did, and the same thing with our offense. Sometimes you're going to stall out but you just have to keep playing and they did."

    On his procedures for watching opponent game film...
    "It depends on which phase we're talking about. The kicking game is everything, going back as many years as I can find stuff on. Then I typically start with the offense on Sunday night. We have a protocol with how we do things as an offense and defensively, I'll go through to start with (an opponent's) last game and move forward. When we get to Big Ten play, I'll go from their first Big Ten game on and go back throughout the course of the week to watch their nonconference games and some specific things down-and-distance-wise. The good news is those guys don't have to wait for me. Our coordinators are outstanding and I let them do their job. We talk about some things but I let them do their jobs, I don't micromanage them."

    On Evan Watkins' confidence level...
    "He's confident because of the way he's been coached and the way he's taken to Mick's coaching. He's demanding on those quarterbacks, but the relationships and the bonds are so strong because of the way he's able to communicate with those guys and the open lines of communication they have with him. I think that's why there's some confidence there. There's great confidence in him from our end. You think about the install in fall camp his freshman year, then going through the season, last bowl practice he got a million reps, spring practice he got a ton of reps, fall camp and now throughout the season. He was our No. 3 last year so he got a lot of reps getting ready."

    On what specifically Mick McCall has worked with Evan on...
    "There's a lot. With quarterbacks it always starts with their minds, his thought process for down-and-distance, schematically, situationally what we're doing to make great choices. Then it goes on with his mechanics, footwork, his lower body. Sometimes as a big strong guy he forgets to use his lower body because he has a strong arm and power in his throw. He works a lot on his balance and footwork. Finally, just finishing throws was something we worked on last year. He's got such a strong arm, sometimes you get away without finishing throws but he's done a great job taking to Mick's coaching."

    On if he asks other players around Watkins to step up in Persa's absence...
    "There are 85 guys on scholarship so when someone goes down you have to pick up the flag and keep moving forward. We talk a lot about just doing your job to the best of your ability, stay in the moment and have fun with it. I don't think anyone needs to pick (Evan) up or do anything more than they've done. They just need to go out and play their game and have fun doing it."

    On if he is bothered by having to go deep in the QB depth chart each year...
    "When you look at what happened with Mike last year, I don't know you could have predicted that. Danny's deal is really just a freak injury, he's crow-hopping getting ready to run and his Achilles pops. I don't believe that what we do and how we do things does anything but have our quarterback be the No. 1 completion percentage passer in the Big Ten. I think what we do is we play to our guys' strengths. Injuries are part of the game. It's unfortunate and your heart breaks for that young man. My heart's broken for Danny. He's having an All-Big Ten season. But we've talked about our depth all year long and I think Evan's poised to take this over and have some fun, I'm looking forward to watching him do that."

    Quarterback Evan Watkins
    News Conference Quotes

    On how he slept Saturday night knowing he would get his first start...
    "I'm pretty excited about the opportunity ahead of me so I've got a lot of energy and I can't stop thinking about it. I'm going to be excited but you just need to stay focused and prevent any distractions you can, keep your mind on winning and what you have to do."

    On his thoughts when he saw Dan Persa go down...
    "Once you see a man go down like that... He's gone down a lot before but he pops right back up and continues to play on, it's just how he is. When he doesn't get up for a while, you know it could be a little more serious. You've been preparing all season for the opportunity, that's your job as a backup quarterback."

    On being told by Coach Fitzgerald during recruiting his first game would be at Wrigley...
    "Yeah he mentioned that to me today, it's kind of ironic how that works out. At the time, I just took as it is. You're excited about anything and everything during the recruiting process so it's funny how things play out."

    On his recruiting process...
    "There really weren't too many schools involved. Northwestern was there early and was a favorite early and I committed pretty early. I loved it here and was sold so it wasn't much of a decision. I committed spring of junior year. Everything happened pretty quickly."

    On what he learned backing up Dan Persa...
    "I would just say preparation each week, how to watch film and prepare for opponents, and how to have the right attitude and mindset in practice. It was great having him in front of me."

    On his development since coming to NU...
    "I think Coach has done a great job getting me to understand defenses and how our offensive system works. I had the time last year to redshirt and learn everything like that, I feel much better and more confident. The coaches have done everything they can to have me prepared so we're good."