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    Pat Fitzgerald Weekly News Conference Transcript

    NUSPORTSDOTCOM
    Pat Fitzgerald

    NUSPORTSDOTCOM
    Pat Fitzgerald
    NUSPORTSDOTCOM

    Nov. 21, 2011

    Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald
    Weekly News Conference Transcript

    Opening Statement...
    "It's going to be a very special week for us from the standpoint of Thanksgiving. It's a blessing and a privilege to be a part of this program, to coach the kind of young men that we have. We've got Senior Day this week, we're going to honor our 25 seniors who've been a part of a lot of records. The ones that really stand out to me are 36 wins, five years bowl eligible, 19 Big Ten wins, five wins over ranked opponents. That entire class will either graduate on time here in the spring or walk across the stage in the summer and will wrap up their last class here in the fall. Then we have the 10 guys that are in graduate school and will wrap up their spring with their masters degree. They're a very special group; it'll be an emotional day that we'll have to control early, but it's less about those guys and more about their families being out there for the game. But I know that they'll control their emotions the right way. We're playing an outstanding football team, a team that is incredibly well coached by Mark (Dantonio) and his staff. They're a team that's already wrapped up our side of the conference. They'll be very motivated by it, that they could play for their 10th victory. They had as clean of a performance as I've seen on tape; the way that they performed against Indiana on Saturday. They played outstanding in all three phases. It's going to take our best preparation, our best performance of the year to be able to compete and be able to control our emotions with senior day."

    On preparing differently for Senior Day...
    "We've been pretty fortunate. As you look back at some of the games, they've been great football games. A year ago, the Iowa game, right down to the wire. The year before it was Wisconsin, the same thing and Illinois. Those games have all been great football games. The guys are going to use the emotion of this Senior Day in a positive way, not to let it be a distraction. They're going to really relish their last opportunity to play Big Ten football, and their last opportunity to play at Ryan Field."

     

     

    On bowl chances at 6-6 compared to 7-5...
    "We'll address that again tomorrow with the guys, but what we control is how we prepare and how we play this week. Everything else is out of our control. Typically, young guys who don't really have a role will think about things like that. The guys that are in the arena, especially the seniors. will focus on the task at hand. You've got a chance to build your own resume and to play a top 10 team. It's going to be a good challenge for us, but what a great opportunity, especially for our seniors in their last game at home. We're going to worry about what we can control."

    On special Thanksgiving plans for the team...
    "We'll let the guys that are from a 100 miles away (or less) go home. So we'll wrap practice up a little bit earlier. I've still got a little bit of player in me, and I know they want nothing to do with us after practice on Thursday, so we'll let those guys get out of here. We've actually got a sack lunch for them to get home, so they can take their time and make it home for dinner and not feel like they have to be rushed. For the guys that aren't going home, or not going home with one of their teammates, we'll have a handful of guys go to their position coaches or over at my house for Thanksgiving dinner. (2011 graduate) Stefan Demos stayed way too late at my house last year, we had a lot of fun. But this year it looks like a lot of the guys are going home. It's kind of neat, some of the freshmen's parents are coming up on Wednesday. It's one of the traditions I wish we still had in the Big Ten; when I was a student-athlete I thought it was spectacular when all the other students had a chance to go home, we had a little break here right before finals. We were already done playing and you could go home and enjoy Thanksgiving with your family. I was one of the coaches that did not vote for playing this weekend; I would prefer to have this weekend off. We'll see how things go in the future. But again, I thought it was one of the best traditions that we, as a student-athlete were able to participate in by having Thanksgiving weekend off. "

    On the ideal game schedule ...
    "Who cares if we play that last week in august? I'm not quite sure why it matters. We're going to training camp for x-amount of days, so move it up a week. I know we're not a summer school, most schools are, and not all are completed at that time, but those coaches know how to manage that in the summertime. I don't think it's a summer issue. It's one of those things, you think about, everybody whose been here at camp, even the freshman, the 13 guys we had come up, have been here since June. You've got to be able to give them all a little bit of a break with no school responsibilities. If not anything, then just for a weekend. It just makes too much sense to me. Then give the teams that have earned the right to play in the championship game a couple days of practice this week, then let their guys go home and maybe get 10 days of practice for the championship game. It'd probably make the product in the arena a little bit better."

    On the key to Michigan State's success...
    "There are a lot of weapons. It starts with Kirk (Cousins), he does a great job running that offense and he's been doing it for a number of years. They play two or three running backs, so their carries get spread out; they distribute the ball. B.J. (Cunningham) has got the most catches, but then right behind him is Keshawn (Martin). They spread the ball out to the backs. (Le'Veon) Bell's got 24 receptions. They throw the ball to both tight ends. They kind of spread it around weapon-wise. Defensively, they are third in total defense, and fifth in scoring defense. Mark (Dantonio) has built the program more on team, like we all try to do, than he has on individual talents. Their entire offense and weaponry is incredibly, incredibly talented. One of the deepest skill sets that we've seen from any offense yet this season."

    On the success of Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins...
    "From an outsider's perspective, it's the consistency that you've seen from him. He just makes great decisions with the football. You can see he is a leader out there from the standpoint of getting him in the right plays, the right protections when they had their scheme setup. I've known Kirk for a while; we recruited Josh Rooks from the same high school. He was incredibly impressive (speaking) at the Big Ten kickoff luncheon. He's a tremendous young person. I'm sure if the NFL makes a mistake of not putting him in there, there's a lot of CEO's that have got him on the short list of guys. He's going to be a top recruit of fortune 500 America, if it's not on Sundays."

    On any ill will toward Michigan State because of last year's game...
    "I just know that we had every opportunity to win that football game. Seven-point lead, the credit goes to them, they made plays down the stretch. I don't remember anything after; that was it in my notes. "

    On fewer penalties and team discipline...
    "We had the one, we had the PI. We got called for pass interference, and they declined a penalty. We've got to be a little more poised in that situation and we'd probably intercept it. Throughout the whole year we've been disciplined, and I've been really proud of the past six years. We've been one of the least penalized, or top disciplined teams in this conference. You can look at it a couple of ways. You can say we're being disciplined, or sometimes through aggressiveness, you're going to get some penalties of aggression, which I think most coaches are all right with. False start penalties and things of that nature that were a little bit of a bug-a-boo a year ago, especially with the redshirt freshman center, and for a good chunk of the year with having Kain (Colter) as our quarterback--I'm probably the most proud of that, the way that the guys on offense have been disciplined throughout the course of the year."

    On Brian Mulroe and Al Netter's level of play...
    "That left side has been really consistent all year. I think to say one is playing better than the other would be a discredit to the other guy. I've got to give them both a lot of credit. Al's been playing just a little bit longer, as a senior. This is going to be his 51st start, to see that kind of consistency from him. Those guys have been stalwarts up there, so consistent. Al has taken over a leadership role this year, and I'm really proud of the job that he's done. I really like the way Brian's coming on, I think he'll be the heir apparent next year, to Al, from a leadership standpoint. He's been on the leadership council now and has really learned from Al's direction. That gives me a lot of confidence, not only for now, but also for the future up front, since we are graduating two guys with 102 starts. That'll be a question I'll be answering all during the offseason, about how we are going to replace 104 starts in the offensive line. The way Brian's played, the way Brandon (Vitabile) is coming on, and Patrick (Ward) has been really consistent. I like the way those guys have done some things this year."

    On the fourth-down decision making process...
    "You go back to just the situation of the game. Before the game, we come out as a team and then I'll visit with the specialists and we'll talk about exactly how they feel kicking the ball both directions, I'm talking about Jeff (Budzien) and Steve (Flaherty) with placements. Then I'll talk to Brandon (Williams) about what his thought process is, as far as what he feels like we should do. Once we go back into the locker room, we'll have discussions with the special teams coaches about where our line in the sand is about how far we're going to go and where we are going to put our field goal unit out there on the field. I think three of those four situations on Saturday, the first three, were ones that were outside of where Jeff felt comfortable, but also too short to punt the ball. They were manageable fourth down situations, so that would lead to that. At the end of the game, you got a situation where if we get a first down, the game is over. We had a run-pass option there for Kain; he decided to run the football. He's made great decisions all year, but we ended up not picking it up. I'd do that one again because at the end of the day you kicked a field goal. Yeah, you go up three scores, but the negative is if you get that field goal blocked into the wind, you could give up a score. Maybe I focus too much on the negative there, but I thought we were firmly in control of that game. Field position dictated a lot of that too. I have a lot of confidence in Jeff and that unit, but that wind was howling on Saturday, it was blowing harder than it was the week before against Rice."

    On Tim Riley's future in offense...
    "Timmy was traded to the offense for a player to be named later three weeks ago. He's been working at it; he got a little dinged up a couple weeks ago. With Drake (Dunsmore) getting toward the end of his career here, and looking toward the future, we're just trying to find a role for Timmy. He's kind of down on the depth chart data at linebacker and was a great high school tailback. Now we see him in the superback role a bit. (Superbacks coach) Bob (Heffner) recommended him for player of the game; he was out there for two first downs and two touchdowns. It was pretty good to see Timmy get a role."

    On the emotional aspect of Senior Day...
    "At the end of the day, yeah it will be emotional. We've got a job to do on Saturday; I think that happens probably after the postseason game. Like how it did last year in Dallas, that was a tough locker room for those guys, I thought we really battled in that game. A lot of that group was the last group to have had a chance to play for (Head Coach Randy) Walker. I think it was Danny (Persa) and Kevin (Watt) who committed to us before Coach passed away. So this is the last group that was really identified by Randy and the first group that came in as freshmen with me, so yeah I'll be emotional. We're playing really food football right now, maybe the best football we've played all year. With that being said, we understand the opportunity we have if we go 1-0 this week. Will it be emotional? Yes. Will it be Saturday, sitting here on a Monday? I don't think so, but it has been in the last five years. Taking those pictures with the guys before the game, it definitely has been."

    On the future of the defense...
    "We went through some growing pains there for a month with some inexperience. The young men stayed the course, working and battling in practice to improve and get better. Through their game experiences, they've improved. But I think where we've stepped up the most is through leadership behind the scenes. To watch the way that Brian (Peters) and Jordan (Mabin) and some of the more experienced guys like Jack DiNardo have brought those young guys under their wing a little bit. They spend a lot more time together during the week as they prepare in their film study and time away from us as coaches, which has really unified that group a little more. Then they go out and have success, its confidence or success, which comes first? I think it's a combination of both, especially when you are a young player. Those guys are playing at a high level right now; they've got a lot of confidence in themselves and each other, and they're going to see one of their stiffest tests this weekend."

    On Ibraheim Campbell's progress this season...
    "He just stayed the course. Again, he's a redshirt freshman safety. There's a lot on his plate. No matter what defense you're playing, the safeties have a lot of responsibility as far as getting us in check and all those things mentally before the snap. When you're thinking too much you play a little bit slower than need be. Now he's been in the system as being in the arena for 11 games now and you've seen the way he's improved on the field. That goes back to his preparation, and not that he's done more than he did prior to the successful run he's had these past few weeks, but it's the fruit of his labor. I'm happy for him, we're happy for our defense. He's played much more consistent. He has an incredibly bright future. The good news is for him, he's stayed the course and just kept working. I look forward to watching him play this weekend. Again, it's going to be a challenge, they've got a great group of receivers and tight ends, and Kirk is one of the best quarterbacks in the conference. It's going to be great challenge for them on Saturday."

    On the key to scoring in the first three drives last week...
    "Offensively, we didn't execute very well for a couple of drives. We're pretty spoiled around here. We get 500 yards and things of that nature, so if we don't put up 50 points and 500 yards, everybody gets a little upset with each other. We didn't play our best game on offense, by any stretch of the imagination. We've got a very hungry group in our offensive room, especially Danny. I really liked his attitude today. I promise you, in our locker room, nobody is satisfied just by winning six games."

    On Dan Persa's attitude...
    "He's excited to play. None of the guys on offense felt like we played very well on Saturday, and that's not to take away from Minnesota, we thought they played well. They've played well on defense the last month. Look at the way they played against Michigan State an Iowa. I think their defense, Tracy Claeys has a great system. They know what they're doing and how they want to do it. We've got to play better though."

    On relationship with honorary captain of the week Joe Girardi...
    "I'm excited to have Joe come back. I'm very thankful, especially Thanksgiving week to have him and his entire family join our football family. What I think about Joe, is number one, he's a tremendous leader. When I started to get to know him a little bit, I asked everybody around here that was here when Joe played, obviously Paul Stevens was, and some other folks. He was a great student here, an engineering student. The professional career that he had was incredible. You Google him and you read all the quotes about his work ethic, his demeanor, the way that he approaches the game of baseball and the way that he leads his players by example. He's been incredibly gracious to Stacy, the boys and myself. Stacy and I went out to the Hall of Fame in New York, and I just sent a message to their PR guy, that I would love to have a chance to come watch the game. Joe calls me and says `Hey, I want to see you.' This is his first year managing the Yankees, and so Stacy and I are sitting in the dugout, shooting the breeze with him for 20 minutes before the game. I'm talking to Joe and she's watching [Derek] Jeter walking by, and I'm like, you know I'm your husband. The last two years we go down to spring break, Joe's invited us to spring training. The boys have been on the field, the batting cages and behind the scenes. It's going to be great, we're excited, the players are excited to meet Joe. It's great to have one of the greatest Wildcats in our athletic program's history come back to be part of this weekend. It's very fitting, Senior Day, Thanksgiving, playing the top team in our conference and having Joe here, it'll be a special opportunity for our guys."

    On Joe Girardi speaking to the team... "As tradition goes, the honorary captain speaks to the team on Friday following our walk through on Friday night. We had a really special weekend last weekend. Steve [Schnur] gave a great message, and then the '96 team had a reception at the hotel. As the leadership council broke out of their meeting, the '96 team came up to cheer on our team as they were going up to bed. It was a really special moment for me, to see my teammates do that. Then to have that group in the locker room after the game, it was pretty emotional. Then to have Coach [Gary] Barnett address the team after the game, it was really special. One of the moments that as a coach, will be one of the top five moments of my life. A lot of special things are going on right now, a lot to be thankful for within this group. It will be emotional with the seniors, but the good news is the way we've played the last month, getting four in a row, we've put ourselves in position to play two more. We don't need a whole heck of a lot more motivation, they are an outstanding football team."