Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald took part in Sunday’s Big Ten Championship Game coaches teleconference. He spoke with reporters and answered questions about his team and how they have managed to bounce back from a slow start to the season. Fitzgerald also spoke of the upcoming matchup with Ohio State this Saturday in Indianapolis. Here are the highlights.
+ It’s a privilege to be in this game. This team has won 15 of their last 16 Big Ten games. They’ve done it with the highest graduation rate in the nation.
+ This is a challenge against a well-coached and talented team.
+ Northwestern beat themselves against Duke and Akron. They didn’t play or coach well. The credit for the turnaround goes to the players.
+ Having recent experience against Ohio State doesn’t matter because that experience was a loss.
+ “We’re going to have to have our best week of preparation.”
+ Fitzgerald hopes to have everybody back who has been out with injury of late.
+ The Ohio State passing attack is tough because everybody on the field can score on a hitch or a pass out of the backfield. Haskins is so efficient. Completing 70% with his touchdown to interception ratio is “absolutely incredible.”
+ What went right with this team? “I think it’s leadership.” The seniors were not going to allow the season to go the direction it started. They improved as a team from the Michigan game on. They came out of the bye week a much-improved team. It wasn’t anything magical, they just went to work focused each day on every rep, be it football or school.
+ How do you enjoy winning a division while still knowing there is more ahead? Since they clinched the West a few weeks ago, that euphoria has come and gone. They have been focused since it happened and have handled their business the right way.
+ This will be the third Top 10 team Northwestern has played this year. “We’re gonna have our hands full.”
+ “We’re a white collar school with a blue collar mentality as a football team.” That will always be how it is as long as he is at Northwestern.
+ Getting a team to play consistently week after week is the goal. You have to take each day as its own entity. You have to have a routine that gives you an edge and it takes guys buying into it and believing in it.
+ “We have taken everybody’s best shot.” This is a long way away from when he was a player and Northwestern was everybody’s homecoming game.
+ The relationship with Urban Meyer grew when he came into the conference and Fitzgerald’s rise in the AFCA board. Both are trying to positively impact the game for the students. “I appreciate and applaud him for his candor and his willingness.” As coaches, they can make a big difference not just in their own programs but in the sport. Fitzgerald always reaches out to the new head coaches in the league because of his position with the AFCA, and then they move forward from there. His friendship as grown due to offseason dinners and meetings.
+ He and Meyer are usually on the same page when it comes to providing for students and their welfare. “I think this is the greatest group of coaches that we’ve had in this league.” They all care for their players and the sport.
+ Do the playoffs take away from a conference championship? Not for Northwestern. “I think it’s great right now that every game matters in college football.”
+ The biggest concern about playing Ohio State? “Everything.” They are massive on the offensive line. The skill positions. Dobbins and Weber can go the distance. Haskins is efficient and explosive. The tight ends are impressive. Defensively, the front is big, physical, and athletic, and also deep. The linebackers are good. They recruited Tuf Borland and Pete Werner. “I love what Coach Schiano is doing.” Schiano is doing some “fun stuff” schematically. They have NFL players on the back end. The kicking game showcases OSU’s depth in coverage.
+ Fitzgerald watched Michigan film prior to the Minnesota game and Ohio State film prior to Illinois this past weekend.
+ Fitzgerald tweaked some scheduling throughout the week due to having clinched a championship game berth. They rested starters and were very vanilla. They didn’t play some guys that could have played. They took some calculated risks thinking that they could win with the guys they had.
+ The most important thing this coming weekend is executing. They have to figure out this week how to attack all three phases of Ohio State in order to get plays made. They have to also find a way to keep the ball from getting wide and keeping it in front of them. The kicking game has to get ready to play as fast a team as they’ve played all year.
+ Purdue and Maryland played really, really well against Ohio State. You can see it on the film. The most impressive thing is the way Ohio State responded to both games. “To me, that’s great coaching and that’s great leadership in that locker room.”