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August 31, 2019

Pat Fitzgerald

Stanford, California

(Northwestern interview)

Stanford - 17, Northwestern - 7

COACH FITZGERALD: Obviously disappointing outcome to the game to say the least. I want to credit Stanford and Coach Shaw, and great friend and great coach. They did a terrific job especially down the stretch when they needed to make some plays. They obviously made it on offense and defense to be able to get the game kind of out of our hands.

So credit to them, and obviously disappointing from the standpoint of the way that we executed offensively especially early. Thought we put our defense in a pretty tough spot. But I thought they responded. We came back out. Thought their conditioning level was fine.

We never got ourselves in a situation where I felt our game got away from the defense. Unfortunately they were on the field way too much. We've got a lot to fix on that side. Obviously the missed tackles is inexcusable and the things that I put on myself; we'll start with me. We'll get to work on that and work diligently when we get back to Chicago.

Unfortunately T.J. suffered a foot injury. He's at the hospital now. He's going to require surgery. So that's incredibly disappointing for him. He's worked so hard. He's done everything you could ask as a teammate, everything you could ask as a young man in the program. And so obviously I'll have long-term prognosis stuff down the road but our thoughts and prayers are with T.J. and his family. It's very disappointing.

Q. How do you account for Hunter looking totally unprepared?
COACH FITZGERALD: I would disagree that he looked totally unprepared. I think he looked like a freshman quarterback in his really true first start. I think he prepared relentlessly. I think he did everything in his power to get himself ready to play. And I thought that for his first experience there's a ton of things he's going to learn and grow from.

Again, this is not an excuse-making business. He's got to be a lot better. We've got to continue to help him do the things. But I thought he responded really well in the second half. That's why I completely disagree with what you said.

I think after about the third series T.J. went in and I asked him, how are you doing? The look in his eye, like a freshman, freshman in college -- remember those days? Those were not good days.

But I'm just saying there was a lot of people asking me, what about this, what about that with him in the whole offseason. Here's a guy that's learning the offense and he's had six out of seven years he's had a new offense. He's going to get better. He's working at it, got a great attitude. Am I disappointed in the way we played around him and the way we executed offensively? Absolutely.

And so we've got to be a lot better, there's no doubt about that. But I've got great confidence in him and obviously with Andrew and Aidan too. Those guys worked hard. We've just got to keep getting better.

Q. Do you think the high temperatures and the fact that you had to come halfway across the country and so forth was a factor in your guys maybe being a little tired or made it tougher on your team?
COACH FITZGERALD: I don't know. I didn't think our defense looked tired. They were out there about six and a half hours, it seemed like. I don't think they wilted once. I didn't see a defense that wilted at all. We missed some tackles, but that has nothing to do -- a team in lesser condition and has to be on the field 40 minutes would have gotten killed. Those guys rose to the occasion. They kept on swinging. They get the stop at the end even though we missed some tackles down the stretch, and gave us, I thought our defensive gave us every opportunity to stay in the game but credit Stanford, their defense was better.

Q. What can you share about Bowser and Rashawn Slater?
COACH FITZGERALD: I think for sure Rashawn will be fine. And IB went out with a lower body. And I'm glad we got a bye. I'm sure David feels the same way for me. He doesn't feel it for himself; he's got a huge game coming up.

But it is what it is. Next guy up. We had guys open and we obviously dropped the ball. It's disappointing.

Q. Particularly sad with T.J. because looked like Jesse Brown was open and (indiscernible) ball one time trying to fight, just that play?
COACH FITZGERALD: I'd hate to have that play be a defining moment in his career. I think the other way to look at it here's a guy that worked relentlessly to get himself in a position, a former walk-on to earn the privilege and the right to play. And that's what he did.

Like I said to you guys on Monday, we're going to play both quarterbacks. It got overblown about who is going to go out there first. But I get all that. And would I have thought we would have executed a little better? Yeah, but credit Stanford; they played well too.

I thought the way our offense responded in the second half was positive. I thought we moved the ball better, especially the first drive in the second half and we're right down there in the scoring zone and credit Stanford. Obviously they got the big turnover that changed the momentum.

You miss a field goal. You get a very untimely personal foul penalty that puts them in the scoring zone when we're probably going to get off the field, not give up points. Give up a touchdown at the end.

Really our defense gave up seven points the whole day. We'll give credit to Stanford for the three but that was more a self-inflicted wound.

Q. Speaking about that, (indiscernible) what do you say (inaudible) come off the field after that? And were you surprised it wasn't targeting?
COACH FITZGERALD: Again, I would trust that the replay showed that it wasn't targeting. I don't know. I can't see it from the field. Is that true or not?

Q. Looked like targeting.
COACH FITZGERALD: So I don't know why they -- I don't know why they wouldn't --

Q. You're talking about when Stanford --
COACH FITZGERALD: (Indiscernible), yeah.

Q. We saw it several times close up replay in the press box. It did not look like targeting.
COACH FITZGERALD: Do you guys want to come back to me in Chicago, and these guys can stay out here?

Q. We're Stanford guys.
COACH FITZGERALD: I'm being highly facetious here. It's not funny at all. We knew going into the game K.J. was going to slide. I think he slid two or three times prior to that. I don't know if it was exactly three or what. And it's a young player trying to make a play but it looked like he missed him. Looked like he missed him.

Q. Actually it did from -- so what happened? Did a Northwestern player get ejected for that?

Q. So we thought that was reasonable. What did you think (inaudible) to the extent --
COACH FITZGERALD: You've got to be smarter than that. We pulled a bunch of plays off from the previous games about teams beating themselves. That's a play that obviously can't happen. Earnest owned it right away, like I knew he would. It's a teachable moment. That's exactly what I was talking to him about.

We always want to focus on -- it's sports; I get it. A lot is given and much is expected. All these guys are trying to make plays and trying to play as hard as they can. And he was trying to play hard and he's got to learn from it and so does the entire defense which I know Earnest will.

Q. Is the trend in the (indiscernible) that teams can't go live much before preseason? How does that affect tackling in the first game?
COACH FITZGERALD: It's a lost art in football. And tackling is critically important. And we work it every day. Do we tackle to the ground every day? No, we (indiscernible) more than not. I'd like to think we practice pretty darned hard. Do we go live? Very rarely.

Number one, I want to keep our team healthy and safe. And number two, it's a long year. Especially with two bye weeks this year, it's a long season. And the way that the NCAA rules have now compressed training camp to where you have to have everything done -- you can't take days off. Everything is compressed.

You've got to maximize every day and that's what we try to do. We're trying to keep your team healthy and try to get them hard and callused. But, again, as a former defensive player, there's this old saying out there: If you can't make a tackle unblocked then you really hurt the defense. You put the defense in a really tough spot. And we had a lot of that today.

So we'll look at the angles. We'll look at the effort, look at where their heads were when there was about to be contact, period. Did we have not enough support there when we missed a tackle and why and we'll coach from it and get better. But that's the name of the game. But there's no doubt the pendulum is skewed to offenses from that standpoint, but that's our excuse. We've got to be better.

Q. Knowing that you started 1-3 last year in the Big Ten West, does that help you with your team that you can say here's the roadmap with our tough start last year?
COACH FITZGERALD: No. I don't think so. I think every team is new. And it's a different experience. I think the guys know that they can stick together because it's one game. It's a direct opponent on the road.

And we had every opportunity to win the football game. We got the ball across the 50, moving, with whatever, what was it, eight minutes, six minutes left.

As bad as we played, we're still there with every opportunity to win the game and we get a critical self-inflicted wound by a young player. We've just got to keep coaching the heck out of those guys.

He'll watch it on tape. Stanford runs games with their defensive line. They do it all the time. Twist the ends and tackles. That's why we're able to pop some plays and there's times when you get your second step crosses over and the defensive end comes underneath. Don't compound the problem by getting a holding call. It's a teachable moment and we'll work hard to get that guy better.

Q. (Indiscernible) yards, very uncharacteristic from the team. What do you think about all the (inaudible)?
COACH FITZGERALD: Not acceptable. Not acceptable. It's really disappointing. I think were usually typically pretty disciplined. And I thought the PI call was tough in the end zone. I thought that was a challenging one. I thought that was a pretty good 50/50 one, but that could go either way. So I get it.

We get called for the personal foul call and it sounds like we didn't hit the guy. I think that's more --

Q. Might have hit him with his elbow. He made contact.
COACH FITZGERALD: If there's contact with any body part to the head it should be an ejection. So why it wasn't, then maybe they got it wrong or maybe you guys are wrong. God forbid that would ever happen.

But at the end of the day we've just got to be a lot more disciplined. If you want me to throw a chair, I can. That's not going to happen. As you can see from some of the guys that made mistakes, they got a ton of football ahead of them. We got a ton of work to do as a staff.

I've always approached every team the same way, man. You coach every inch of every moment of every play and squeeze everything out of every guy that you can. And for most guys they learned a ton at the beginning of the year. And for some guys it's their first experience and they're going to get better if they work. If they don't work hard, they'll get beat out. That's the great thing about the game.

Really disappointing loss. Credit Stanford and Coach Shaw and his young men. They made plays that needed to be made to win the game and credit to them.

Q. Receivers (inaudible) the quarterback situation. What can you say about some of the receivers (inaudible)?
COACH FITZGERALD: Yeah, we've got to be better. We've got to be better. I think, there's a recurring theme on offense we've got to be better across the board. It's hard.

Quarterbacks are going to get the credit and the blame. We didn't play well, so they're going to get the blame. But there's plenty of blame to go around. Starts with us as a staff. We've got to make sure we're giving the guys the best opportunity to execute the calls we're asking them to do and then the guys gotta go out there and play and trust themselves. And looked like we had some guys that had some uncharacteristic plays today.

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