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December 28, 2016

Pat Fitzgerald

Kyle Queiro

Justin Jackson

New York, New York

Northwestern - 31, Pitt - 24

THE MODERATOR: We have head Coach Pat Fitzgerald, Justin Jackson, MVP of today's game, and Kyle Queiro.

Coach, if you want to start off with some comments.

COACH FITZGERALD: Thanks, everybody, for being here. First of all, to the Steinbrenner family, to the New York Yankees, to everybody involved in the organization, this trip was absolutely first class. We're very, very thankful to Randy, his staff, to Mark, John Mosley who was with us the whole time, Emily and all the staff that are part of the day-to-day operations that make this bowl week here in New York City absolutely phenomenal. We can't thank them enough. We hope we made them proud in the way we went out and competed today.

Been to a lot of bowl games. There's something special about being in New York City for the holidays. This was first class in every manner and every fashion. We just want to thank them for an unbelievable week.

Looking to the game, first of all, what a great season by the Pitt Panthers. Watching them on tape, we knew we were going to have our hands full in all three phases today. Our guys I thought prepared really well. We made some tweaks to our preparation from last year's bowl experience.

Between the last game last year and our bowl experience, I think we lost our edge. I think we hardened our edge during this bowl prep.

I think, number one, our guys bought into the game plan. They bought into the way we were going to practice and prepare. It was not easy, either in Evanston or when we came down here. The guys embraced that. We got better and we really improved.

Then I think when we got to the game today, we had some guys make some big plays. Obviously Justin's day will go down in Northwestern's football history as one of the best performances ever by a runningback. He'll be the first to give credit to the offensive line and the wide receivers for the great job they did blocking. But I think he made quite a few guys miss out there on the field, too. It was a spectacular day.

Defensively, Kyle's huge pick there at the end, I think we had a couple other huge interceptions, two in the scoring zone, very opportunistic there. Then obviously the fall recovery that Joe had was big. Turnovers made the difference, which they typically do in bowl season, the opener.

Our hopes and prayers are that all the players that got banged up today get healthy and heal up quickly.

We're honored to be the New Era Pinstripe Bowl champions and send our seniors out the right way.

A big shout out to Danny Kanell and the ESPN crew that told us we'd just be happy to be here and that our motivation would be low, and they had I think 40 out of 40 confidence points. That was a video I showed the guys when we showed up here in New York. I think it put things in perspective for where we're at. Our video crew put that together. That's the last thing we saw video-wise today.

I greatly appreciate the external motivation. Cannot thank that group of three men enough. I'm proud to blow out their bowl season predictions, because the guys to my right, they're the ones that did it along with our staff.

An honor to be here and an honor to be champions.

With that, I'll open it up to questions.

Q. Coach, on the go-head touchdown drive, two gutsy first down conversions. Can you take me through those decisions.
COACH FITZGERALD: I'm not sure, I don't have the stats in front of me. How many times did we go for it today?

Q. Four.
COACH FITZGERALD: I think it will be 28 on the year, I believe, if my stats are correct.

We've done a lot of research on some things in the off-season. We felt like we needed to be a little bit more aggressive in that situation all season. The guys went out and executed, did a terrific job.

You're playing an outstanding offense. My concern was that if we got behind more than one possession it was going to be tough. So our plan was to be aggressive all game. The guys went out and executed very well.

Q. Justin, I saw you nodding when coach said the bowl prep was a little more intense. Maybe there was more running involved or something. Explain that to us. Also this gynormous day you've had.
JUSTIN JACKSON: Yeah, I mean, it was a lot different than last year. I think we needed it, especially after our performance last year. Like coach said, the guys really embraced it. The first day, it was kind of a surprise to a lot of people. But after that I think people stepped up to the plate, and I think it really helped us be in condition come fourth quarter when we needed to make some big plays. And we did.

As for today, I think we just had a great team effort, by the defense, by the offense. We needed to make big plays, and we did. I think that hard edge we got these past three weeks really helped us today because there were a lot of key moments where we needed to make a play, and we went out there and we did, whether it was O-line making huge blocks, us running quarterback sneak five times, being successful, or making that huge catch on third down. We were on the minus 30.

Like coach said, it took a lot to get here against a great team, but I think we came out and played well.

Q. Everyone on the Internet was buzzing about your future, where you're going to be playing ball next fall.
JUSTIN JACKSON: You know, you don't come here and not get a degree, so... I'll leave that at that.

COACH FITZGERALD: He just asked you that? There's no way. There's no way. Your dad would kill you, man (laughter). I'm not dealing with that.

Q. Coach, going back to the first quarter, that fourth-and-inches stop on the goal line. First, what did you see from the sideline on that play? What does that do for your team when you're able to get a stop like that early in the game?
COACH FITZGERALD: Huge change in the momentum of game, right? They made a play. Their young man slipped and fell. I thought the officials were outstanding today, for a game that had a lot of craziness. I thought they were great. They let the guys play, for the most part, which always as a coach is what I like to see. I thought they were outstanding.

But the right call on third down by the official. The young man was down. I just saw the guys fit it properly. The sideline erupted. It was a huge shift in momentum. Then we go on a 99-yard drive that took a lot of guts out of our offense to get that thing done.

We're in the shadow of our end zone. To be able to go get that done today, I think in that setting right there, that was huge. That changed momentum. I think it gave our entire squad great confidence. Then when we needed to step up and get a stop defensively, we could. You could drive a truck through that one hole that J.J. went through. It was spectacular.

Q. Kyle, where were you on that play? What did you see from it?
KYLE QUEIRO: It was pretty straightforward. Just seemed like a downhill running play. I was actually underneath the guy who was jumping over me. I believe that Anthony kind of held him back a little bit to what I know.

It was just them against us pretty much.

Q. Coach, you've become increasingly dependent on juniors and younger this year. With how young this team has become, getting this win, what does that mean moving forward into the off-season?
COACH FITZGERALD: First of all from our senior standpoint, I'm just very proud of those guys. They've been through a lot. We probably had more seniors in street clothes today than we had playing or pretty close. A lot of guys have battled tough injuries.

I think they've been great Wildcat men. They've persevered through it. They've had to find their own ways and paths, because it's difficult going through injury. I know that. I lived through it, missing a Rose Bowl. That was tough and challenging.

I think they're enjoying that locker room as much as anybody right now. I'm very happy that they were able to be a part of that.

I think for the future, hopefully this shows our guys just how hard it is to be a champion. We came out of the gates pretty beat up. We didn't start the way we wanted to collectively. The young men had to take control of the locker room. We had to have guys step up. We went through some growing pains.

I think we showed in maybe mid October and November that we had the toughness and the grit to be a competitive Big Ten football team. But we didn't play at a championship level, and that obviously starts and ends with me.

For us, I think the way we finished here with a win over our rival, then to come in here and beat a top-25 team in the fashion that we did, I think it shows that the foundation's solid for the future. The experience that our guys received, especially the younger guys in the secondary, the offensive line, Johnny Moten in the backfield, to see the way our receivers stepped up this year, the way they improved, then the next generation of D-linemen getting their opportunities, I could keep going on and on with what they did and how they did it.

So very thankful for them. But I think the future's really bright. We're building that brand-new facility. We're going to be in there very soon. I'm excited about the future without a doubt.

But we're going to enjoy tonight. We're staying tonight. Guys are going to have good, clean, American fun. I'm proud of 'em.

Q. Pat, you mentioned at the top of your statement about the staff here at Yankee Stadium. Obviously you're a Wildcat through and through, as is Joe Girardi. What is your relationship like with him? What is it like to have a guy like that that's so into this program?
COACH FITZGERALD: Coach Joe is amazing. First of all, all of you that cover the Yankees know who he is. He's a genuine person. He's a terrific man, a great father, a great leader and molder of young men, and a champion.

He's been incredibly gracious to myself and my family and to our Northwestern football family. He's been an honorary captain for us. He's been at multiple games of ours.

He's been a great sounding board for me. There's been a lot of times I've asked him questions about leadership, how he handles things. I think he's got a little bit brighter spotlight on him from that standpoint than I do. To see the grace and humility he demonstrates on a daily basis is really inspiring as another leader.

To have that type of support, he's a family member. I think when you have a small private school, 8,000 students, I think everybody that's ever put on the purple and white is really smiling large at the effort level, what these young men did today.

Q. Pat, a lot of people say there are too many bowl games. You go 6-6, but this game seemed to have meant a lot to Northwestern. You haven't had a lot of bowl victories in the school. What wouldn't you have if you don't have this 13th game this year?
COACH FITZGERALD: I think it would be a huge hole in the experience of college football players. I believe every game is meaningful. I think every game is significant. With the way things are right now, how many injuries, you've got to play the game and do everything you possibly can on a daily basis to embrace it, to love it, and know that it is short-lived. I mean, this is not a forever thing.

Austin Carr gave a great chapel last night. A quote from Coach Carroll about how we live in a fantasy world. It's a temporary fantasy world. He was talking about it in prose, but it's the same thing in college. It's a temporary fantasy.

These guys love to play. They love to play. That's why you go to college. You go to college to play games. I believe every game is meaningful. I believe every bowl is meaningful. You look at the impact hopefully we had on New York City. I know we've been in other communities. The opportunity to go to children's hospitals. The impact of 9/11, our guys going, had on their lives. It will be with them the rest of their lives. In the arena is only three and a half hours, but the bowl experience is second to none, especially this one has been absolutely spectacular, an experience that our guys I think would never trade.

I hope and pray that that never changes. I've experienced it as a player. I've experienced it as an assistant coach and now as a head coach. I think the bowl season is absolutely spectacular.

I think those that have a negative opinion to it probably didn't play, didn't coach, and didn't experience it. I get it. As a fan, you're a consumer. Go watch something else. I think for every college football fan, they love watching games. I think for every player and coach, they love competing. I'm all for it.

Q. Coach, today obviously Justin didn't get a lot of the headlines. On the outside, they did a pretty good job on Austin. You had guys step up, Wilson had a few huge plays. Garrett Dickerson as well. And Kyle, maybe you can talk about this, Jared Magee stepping up. What can you say about those guys?
KYLE QUEIRO: Yeah, especially from the defensive back perspective, we had a lot of young guys. Just to have some guys play in this big moment experience, especially at the start of the game, some struggles, rebound from that, which I think is the story of our whole team. To be able to step up, Jared especially, he was just reading the quarterback really well today, making breaks while we were playing man-to-man defense. That definitely gave us the underneath guys, especially the freshmen as well, a sense of confidence that we can play aggressive on these guys. Jared or if not Godwin will help us out over the top definitely.

COACH FITZGERALD: Yeah, I mean, I think there were a couple really good throw-aways by Clayton today. They had some really good underneath coverage. Seemed like they were playing a lot of catch man right at the junction point getting pretty aggressive on Austin. That's what it looked like from the boundary. That's a good technique. Sometimes more than not that's called holding in our league. A little bit different today, which is okay. You got to learn how it's being called. I'm not negative about the officiating. You got to be more physical then at the top of your break.

I think we learned as a receiver corps as the game went along. But that's very similar to what we've seen from coach and his defenses at Michigan State. That's why they're so good. They're very aggressive. They're almost aggressive as far as you allow them to be. I think that's really good coaching. I think they had a good plan.

I think Austin still got a couple. I think he showed why he was a Biletnikoff finalist. I thought that whole room improved this year. It starts with the leadership of the seniors. I thought the guys took this mindset in the off-season that for that room to get a different identity and to gain respect, they're going to have to go out and earn it every rep, every day. They fell back in love with football, some guys, and they really grinded.

I think the product is a result of that.

Q. Justin, New York, Yankee Stadium, a lot of spotlight on this game, ESPN game. Was there a part of you that wanted to put on a show today, show a lot of people how good you and this team are?
JUSTIN JACKSON: Big city, big stage. Just walking into Yankee Stadium yesterday I think hit a lot of us. I think all of us really wanted to go out there and prove against a big team, a team who beat Clemson, their only loss, a top-25 team, beat Penn State as well, that we deserved to be here. We're not just happy to be here; we're here to win it. That's what we did.

COACH FITZGERALD: That was another quote from ESPN.

Q. Coach, getting back to the part about bowl games, all the experiences with that, how special was it to get to go to the New York Stock Exchange, ring the opening bell? Was that ever something you thought you'd get to do as part of a bowl trip someday?
COACH FITZGERALD: All the experiences here every day were really unbelievable. It was just experience after experience after experience that was unique. Again, a lot of our guys had never been to New York City, let alone coming in from the airport and all of a sudden we hit Manhattan, it's like, Yeah, we're not in Kansas anymore, Toto, this is New York. I could tell.

We talked about it in the first team meeting that we had here. When it's time to be focused in meetings, focused on the field, let's go get ready to play ball. When we get on the bus and we get back after meetings, go have fun, be smart, make great choices like we always do as Wildcat men. I wanted them to enjoy the city. This will be an experience that they'll have for the rest of their lives, an experience that they'll be talking to their kids about. A guy from Jersey saw some things maybe he had never seen before. I don't know. It was really cool.

Q. Justin or Pat, were you aware late in the game he was closing in on the Pinstripe Bowl rushing record?
JUSTIN JACKSON: No. We wanted to win the game. Yeah, we don't pay attention to that. I know it came down to the wire. We pulled it out.

COACH FITZGERALD: Did you get it? Did he get the record?

Q. Just short, a few yards short.

COACH FITZGERALD: What happened on the bubble screen? Did it count as a rush or was it a negative-yard rush? This is why stats are for losers. When the ball was thrown as a lateral, was that a negative-yard rush on Clayton? It was a terrible throw, so good.

We'll get to go over every yard. We hope to be able to present Justin with the rushing record when we get back to Evanston. We missed a half a yard somewhere.

Anything else?

Q. Justin, just to follow up, what was it like to play in Yankee Stadium? I don't know if you're a baseball fan at all. What was it like to be in this environment?
JUSTIN JACKSON: Yeah, it's an iconic venue. Like I said yesterday, I think it was important for us, because we walked in and it hit us. It was pretty surreal.

Today we just kind of go in there and focus up and play the game. Yeah, after the game, the lights are on. You're looking up. Everything is lit. After we won the game, you kind of just take in the moment. It was pretty cool.

Q. What struck you about this place?
JUSTIN JACKSON: I mean, it's really just the aura about it. Great people have gone through here. I think a lot of people, Derek Jeter has peed in this urinal, just stupid stuff like that. But it is true. It's crazy. Great players have went through here. It's just cool to be in the home locker room and to get a win in Yankee Stadium.

COACH FITZGERALD: Guys snuck behind and made the auxiliary lockers, one, two, doing the numbers, trying to figure out whose locker it was. It was pathetic.

Q. Coach, looking ahead from a personnel standpoint, losing a Biletnikoff finalist is tough, but what do you see from your guys today? How confident are you that the group will be able to step up next year?
COACH FITZGERALD: I'm extremely confident in that group. There's a lot of names that I think are going to really improve through the experiences they had this year. To have Garrett back as a senior. We had a great (indiscernible) now. Had three guys in a row in that super back position, with Drake Dunsmore, with Danny, now Garrett, that I think he's just another big piece of the puzzle. It's been great.

Q. Justin, coach said that your game today is up there with some of the best runningback performances in school history. Were you feeling that at all during the game?
JUSTIN JACKSON: It was crazy, it was so back and forth. You felt like you always had to make a play offensively to get us back in the game.

I think we were just trying to go out there. A lot of times we were down three or four, trying to get the lead back. Third-and-nine, third-and-10, running the ball. Coach putting trust in the run game is pretty cool. Just have to go out there and get a play because we're not just happy to be here.

Q. Coach, Teddy had a report today that talked about how Anthony and Godwin were going to do a little research about leaving early for the NFL Draft. What is your role with them over the next few weeks as they try to decide whether they're going to come back or leave early?
COACH FITZGERALD: I think my role in that is critically important from a standpoint of gathering information. We'll go back, I don't know, to midway through the off-season last year. I brought both those guys in and said, I believe based on the performance that you've had, it would be in our best interest to put you into the draft class evaluation. You get a choice on whether or not you want to come out or whether you want to come back. But let's go all in so we get a true evaluation.

Instead of letting the NFL know in December, let's let them right now know that we want an evaluation because you'll get a true evaluation on where you're at and we'll work forward from that.

That's involvement, talking to family members. Cody Cejda on our staff is our NFL liaison. I forget the total number, but it was 100 scouts that they came through, like they always do, from all 32 teams.

The head coach has a choice whether or not he wants to talk about guys that have two years remaining or not. I made sure I was very clear, even last spring when guys were coming out for our pro day for that senior class, that we were going to do this. I would gladly answer all questions on Godwin and on Anthony, not for me but more importantly for them and for their families to get them all the information they needed to make the best educated decision they can.

To me that's a win-win for your program. When you have great players that are playing well, that put themselves in position to have that type of evaluation, that's what we try to do as a program, develop our guys to be the best in everything that they do.

We'll continue to work through that process. I think they'll make the best decision, first and foremost for themselves and for their families, and we'll be there to support them 100%.

I think some people look at it as a negative. I think it's a complete total positive. My hope is to have 22 guys every year instead of two to get evaluated, right? I think we've got more than just those two that have redshirts coming back that are going to be NFL players. But based on the years they had not this season but the year before, I felt that was the right decision to make.

Q. Pat, Pittsburgh led the country in touchdown percentages in the red zone, 80 some percent, went two for seven in this game. Was that kind of the theme of your bowl prep defensively, red zone?

Q. Where does this sort of rate as an accomplishment relative to the season and your bowl teams?
COACH FITZGERALD: We work hard on that. We work really hard down on the red zone. They were unbelievable on tape. I mean, you watched them on tape, it was, like... Every time they were down there they were scoring touchdowns.

We just felt like we had to fit things properly, and we couldn't give them anything cheap. We created turnovers. That was huge. I mean, that was the difference in the game, right? I mean, you got a one-score game. We had two interceptions basically at the goal line, right, if my recollection is correct. Those are huge points off the board.

But I think Mike Hankwitz, he's a pro's pro, outstanding coordinator, great teacher of the game. I thought our guys were really well-prepared.

Q. Coach, Justin through three years as a guy came in, not a whole lot of true freshmen play a ton from the get-go. Justin did. Even last year when you, to put it lightly, didn't have the balance you had last year, and this year to see him be that consistent through all three years, what do you think that shows? What has he meant for you these three years?
COACH FITZGERALD: He's meant everything. I mean, first of all, as a teammate, he's incredibly giving. He's humble. He's a great worker. He gets I think more and more out of his comfort zone from a leadership position. He's going to be thrust into a bigger one next year.

He's more of a lead-by-example guy. This year he's had to step up, especially because of a lot of our injuries. I'm very proud of him for that.

I think just brutally consistent. He's got a brutality about his game. He's tough. The pile always goes forward. He can make you miss in space. I mean, he's got some unbelievable ankle-breaking rules out there. He's just incredibly consistent.

I think the best part, again, is he's just genuine. What you see is what you get. It's an honor and a privilege to be his coach. I can't wait to get to winter workouts and make him better.

Before we get going, like to lift our thoughts and players to Craig Sager's family. A great friend to our program. He played in our booster club golf outing. Been very supportive to the university, to Northwestern athletics, Northwestern football.

Then a good friend of ours here in New York, Sandy Sachs (phonetic), passed away. To all those that have come to New York, myself and Stacy will be one of the first to Sue and the Sachs family, our thoughts and prayers, along with Jim Phillips in our athletic department. Great Wildcat. Was a captain for us. We lost two great Wildcats. I know there's more, but those two great fends.

Thanks, again, everybody from the New York Pinstripe Bowl. It's been first class.

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