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December 10, 2018
San Diego, California
THE MODERATOR: Good evening. Welcome to our annual head coaches press conference.
41st annual San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl, Monday, December 31st, at SDCCU Stadium. Kickoff is at 4 p.m. Pregame show at 3:30.
This is our first time ever we've been on New Year's Eve. To play up to that, starting at 1:30 we're going to have the Dexcom New Year's Eve pregame party.
Cool facts here. We are one of only four non-CFP games, so four of 34, that are matching two top-25 teams against one another. This is also the first time that either of these teams have played in the Holiday Bowl.
The designated visitors for the game, the Northwestern Wildcats, Big Ten West division champions, 8-1 in conference, 8-5 overall, ranked 22nd in the country.
The designated home team, Utah Utes, first appearance here, Pac-12 South champions. 6-3 conference record, 9-4 overall, ranked 17th in the country.
First we're going to bring up Coach Fitzgerald. He's going to say a few words, then we'll open it up to questions. After that, we'll bring up Coach Whittingham.
It's my pleasure to introduce and bring up to the podium head coach of the Northwestern Wildcats, Coach Pat Fitzgerald.
PAT FITZGERALD: Thank you. On behalf of Maury Schapiro, our president, Jim Phillips, our great director of athletics, all our great alums in the state of California, excited to see them. Saw them in Berkeley, great experience.
We are honored to be here at the San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl. Our guys have earned this opportunity. It's been a long road, a long journey for us this year. Really challenging, challenging season. But our guys really responded well, dealt with the adversity we had to fight through. I'm incredibly proud of them.
I've had a chance to get to know Kyle well over our years, being part of the Under Armour family. To watch his team on tape, absolutely outstanding football team. It's going to be a huge challenge for us. Hopefully we'll prepare well and come out and put on a good show for everybody here in Southern California.
Our first time obviously here in the Holiday Bowl. To be in San Diego, Mark, thank you, all the great volunteers that make this bowl special. Someone that has had the privilege of playing two bowl games myself, now lead our institution to a number of bowl games, I'm a firm believer in the bowl system. The opportunity it presents for our student-athletes, a majority of our guys have never been to San Diego, this opportunity will be absolutely outstanding for them.
There's nothing like a bowl game to bring a university together. All of our West Coast alums, to get an opportunity to come here to San Diego to really enjoy, especially for us Chicagoans, the wonderful weather. It was great leaving 32 degrees on the airplane, landing everybody was excited, the weather was bad. I am like, This is pretty good. We'll take this anyway.
An honor to represent the Big Ten. We found a way to win the West this year. Ran into a tough challenge in the Big Ten championship game. Our guys have earned this great opportunity. We're honored to be here.
On behalf of our entire football program, thank you for the invitation, thank you so much. Go Cats.
I can answer some questions.
Q. Coaching philosophies in bowl games. Your attitude about how much flexibility you're going to give regarding curfews. How much for fun, how much for business?
PAT FITZGERALD: I wish I had Kyle's record. You're 11-1. Unbelievable. I'm going to ask him after the game what he does.
Quite frankly, I think a bowl game is a reward for a great season. I want our guys to have fun. We're in finals right now in Evanston. We had practice this morning before I got on the plane to come out. We'll practice again Wednesday and Friday, Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday of next week. I'll give the guys about five days off. We'll come down Christmas night.
I want them for a couple days to enjoy the sights, scenes and sounds of San Diego. Our seniors have been to four straight bowls, four unique places for their lives. I want them to enjoy it, have fun.
But it's about motivation and preparation. You have to be motivated the right way when you show up for meetings and practice. You have to prepare the right way, especially with a great Utah team that we're playing. We're going to have our hands full on the field, we know that. We have to prepare properly to make sure we're prepared for the game.
I want to bring our family together, our football family, our university family together, really enjoy the moment being here in San Diego.
Q. Holiday Bowl has a history of high-scoring games. Do you think defense might take a night off?
PAT FITZGERALD: It's funny, we've been a part of a lot of interesting matchups throughout our year in the Big Ten, gone into some games and Monday press conferences both defenses are highly ranked. You think it is going to be a low-scoring game. We give up more points than we ever gave up.
Their defense is absolutely outstanding. I can read through the stats. When you pop on the tape, they play tough, they play physical, they play with grit, they play together. It's really impressive to watch. Then the adversity they've overcome at Utah with the amount of injuries they've had, especially on the offensive side of the ball, has been so impressive to watch their young players mature, then to win obviously the Pac South.
You pop that on, right, you just go to yourself, Wow, we have our hands full. As you look to this matchup here on New Year's Eve, I think it really comes down to, quite frankly, typically who executes well based on the way you prepare. I assume both teams are going to prepare really well. You don't win a divisional championship without preparing well.
I've seen some articles, press conferences this year, what they've done, really impressive. Going to be a huge challenge.
Q. As you said, four straight bowls for the seniors, first ever Holiday Bowl. What milestone does that say about your program versus where it was five, ten years ago?
PAT FITZGERALD: Well, I say a lot in Chicago: We're not your father's Northwestern. Back in the day, it was obviously a different time. Quite frankly, the support that our players received was not where it is today.
We're very grateful, thankful for what we receive. We just moved into a brand-new $270 million facility on the shores of Lake Michigan. Very thankful for that.
This is a reward for our great year. Proud of our seniors. Hopefully we'll prepare well and play an outstanding Utah team.
Q. Your first time out here. What does the Holiday Bowl mean to your players? Were they curious about what it's all about in San Diego, the history?
PAT FITZGERALD: Yeah, some of the guys came to me after they heard the announcement they were coming out to the Holiday Bowl. They were like, Coach, these games have been shootouts. It will be a wild one.
Go to class, I'll see you at practice tomorrow. Whatever.
This is one of those games as a kid from the Midwest you would watch growing up. You dream of going to California, playing in the post-season, getting a bowl opportunity. The great, rich tradition and history here of this great bowl game.
For our guys to be part of it means the world. Four great bowl games for us is spectacular. We're excited for the opportunity. Wish it was against an opponent that wasn't as tough as Kyle's guys. It's going to be a huge challenge.
It's an amazing opportunity for our young men. We're excited for it.
Q. Coach Whittingham has a history with this game. Do you remember what you were doing from 1978 to '81?
PAT FITZGERALD: 1978, I was four years old (laughter). 1981, I was eight years old (laughter).
I'll leave that between my mom, my dad and myself. I'm sure I was not the greatest kid. I think I was a little bit of a wild hair. But it was a lot of fun, yeah.
Q. The fact that it is being played on New Year's Eve, does that add to any of the fun of it?
PAT FITZGERALD: Yeah, absolutely. It's going to be great playing on New Year's Eve. I think number one, how about everybody here in San Diego coming out to the game, starting the New Year's Eve party at 4:00. You can roll out of the game, take a shower, rally, go out and celebrate the new year.
We're anticipating having a lot of fun. That's what bowl games are all about. It's exciting, fun. We get an opportunity to bring our young men, very few have been to San Diego to have this unique opportunity to be a part of this amazing community, to share in the culture, have a lot of fun, hopefully give back a little bit, really experience what bowl season is all about.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, coach. We are excited to have the Northwestern Wildcats coming out here, for sure.
The coach of the Utah Utes, Kyle Whittingham, has played in four Holiday Bowls before. He's also in our Hall of Fame with the defensive MVP in 1981. Now he's the coach of the Utah Utes. Kyle Whittingham.
KYLE WHITTINGHAM: I guess that really dates me. I played in the first four, come full circle. We're back here. In fact, Coach (indiscernible) was our coordinator in '81 when we came here. That was the Washington State game, beat Washington State that year.
It's great to be back. Our players are elated to be in this game. It's a great reward, as Coach Fitz mentioned, for a very good season. Great destination, San Diego. The timing is great for our fans. It's just win-win all around.
I can't say how excited we are and thrilled to be here. Got Utah alum here tonight. Thank you for coming, appreciate you. Got the Utah tie going.
Great matchup. Coach Fitz, tough sun-of-a-gun. His team emulates him: physical, hard-nosed, which we like to think of ourselves the same way. Should be a great matchup. Two tough teams going at each other.
The coaches, coaching staff, excited as well. Thanks to our new athletic director, Mark Harlan, our president Ruth Watkins. A lot of people involved in getting us here.
Like I said, we're excited for the opportunity. Can't wait till the 31st. We'll be ready to go.
Q. The week that you lost your quarterback and your runningback, was that the week of the Oregon game?
KYLE WHITTINGHAM: Arizona State game.
Q. What was that week like, to lose those two key positions?
KYLE WHITTINGHAM: We lost 80 something percent of our offense in one fell swoop with losing those two guys. Obviously a devastating blow.
But we came back, had a team meeting on Monday. Next-man-up mentality, which most teams do. Said, Hey, we're missing these guys, here are the next guys up, we believe in these guys, let's go.
Everybody has to rally behind them, help pick up the slack. It's not just the two guys replacing the two starters, but everybody has to pick up.
Very proud of the way our guys handled adversity all year long. We had to come out and win out to put our ourselves in the position to win the South. Our kids responded. Beat Oregon, Colorado, then beat our rivals right down south, BYU, right in succession with those guys, those new players.
Like coach's team, our guys answered the bell all season long. Stared adversity in the face, never flinched. I've been coaching a lot of years, this might have been my most enjoyable year of coaching.
The personality of our football team this year was incredible. Great leadership. Only 11 scholarship seniors, but the leadership and the things those guys provided were incredible from that senior class.
Q. I heard Utah fans inundated the Holiday Bowl offices with letters asking for the invitation. What does that say about the desire of your team to be here?
KYLE WHITTINGHAM: It says a lot. We got great fans. We've sold out 57, 58 some odd straight games. The support we have from our community is incredible. Our fans are great. Doesn't surprise me they took things into their own hands and wanted to make sure you guys knew they were going to come down if we got invited to this game.
Can't say enough good things about our fans, the support they've given our players over the last several, many years.
Q. Did you have an extra message to give your players about what this bowl means because of your experience here?
KYLE WHITTINGHAM: Not really. We're pretty used to the bowl situation. Had a pretty good run of getting into bowls. I don't think that my participation in the game really factors in.
But I can tell them firsthand what a great experience it was. When I was a college football player, I remember vividly every game down here in the Holiday Bowl. It was really the highlight of the year. Really was a great experience. We had just a great time together.
I told them, Hey, you're in for a really good experience.
Q. From your playing experiences here, any memory stand out?
KYLE WHITTINGHAM: Yeah, there's a few. Let's see, against SMU, I made 22 tackles, 21 of them were about 10 yards plus downfield chasing Eric Dickerson and Craig James. The stats were padded, I guess, because I was looking at their rear-ends (laughter). That was the game we won in the last second there, Hail Mary pass. Two Catholics connected on a Hail Mary at a Mormon school to win the game. That was interesting.
I had the dubious honor of being the first guy to run a fake punt in a bowl game. It was my sophomore year in the Holiday Bowl. It was fourth-and-one, I got six inches. We didn't get the first down because I got stopped.
But I have a lot of great memories here. Holiday Bowls one, two, three and four were outstanding. Been wanting to get back here since. Took 30 some odd years, but now we're back, so...
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports