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December 30, 2018

Pat Fitzgerald

San Diego, California

PAT FITZGERALD: Good morning, everybody. What a great week it's been here in San Diego. I want to thank Mark Neville and everyone from the Holiday Bowl. It's been absolutely spectacular for our families, young men, entire football program. I want to say thank you to the red coats, the great volunteers that I think make bowls special.

For our football program, to be able to come out here and experience an unbelievable first-class bowl experience in San Diego has been absolutely amazing.

Again, want to congratulate Coach Whit and the Utah Utes on an outstanding season. As you prepare for a team, especially in the opener or bowl game, you have an extended period of time to watch their video. Just so impressive fundamentally. Schematically they put a lot of pressure on you. They're so physical and tough, well-coordinated, play well together.

You have to tip your hat to the entire staff. The adversity they've overcome has been incredibly impressive to watch. We know we're going to have our hands full tomorrow evening.

I think our guys have prepared well. They've enjoyed the time in San Diego when it's been time to enjoy it, but they've been very focused, disciplined, locked in when it's time to meet and practice.

We greatly appreciate a first class experience here in San Diego.

One of the highlights without a doubt was going on the Theodore Roosevelt, that was a special, special opportunity for us, and our guys loved it. To all of our military stationed here in San Diego and the greater southern California area, thank you for your sacrifice, we appreciate it for all you do for us and our freedom.

Go ahead with questions.

Q. What have you noticed looking over the tape of Kyle's team, exactly what you guys are planning on?
PAT FITZGERALD: Well, from a film standpoint, like I said earlier, tough, physical, well-coordinated, great depth. We're very similar from the standpoint that both teams have overcome a ton of adversity from injuries. To see the way that younger guys stepped up on their tape, as you continue to watch, they just kept getting better and better. The way they finished, able to come back and win games down the stretch. There's a reason why they played in the Pac-12 championship. They were outstanding, outstanding season. We're going to have our hands full as far as schematics.

Quite frankly, in any bowl game it's ABCs, 123s. It's elementary football. You got to get up to the speed of the game, execute fundamentally, execute what you're doing, play clean. It's really not any more complicated than that.

Q. Do you see a lot of similarities in your style of play?
PAT FITZGERALD: I think there's a lot of similarities there. I think when you look both of us have (indiscernible) in our blood, linebackers, want to play the game the right way. Usually it's a line of scrimmage type game when you play teams like us. Especially in our league, it's something we've had to definitely improve on in my 13 years. We've had to improve at the line of scrimmage. I think we're gaining on that. We're still not where we want to be as a program, but we're gaining on where we want to be from a line of scrimmage standpoint.

Schematics are a little bit different, but I think from the way we play, we're very, very similar.

Q. What have been the common dominators for you in winning these three bowl games in the last four years?
PAT FITZGERALD: We've had fourth quarter battles. Gone all the way down to the wire. We found a way to get it done. Not necessarily been very pretty. We've made plenty of mistakes. That happens in the post-season when you've had this much time off.

We found a way to win. We kept battling. We played some pretty darn good teams, and here we go again. I think this is my ninth bowl game, we're nine-for-nine being underdogs. It's nothing new to us from a standpoint of the teams that we're playing, the quality of teams we're playing, the quality of coaching talent that we're playing.

Hopefully we'll execute cleanly and make it a game we can compete in. As you look at the games that have led up to really tomorrow, early on the games were kind of I think a little bit cleaner. As time has gone on, you see more turnovers, you see defenses play I think at times a little bit better, then at other times you've seen defenses play really poorly. Jekyl and Hyde as you watch teams play.

Layoff is a little bit of a challenge, especially from a standpoint of the team speed they have, the schematics they present for us. It's going to be definitely challenging. Again, hopefully we'll play clean and play well.

Q. Your quarterback, he's been going through injuries throughout the year. With all this time to prepare, what percentage is he at now?
PAT FITZGERALD: I think Clayton, it's well-documented, what he went through. A year ago at this time went through a devastating injury in the Music City Bowl. There were a lot of questions whether or not he'd be able to play this year, let alone start in the opener.

Now this is going to be I believe his 52nd consecutive start, 53rd maybe. Obviously unmatched in our program and the Big Ten's history. That durability, that toughness is unmatched from the standpoint of the quarterback play.

He's been a warrior. We're just so proud and thankful for him. He's been through a lot. It's interesting. People that follow our program, here is a guy that is the all-time winningest quarterback in program history, taken us now to four straight bowl games, led us to the Big Ten championship game, here to the Holiday Bowl. Outside of our program, I don't know if a lot of people know who he is.

The NFL does. Obviously going to the Senior Bowl coming up, a lot of things after that. But just so thankful for him. He's a young man that we've watched since he was a sophomore in high school. Now you go through that whole process, to see where he's at now, married, ready for the NFL, ready for life, we're just so thankful for him. He's been such a great leader for us. Very proud of him.

Q. Pat, coming as close as you did to the Big Ten championship, as nice as everything is with the Holiday Bowl, do you have any Rose Bowl remorse this month?
PAT FITZGERALD: Absolutely not, no. You get what you earn. We earned the privilege to go to the Big Ten championship. We earned our way back into that game. We did not play very well early. The score reflected that. I thought we settled down at halftime. I thought the guys refocused, reenergized, recommitted to the plan. We came out in the third quarter, we put ourselves in position. 10 minutes left in the game, three-point game. We also made mistakes.

I'd like to credit this team called Ohio State. They're pretty frickin' good. Look at that dude, look at that dude. How are we going to cover that guy? Then they ran the ball, Haskins ran the ball, it was over. The game was over. Shook Urban's hand. Congratulated him. Little did I know he was going to be retiring.

It's outstanding football team. I said it yesterday, I think deserved to be in the final four, from a team standpoint, from the way they were playing the last couple weeks.

My hope is we revisit that. When we were initially told what the Playoff was going to be, at least in our league, it was going to go to conference champions, teams with the strength of schedule, the best four teams when we got to the end of the season.

I think two of those teams made a statement like that last night, no doubt about that, pretty impressive to watch. I don't want to speak for coach, but that's a goal of ours. We want to get our program to that point. To be one win away from being the Big Ten champions, nine minutes away, pretty incredible.

I look at the month, a motivating month. When we walk off the field tomorrow, my sole focus will go to what do we need to do this year to take the next step in the off-season. We did a full program evaluation last year, like every off-season, made some tweaks, some changes, we started the season 1-3. Great job in the off-season study, that worked out well (laughter). This year, maybe we don't study anything, go play some golf.

Miserable start, but an honor to be here.

Q. When you go up against a coach like Kyle Whittingham, 11-1 record in bowls, does that change your approach? What kind of mentality do you have knowing his record?
PAT FITZGERALD: I prayed a lot, hoping coach would share his plan. He hasn't yet. Maybe after the game he will (laughter).

You just tip your hat. He's a coach's coach, one of the best, a pro's pro. We've known each other now for a number of years, as Kevin has invited us through Under Armour to get together. It's been just great and fun to watch from afar the job that Coach Whit has done. You look at the guys he's developed to go on to play on Sunday, now lead this program to championship level, been close like us a number of years. It's impressive to watch.

I'll be a huge fan in every game except tomorrow afternoon. It's one of those that it's been really impressive to watch.

Q. Elephant in the room question. A lot of rumors around about the Green Bay Packers having an interest in you.

Q. Yes.
PAT FITZGERALD: Really? Sure it's not Kyle?

I thought Teddy reported that over a month ago. I'll reiterate my stance what I said to him a month ago. I don't talk about rumors, number one, and number two, hashtag (indiscernible). How does that sound?

Q. You got a couple seniors on defense that are going to be sitting out because of injuries.
PAT FITZGERALD: Thanks for the reminder, buddy. Appreciate it (laughter).

Q. Can you use these games as a kickstart to next year, too, getting younger guys playing? Has the redshirt rule this year changed any of that?
PAT FITZGERALD: Yeah, absolutely it has. Without a doubt. I think that's one of the best rules. We've been working on that now as a Board of Trustees for a number of years. Todd Berry, who leads our association, was finally able to work with the NCAA to get that rule passed. It just makes so much sense to give us the opportunity and the flexibility to have our entire roster.

We're going to manage it better next year than we did this year. We learned a lot this year. Probably played a couple of guys too much early that limited our ability to play them later in the year. We'll learn from that experience.

Now as we've gotten to the end, we have a little bit of flexibility with some guys as we went through the year that we've been able to use especially in the kicking game. A handful of freshmen make plays in the Big Ten championship game that did not play in the college game, now they're out there covering kicks. That's key for us.

As a developmental program, to have the ability to have our entire roster is critically important. So very thankful for that rule change. I hope we'll be better at it in the future. Definitely going to have an opportunity to have some guys play tomorrow night, again, as a game three, two, is it their first game, game four, but then protect their redshirt.

That's the beautiful thing about our place, to have the number one graduation rate in the place. A 3.2 GPA this quarter. 80 guys over a 3.0. These guys are studs in the classroom. To lead us to a championship is spectacular. You fast forward that four years from now, that gives those guys that redshirted an opportunity to go to graduate school at our place. Last year we set a national record with the number of guys in grad school. Five guys in the Kellogg's program. You want to talk about being set for life. That's what it's all about, using our game to get the guys prepared for life.

I think that four-game rule is going to really impact a lot of guys in a positive way.

Thanks a lot. Happy New Year.

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