home jobs contact us
Our Clients:
Browse by Sport
Find us on ASAP sports on Facebook ASAP sports on Twitter
ASAP Sports RSS Subscribe to RSS
Click to go to
ASAP Sports e-Brochure View our


December 31, 2018

Pat Fitzgerald

J.R. Pace

Riley Lees

Clayton Thorson

Jared McGee

San Diego, California

Northwestern 31, Utah 20

PAT FITZGERALD: First of all, thanks for being here tonight. I want to thank president and the CEO, the red coats, the volunteers, the city of San Diego for an unbelievable and first class experience.

We got here six days ago. When we landed everyone was saying, Sorry for the weather. We kind of chuckled. It guess it had rained earlier. Then we had the beautiful weather all week. Sometime around lunch yesterday we saw the weather might change, which is fine by us.

To the city of San Diego, thank you for opening your arms to our program and thank you for a first class and world class experience.

To my good friend Kyle Whittingham and his team, we have the utmost respect. Almost like mirror images of each other: toughness, physical, very resilient. Obviously we wanted to start the game faster than we did. But credit them, they came out swinging. They had a great first half.

We really talked at halftime just about going out and playing Wildcat football, fix our mistakes. We've been here before, let's go out and get a stop, get a score, get momentum. Did I think we were going to get the momentum we were able to get in the third quarter? Probably not.

To Coach Whit, his staff, players, congratulations on an amazing year. We tip our hat to you guys. What a great season for them.

Obviously I want to highlight our seniors. 36 wins over the last four years, raising the bar and the standard of our program, Big Ten West championship. What is now the expectation every year in our program, not that it wasn't in the past, but you had to get there first.

Coach Barnett got this thing turned. Coach Walker had it going. You look back a handful of years ago, we were able to get that monkey off our back, get the first bowl win. Now it's become a consistent theme of our program, becoming champions.

These seniors will go out as the ones who set the standard. Three bowl wins in a row, against an ACC, SEC and Pac-12 team. This has been against teams from Power 5 conferences. We've had to battle every step of the way. The credit goes to our seniors, our young men and staff.

I thought our staff was very poised today. Some things that didn't go very well early. We tried to get it corrected. Our guys went out and scouted the plays down the stretch. Proud of them. The support of our university, to be here for all six days, best director of athletics in the world, best president. Their support is second to none. Very thankful for that. Hope we made everybody that has ever worn purple and white proud tonight.

With that, how about some questions.

Q. You made a lot of new fans happy when you said after the game, I'm not going anywhere, this is home forever. Does that put the kibosh on any NFL rumors?
PAT FITZGERALD: First of all, I'm not going to talk about rumors. And #gocats. I am sticking with that (laughter).

I would prefer to talk about our program and players. They're the ones that accomplished the special day today. Win or lose, no matter what happens, it's always going to be about the players. I've been pretty steadfast with my feelings, the way I felt.

We've made long-term commitments to each other now. We have miles to go. We're far from the finished product as a program. That's my job. I'm going to keep developing the best and brightest guys in the world. We get this championship this year, highest GPA in team history, most all Big Ten academic guys in the history of the program. It's not a surprise to me and our staff. They come from great families, great high school programs, they're just terrific people.

Q. How key was the third down stop before the end of the first half?
PAT FITZGERALD: It was huge. Yeah, huge. When you think back to the little things that happen in a game, tough deal. We had a tip pick to start that off. We were moving the ball. I thought we were going to put a pretty good two-minute drive together.

Our defense was resilient. We had to be physical. I mean, it was POA runs, downhill runs. They had a couple trick plays they tried to score on. They got inside. Double moves, trick plays. Our DBs and linebackers were great. Obviously the D-line was fabulous on the run plays to fit it right and hold them to three.

Q. Take us through the emotions on the sideline how things swung in the third quarter.
PAT FITZGERALD: It's kind of like, Here we go again. I don't want to speak for the guys. Once we got the stop and the score, it was like, Here we go. You could just feel momentum shift.

Did I think we were going to be able to create that amount of turnovers? I love San Diego, but I love it when it rains on game day. That was sweet. I think it really played a big factor, I really do. I think obviously it was raining a little bit harder coming out of halftime than it was before the half. I think that played a role in the game, I really do.

Q. You mentioned the assistant coaches, their work in the game. What adjustments did you make as the game went on?
PAT FITZGERALD: Yeah, a little bit more downhill runs. That was number one. We felt like we had to get them running a little bit side to side. They were so stout in the middle of the belly of their defense. That didn't work well for us in the first half.

More downhill runs, not giving up on the run game. Again, that run game numbers are skewed a little bit because of the sacks, one TFL play, from the standpoint of not giving up on the run.

Then we had a couple double moves. A couple big plays down the stretch that really paid dividends. To get the turnovers to create short fields was the key. I think, again, we just weren't communicating great early. No reason, just I think maybe a little rusty, not playing in over a month.

We settled in, settled down. Again, the credit goes to the guys.

Q. Can you walk us through the touchdown, how long had that play been in the work?
PAT FITZGERALD: Clayton, I'll let you handle that one.

CODY BARTON: We just had to get the ball to the play-maker.

PAT FITZGERALD: Didn't work that well in practice. Our defense covered it almost every time in practice. First of all, bringing in the secret weapon, Trae, the former high school tight end. Again, you think about seniors, you think about lasting moments in their lives. A young man that transferred to us from another institution. Again, wanted to come here to have a chance to compete and play at O-line. Didn't happen for him for various reasons. Filled a role in the super back room, became an extension of the O-line. Finished his career with an exclamation point. He's going to be 44 talking to his kids about the touchdown catch he had in the Holiday Bowl. So happy for him. Well executed.

Q. What changed defensively in the second half, attitudes that were different coming out of the locker room?
JARED McGEE: We just talked about it in the locker room, we could be a better defense than we were in the first half. Said we needed to come out make some plays. The offense would feed off of our energy. When we came out, we had high energy, made some plays, get the ball back, get some good field position for the offense. They were able to put points on the board. That's how you swing momentum in the game.

Q. Clayton, you set the passing record in your last game. Has the totality of all this sunk in? What does this mean to you?
CLAYTON THORSON: I think a couple days ago it started to set in a little bit that it was going to be my last college game. My grandma texted me a couple days, Good luck in your last college game. I never thought about it that way until I saw in it a text message. So thankful for Coach Fitz, Coach McCall for giving me a chance. I'm just really grateful.

Q. What will you remember most about tonight?
CLAYTON THORSON: Winning. That third quarter, coming back, scoring 28 points. Our defense kicking the crap out of them. It was awesome.

Q. Jared, big play, turnaround with the 86-yard scoop and score. Take me through your mind on that play.
JARED McGEE: Yeah, no, I definitely can't take credit for anything that happened on that play other than running with the ball. I took care of it, there you go.

The big guys up front were doing a great job all day flushing the quarterback out of the pocket. They were able to get home on that play. Joe with the great strip, something he's been doing all year long. I was happy there to contain him. Oh, ball! I was able to scoop it in, take it to the house. Some of my teammates were joking I was getting hot. I told them, I'm fast now (laughter).

I can't take any credit at all for that play. Big guys up front definitely made that happen for me. I can't be more grateful.

Q. For the players, what does a win like this do for the off-season? Does it get you more focused to finish this way?
CLAYTON THORSON: I think it really helps going into the off-season. I think guys see what it takes to win a game like this, how it comes down to little things. In the first half it was just a couple plays here or there. We might be up 20-3. I think guys see that, especially young guys see that. It helps them. They want to be a part of it, though. I see so many young guys who weren't playing who are going to be really good players.

RILEY LEES: I think it sets the standard again. Ending the season with a win like this, it motivates everybody on a high note. It makes us want more. We won the West, but that's the bar now, and we got to keep going with that.

Q. You talked so much about winning bowl games. You've won three in a row. What is the significance of winning three in a row for the first time?
PAT FITZGERALD: Again, the credit goes to our seniors. They've led us. That's what I told the guys in the locker room after the game. The amount of adversity this group in particular went through this year, Clayton, the list of guys goes on and on of guys that had off-season surgeries, going through the whole off-season rehabbing, not really preparing the same way they would have if they were healthy. Unknown if they could play in the opener, let alone play again.

To get the big win on the road against Purdue, that was a big win for the confidence of this squad. We have a really young team. This is a great group of seniors, but a lot of young guys that had to step up.

Then we go through the adversity of that first month. We didn't coach well, we didn't play well. We had obviously a teammate go through a retirement that was an incredible challenge. Then we had guys get banged up, young pups had to step up. I think that paid dividends down the stretch. To win nine I think out of the last ten, I think that shows the depth that we're starting to have in our program. You're going to have to have to stay at a championship level.

I said it in the press conference the other day, and I meant it, I said it to the guys in the kick meeting this morning, this is when real good teams start playing, this time of the year. Not that some of the other bowl games aren't significant, great experiences, but we just beat the Pac-12 South champion down three scores. This is a big momentum builder for us. That's a darn good football team we just beat now. It's great for momentum.

I'm assuming all of our 2020 recruits I was texting with earlier today, telling them we're on FS1, Happy New Year, make good choices. Can't wait to get the dub. Emojis back and forth. Pathetic life we live as coaches. That's what I was doing this morning (laughter).

I'm sure they were all watching. Guys want to be a part of this. There's as much momentum as we've ever had. Again, the credit goes to our young men. They're the ones that are the standard. These things don't happen by accident. They happen because they come from great families.

They've created an amazing brotherhood. It's been pretty much the stalwart of our program. That's who we have been here, the brotherhood, camaraderie, love, chemistry. When you face the amount of adversity we did this year, that has to be the glue to keep everything together.

To say it was rock solid would be an underestimate.

Q. Jared and J.R., what did you learn about the defense given how tough it was in the first half?
J.R. PACE: We just learned we're a very resilient defense. Early on we had a few communication issues. We had a good game plan in place. We just had to execute. That was one thing we went over during halftime, was just executing. Keep communicating. We executed on all cylinders, were able to swing momentum our way.

JARED McGEE: I think we also learned the importance of putting a complete game together. We made it hard on ourselves the first half like J.R. was saying. Halftime, let's be the play-makers we could be. We came out and took the ball away I don't know how many times, more times than we've taken it away all season.

We showed when we put a complete game together, there's not many dudes that can play with us. I hope these young boys that are coming back hold onto that and they get hungry in the off-season, become the play-makers that they can be. So I think that's what we learned about ourselves.


PAT FITZGERALD: I want to say thanks to everyone that covered us all year. Been a heck of a rollercoaster ride, to say the least. We appreciate it.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

ASAP sports

tech 129
About ASAP SportsFastScripts ArchiveRecent InterviewsCaptioningUpcoming EventsContact Us
FastScripts | Events Covered | Our Clients | Other Services | ASAP in the News | Site Map | Job Opportunities | Links
ASAP Sports, Inc. | T: 1.212 385 0297