As Ohio State prepares to face Northwestern on Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, three Buckeyes and three Wildcats spoke with reporters on the Big Ten Championship Game players' teleconference on Monday afternoon.
Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins, wide receiver Terry McLaurin and defensive tackle Dre'Mont Jones joined the call for the Buckeyes, while quarterback Clayton Thorson, right guard Tommy Doles and linebacker Paddy Fisher represented the Wildcats on the call.
Here's a sampling of what all six of them had to say.
Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins:
- On K.J. Hill: "He's been a pivotal player for our offense this year, and he's a great player ... Off the field, he's a jokester and a great guy, and one of my best friends on the team."
- Haskins said he had just come from watching film on Northwestern. Sees a stout defense that plays good football, uses zone coverage and doesn't make many mistakes.
- On Parris Campbell: "Electrifying, he's really fast, crazy fast. He does a great job with being a leader on this team, and he sets a great example for the younger person. A great person, great dad and somebody that I look up to as a young guy coming up in this program."
- Haskins said he feels like the improvement he has shown dropping his pads and making plays in the running game over the last two weeks has shown his development as a leader.
- Haskins is pleased with the way his coaches have adjusted their scheme to fit his game: "Coach Day, Coach Wilson and Coach Meyer have done a great job scheming things up for me."
- Haskins said Urban Meyer has referenced Ohio State's game two years ago against Northwestern, in which the Buckeyes won by only three points, as an example of the challenge Northwestern could present and that the Buckeyes can't take them lightly.
- Haskins said it is crucial for him to "be on my P's and Q's," knowing that his preparation is crucial to the entire offense.
Ohio State wide receiver Terry McLaurin:
- On the Michigan game: "I feel like we are coming off our best game collectively: offense, defense and special teams."
- McLaurin said it is crucial for Haskins to be the leader of Ohio State's offense as a quarterback, and that Haskins has grown substantially as a leader from the third game of the season against TCU through now.
- "Dwayne knows what he brings to the table physically, but I know he wanted to make it more of an emphasis that he's invested from the standpoint of being more of a leader."
- McLaurin expects the Buckeyes to continue building on the momentum they've built on offense in the past two games against Maryland and Michigan: "I feel like we have a balance, put a lot of stuff on film that teams have to account for ... he said he feels like the Buckeyes have "really good momentum going into this game."
- On turning the page from Michigan: "If we want to have any aspirations of winning this game, and potentially going further, we have to put all of our energy into this game ... Motivation won't be a problem, because there's a championship on the line."
- On playing in his hometown of Indianapolis on Saturday: "The best way to celebrate is to win."
- McLaurin says the Buckeyes are excited about playing at Lucas Oil Stadium: "We actually love Lucas Oil Stadium. The turf is great ... it's a really fast field, and we hope to use our speed to our advantage."
Ohio State defensive tackle Dre'Mont Jones:
- Jones said there is a different vibe around the team after Saturday's game: "Everybody was counting us out ... I feel like we proved what we're capable of."
- On Northwestern: "I feel like Northwestern has a really good balance between the running and pass game." Says Clayton Thorson will be one of the best quarterbacks Ohio State has played this year, and has a big arm.
- Jones says he is glad that he decided to come back for this season, and still has his sights set on winning a championship: "Everything has come together on my checklist," now his focus is on trying to win the Big Ten title this week.
- What was the key to the defense's improvement against Michigan? "Just playing with that dog mentality ... we wanted to prove to people that we could dominate, and I feel like we did that Saturday."
- On Ohio State's linebackers' performance against Michigan: "I feel like they played in a way to prove everybody wrong ... I feel like Saturday was one of those games where they shut the mouths of everybody who were doubters."
Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson:
- On the 2016 game against Ohio State: "I remember we took them to the limit ... but we couldn't finish the job." Thorson said the close loss did give he and his teammates confidence moving forward, though, because they were able to be competitive.
- On this year's Ohio State defense: "We have a lot of respect for this defense, and we know what we're capable of ... I think we just got to play our game, and kind of see how the game, as the game gets going, where we can continue to attack them. There's not a lot of holes in their defense ... when they really turn it on and are in tight situations, they make the plays when they need to."
- Thorson said he did not watch any Ohio State film before this week, focusing all of his efforts on preparing for Minnesota and Illinois over the past two weeks, even though Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said he did start preparing for the Big Ten Championship Game in advance.
- Thorson said he will be thinking of the other players he played with over the past three years who did not have the opportunity to play in the Big Ten Championship Game when he takes the field on Saturday.
- On Northwestern's keys to success on offense: "I think our run game has really excelled in the last few weeks, and our pass game has been really efficient, as well."
- "We're playing a very good Ohio State team, and we've got to play well to be victorious."
Northwestern right guard Tommy Doles:
- Impressions of Ohio State's defensive line: "They're an extremely athletic group. Everyone on there has a lot of talent. So there's no one on there that you can fall asleep on. So I think what's going to be important for us are fundamentals."
- Doles said the Wildcats didn't want to look past their final two games of the season against Minnesota and Illinois, but they also didn't want to ignore that they had the Big Ten West and earned a berth in the Big Ten Championship Game, so they used that as motivation to finish their regular season strong and give them a chance to win a conference title on Saturday.
- Doles recalled a conversation that he had with Thorson when he committed to Northwestern in 2014: "I told him back then, 'Let's go win a Big Ten championship,' and to have it right in front of us is very exciting."
Northwestern linebacker Paddy Fisher:
- Impressions of Ohio State: "They're a very talented offense. A really talented team, in general. Very dynamic and explosive on offense."
- On preparing for Ohio State's speed, which he acknowledged Northwestern cannot replicate with its scout team: "It's going to be just real important for us to know the game plan inside and out and know everything up and down for their offense, all of their tendencies and what not."
- Fisher says Northwestern's defenders have to trust in their coaches, specifically defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz, to put together the right game plan to give them a chance to slow down Haskins.
- Fisher said the defense "made a lot of mistakes" in the first half of the season, but has improved a lot over the second half of the season, in which the Wildcats have held out of their last six opponents to 17 points or less.
- Fisher says it's "really special" to be a part of Northwestern's first Big Ten Championship Game appearance. The Wildcats went 6-6 in his first season on campus, and he's seen the program with each progressive year.
- Fisher said he and his teammates did not change their mentality over the last couple weeks knowing that they had made the Big Ten Championship Game, instead trying to keep their routine the same as what got them to that game. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."