While Ohio State coach Urban Meyer held his press conference to preview the Big Ten Championship Game on Monday, Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald did too, and he had plenty of praise for the Buckeyes, particularly their offense and quarterback Dwayne Haskins.
Over the course of his nearly 20-minute meeting with the media on Monday, which you can watch in the video above, Fitzgerald said he would cast his ballot for Haskins if he had a Heisman Trophy ballot, described Ohio State's offense as "scary" and acknowledged his team's status as the underdog for Saturday's game, quipping that he wasn't even sure whether his own family members would pick Northwestern to win Saturday's game in Indianapolis.
Some of the highlights from Fitzgerald's Monday press conference:
On Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins
“He’s a complete quarterback. What jumps out is his poise, his accuracy, his understanding of the offense. And he just does a phenomenal job of taking what the defense gives him. And to have that touchdown to interception ratio of 42 to 7 is spectacular.
“If I had a Heisman Trophy ballot, I would voted for him. I’ve already voted him the Big Ten Player of the Year in my ballot. I think he’s a phenomenal, phenomenal football player. He distributes it to a lot of guys. He uses all of his weapons. And just really impressed watching him on tape, getting ready to compete here.”
On Ohio State's offense and its performance against Michigan
“I think they took advantage of some things that they felt they had advantages of against Michigan, and it showed. And that’s a credit to their coaching staff, and obviously a credit to the execution of their guys. They executed flawlessly. They played phenomenal against Michigan. That was as clean of a game offensively that I’ve maybe seen a team have in a long time. There were not very many mistakes that I could see, that I could point to that ‘Hey, there’s a weakness here.’ That was A-plus in my book.
“So they’re going to make plays. You just know that. They’ve made plays on everybody. You got to limit the explosions, you got to keep the ball inside and in front, you got to find a way to create turnovers when they present themselves, you got to be able to make those happen. And three points are big. Three points are big. If we can limit to three and not sevens, we’ll give ourselves an opportunity to compete.
“But they’re going to move the ball. They’re incredibly explosive, I think, in most categories they’re in the top five, and in a lot of the categories they’re No. 1, not only in the conference but in the country. And it’s for a reason. They’re very talented, and they’re very well-coached.”
On Northwestern being a 14-point underdog and his team's motivation
“I don’t think anybody outside these doors would pick us to win this game. My mom and dad I guess would, but I don’t even know if my sisters would, so we’ll see. But I don’t need that. I just need the 74 guys that are going to put on purple and white on Saturday. And you respect the opportunity, by the way that you prepare. You respect the opportunity by the way you play. You respect your opponent the same way. And I expect our guys are going to prepare like it’s a one-game playoff to go to the Rose Bowl. And if that doesn’t motivate you, I’m not sure what does. And I just want the guys to trust themselves and go have fun.”
On Northwestern's last win over Ohio State in 2004, when Fitzgerald was the Wildcats' linebackers coach
“Well, it was a crazy week. And we weren’t sure if (former Northwestern quarterback Brett Basanez) was going to play, if I remember correctly. But for me, my role was pretty simple; we had to try to find a way to stop the run. They were loaded. And we didn’t do that good of a job, but we found a way to get it done, and I thought it was a heck of a team win.”
His summary of Ohio State's offense
“Scary. Two backs that can score, three backs really that can score. If you miss a gap or miss a tackle, every receiver can catch a hitch and take it to the house. They’ve gotten the tight ends a little bit more involved, as of late. Very dynamic. Very, very physical, massive up front.
“It’s a group that has depth. They roll a lot of receivers, they play multiple backs and multiple tight ends. They’re obviously playing a little bit of a Wildcat package in the tight zone too with Martell. So they’ve got a lot of complexity to it. A lot of complexity.”
What gives him the most confidence going into Saturday's game
“We’re the Big Ten West champs. That gives me the most confidence. It’s hard to win a divisional championship. And that happens because you’ve earned it. And our guys have earned it. Nobody had to beat somebody else for us to backdoor our way into this game. Our guys went out in the arena, and they earned it. And that’s what gives me confidence.
“What gives me confidence is our staff. I think our staff is well-prepared for a game like this, not only what the plan is that we’re going to put in place but also how we’re going to have to adjust in game. And I’ve got great confidence in our talent. And I’ve got great confidence in our guys’ willingness to compete. And again, this is one of those opportunities that may only come around once. And so I know our guys will prepare relentlessly to get themselves ready, and they just got to go compete and make some plays. That’s what gives me confidence.”
On Ohio State wide receiver Parris Campbell
“He’s a terrific athlete, there’s no doubt about that. They use him in a lot of different ways. It would be easy if they just lined him up at X and you could play quarter-quarter-half and put a corner on him and a safety over the top. They move him around, they target him in different ways. They target him in the passing game, they give him jet sweeps. So they do a lot of different things with him, and he’s physical at the top of his routes. He’s explosive in and out of his breaks. He’s got great hands. Very dynamic player.”
On dealing with Ohio State's pass-rush
“Number one, we’re going to have to execute our plan. Second of all, we can’t make love to the ball. We’re going to have to get the ball out of our hands, and find ways to make sure that we’re timing and rhythm and on point. Because if you sit there and pat the ball, there’s a whole group. They don’t just play four. They rotate guys that would start probably, or compete to start, everywhere in this conference. So it’s a very, very talented group.”