Four Northwestern athletes met with the media following the Wildcats' 35-6 win over the Ohio Bobcats Saturday afternoon. This is what safety Brandon Joseph, linebacker Chris Bergin, running back Evan Hull, and quarterback Ryan Hilinski had to say about the game. You can watch the full press conference at the top of this page.
On how it feels for the secondary to have secured its first two picks of the season:
"It feels great. The standard that we set for ourselves is to create turnovers, so for us to not have an interception those first three games, that wasn't up to our standard. So we're starting to get back into it, starting to get back into what the Sky Team really is with these first two interceptions of the year."
On how he feels about securing his first interception:
"It feels great. It's a big relief taken off my back. It was like, 'Where have my interceptions been?' But now I can just go out there and play again. It feels great to create turnovers in general and help my offense, help my team out. Being able to get them the ball in that area, it's huge for the game, it's huge for momentum. Our defense is doing everything we can to help the team win, and creating turnovers is one of those things, so for me to finally do it this year feels great."
On the importance of forcing the Bobcats to attempt a field goal on the first drive:
"It's huge. The first drive of the game is one of the biggest ones -- getting our momentum, getting our confidence rolling throughout the whole game -- so that first drive stop was huge. We realized there was a tight zone red zone, so we were trying to hold them to a field goal. For them to miss that, that just our confidence rolling and got us rolling into the game. So it was a big play."
On the biggest difference in the defense this week compared to last week:
"I think we played better as a team this week, but in terms of being out there and how we felt, I feel like we put all the things together. We had a shutout up to the last play, so that's what we work for as a [defense], that's our goal. Our goal was to start fast, because the two games that we lost we obviously didn't get off to the start we wanted, so there was a huge emphasis on starting fast this week. And then for us to start fast the way we did -- zero points first quarter, zero points first half -- it then became finish. And so for us to finish the way we did, up to that last play, it felt great as a team defense."
On how important it is for the Wildcats to improve their tackling:
"I think my takeaway from the game is that we played far from our best in the tackling game. We have improvement to do in that area, and we're going to do that in our practice and our preparation, and we're going to be a lot better next week."
On what helped the Wildcats improve in stopping the run game:
"Just playing team defense finally. Our coaches put us in the best position possible every week, and they did a great job in their game plan this week preparing us for this Ohio offense. Credit to them -- their backs ran really hard, and so did their quarterback. I think we just improved over one week and that's what we're going to do going forward."
On how the team prepared for Ohio after their loss to Duke last week:
"This is going to be crazy to hear, but it's nothing different than anything we've done in my entire career here. We just keep preaching get one week better, and that's what we did -- and will continue to do -- and that's why we got the result we wanted today and hopefully the result we want next week."
On how it feels to be approaching the end of his time as a Wildcat:
"It's crazy to think about. It's not something that's even crossed my mind because we take it one week at a time. But those emotions will hit like a wave, when that time comes, but until then, I'm going to try not to think about it because I'll be really sad."
On what today's performance means for the defense's confidence:
"It just shows us the defense we can be, and the defense that we are. The type of preparation that we put in this week should show the guys to continue to get better and keep practicing the way we are so that we can be the defense that we want to be. We have not been the defense that we want to be so far, but we took a step in the right direction today, and I can promise you we will be an even better defense next week."
On what the secondary's interceptions mean to the defense as a whole:
"Confidence. That's everything in this game. And owning your confidence, which [defensive coordinator Jim] O'Neil talks about. It was great seeing [Brandon Joseph] and Bryce [Jackson] get on the board. I think that's kind of our mantra, that's our edge, as you see in Big Ten play -- getting takeaways, forcing turnovers. So that's something that we have to continue to get better at as the season goes on."
On how QB Ryan Hilinski's performance affects the Wildcat running game:
"It goes hand in hand. When Ryan [Hilinski] makes plays, the running backs make plays too, because that's when the defense starts playing behind, playing back. You might start getting less guys in the box and it just opens up the run game completely, so it goes hand in hand for sure."
On his 90-yard touchdown run:
"I wasn't able to look at myself on the big screen, but I was definitely looking back to see who was coming behind me. But I don't think ever had a 90-yard touchdown in my career...I had tunnel vision, definitely, and toward the end, I just made up in my mind that no matter what happens, I have to get in this end zone."
On what he's improved on the most this season:
"I think just gaining confidence, trust in my training. Running through contact was a huge thing that [running backs coach Lou Ayeni] put me through and he wanted me to focus on. Getting my legs stronger so that I can run through contact and I can keep running. And just trust in God, really.
On how the running back room has improved this season:
"I see them all gaining confidence, and I love that. We're going to keep it rolling for sure. I was really proud of [Anthony Tyus III] to get in the end zone. I can see him gaining his confidence, and he's a freshman, so he's going to keep growing and growing every single week. And [Andrew Clair], he's going to keep doing his thing too, he's going to keep running through contact and making big plays, and that just makes it easier on all of us so that we can just keep rolling guys. We're going to keep doing good things."
On if playing in last week's game against Duke prepared him for starting this week:
"I think the coaches had a great game plan for us, and I think a lot of the guys put it in trust. It's hard to come off of a game like last week and coming in and believing and trusting in the system, but our guys are just like that -- they trust, they believe -- so it's easy when you've got guys around you that do that to put those drives together. So to answer your question, yes, that definitely helped me."
On the Wildcat running backs:
"Having a guy like Evan [Hull], having a guy like Andrew [Clair], having a guy like [Anthony Tyus III] -- and even the guys that came in toward the end of the game, and [running backs coach Lou Ayeni] -- having those guys on your team helps. It's going to open play action, it's going to open a lot of things, and it gives me confidence throwing the ball too to do my part. So it's definitely nice having them on our side of the ball...I don't think it was just this week of our work. It comes back to when I got here in March. It comes back to spring ball. It comes back to summer workouts. It comes back to staying late nights at eight o'clock. It comes back to fall camp to now, of course, leading into a game working with them. They said they believed in me back then and they still say they believe in me now, so it's good to have those guys' trust, it's good to have a connection with those guys. It's good to have a relationship too; we always go get some food after games or after practice. So just having those three on my side has given me confidence to go out there and do what I do."
On being today's starting quarterback:
"The coaches really just told me to go in through the week and compete like I'm going to be the starter, just like the plan that we had going into camp. Me and Hunter [Johnson] got reps all week, we competed with each other, we pushed each other, and I think we've got a great relationship that allows us to have competition and have fun at the same time. I think that's what the team needs right now. But once I knew I got to start, it was go time from there and I never looked back."
On how he's maintained motivation while competing for the starting quarterback spot:
"I've been in this position before. My freshman year, [former South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley] was a four-year starter, but he broke his foot against [North Carolina State], and an opportunity presented itself to me. So looking back, and really just looking at college football in general, there are always backup quarterbacks that are thrust into the role. Some crack under pressure, and some rise to the occasion, and I wanted to be one of those that rises to the occasion. It was easy to stay motivated too when you have a team like this, guys that just play for one another and every person in this program matters. It's something that [head coach Pat Fitzgerald] always preaches -- you never know when your opportunity is going to come, but whatever role you have, you better assume that role and do it to the best of your ability. So that's what I did this week, and that's what I've been doing up until this moment."
On what he has learned from his performance against Ohio:
"Take the easy ones. There are completions there that are easy, and I get a little excited sometimes to get those completions, so I just have to calm down and play football. It's the same thing that I've been doing I was five years old. The only thing that matters to me is that 'W' on our schedule. You might want to have more attempts, you might want to have more yards, but at the end of the day, you can't look at individual stats. You just have to look at your team stuff as a quarterback. If you win the game, that's all that matters to me, so I'm happy."
On how he feels about the offense at this point in the season:
"I think we can improve so much, and it won't stop. Even if it gets to the end of the season, we're not going to be perfect, but we're going to be damn near perfect because we're going to keep working at it. And I think the offense definitely showed some improvement from last week -- guys playing their butts off no matter what the situation is. But there are definitely some things we can clean up in our offense that will make us really, really good, and I'm excited to see it."
On how he's preparing the offense to play in Nebraska's high-energy environment next week:
"To be honest, I think the guys are going to be excited to play in an environment like that. I think it might give them a little bit of an edge, a little bit more excitement to play. Of course, this stadium is amazing, Ryan Field is awesome, and I'm excited to see the new one coming up, but I think with that environment, we just have to keep within ourselves and do what we've been doing and improving each play one play at a time. I think we're really excited to go into Nebraska and play. No moment is too big for us, so I think that's what I'll tell them."
On his family's support:
"My family's here today -- brother, mom and dad -- and they have not missed a game since I want to say Pop Warner days, so it's always good to have them. You know, being a backup sometimes, it hurts to have your family come to games and see them in the stands and them hurting for you wanting you to play, but I'm just thankful that I got to play for them. I'm thankful for my brother and for my parents. Those guys are just one-of-a-kind and I'm very thankful for them."
On the message his performance today sent to the Wildcat locker room:
"A lot of guys came up to me before the game, during the game, and after the game reiterating that they believe, that they trust me, and that speaks volumes. In this program, you earn everything, and I feel like I've earned their trust. I feel like I've earned their confidence in me. And I feel like I've earned [head coach Pat Fitzgerald's] confidence, and I'm going to keep improving that relationship with him. But just having this type of performance, and just keeping within myself and just trusting those guys and loving those guys -- and I'm really close with a lot of those guys -- it helps me going into next week and going into the rest of the season."
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