Northwestern Postgame Presser: Players
Jordan Kovacs and Kenny Demens
Kovacs: “Coach Hoke let me know early in the week that I’d be wearing No. 11. He asked me how I felt about it, and of course I felt it was a huge honor. I’ve worn 32 for quite some time. I think I’ll always be 32, but I think it’s a great opportunity to recognize our legends. That’s the approach I have. I did a little research on the Wisterts and I actually had the opportunity to meet Albert yesterday, and he said that when he was first given 11, he was just so humbled and so excited, and it was a huge honor for him. He said he prayed before every game that he put it on that he’d be worthy enough to wear it, so that’s kind of my approach. It’s a huge honor and I just hope I’m worthy enough to wear it.”
Kenny, were you 100% assigned to Colter on those last few plays, and what was it like to be able to make that play at the end?
Demens: “Well I just have my reads. The coaches, they give us bullets to come out with and to make that play, I just felt so proud of myself, but not for me, but for my teammates. The defense, we didn’t play as well as we wanted to, and just to come up and make a play and to finish strong how we did, it means a lot.”
What went wrong defensively? Did they catch you off guard with anything you hadn’t seen?
Kovacs: “First, you’ve got to tip your hat to Northwestern. They’re what, a 7-2 ball club coming in, they’re a tough team, have a very good offense, and a great coach. They executed well. Defensively we didn’t get off blocks well enough and we gave them too many big plays. I’m sure those are things we’ll get corrected here. But like I said, you have to tip your hat to those guys. They’re a very good football team.”
What’s it like to defend two quarterbacks?
Demens: “Well you kind of have to game plan for two different guys. No. 13, he’s the passer. No. 2, he’s the runner, but he came out today and made some plays in the air. It’s kind of tough, but we just want to make plays and rally to the ball as best we can.”
Was it surprising how well their receivers were blocking downfield?
Kovacs: “Yeah. They have some good receivers. We knew they were going to stalk block us. We knew how they were going to approach us. From a defensive back standpoint, we didn’t do a good job of getting off those blocks and helping the front seven by keeping it inside and in front. So yeah.”
You’ve worn 32 a long time. Was there any hesitation at all to switch numbers?
Kovacs: “No. Not at all. I looked at it as a huge honor, and like I said, I just hope I’m worthy enough to wear it.”
Did this feel like Under The Lights at all, and did you have a good view of Roundtree’s catch?
Demens: “I don’t know if any game can compare to the feeling and excitement from Notre Dame. I have confidence in Roy Roundtree. When that ball is in the air, he’s the guy that they’re throwing it to. There’s no doubt in my mind that he’s going to come down with it. But it was exciting. He made a huge play for us. He picked the defense up. Him and Devin Gardner and the rest of the offense.”
Kovacs: “It’s funny that you bring up Notre Dame, because I don’t know if it’s true, but was it 31-28 last year? It was about 30 seconds left deep in our own territory. I think that was the same scenario as last year and I kind of came off the field saying, ‘Hey, we’ve done it before. Have faith. We’ll get our shot. We’ll go back out there and win this game.’ That’s the approach the offense took, the defense took, and the offense made plays and put us in position to go into overtime.”
What was the conversation like going into that final defensive stand?
Kovacs: “In overtime?”
Kovacs: “It was pretty simple: ‘Let’s get a stop.’ Let’s get a stop, let’s win this game, and let’s go home.”
How critical was Craig Roh’s sack?
Demens: “It was big for us. Had that not happened, and they went in and scored seven, they would have been up and the outcome would have been different. That was a huge play for us. Craig Roh stepped up for the defense.”
What was the feeling like on the defensive sideline when they completed three consecutive scores from the second quarter to the third quarter?
Kovacs: “Like I said before, we just had faith. We have all the confidence in the world in this coaching staff and in this defense that we’ll make those corrections. We’ll make those corrections, we’ll get back out there and stop them. That’s how we approach it. We never hung our head. The senior leaders did a great job of saying, ‘Hey, forget the last drive, we’ll go out and get the stop on the next one.’ ”
At this point in the season, is there a sense that a win is a win no matter what the circumstances are?
Kovacs: “I think Coach Hoke always emphasizes getting better each and every week. But I think this was one of those games where while we didn’t play all that well, I think we showed a lot of character in this game. We overcame a lot of adversity in this game both offensively and defensively, and I’m prouder than hell of these guys, and I really mean that.”
Fitz Toussaint and Taylor Lewan
What’s it like to win in overtime, and what was it like those last few minutes?
Lewan: “Well, it’s something we work on all the time. You have to play through the whistle, and you have to finish. That’s why this program is based on finishing. I think when we came out, the offense was up first, we knew what we had to do. We had to score, and we knew our defense was going to come up with a stop. I was really happy with them.”
Do you guys practice this kind of crazy scenario?
Lewan: “I don’t know if we ever practice an overtime scenario, but we always do two-minute drill, four-minute drill, the money stuff. That’s what you have to do, and that’s how you’re going to be successful. Those two-minute drills, especially at the last part of the game, and then all that stuff.”
Do you practice those hail marys in practice?
Lewan: “Yeah. All the time.”
Toussaint: “All the time.”
Did you get a good enough view of Roy’s catch? Also, what would you say about Roy’s game today?
Toussaint: “That’s something that Roy works on all the time. I think he takes pride in what he does, and he’s able to come out there on Saturdays and do what he has to do to be successful.”
Do you feel like this is the best you’ve run all season?
Toussaint: “I believe so. I mean, I just never lose confidence in what I’m doing and also my offensive linemen, so I just give credit to them as well.”
Do you guys see a more comfortable Devin?
Lewan: “I don’t think you can get Devin any more comfortable than he already is. I think he’s done a great job. He keeps it light, and I think that’s one of the good things he does as a quarterback. Keeping the confidence in the huddle. I said that last week. I’m proud of him and what he’s done, but as I said before, y’all haven’t seen it. We’ve been seeing it for the last two years now since he’s been here, so it’s nothing new to me or Fitz.”
Along those lines, did Devin say anything on the last drive in regulation when things may have looked hopeless?
Toussaint: “Nah, he just kept his composure. That’s Devin for you.”
Does Devin do anything different with his cadences that got you guys a bunch of offsides calls?
Lewan: “No. Those are called. That’s how it’s supposed to be and that’s a situation we’ve gone over a lot of times, and we have packages we put in every once in a while for different teams to keep them on their toes.”
How hard is it to tell if a flag has been thrown or not?
Lewan: “I mean, we can usually tell by the cheers if someone has jumped offsides and the ball’s snapping. I don’t really pay much attention to it. I have to work on my responsibilities, Fitz has his responsibilities … That’s how it is.”
Can you talk about how hard Fitz ran today?
Lewan: “I’m happy to see him run. I told him every time we start a game, I tell him, ‘Start running, and we’ll start blocking. And I think today it kind of started to work out. I was happy with it … We should fix more things, though, and hopefully in the future it’ll be more successful.”
You said you knew what you had to do as an offense. How confident were you as a group that --
Lewan: “I never worried one time. I mean, since me and Fitz have been here -- we were in the same class -- there’s never been a situation … We’ve been in too many of those situations to have doubt in our minds. If you have any doubts it’s not going to work out. You have to keep working and keep going.”
Talk about how this win keeps your team’s Big Ten title hopes alive?
Lewan: “It does. It’s a good situation for us. People are always asking, ‘Who are you focused on? These people have to lose …’ It doesn’t matter. We’re focused on Michigan getting 1-0 each week. That’s our goal. It’s always going to be our goal.”
Roy Roundtree and Devin Gardner
Can you walk through what happened on the last play?
Gardner: “The thing is, you think that, but we practice that exact plan in practice and it worked just like that. Obviously he didn’t tip the ball to himself, but we practice things like that every week. So I mean, it just came out in the game today.”
Roundtree: “Thursday we ran the same play and he just put it up there for me. I told him all game, ‘Just put the ball up there and I’m going to go get it for you,’ and God forbid, I tipped it to myself and came down with it, and no review, so I’m good.”
Where does this catch rank in your career?
Roundtree: “Uh, it probably would be [ranked No.] 1 --”
Roundtree: “But Notre Dame last year was last year, so you know, just coming in here and just fighting and seeing our team finish strong, I know the seniors were sticking together. That play was for Michigan.”
Did it feel like your number was finally called today and you stepped up for your team?
Roundtree: “Yeah, it felt great, seeing the younger guys come up to me and say, ‘Man, you always stay positive and you just show the leadership of this team being the senior.’ My play’s being called, and I just tried my best to make the big play.”
Did the defender get a hand on that ball at all on the tip?
Roundtree:“Oh no, I don’t think he did.”
But you’re not sure?
Roundtree: “No I’m not sure.”
Gardner: “That’s neither here nor there.”
How do you feel now with two starts under your belt?
Gardner: “I mean, it felt great. I just prepared all week and I had a good idea what they were going to try to do to me. And then of course I didn’t know exactly what they were going to try to do because they’d never played against me before, but from what I saw on film, they gave us what we saw. I just felt like I tried to execute and do my best.”
Was there anything specifically that you worked on this past week?
Gardner: “I mean, try not to get sacked as much and continue to lead the offense, really. That’s it.”
Do you feel like you’ve done enough at quarterback to earn playing time even when Denard comes back healthy?
Gardner: “I mean, this is Denard’s team, and it’s always going to be Denard’s team until he’s gone. He’s done way too much for two games to change that. I feel like I’ll just do what I have to do in order to help the team.”
What does your performance today mean to you?
Gardner: “It means a win and a chance to win the Big Ten Championship.”
Were you aware that Demetrius Dugar was filling in for the usual starter? Was that a matchup that you tried to take advantage of?
Gardner: “I mean, I try not to worry about their guys as much. I worry about our guys, and I feel like our guys can make plays against anyone. That has nothing to do with it.”
Did you think you were going to be able to get the ball off in the endzone?
Gardner: “Um, when I almost took a safety?”
Gardner: “I just did -- heh. I just saw the back of Fitz’s numbers, and I was just going to drill him in the back as hard as I could. That’s all I tried to do. I just tried to avoid the sack and hit him as hard as I could with the ball. So that was really scary. And I actually told the guy, I said, ‘Hah, you almost got me!’ ”
How about your decision-making overall? Other than the interception, did you feel like you did well in that regard?
“I feel like I did pretty good. Coach Borges reassured me that I did well, but we’re going to have to watch the film because there’s always things on the film that you don’t particularly see on the field so you never know how you played, honestly.”
Do you think it’s easier to manage a game knowing you’re playing the entire game? Is there a different mentality?
Gardner: “Definitely. Watching a lot of football last year and seeing guys like Tom Brady and Russell Wilson, how calm they are and how even and unshaken they are, so when you make mistakes, you have to stay level. I feel like that’s helped me a lot.”
On the touchdown run, is that an option run-pass?
Gardner: “No, that was a playcall by coach Borges. It was a great call. I mean, when I saw how tight they were, I was like, ‘This is the best call possible!’ When I got around the edge I basically walked in the endzone, so that was all coach Borges.”
What gave you confidence in Devin that he’d be able to lead you guys in this kind of a situation?
Roundtree: “Um, you know, Coach Hoke, he had confidence. Whether Devin starts, Russell, or Denard, we have to believe in them and we’ve got to go out there and make plays. Being a wide receiver, I feel like all the receivers did a great job today and made plays.”
What was your message to the offense on the last drive?
Gardner: “There’s no option but to go score. We worked way too hard to get to this point to not be able to score. We had time on the clock and the defense gave us a place to stand. J.T. Floyd, he told me, ‘We gave you a chance, so let’s go. Let’s go get a touchdown.’ We didn’t get a touchdown, but we got a chance to go into overtime and win the game.”
Roy, can you take us through the entire process of your catch?
Roundtree: “Well once we got out there, 27 seconds, you know, Devin came in the huddle and it was already in the game package. Read the coverage and went down the middle of the field and saw No. 15 and there was basically -- I saw Devin roll out and he chucked it. In my mind, I have to make this play. The ball is in the air and once I jump for it and tipped it, I felt the defender by me. Once I tipped it I saw it hit my helmet so I held onto it and then rolled it in, and I was like, ‘Man, eight seconds left, let’s go!’ Brendan Gibbons can make the field goal, so I’m not worried there. He got it done.”
How did your experience in previous close games help you in overtime?
Gardner: “I’ve never participated in overtime.”
Roundtree: “Well, we prepared to score another touchdown. When Northwestern scored, our object was to score another touchdown. Over time, we all just stayed poised. Stay focused and just do what we’re supposed to do. Coach Borges, gotta give credit to him for calling the plays that he did.”
A couple weeks in the season, people were wondering about your production. You said your time would come. Is this what you had in mind?
Roundtree: “Oh man, I mean, I’m the senior receiver. Everybody knows what I can do. Today just showed I haven’t been forgotten. I set myself hard goals during the summer and just go out there and develop. Just open up the eyes for the younger guys to know that they can count on me and show confidence in Devin. I told him, ‘Just put it up there. I’m going to get it.’ Today he really played well.”
Everybody talks about expectations for the position. When you’re wearing 21, how did you not let that add pressure to your position?
Roundtree: “When I signed, I knew there was going to be pressure playing at Michigan, and being a wide receiver here, and once I got the legend number of Desmond Howard, I felt really honored. One thing I said this summer was I wasn’t going to let him down. When the ball is in the area, I have to make a play. Today it just showed.”
When you were playing receiver, you said you wanted to be a quarterback and that you were a quarterback. Does a little part of you say, see this is what I was talking about?
Gardner: “I mean, I knew my time would come eventually, whether it was this year or next year. It just happened to come a little earlier than expected. It’s not like an ‘Ahhh in your face!’ type thing. It’s just that you guys saw what I had done in previous years, and I hadn’t proven that I was that quarterback that I felt like I was and my teammates knew I was, so I can’t judge you guys for not knowing.”
You’ve made a couple of plays on jump balls and longer passes over the last few weeks. What’s changed?
Roundtree:“We emphasize finishing. Finish strong. Finish every play. Finish each quarter. Finish 60 minutes. My focus on the catch, you know, just gotta zone in. That’s what I’m here for. To make a catch and do things with it. So today, all the receivers I felt like were focused and we made plays.”