A solid squad of the Wildcats' big performers from their win over Rutgers met with media after a 21-7 victory over the Scarlet Knights for their first Big Ten victory of the season. This is what QB Ryan Hilinski, WR Malik Washington, LB Chris Bergin and DL Adetomiwa Adebawore had to say after the game.
QB Ryan Hilinski
On his relationship with the coaches and the team:
"I think the relationship between Coach Bajakian and I is one of the best I've had in college football so far, one of the best that I've had in all of my football career so far. He's a great coach, he likes to have fun. I think I thrive under having fun, and just going out there and balling. These guys, I've never had a closer bond with guys, coming here especially in March, and now I feel like I can say 'love you' to these guys and they say 'love you' back, so that's just special. I think that just comes with knowing the offense of course, and just going out there and seeing how I can lead them. So it all ties in together with relationships and off-the-field stuff before on-the-field stuff."
On some possible missed calls:
"I mean it's super frustrating, of course, but you know you can't rely on winning the game on flags, you know. We had our shots and we took those shots, and we hit some of them. Some of course, you know we want a PI, but I've got to deliver a better ball. There's a couple plays I want back, of course, but at the end of the day, we're just having fun. I mean it stinks but we're good, we won the game."
On his performance:
"I'm not satisfied at all. I left some throws out there, there's some plays I want back of course, and I know I can just get better and I know Coach Bajakian sees it. We could have scored a lot more points than we did but we came out with a win."
On the Wildcats' rushing offense:
"Yeah, I mean, the best thing about those two guys [Andrew Clair and Evan Hull], is that they're physical. I mean you see it, they run in there and they deliver those blows, and they do it play after play, so it helps a lot. It helps a lot that they're goofy too a little bit, like in games, so like we like to joke around a bit in the backfield before a play or something like that and it really just helps get those shoulders down and go and play football like we did when we were kids. It's good to have those guys in the backfield because one, of course, they're tremendous runners, they can get the ball downfield and open up stuff in the pass game, but they close out a game."
On his relationship with Stephon Robinson Jr.:
"Steph's a baller. We have a lot of fun. But I think that relationship just comes with everything that we did in the offseason, all the conversations that we had, and they weren't all about football. We talked about Call of Duty if we wanted to, we talked about Madden, we played cards if we wanted to, just fun stuff like that to help build our relationship. I've done that with a lot of guys so it's good having those relationships, especially with Steph and a lot of the other wide receivers and backs and tight ends."
On his connection with the wide receivers:
"Yeah, I think, in football, everybody wants to be the guy, you know, they want to make the ESPN highlights, they want to have all the yards, they want to go to the League and stuff like that, but I just told them, 'I'll get you the ball, don't worry about it. I'll get you the ball.' Today I got them the ball and Coach Bajakian put them in a position to be as successful as they were. But I think just preaching that they can trust me that I'll get them the ball and then actually being able to deliver today to them. I think it will just continue to grow as we move forward."
On Big Ten competition compared to the SEC:
"Those guys get just as hard of hits, that feels the same. Coverages are different, so it definitely fares about the same challenge for me, if not harder. Rutgers had a lot of different looks today, some looks fooled me and some looks didn't, but I have tremendous respect for every team in this conference. Especially seeing how Northwestern works in the offseason, I'm sure every other school is doing something of similar sorts, so a lot of respect for those guys. I know they bring it every single game."
On next week's matchup against Michigan:
"Next week's my birthday, so that'll be fun going to Michigan and Ann Arbor and go out there and do what we can. I think the guys are ready to put their best foot forward, and we're gonna go in there knowing that we can win that game, knowing that we can move our offense, knowing that we can do what we can do. We saw that today. We saw us moving the ball and it was just a great challenge for the guys, a great confidence booster for them. And I think the defense–I just have to shout them out real quick–those guys played lights out today. They had our backs. On numerous drives there was adversity, where offense didn't ball. Maybe those PI penalties hurt us, or I made a bad throw or something just didn't happen, but those defensive guys, they stood out today. They had my back like this all week so it's definitely good to have them."
On changes within the team in the past few weeks:
"I think the biggest thing is that we're continuing to have fun. Coach Fitz preaches that, Coach Bajakian preaches that, Coach O'Neil preaches that. you know, I always come back to, this is a game we played when we're five years old, six years, seven years old. I think it's just a great feeling for us to go out there and just play football, you know, just execute the X's and O's and just do what's asked of us. I think that's the biggest thing, you know, during practice we have big plays, dudes are getting excited, dudes are jumping around, having fun, and I think our team plays best, I personally play best if I'm having fun out there, and just recognize that this was a game we've been playing our whole lives."
WR Malik Washington
On his 64-yard touchdown:
"That was a play we practiced all week, we just put it in, and we knew the safety was going to come, we knew that he was going to be heavy on it, and Ryan, the O-line and Coach Bajakian dialed it up, and the rest was history."
On the team's preparation for the game:
"I think we are the hardest-preparing team in the country. We go all week and we just work hard and practice. We make the plays in practice so that we're able to make them on Saturday."
On his performance in the game:
"It feels good at getting the opportunity to showcase what I can do. And I think we'll just continue to build on that as a team, as an individual, as a coaching staff, continue to build on big games like this."
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On help from the defense:
"We love those guys. We'll coach them up, we help them out, we lift them up, so when they're making plays we're going to make plays. When they are making those stops, we know we need to go to capitalize on that and get a touchdown."
On recovering from their previous loss to Nebraska:
"It feels great, especially a stretch we're about to go on in the Big Ten, I think we'll just keep focusing on ourselves, keep focus on ourselves making plays."
On Ryan Hilinski and his confidence as the QB:
"I think Ryan's done a really good job, I mean, he believes in his players around him more than anybody else. And so when he comes in, I know he's gonna make plays....Ryan is the kind of guy that trying to put in all of this extra film, get extra catches after practice. He's trying to make those plays happen in practice, take his shots and stuff so we keep stacking those opportunities in perspective of practice days and it's helping us in the long run."
LB Chris Bergin
On the confidence this game gives for next week against Michigan:
"A lot of confidence. I think it just kind of shows us as the kind of defense we can be, the kind of defense we need to be consistently in order to win games and conferences as competitive as the Big Ten."
On embracing an underdog mentality:
"Honestly, I just think it comes down to one simple phrase that was taught to me by my dad that I was told repetitively, and then when I visited Northwestern, I heard Coach Fitz say it verbatim, word for word, and it was then I knew this place was going to be home: work hard, keep your mouth shut and good things will happen. And I think that's kind of been my mentality...just do what you gotta do, play well, and we'll be alright."
On earning respect in the Big Ten:
"I think we took a step in the right direction, then two steps back, and now two steps forward. Respect is in this game, in this conference, is kind of only as good as your last game, so today we just took a step in the right direction. There's still a long way to go in order to achieve our goals in who we really want to be as a defense, as a team, as a program."
On his role as a leader for the Wildcats:
"In my career here, I've always tried to be a leader by example, I don't really say much. Last year, I had such prominent and outspoken leaders like Paddy Fisher, one of the greatest players in this program's history. And this year I kind of had to take a little bit more control. I think these guys are so good and so talented as players that it hasn't really been much of what I've had to say to them, it's more where I had to help them see about themselves. That's to trust yourself and have the confidence. Today, we played with confidence, we trusted ourselves, and you saw the results."
On linebacker Bryce Gallagher's performance:
"I think we all agreed today was Bryce's coming-out party, so it was quite fun to watch while I was out there with him. I got sick of hearing his name at one point by the PA announcer. But no, it's just so great to see a guy who's worked so hard finally get to see some of the fruits of his labor, and just getting to watch his growth each and every day has been so special....It was pretty surreal, so I couldn't be more proud of Bryce."
DL Adetomiwa Adebawore
On the momentum of the team:
"When we're making plays, we have more energy and just get a lot more excited and, you know, use it to make more plays."
On the benefits of the bye week:
"Having an extra week, you know you'll have more time to look back at the mistakes, figure out what we did wrong obviously and to try to correct those mistakes. We want to really emphasize trying to control that and I thought we did a good job of that today."
On how the game prepares for next week's matchup in Ann Arbor:
"[It gives us] a lot of confidence, a lot of confidence. We have to look at the good things but also have to look at the bad things and make sure we're constantly improving. So making sure any mistakes we're making, we get rid of those, because next week is going to be a good opponent."
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