Week 2 scouting report: Northwestern

This isn’t the same Wildcat offense as last season. Peyton Ramsey is in command as the team’s new starting quarterback.



Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald looks on from the bench in the fourth quarter of a game against Ohio State at Ryan Field in Evanston on Friday, Oct. 18, 2019. (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune)

Robert Read, Pregame Editor

Northwestern had the worst passing offense in the Big Ten by far last season. This season, the Wildcats may have found their quarterback.

Peyton Ramsey threw for 6,581 yards and 42 touchdowns in three seasons at Indiana. In his first start for Northwestern, the Cincinnati, Ohio, native already provided a noticeable boost to the team’s offense.

In a 43-3 victory in his first start for Northwestern, Ramsey completed 23 of his 30 passes for 212 yards and a touchdown, while also rushing for 47 yards and a score. The Wildcats gained 537 yards of total offense.

No matter how good Maryland may or may not be this season, scoring 43 points is a big feat for Northwestern. The Wildcats averaged 16.3 points per game (only 12.67 in nine conference games) last season on their way to a 3-9 record.

In nine of the team’s 12 games, the Wildcats couldn’t surpass 150 yards passing. Ramsey had more than that by halftime. The running game was also working against the Terrapins. Four different Wildcats ran for a score, and the team totaled 325 rushing yards, averaging 6.1 yards per carry.

Running back Isaiah Bowser ran for 165 yards and a score in 2018 against Iowa, and is still a formidable power back for the Wildcats. Bowser’s teammate in the backfield, Drake Anderson, adds another dynamic.

With just under six minutes remaining in the second quarter against Maryland, Anderson took an inside handoff, ran through an open hole, then started weaving through the defense back across the field for a 37-yard touchdown.

Anderson finished with 103 rushing yards on only 10 carries, and Bowser added another 70 yards on the ground. Nine different rushers contributed for Northwestern, and Ramsey found seven different targets through the air.

Overall, Northwestern’s offense sustained a quick tempo throughout the team’s first game. Six of the eight Wildcats  scoring drives took less than five minutes.

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Ramsey showed the pocket presence and poise of a conference veteran in his Wildcat debut, and some of his best throws came off of play action.

Late in the first quarter, a receiver motioned across the formation before Ramsey took the snap and faked the handoff to Anderson. Facing a five-man rush, Ramsey scanned the field, stepped up in the pocket, and fired a pass as he was being hit to receiver Malik Washington for a 23-yard gain.

Later that same drive from his opponent’s 11-yard line, Ramsey dropped back and Maryland rushed four defenders and played man-to-man defense. Northwestern’s offense line kept the pocket clean and Ramsey leaked out to the left side of the field that had been vacated by his wide receivers and ran in for a touchdown.

Ramsey didn’t take a sack the entire night. Play-action passes allowed Ramsey to utilize his mobility, and midway through the third quarter and deep in Maryland territory, a play fake set up an easy dump off to Bowser for a score. The starting signal caller’s ability to lead Northwestern’s offense provides Iowa a completely different threat than the team it shut out last season.

In his only career start against Iowa, which came in 2018 as a Hoosier, Ramsey threw for 263 yards with a touchdown and two picks. He also ran for a score in Indiana’s 42-16 loss.

Northwestern’s defense was not as big of a question coming into the season compared to the offense. The Wildcats had a majority of their starters from last season coming back for 2020 — a group that gave up 23.6 points per game last season.

The unit’s experience showed against Maryland. The Wildcats tallied two sacks, three interceptions, forced a fumble and allowed only 207 total yards and three points.

Northwestern has won three out of the last four games of this rivalry and had a promising start to the season. It’s up to Iowa to rattle Ramsey and plug the holes of a versatile Northwestern running game, while also improving upon a disappointing offensive showing in Week 1 against Purdue.