It’s finally here! After 10 months of waiting, Northwestern returns to Ryan Field to face Maryland. The ‘Cats open as 11-point favorites over the Terrapins, and should have a good chance at victory if they’re able to slow down Maryland’s explosive offense and pick apart the Terrapin secondary. Here are three matchups to keep an eye on when Northwestern opens the season under the lights.
Peyton Ramsey vs. Maryland’s secondary
At last! On Monday we received word that Peyton Ramsey would be Northwestern’s signal caller heading into the 2020 season. Ramsey, a graduate transfer from Indiana University, threw for 42 touchdowns and 23 interceptions with a passer efficiency rating of 134.3 over three years for the Hoosiers. When Indiana faced Maryland last season, Ramsey stepped in for an injured Michael Penix Jr., completed 20 of 27 passes and threw for 193 yards and one touchdown
Meanwhile, the Terrapins allowed an average of 271 passing yards per game last season. Marcus Lewis, a corner who tied for the team lead with two interceptions in 2019, graduated this offseason. There will be holes in the Maryland secondary that Ramsey will be able to expose, it’s just a matter of whether or not new offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian lets him take the shots.
Taulia Tagovailoa vs. Northwestern’s secondary
Recognize that last name? Maryland is yet to name a starter for the quarterback spot this week, so this matchup may not even happen. But it might, and if it does, look out. Taulia Tagovailoa, brother to Miami Dolphin Tua Tagovailoa, is a former Alabama backup and has an abundance of skill. Maryland’s passing game was abysmal last season, but a spark plug like a Tagovailoa brother could go a long way.
On the other side of the ball, the Wildcat secondary has a hole to fill after the program announced Travis Whillock opted out of the season. Redshirt first-year Brandon Joseph will be making his first career start alongside senior JR Pace at safety, and since the Terps won’t be eager to challenge Greg Newsome, they may attempt to go after Joseph.
Cam Ruiz/Greg Newsome II vs. Rakim Jarrett
Jarrett isn’t currently listed as the number one wide receiver on Maryland’s depth chart, so it’s not entirely known how Northwestern will attempt to cover the first year pass catcher or how much he will see the field. Regardless of whether Cam Ruiz or Greg Newsome II is guarding Jarrett, they’re going to have their hands full with the former five-star recruit.
This will be Jarrett’s first ever college game, but his inexperience won’t get in the way of his talent. He was ranked the fourth-best receiver in the 2020 class and chose Maryland over LSU, Alabama and Tennessee. In his senior year, he caught 60 passes for 950 yards and seven touchdowns. He’s not one to be messed with.
Meanwhile, both Ruiz and Newsome II come into this game with two-plus years of experience. They’ve covered the likes of Rondale Moore, Rashod Bateman, Quintez Cephus and Terry McLaurin, among others. Neither has forced many turnovers, with Newsome recovering just one fumble in his sophomore year and Ruiz blocking a punt as a freshman. Watch out for Jarrett and how Northwestern may try to cover him.