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Rapid Reaction: Northwestern demolishes Maryland 43-3 in season opener

Well, that was fun!

NCAA Football: Maryland at Northwestern David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Northwestern swore it would bring its own juice, and it did Saturday night as the Wildcats (1-0) cruised to an easy 43-3 win over Maryland (0-1) under the Ryan Field lights as head coach Pat Fitzgerald earned his 100th career win. NU dominated both sides of the ball in its season opener, intercepting Taulia Tagovailoa thrice and looking seamless on offense with Peyton Ramsey under center.

In his first game in a Northwestern uniform, Ramsey proved himself as a capable leader and play-maker for the Wildcats. He finished the day with 212 yards on 23-of-30 passing and a touchdown as well as seven attempts for 47 rushing yards and a score on the ground of his own.

Ramsey executed the new Bajakian-called offense well and controlled the fast-paced momentum throughout the game and the first half, in particular. He hit his targets effectively with grad transfer tight end John Raine and senior wideout Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman leading the way each with five receptions for 53 and 49 yards, respectively.

Defensively, NU suffocated Maryland and Tagovailoa after a game-opening field goal drive, holding them to 207 total yards and just three points. The unit hauled in four takeaways — three interceptions and a fumble — after forcing just 14 a year ago.

After Northwestern deferred the opening possession to the Terps, Maryland came out hot led by running back Jake Funk and caught the ‘Cats on their heels, driving into the red zone early. Two big tackles from Eku Leota and Bryce Gallagher held them to a 33-yard Joseph Petrino field goal.

However, Maryland’s early momentum soon faded as Peyton Ramsey and the Wildcats took over and never looked back. A 14-play, 75-yard touchdown drive featured a 12-yard Ramsey scramble to set up Isaiah Boswer’s first score since 2018

NU furthered its momentum on the other side of the ball when AJ Hampton picked off Tagovailoa on the ensuing drive. Ramsey completions to Malik Washington and Raine set up a 12-yard rushing touchdown for NU’s new signal caller. A 14-3 first quarter lead and two touchdowns in six minutes proved Northwestern’s early success in flipping the switch on 2019.

With the Wildcats up 17-3, Drake Anderson took a handoff and dodged Terrapin defenders across the width of the field for 37 yards, prancing in for the score and a 24-3 lead. The Maryland mishaps continued as Isaiah Jacobs fumbled the kickoff, which was recovered by true freshman running back Cam Porter and resulted in a 23-yard Kuhbander field goal.

Northwestern closed the half with another 43-yard kick as time wound down to take a 30-3 lead going into the half. Three touchdowns, three takeaways, three field goals and 336 total yards marked the best half the ‘Cats could’ve asked for to open 2020.

Bowser came out of the half guns blazing. Of the 17 plays in NU’s eight-minute drive to open the second half, 11 involved the junior running back, including the seven-yard touchdown pass from Ramsey to extend the Wildcat lead to 34. He finished the day with a pair of touchdowns, 23 attempts for 70 yards and four catches for 21 receiving yards — a productive start to the season for Bowser after an injury-plagued 2019.

Tagovailoa added a third pick on another deep ball early in the fourth quarter. Fitz then installed 2019 HAT hero Andrew Marty to end Ramsey’s night.

The Wildcats’ backup rushers took over for Bowser, with Evan Hull, Porter and Anderson carrying the team 93 yards down field, capped off with a 30-yard Evan Hull touchdown to extend the lead to 43-3, which would ultimately hold.

Tagovailoa finished the night with 94 yards on 14-of-25 passing and three interceptions.

Next Saturday, Northwestern will travel to Iowa City face the Hawkeyes (0-1) on Halloween at 2:30 p.m. CT.