Well, that was fun, wasn’t it. The ‘Cats came out of the gate swinging and demolished the visiting Maryland Terrapins 43-3. Pat Fitzgerald won his 100th game as head coach of Northwestern, while both sides of the ball made some big plays, effectively taking the Terps out of the game early. Here’s our weekly stock report.
With cornerback Greg Newsome’s absence, the ‘Cats secondary seemed thin heading into the contest. Brandon Joseph, a redshirt freshman safety, broke out for seven tackles, including one for a loss. First-quarter interceptions from AJ Hampton and JR Pace swung momentum decisively toward Northwestern, spooking first-time starting quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa and limiting him to under 100 yards passing. Cam Ruiz also made some plays, sacking Tagovailoa to force a Terps three-and-out in the second quarter. Ultimately, the secondary stymied Maryland’s athletic receivers.
The offensive newcomers
Peyton Ramsey, John Raine, Peter Skoronski and, for good measure, offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian all made their long-awaited debuts. Ramsey was an accurate 23-for-30 for 212 yards while facilitating Bajakian’s fast-paced offense with great aplomb. He didn’t miss many throws and also rushed for 47 yards, demonstrating great pocket awareness and breaking off some solid runs before ceding to Andrew Marty and Hunter Johnson in the fourth quarter. Raine, the revival of the tight end position at Northwestern, caught five passes for 53 yards, leading all seven of NU’s pass catchers. True freshman Skoronski received the task of replacing future NFL-first rounder Rashawn Slater and performed effectively, as Maryland’s defense did not record a single sack. Of course, Bajakian’s up-tempo offense wore away at the Terps early and led to the ‘Cats first 30-point half since 2018’s victory over Wisconsin.
The running game
The rushing game accounted for 325 yards (their second straight game with over 300 yards!) and wore the Maryland defense out. Isaiah Bowser rushed for 70 yards on 23 carries while scoring his first touchdown since the 2018 campaign. A healthy Bowser rumbling over Terrapin defenders is always a good sign. His backup, Drake Anderson broke the 100 yard mark, breaking free for a 37-yard touchdown to put the ‘Cats up 24-3. Evan Hull and Cam Porter also saw some touches, with the former breaking out for a 30-yard touchdown run in the final quarter.
Third down offense
NU converted fifty percent of its third downs attempts, including each of its first eight. The offense deserves the credit for delivering, especially when the game was still close early on, yet this efficiency could perhaps represent a promising sign when Northwestern needs conversions in closer games.
After last season’s 3-9 finish, it’s safe to say that ‘Cats fans were looking for progress from the 2020 iteration of Pat Fitzgerald’s squad.
it's almost like a laxative for all of 2019.— Inside NU (@insidenu) October 25, 2020
The offense finished with over 200 yards passing and over 300 yards rushing, while the defense held UMD in check after the game-opening field goal drive. The ‘Cats will head into next week’s tilt on the road in Iowa City with an elevated level of confidence after this absolute demolition of Maryland.
Honorable mentions: Black jerseys with purple helmets, Lia’s sanity, Charlie Kuhbander, artificial crowd noise
Defensive line depth
A first quarter injury to Jason Gold, Jr. and the undisclosed absence of Trevor Kent mean the ‘Cats will be increasingly thin on the defensive front. With the graduation of Joe Gaziano and the opt out of Samdup Miller, Northwestern will continue to rely on the corps of Eku Leota, Earnest Brown and Adetomiwa Adebawore to dominate the trenches. That group only sacked Tagovailoa once while forcing three quarterback hurries. A lack of depth in this group with these injuries could be a potential issue for defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz as the season progresses.
Honorable mentions: Missed extra points, thinking about what the before years would’ve looked like with Mike Bajakian, Iowa