In their season opener against Maryland, Northwestern got off to a hot start and never looked back, steamrolling the Terps 43-3. In new offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian’s program debut, the Wildcats posted 543 yards of total offense and recorded four of their five total touchdowns on the ground. Overall, the offense appeared to be a well-oiled machine, while the defense remained impressive. Here are three things we learned about Mike Bajakian’s new offensive from the ‘Cats dismantling of the Terrapins.
The emphasis will be on the run game
The run-heavy approach under Bajakian was anticipated coming into the season and was something we saw on full display this past Saturday.
In his past years at programs like Boston College, Bajakian used a strong run game to wear down the opponent’s defense. At BC, guys like AJ Dillon were the playmakers in the backfield. For the ‘Cats, it’ll be Isaiah Bowser and Drake Anderson leading the charge.
Against the Terrapins, Northwestern racked up 325 (!!) rushing yards on just 53 carries. The aforementioned Bowser and Anderson led the way with 23 carries for 70 yards and 10 carries for 103 yards, respectively. Both scored touchdowns on the ground, as did Ramsey and third-string running back Evan Hull, who scampered into the endzone on a 30-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
It’s important to note that Maryland’s run defense is, by all facets imaginable, abysmal. The Terrapins are not a good football team, but 53 carries for 325 yards is certainly something to get excited about.
It will be a balanced attack in the passing game
In his debut for the Wildcats, grad transfer quarterback Peyton Ramsey was nothing short of impressive, as he completed 23 of his 30 pass attempts for 212 yards and one touchdown while also rushing for 47 yards and a touchdown.
What may be even more impressive, however, is the number of options he had to throw to.
Over the course of the game, Ramsey successfully completed passes to seven different targets. His one touchdown pass went to Bowser, while grad transfer tight end John Raine led the way with five receptions for 53 yards. Senior wide receiver Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman followed close behind with five receptions for 49 yards.
While this may not seem very impressive or flashy, it’s a huge improvement from where the ‘Cats were a season ago. Northwestern’s passing offense was horrifically bad last season (as was the offense in general), so simply seeing that Ramsey has targets to throw to on passes that are thrown beyond the line of scrimmage is a great sight to see.
The passing game wasn’t perfect Saturday night, but the mix-and-match of who Ramsey was throwing to and where they were on the field was certainly a positive.
They may struggle to close out drives
This is the one negative I noticed.
When the ‘Cats got marching on offense, they often stalled once they got inside Maryland’s 30-yard line or so. Kicker Charlie Kuhbander was great (he even won Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week), but in order to compete with the top teams in the Big Ten, the ‘Cats need to be more clinical.
Against Maryland, Kuhbander went 3-for-3 on field goal attempts, hitting two field goals from 43 yards out and then hitting a chip shot from 23 yards away. All of these field goals came in the second quarter.
Eventually, Bajakian (or Fitz) may have gotten tired of settling for field goals, so the ‘Cats went for it on fourth down on a few occasions. Northwestern finished the game 3-for-3 on fourth downs, which is a positive.
Maybe I’m overthinking, but if the Wildcats were struggling to finish drives against a far inferior Maryland team, what might this mean against teams like Wisconsin or Minnesota? It’s certainly something to consider.