You’ve seen Thorson’s Throws, Hunter’s Heaves and even Aidan’s Attempts over the past few years on Inside NU, and we’re back again this year to provide you with weekly breakdowns of the play of Wildcat quarterbacks. Without further ado, enjoy the second edition of Peyton’s Passes!
In its season-opener, Northwestern didn’t need to throw the ball a ton against a weak Maryland front seven. The Wildcats ran 83 plays against the Terps, and Ramsey attempted 30 passes. They were not going to be able to replicate that offensive game plan against a much tougher Iowa defense on a windy day at Kinnick Stadium.
After rushing for an impressive 325 yards in Week One, offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian kept things ground-heavy. NU rushed 50 times compared with just 18 passing attempts. However, that number is a bit misleading. Bajakian probably called 5-10 more pass plays than are represented, but as you’ll see in some plays below, Ramsey often did not like what he saw and elected to call his own number.
Ramsey showed his veteran poise and a game manager-esque mentality throughout most of the afternoon. He hardly tried to throw the ball downfield, and though he fit throws into some tight windows, he didn’t force anything (with one important exception).
He completed only one pass more than 20 yards, and even that is misleading: it was a short dump-off that Drake Anderson turned into a longer gain with an insane juke. The area in which he excelled is right where he succeeded against Maryland: the intermediate throws of 10-19 yards. He completed every single one of those throws against Iowa except for a late interception, and that’s clearly been a strength in the first two weeks.
Here’s the full statistical breakdown of Ramsey’s performance on the road in Iowa City
Peyton Ramsey vs Iowa
Peyton Ramsey Full 2020 Passing Chart
As is clear from the numbers, Northwestern didn’t throw the ball all that much, but it kept drives on time with successes on early-down runs, which led to plenty of manageable third down distances. In total, NU converted 10-of-19 third downs, which is impressive in any game, and especially against a solid Hawkeye defense. Ramsey converted five of seven third downs through the air.
On these critical conversions, Ramsey made use of both his athleticism and natural pocket presence. Here, the protection on the left side is very good, and he buys himself enough time to hit Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman on the mini-scramble. The window to fit the pass in isn’t huge, and Ramsey does a nice job keeping it low and putting it only where RCB can get it. High-percentage plays!
This play is actually a fourth down, coming at a critical point late in the first half as NU tried to maintain control of the momentum with the wind at its back. It’s another designed rollout to the right, and he fires it in to an open Kyric McGowan. Ramsey is able to set his feet and show that he has the arm strength when he needs it to fit the ball into tight windows.
Another thing that stands out is his patience. Of course, it’s helpful that he had pretty good protection on these throws, but he didn’t flinch at the first sight of pressure à la Spencer Petras or 2019 Northwestern quarterbacks. Ramsey surveys his options from within the pocket, then outside of the pocket, and only throws it away or takes a sack if he is sure he doesn’t have a viable throw.
These final two passes are just pure enjoyment. Look at the accuracy and clutch factor on both of these completions. He gets solid protection on both plays, and then steps up to fire to both sides of the field for his receivers to make impressive sliding catches. Both come at critical times to move the sticks, and it’s those types of throws that need to be made in order to close out games.
Taking what the defense gave him
The story outside of third down was Ramsey showing patience and caution. For the most part, he did not attempt to force anything. On this check down to Drake Anderson, the signal caller doesn’t hesitate as he works through his reads, even when he has three Hawkeyes bearing down on him. In addition, Ramsey puts a nice touch on the ball as he begins to fall away, making a tough pass look pedestrian. Anderson takes it from there.
The same can be said for this backward pass to Isaiah Bowser. The protection breaks down, and Ramsey could pick up two to three yards if he tucks and runs, but instead he keeps his head up and finds Bowser in the flat, who is able to pick up six yards, set up a shorter third down try and give NU more flexibility in potential four down territory.
Then there were the times when Ramsey decided to run. If adjusting for sacks, he finished with 47 rushing yards. On his longest scramble, he actually could have thrown it to Jesse Brown for an easy first down and then some, but he made up his mind on the carry and, with help from Brown as a blocker, picked up 21 yards.
The final example I’ll include is a four-yard run. No, that doesn’t sound like much of anything, but it’s the patience he shows and his ability to simply get four yards on first down, even if the pass play breaks down. He wants to throw all the way until he reaches the line of scrimmage, at which point he decides to take what he can get. A simple solid gain on first down counts as a success and, crucially, keeps the offense on schedule.
Ramsey was careful last Saturday, and there weren’t too many plays where you were left scratching your head. While the offensive line did a good job on the whole protecting its leader, Iowa defensive lineman Dayvion Nixon wreaked havoc on them on a couple of plays. The quarterback took three sacks, including a fumble on one of them that left tackle Peter Skoronski recovered.
While two of the sacks were true d-line wins, the mistake Ramsey makes here is that he steps up into traffic when he doesn’t need to. He feels pressure from his right after Jesse Brown can’t handle his block, but there was plenty of green if he just went around the right end. Given how we’ve lauded his pocket presence, this is an uncharacteristic miss.
There were few pass plays that were failures, but this is one of them. On first look, it seems this might have been a run-pass option, but the play design might have just been a play-action roll out. Either way, the play just doesn’t present many options for Ramsey. McGowan runs a deep route on the far side, but Ramsey immediately sprints the other way, and doesn’t seem to even really look for a potential throwback. Maybe if there’s less pressure on him, he’s able to flip it to Malik Washington who could fight for the first down, but it doesn’t seem like a play destined for success.
Here was the one big blemish on Ramsey’s performance. Feeling pressure, he rolls to his right (which he is normally comfortable doing), and then, trying to make a play on third-and-long, throws across his body and overshoots Malik Washington, which ends up as an Iowa pick. He was extremely lucky Brandon Joseph intercepted Petras on the ensuing drive, because Iowa was within striking distance of a lead-taking field goal. Ramsey doesn’t get a chance to set his feet, and the ball floats on him. Washington did find a zone to settle into, but he’s surrounded by multiple Hawkeye defenders, and he’s only 5-foot-9. It’s a rare low-percentage decision from Ramsey, and it cost him.
Nebraska’s defensee is not the same defense as Iowa. Ohio State racked up nearly five hundred total yards of offense in its balanced attack, including 4.5 yards per carry. But Northwestern’s new offense still is not Ohio State. Even so, with UNL having two starting defensive backs suspended for the first half as a result of a targeting penalty and having played soft coverage against OSU, NU may have a chance at those short, high-percentage completions they thrived at against Maryland.
Ramsey’s performance against Nebraska will probably look like a cross of his first two games against Maryland and Iowa. So far, he’s shown the ability to slice up defenses and keep things comfortable when there isn’t much to attack. Either way, expect more intermediate completions.