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Peyton’s Passes, Week Eight: Steering the ship in rainy conditions

Ramsey guided Northwestern’s offense to success with his arm, his legs and his mind.

Illinois v Northwestern Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

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 sixth edition of Peyton’s Passes.


No. 14 Northwestern (6-1) rebounded from a disappointing loss to Michigan State (2-5) in Week Six with a decisive slaughter of Illinois (2-5) to keep the HAT. Though the offense relied on Cam Porter and Evan Hull to lead a rushing attack that tallied 411 yards, quarterback Peyton Ramsey played well when called upon, limiting mistakes and keeping the offense humming.

Ramsey attempted only 12 passes against a weak Illinois defense that allowed 248 passing yards per game this year. That was no surprise, as in the driving rain the game plan was all along going to be keeping things on the ground. Ramsey ripped off a few runs of his own while also creating throwing windows for him to find open receivers.

Ramsey’s legs allowed offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian to dial up some run-pass options (RPOs). On the scripted plays to open the game, Bajakian called a few read options that Ramsey kept for sizable gains.

Those first few RPOs set up the passing game. Ramsey was able to roll to his right off of play action in the shotgun set to freeze defenders and make them decide whether to rush him or drop back and give him time to find an open read.

There isn’t as much to dissect with such a run-heavy attack, but Ramsey looked better than he did in East Lansing.

Peyton Ramsey vs. Ohio State

Range Completions Attempts Comp % Yards Yds/Attempt Yds/Completion TD INT
Range Completions Attempts Comp % Yards Yds/Attempt Yds/Completion TD INT
40+ 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
30-39 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0
20-29 1 1 100 31 31 0 0 0
10-19. 5 10 50 79 7.9 15.8 0 2
0-9 18 25 72 114 4.6 6.3 0 0
Totals 24 37 64.9 224 6.1 9.3 0 2

Peyton Ramsey Full Season Stats

Range Completions Attempts Comp % Yards Yds/Attempt Yds/Completion TD INT
Range Completions Attempts Comp % Yards Yds/Attempt Yds/Completion TD INT
40+ 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0
30-39 1 6 16.7 33 5.5 0 1 0
20-29 11 24 45.8 259 10.8 23.5 2 1
10-19. 37 84 44 554 6.6 15 1 5
0-9 123 166 74.1 788 4.7 6.4 8 2
Totals 172 281 61.2 1634 5.8 9.5 12 8

Ramsey started off the game continuing some of his woes from the previous game with this ill-advised throw for Riley Lees that nearly gets picked off.

He makes up his mind pretty quickly and stares down his receiver. While Lees appears to be open, Ramsey fails to see Illinois linebacker Michael Marchese ball-hawking in zone coverage. Marchese makes a strong run at the ball and should have caught it and likely take it back for a touchdown.

Northwestern began to wake up at the end of the first quarter, and on this touchdown this throw, we see another use of goal line play action, something we’ve seen Bajakian try several times before. Credit to Charlie Mangieri for holding his block long enough to sell the run before releasing and presenting himself as wide open for Ramsey to make the pitch and catch.

The key to this play for Ramsey is how he uses the same speed on handoffs, whether or not he is actually giving the ball up. Take a look at this handoff to Cam Porter.

The speed with which he runs to Porter is the same as in the play action, meaning Ramsey isn’t giving up any extra tells to the defense and is forcing it to stay on its toes.

Ramsey had only passed once on the very next drive when Bajakian called a play action play that allowed Ramsey to roll to his right and find an open Kyric McGowan down the field. It ultimately didn’t count due to an ineligible man downfield penalty

Ramsey released the ball quickly and in stride, putting it right in McGowan’s hands and giving him space to run straight into the end zone. The ball could have had more air on it and allowed McGowan to catch it in stride for a touchdown, but the margin of error was large with the coverage bust. The play displays Ramsey’s strength of finding the open man while running outside of the pocket.

Here, the signal caller struggled heavily with this read on an ambitious fourth-and-10 play.

He doesn’t deserve as much criticism as this throw would normally warrant due to the game situation (he’s just trying to make something happen), but this read into triple coverage is certainly not what Bajakian and Fitz are looking for.

This play makes sense if the receiver is a bigger target who you throw it up to. But the pass is not where it needs to be for such a tight window and puts Lees in a dangerous situation, where he ultimately takes a late hit from an Illinois defender.

On a drive during which NU converted three fourth downs, Bajakian put the ball in his quarterback’s hands on a fourth-and-8 in Illini territory, and managed to do so on an ad-libbed roll out to his right.

On a play that’s meant to take a while to build up (as exemplified from the five step drop when he is already in shotgun), Ramsey does not find a read he likes. Instead of panicking and forcing a ball into tight coverage when the pocket collapses, Ramsey avoids the approaching Illini pass rusher with a quick feint to his left before rolling out to his right. Though he has an open lane to run, he sees and hits the open McGowan, who had split the zone coverage and ended up right at the edges of three different defenders’ zones before hauling in the reception to move the chains.

Peyton Ramsey was not asked to do much against Illinois. The few things he was asked to do, he generally did quite well. Ramsey took his time in the pocket and cycled through his reads until he found the man just open enough to catch the ball. His contributions to the ‘Cats dominant victory over the Fighting Illini—while nuanced and not immediately noticeable to the eye—were quietly important as he will be forced to play the best game of his career in the Big Ten Championship.