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Peyton’s Passes, Citrus Bowl: Pushing the ball down the field

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No. 12 went out with a bang.

Vrbo Citrus Bowl - Auburn v Northwestern Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

Northwestern fans got one year of Peyton Ramsey under center, and he provided the stability the position desperately needed. Whose passes will we be charting this coming fall? We’ll see. But for now, one last ride of Peyton’s Passes.

No. 10 Northwestern (7-2, 6-2 B1G) ended the season on a resilient note with a 35-19 victory over Auburn (6-5, 6-4 SEC) to capture the 2021 Vrbo Citrus Bowl. Unlike many Wildcat victories, Peyton Ramsey was the catalyst of success, as Cam Porter and Evan Hull had trouble on the ground.

The conditions in Florida lent themselves well to the passing game: clear skies and light wind meant Ramsey could air the ball out as much as he liked. And air it out he did:

Ramsey experimented with the deep ball more than in previous games, completing his first pass of 30 or more air yards in his final game as a Wildcat.

He also showed off his legs yet again, most notably in a 30-yard touchdown scramble that secured an 8 point Northwestern lead midway through the third quarter. As always, offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian made sure to give Ramsey a few designed runs and run-pass options that kept the Tigers’ defense on its toes. These RPOs set up chunk Northwestern gains and are easily attributable to lots of the ‘Cats offensive success in 2020.

No. 12 played some of the best football of his college career in Orlando, and the stats reflect his dominance.

Peyton Ramsey vs. Auburn

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 1 2 50 33 16.5 33 1 0
20-29 3 4 75 70 17.5 23.3 0 0
10-19 2 8 25 30 3.75 15 0 0
0-9 18 21 85.7 59 2.8 3.3 2 0
Totals 24 35 68.6 192 5.5 8 3 0

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’s first big time throw against Auburn became one of his best reads of the year, finding an open Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman for a 35-yard touchdown.

Wide receiver Bryce Kirtz goes in motion so Ramsey can see what coverage the defense is running. The lack of following from any Auburn defensive backs lets him know that it’s zone coverage. He fakes the handoff to Porter and steps right back into the pocket, staring at his man the entire time. RCB takes advantage of a coverage bust and catches a perfectly thrown ball in stride for the massive touchdown.

While Ramsey could have disguised his first read better, the play was designed well enough that it did not matter. He knew the play would bust zone coverage, and RCB ends up running a perfect zone-breaking levels streak concept.

Later in the first quarter, Bajakian runs the same concept that brought RCB a touchdown again, this time for a 29-yard first down gain.

Ramsey again calls for pre-snap motion this play, and the Auburn DBs don’t trace Evan Hull across the field, telling the signal caller the Tigers are again in zone. Auburn DB Marco Domio signals to the rest of the secondary to shift into a modified Cover 2 concept at the second of the snap due to the motion, and Ramsey capitalizes off of the delayed adjustment. The offensive line gives him plenty of time in the pocket to find his read and nail RCB to move the sticks.

The same levels concept is used for the first down gain as in the 30-yard score. Ramsey continues to stare down RCB, which isn’t ideal, but RCB makes a ridiculous tight window catch where only he can make a play. Auburn ran a lot of the same Cover 2 zone concepts that Ramsey capitalized on with such accurate dimes to Wildcat receivers.

Later in the drive, on a crucial fourth down, Riley Lees finds a soft spot in the zone defense and grabs an easy catch to keep the drive alive.

Auburn drops into a deep zone coverage play the instant of the snap, giving Ramsey time in the pocket to go through his progressions. As was consistent throughout the game, Bajakian called perfect zone-breaking routes that put Wildcat receivers in the right places to make plays. Lees runs a post route that splits perfectly between the safety and the outside linebacker in coverage to create a five-yard radius of space where he easily secures the grab.

To cap the drive and put NU up 14-0, Ramsey performs a sweet roll out and finds tight end John Raine for six.

Bajakian usually uses pre-snap motion to confuse the defense and try and read the coverage; however, Raine actually uses it to speed up and accelerate to the outside on a roll out play against a blitz. Auburn calls a zone blitz, and the roll out counters it perfectly. Raine does not have a primary defender on the play, as one Tiger trades him to another as he crosses Ramsey, creating confusion among the defense, which allows a wide open Raine to walk in for the touchdown.

Not only does the pre-snap motion confuse the defense, but Bajakian calls a double slant route that creates a sizable gap between Raine and his assigned defender. This pseudo pick play gives Raine the ball in space.

Shortly thereafter, 12 delivers a strike on second-and-16 in the middle of the field that creates a third-and-manageable.

Ramsey is solo behind the offensive line, but his legs still create a rushing threat, keeping the defense aware. He takes the snap, climbs the pocket after feeling pressure, and finds RCB on the Citrus Bowl logo for 14 yards.

Auburn has yet to learn from its mistakes, continuing to run a soft zone without any coverage in the shallow middle of the field. RCB runs a post route that forces the Auburn safety to come and make the tackle almost 15 yards off the line of scrimmage as there are no linebackers in coverage in an area traditionally traversed by that position.

Ramsey’s best throw of the day goes to John Raine on a drive the Wildcats desperately needed.

There is not much to break down with this play. Ramsey throws a perfect ball above the Auburn DB and puts just enough power on it for Raine to grab it without allowing the double high safeties to break up the pass. He finished this drive with the rushing TD that let NU break away from the Tigers.

A tip of the cap to No. 12 for an excellent performance and much needed consistency at quarterback. Who do you think we’ll be reviewing every week in the fall? Let us know below.