Mike Bajakian and Pat Fitzgerald are designing a new offense for Northwestern


Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman

Hunter Johnson steps back to throw. The junior quarterback is one of the many quarterbacks in competition for the starting spot in 2020.

Charlie Goldsmith, Sports Editor


It didn’t even take a full day of practice for Northwestern’s new offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian to start trying to get the offense to play at a faster tempo.

As the Wildcats did eleven-on-eleven drills on the first day of spring ball last week, Bajakian had one eye on the offense and one eye on the play clock. He wanted the quarterback to snap the ball in 20 seconds or less, and was checking to see how much progress was being made in that area.

If the quarterbacks can be faster and more decisive in 2020, Bajakian said the offense will be better than it was last season.

“The ability to process quickly is vital at the quarterback position,” Bajakian said. “We stress that with these guys. Bullets were flying today for the first time, and things were moving a little faster. But now that they’ve been in it one day, that mental processing part will become second nature for them.”

The Cats haven’t committed to a specific scheme yet for next season, but Bajakian said the offense will be built around three principals –– tempo, physicality and effort.

NU has room to improve in all three of those areas coming off the team’s 2019 campaign. The Cats finished the year with the fourth worst scoring offense in the country, and their four quarterbacks combined for just six touchdowns and 15 interceptions in 12 games.

NU fired offensive coordinator Mick McCall after the season, and head coach Pat Fitzgerald said it was time for the Cats to make sweeping changes to the offense.

“Stats are stats,” Fitzgerald said. “It was time for a change.”

Instead of hiring an inexperienced candidate to run the offense, NU hired a new coordinator who’s run multiple different schemes at five different stops over the last decade. Bajakian coached star wide receiver Antonio Brown in Central Michigan’s spread offense, a vertical passing offense with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and a power run system at Boston College last season.

Most years, Fitzgerald spends equal time meeting with the offensive and defensive coaches. This winter, he’s met almost exclusively with the offense to design a new scheme with Bajakian and the other offensive coaches.

“We need to get a sense for what our personnel is going to look like and who’s going to step up and make plays,” Bajakian said. “We’ve included some stuff from last year’s scheme, we’ve added a lot of new stuff and we’ve tweaked some stuff.

Junior running back Isaiah Bowser, senior receiver Riley Lees and junior receiver Kyric McGowan are expected to be featured players in Bajakian’s new offense. But the offense will be tailored to the quarterback who wins the competition during the preseason, and the scheme won’t be finalized until the season starts.

“It’s an ever-changing process,” Bajakian said “Really, even at the end of spring ball compared to what our offense will look like at the end of training camp is probably going to look quite different.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @2021_charlie