Football: Northwestern to debut new offense in season opener against Maryland

Peyton+Ramsey+practices.+The+graduate+transfer+will+start+under+center+versus+Maryland.

Source: Northwestern Athletics

Peyton Ramsey practices. The graduate transfer will start under center versus Maryland.

Drew Schott, Assistant Sports Editor


Football


Northwestern was originally scheduled to play at Michigan State to open its 2020 season. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything.

Now on the Big Ten’s third schedule iteration — an eight-game, conference-only slate with a championship weekend — NU will open its 2020 season Saturday against Maryland at Ryan Field, which will be closed to the public.

“It’s been a long road to get to this point,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “We’re so fortunate to have the opportunity to play and just excited to go out there and do it.”

The game will mark the Cats’ debut of quarterback Peyton Ramsey. A graduate transfer from Indiana, Ramsey threw for nearly 2,500 yards and 13 touchdowns last season for the Hoosiers. After having the nation’s fifth-worst passing offense in 2019, expectations are high for Ramsey to be a reliable and consistent threat through the air.

Ramsey’s responsibilities will also include conducting offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian’s up-tempo offense. Fitzgerald said he is proud of how well NU’s offensive players are grasping and understanding the scheme, adding that his squad is ready to unleash it this weekend against the Terrapins.

The Cincinnati native says NU’s new scheme is exciting because of an experienced offensive line and explosive playmakers.

“I think we look good,” Ramsey said. “We have a lot of talented guys, a lot of guys who are experienced and have played a lot of football. We’re excited to show everybody what we’ve been working toward this Saturday.”

Like Fitzgerald did last autumn, Maryland coach Mike Locksley will not reveal the Terrapins’ starting quarterback until gameday. NU’s defense will either face redshirt freshman Lance LeGendre or Alabama transfer Taulia Tagovailoa — the brother of Miami Dolphins quarterback and former Crimson Tide star Tua Tagovailoa.

No matter who is starting under center for Maryland, defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz said the Cats are expecting the Terrapins to run a similar offense to last season.

“The key is we have to be fundamentally sound and we have to be able to execute our defense, not shoot ourselves in the foot (and) make mistakes and make them beat us,” Hankwitz said.

The Cats and Maryland are kicking off at 6:30 p.m., NU’s first nighttime season opener since 2000. With only about 1,000 family members of players and coaches expected in the stands, senior linebacker Blake Gallagher has coined the phrase “Bring Your Own Juice” to encourage players to bring their energy during games and pump up the team.

With a win, Fitzgerald will notch his 100th career victory as the Cats’ head coach. Despite saying that the road to 100 wins has taken too long because “there’s probably about 50 games we should have won that we didn’t,” Fitzgerald is proud to be on the cusp of NU history.

Senior linebacker Paddy Fisher said the Cats hope to get their leader to a career milestone on Saturday.

“To get him to 100, that’s an awesome goal,” Fisher said. “We’re going to surpass that goal throughout the season and in the years to come, but it would be awesome to send him with a 100th win on the first game.”

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