Warren: Saturday is Peyton Ramsey’s moment


Daily file by Joshua Hoffman

Peyton Ramsey runs with the football. The graduate transfer will be playing in his first Big Ten Championship Game.

Peter Warren, Gameday Editor


Peyton Ramsey is a fantastic leader, a savant of the small things and master of the things winners do.

Doing that won’t be enough Saturday. To win the biggest game of his life, Ramsey will need to have his moment.

Ramsey’s career in purple has been brief, but memorable. He announced his intention to transfer to Evanston just as the COVID-19 pandemic rose to the top of the national consciousness, foreshadowing the link that would soon tie the two together in Northwestern lore forever.

The pandemic pushed back his arrival to the shores of Lake Michigan and the start of this season, but his impact has not been diminished by these circumstances.

“Winner. Gritty. Leader. Great teammate. Unflappable. Mature. Experienced. And just a joy to be around,” coach Pat Fitzgerald listed when asked about what characteristics describe his quarterback.

Ramsey’s on-the-field impact has been easy to see. NU averages almost 50 yards more per game on offense than in 2019, and Ramsey has provided 1,387 total yards himself. He has nine passing touchdowns, and two on the ground, while heading a solid attack. His work under center earned him a consensus spot on the All-Big Ten third team.

And, of course, he’s quarterbacked the Cats to a 6-1 record and the Big Ten West Division title.

But so much of what Ramsey has provided has been in those small details, the things television cameras don’t show on replay after the fact. Like when Isaiah Bowser fumbled on the goaline against Wisconsin. NU had all the momentum heading into the play, and then lost it all in the blink of an eye. As the Cats trudged off the field, Ramsey ran with his head up, waving his arm to encourage his teammates to follow him.

That’s the actions of a winner.

“When he came in, he brought an aspect of a leader that we needed,” senior wide receiver Riley Lees said. “There’s a lot of positives that Peyton’s brought to this program and to this offense.”

While his impact has reverberated throughout the locker room, Ramsey hasn’t had one definitive moment to define his Northwestern career yet.

Despite the Gatsbian glitz and glamour that comes with being a starting quarterback in 2020, Ramsey is an L.L. Bean flannel — top-notch, sturdy, reliable but not flashy. The biggest plays of the season either come on the defensive side of the ball or have featured Rasmey as the offensive sidekick instead of the superstar.

His best performance of the season came against Purdue, but that game will be remembered as the Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman Party. His best throw of the season, a beautiful fade from 25 yards away to Chiaokhiao-Bowman in the end zone a week later, will be more remembered for Chiaokhiao-Bowman’s nifty and nimble footwork. He spearheaded a dominating victory over Maryland the first week of the season, but can you actually remember any play from that game?

This is not a knock against Ramsey at all. Excluding the disappointing and haunting loss to Michigan State, Ramsey hasn’t needed to create his own magic. He’s played winning football that hasn’t led itself to historic highlights.

The Big Ten Championship Game will be different.

Since the creation of the Big Ten Championship Game in 2011, quarterback play hasn’t been the No. 1 reason for a team winning the game. The nine winning starting quarterbacks average 18 completions, 267 yards and 2.6 touchdowns in the game — solid numbers, but not astronomical.

Yet, Ramsey hasn’t thrown for more than 212 yards in a game this season and tossed over two touchdowns just once. He has the potential to do it — he passed for 267-plus yards nine times at Indiana — he just hasn’t been put in an opportunity to do so.

The NU defense is oak, but the Ohio State offense likely won’t be fully contained. The Buckeyes will score some points, and the Cats will have to keep pace. And for that to happen, Ramsey will have to be on his game. He will need to make big plays. He will need to leave his mark.

Ramsey has played in bowl games and playoff games in high school, but none of those contests will rival the Big Ten Championship Game. Whether NU wins or loses, Ramsey shines or fizzles, this will be the game of his career.

It will define Ramsey’s legacy with the Cats. He has already marked his name in the books with his leadership and performance during this historic COVID season. But a victory in the game pushes him to a different level. Who Russell Wilson is to Wisconsin, Ramsey will be to NU.

The pressure doesn’t appear to be getting to Ramsey. Instead, he said he has spent the past week reflecting and trying to embrace every moment. He’s been dreaming of this opportunity for so long. Throw in the fact the game is at Lucas Oil Stadium, just an hour away from his old stomping ground in Bloomington, and one could say the stars are aligning.

“It’s kind of poetic, really,” Ramsey said.

Poetic indeed. But only time will tell whether Ramsey has his hero’s moment.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @thepeterwarren

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