“Pretty darn clean in all three phases”: ‘Cats Prove 2019 is a Thing of the Past
By Eric Rynston-Lobel
The Mick McCall-Mike Bajakian comparisons were out in full force last night and justifiably so. The Wildcats scored 30 points in the first half of their 43-3 drubbing of Maryland; they didn’t score more than 29 points in a Big Ten game all of last year.
But as Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald mentioned after the game, offense, defense and special teams all keyed Northwestern to its season-opening victory.
“Really proud of the overall performance. A lot of great individual performances but pretty darn clean in all three phases,” he said.
Offensively, Peyton Ramsey shined in his Northwestern debut, completing 23 of 30 passes for 212 yards and a touchdown while running in a score as well. He summed up the evening simply.
“I think more than anything, we just had fun, and that’s what it’s all about,” Ramsey said.
His head coach was a bit more elaborate.
“I thought he played really clean. I thought he made really good decisions with the ball. Very poised,” Fitzgerald said. “To see his teammates elect him a captain I think speaks to his leadership and speaks to who he is.”
Fitzgerald also noted the chemistry of Bajakian’s offense despite new faces at quarterback, tight end and on the offensive line.
“You would’ve thought that this was their 50th, 70th, 100th game together. They’ve meshed and molded really well.”
Junior running back Isaiah Bowser, who finished the game with 75 yards on 23 carries and two touchdowns (one rushing, one receiving), credited the offensive line, a group with some question marks following the departures of Jared Thomas and Rashawn Slater.
“They played amazing tonight. I saw we had over 300 rushing yards, so you can’t just do that alone. We follow those big guys,” Bowser said. “They got us a lot of yards, a lot of touchdowns, and we’re going to lean on them every game going forward.”
The defense also had big question marks entering the game. Without Joe Gaziano (graduation), Alex Miller (graduation), Samdup Miller (opt-out), Travis Whillock (opt-out) and Greg Newsome (injury), Fitzgerald had to rely on a new cast of characters.
“You guys were probably looking down at your sheet saying ‘Who’s this guy? Who’s that guy?’ It’s a great job by our young men being prepared,” Fitzgerald said. “We’ll get guys back hopefully sooner than later, but at the end of the day, I was really proud of the way the entire secondary stepped up.”
On special teams, Charlie Kuhbander converted on all three field goal attempts, two from 43 yards (one yard shy of his career long), and first-year Cam Porter made a remarkable play after a muffed kickoff return by Isaiah Jacobs to secure an extra possession for the ‘Cats.
All-in-all, it was an emphatic way for Fitzgerald to pick up his 100th victory as the leader of this program.
“I’m so proud of those guys, and I’m honored to be their coach. I’m just sorry it took so long for us to get to 100. To our fans, I’m sorry, but hopefully the next 100 will go a lot faster.”