Well, it’s here. Almost eleven months after winning the Hat in Champaign, Northwestern once again has football, albeit with some strange circumstances and procedures. For example, who ever heard of the ’Cats beginning the season in primetime?
Jokes aside, this is going to be a fascinating year for ’Cats football. The offensive core is in place for one last try at a stable scoring threat, while the defense tries to patch itself up enough to live up to previous years of dominance. With Mick McCall finally shown the door, a new QB transfer fresh from Bloomington and Paddy Fisher buoying the linebackers, there’s a lot to discuss before Saturday’s game against Maryland.
So let’s kick this off right, shall we?
For anyone who has watched the ’Cats in recent years, this offense will look significantly different than what they’re used to. After 12 years with the program, Mick McCall was fired after a disappointing offensive campaign in 2019 that saw the squad finish 126th in total offense … out of 130 teams. As a result, the offense has a new man at the helm: Mike Bajakian.
Why Bajakian? Two words: quarterback master. The new OC has years of experience in both the NFL and the NCAA, with his most famous gig coming as the quarterbacks coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2015-2018, where he worked with Jameis Winston. Under his guidance, Winston became a quality starter for the Bucs, being named to the Pro Bowl in 2015 and getting constant praise from his peers. The ’Cats hope the experience will carry over to a deep quarterback room, as the team went through a whopping four different starters last season.
On the subject of quarterbacks: starting for the ’Cats this week is graduate transfer Peyton Ramsey, who the ’Cats secured in early March. Ramsey was an absolute stud for Indiana, ranking fourth in all-time passing yards in the program, as well as helping the Hoosiers to an eight win season last year. Ramsey came to NU for his graduate season to finish his Big Ten work, as he split time with Indiana’s Michael Penix Jr. his last two seasons.
It’s a match made in heaven: Bajakian, a risk-taker with deep passing threats, and Ramsey, a dart-thrower that’ll hopefully help fans forget about the endless checkdowns from last year. What’s more, they’ve got weapons to spare. The ’Cats will start three senior wide receivers Saturday night: Riley Lees, Kyric McGowan and Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman, all with years of experience and work under their belt. While the team did lose star wideout Bennett Skowronek in his transfer to Notre Dame, the remaining slots will work to make up for his production.
Maybe this is too good to be true. But you also forget the run game. The ’Cats will finally see the return of junior running back Isaiah Bowser, who dominated in his freshman season with 9.1 yards per carry, but who was limited in 2019 with injury. Backing him up are the always solid sophomores, Drake Anderson and Evan Hull; Anderson starred as the starter last year with 634 yards, and Hull starred against UMass last year with 220 yards and 4 touchdowns.
And of course, anchoring the whole operation will be the offensive line. The group will be without star lineman Rashawn Slater as he opted out to prepare for the draft, but the unit will still have experience and depth, as the right side will be flanked by senior Gunnar Vogel and junior Ethan Wiederkehr. As we go forward, keep an eye on the left tackle position, as Fitz well be debating whether to insert No. 4 OL recruit Peter Skoronski, one of the highest rated recruitments this previous winter.
All in all, this will be a very interesting season for the ’Cats offense, but three takeaways are present at the start:
-The ’Cats have depth and experience oozing from almost every position
-Peyton Ramsey and Mike Bajakian have a shot to turn the offense into a fantastic aerial attack
-Don’t sleep on the running game.
The days of checkdowns are gone. Let’s see how this offense plays out.
Check back later for Part 2!