EVANSTON – It was the 100th time that he’s led a Northwestern team onto the gridiron as a head coach and come out a winner. But this triumph on Saturday night was very unique for a number of reasons for Pat Fitzgerald.
For one, the milestone itself adds to his legacy at the school that includes bowl victories and a 2018 Big Ten West championship. It’s also the first during a bizarre 2020 season being played in a pandemic, which has required sacrifices beyond the football field.
It also comes after the Wildcats endured the worst season under Fitzgerald in 2019 – a 3-9 record that came just after a division championship. This created an offseason of questions for the coach, especially when it came to the quarterback position, and the chance to answer them was delayed nearly two months.
But in this century victory for Fitzgerald, the coach got a number of questions answered positively on what was historic night in more ways than one for the Wildcats.
With Peyton Ramsey at the helm of the Northwestern offense for the first time, the unit thrived all evening, putting up 30 first half points against Maryland. The defense allowed an opening drive field goal then nothing else in a 43-3 victory at Ryan Field Saturday night to open the 2020 season.
It was the largest margin of victory for the Wildcats since October 10, 1970, when the team beat Illinois 48-0 at then Dyche Stadium on a team that would finish tied for second in the Big Ten.
“I thought our guys prepared incredibly well,” said Fitzgerald, who saluted everyone in the program, from the players to the medical staff and athletic department, for their efforts in getting the team on the field during a pandemic. “It’s been a long road to get here.”
So the Wildcats took advantage in the first half, even after allowing the Terrapins to score the opening points, as new offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian. A 75-yard offensive drive was capped by an Isaiah Bowser short touchdown run and Ramsey completed the next drive with a 12-yard scamper of his own to make it 14-3.
Sixteen more points came in the second quarter with three Charlie Kuhbander field goals and a 37-yard touchdown runs by Drake Anderson pushing the halftime advantage to 30-3. Ramsey hit Bowser for short touchdown pass in the third quarter, and Evan Hull’s 30-yard run ended the scoring for the offense.
The final totals: 23-of-30 for 212 yard and a score through the air for Ramsey, 325 rushing yards (6.1 average) with four touchdowns on offense. It’s their first 40-point game since 2017 and the first time going over 500 yards of total offense since that same year against Maryland.
“Setting the tone early was something we talked about all week; we want to start fast, and then after that fast start, you want to keep the pedal down, and that’s what we did,” said Ramsey. “Good win, fun win, and really set the tone.”
Perhaps in a tribute to Fitzgerald’s defensive roots in his milestone win, the Wildcats’ unit surrendered just 207 yards the entire night. It was all part of a night where many questions were answered positively and historically at Ryan Field.