Ramsey’s next chapter leads to B1G title game with Northwestern

Before this season, Northwestern senior receiver Riley Lees had only a vague knowledge of former Indiana quarterback Peyton Ramsey.

“He was one of those guys I thought of ‘He’s still in college?’ One of those guys,” Lees said. “I didn’t know he was my age.”

It would have been plausible for a Wildcat to hold such skepticism. Northwestern only played IU once during Ramsey’s tenure behind center, in 2019. But Ramsey’s name started circulating in the Big Ten ecosphere back in 2017, when he first started getting snaps for the Hoosiers. He’d been around the block a few times, just on Northwestern’s periphery.

After three seasons as IU’s starter, on and off, and after a final season as a super-sub for an oft-sidelined Michael Penix Jr., Ramsey arrived at Northwestern seeking a final chapter to his college career. A veteran signal-caller, who seemed like he’d been in the Big Ten forever, was what the Wildcats needed to counterbalance a strong defense.

“When he got here, I didn’t know much about him personally. He’s from Ohio, obviously,” said Lees, an Illinois native. “But when he came in, he brought an aspect of a leader that we needed, and he’s obviously had a big impact on our offense, and a lot of trust going both ways, from him to us, as the receivers, and us back to him.”

It hasn’t even been a year since Ramsey led the Hoosiers in a post-New Year’s Eve bowl versus Tennessee, but now he’s taking another program into a big game. He will lead the Wildcats, champions of the Big Ten West, into a conference title matchup with East champ Ohio State.

Lees mentioned that Ramsey grew up in Ohio, but Ramsey clarified for the Northwestern media corps — which hasn’t quite had the time to delve so deeply into his background — that he’s not an OSU fan.

“I was a Notre Dame fan growing up. I was a Big Ten fan,” Ramsey said. “I think it’s something in my family, a traditional thing … Catholic kid from the Midwest. So I think that kind of fits.”

The 6-foot-2, 220-pound grad student from Cincinnati has fit exquisitely into Northwestern’s 2020 season. While his numbers aren’t flashy, posting 1,218 yards, nine touchdowns, and six interceptions, Ramsey has steadied the offense, while the Wildcat defense allows a Big Ten-best 14.6 points per game.

Ramsey has made just enough plays to give Northwestern an edge. At Purdue, for example, he threw for 212 yards and three touchdowns in a 27-20 victory. Ramsey hit receivers for both of Northwestern’s scores in a 17-7 win over Wisconsin.

These successes, in retrospect, speak to the talent the Hoosiers had in their quarterback room in 2019. Penix, who usurped Ramsey as IU’s starter, just earned second-team All-Big Ten honors despite a season-ending ACL injury in late November. Jack Tuttle, who was behind both Penix and Ramsey last year, recently led IU to a 14-6 win at Wisconsin in Penix’s stead.

“I knew that, one, Mike’s a really good player, obviously. The nation saw that this year,” Ramsey said. “But I knew Jack was a really good player, too. Whenever he got his number called, I knew he was going to go out and compete, because he prepares and works so hard for it.

“So it was a special room to be a part of, for sure. I learned so much from those guys back in Indiana, and I still talk to them and communicate with them. Great opportunity to be a part of that room. I’ll cherish that and take that with me for a long time because I learned a lot from those two guys.”

Ramsey took what he gained from his four years at IU about four hours north, to Evanston, Ill. There, he linked up with a Wildcat program coming off of a 3-9 season.

The Wildcats knew him, to an extent. In a 34-3 beating at the hands of IU, Ramsey relieved Penix late in the first half — after Penix suffered a season-ending collarbone injury — and kept the Hoosier offense moving. He threw for 108 yards, scoring IU’s last two touchdowns.

“He did great,” Northwestern linebacker Blake Gallagher said this week, now able to smile a little about last year’s demise. “He’s been such a huge part of, obviously, our success this year. … You talk about a guy who can come in and earn everybody’s respect and be a real leader over there on the offense. I can’t say enough good things about Peyton.”

Ramsey didn’t commit to playing the 2020 season at Northwestern until March, right before the pandemic shut college athletics down. While that may have posed a challenge, Ramsey wasn’t far behind his teammates, because Northwestern hired a new offensive coordinator, Mike Bajakian, last December.

Luckily, it all clicked.

“I don’t think I saw it until we really started getting going in practice. I realized ‘Wow, we’re pretty good,'” Ramsey said. “Our defense is really, really good. I knew that. I’d been throwing with the receivers and some of the skill guys throughout the course of the summer, and I knew they were good players. I think once we started really practicing, kind of everything started to come together.”

Everything clicked, and the No. 15 Wildcats (6-1) are on the brink of a Big Ten championship. IU won’t be competing for the conference crown, but at least one IU alum is.

That former Hoosier has plenty of supporters back in Bloomington. IU coach Tom Allen was asked about Ramsey this week, and, per usual, started gushing.

“I’m so proud of him, so happy for him. Wish we would have had a chance to play him,” Allen said. “I texted him earlier in the year, when they started winning their games, and I congratulated him, and I said ‘Hey, hopefully we can meet in the Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis.

“Man, I’m going to be rooting for him. And what it says about him is he’s a really good football player, he’s a tough, tough kid, he’s a highly competitive young man, and he’s a winner.”

Allen smiled when he recalled that Ramsey, an education major, wants to be a football coach one day.

“He’s one of those guys, he’s going to be great in this life, no matter what he does,” Allen said.

On the football field, Saturday’s noon title game offers Ramsey a chance to be great against the very best. In his four years at IU, he was never able to beat the Buckeyes.

As a Wildcat, Ramsey gets another chance.

“It’s been fun to go out and compete against the big boys and show them what we’re all about,” Ramsey said. “We’re really excited, teammates are really excited, family is really excited, to go out and compete and have fun.”

14 comments

  1. It has been good seeing Ramsey find a team that was going to turn things around and end up having a final season that is good to remember. I wish him well on the games coming up and will root for him and the Wildcats to win the next two games.

  2. Agree. And now IU and Northwestern are kinda parallel to one another. Similarities in coaching of high quality character commitment.

  3. He’s a fine young man and and a good college QB. He proves that you don’t have to have the best physical talent in order to be a winner; you just have to be in the right system. I’m happy for him.

    Having said that, I think NW is going to get crushed by OSU in the Big Ten Championship game. I think OSU is going to be hyper-motivated, not just to win the championship, but to prove those of us who said they didn’t earn the right to be in that game wrong. I anticipate a blowout. No matter how good NW’s defense is, they will be outmanned by NFL-quality talent across the offense. And no matter how successful his season has been to this point, Ramsey doesn’t have the weapons necessary to allow NW to stay with OSU. In other words, he doesn’t have the level of talent that allowed Penix to lead IU back in the second half against OSU. Nothing would please me more than to see NW beat OSU, but it’s not going to happen and it won’t even be close. I hope I’m wrong.

    1. The NW defense Is very good! We know that Peyton will not make mistakes. Can the OSU offense be great? I bet OSU!

  4. Would IU get crushed a little by OSU. In other words if OSU got up 21 to 7 would OSU allow or be able to come back? Maybe, like 35 to 21 score as an example.

    1. Now, without Penix…? Yes, we would be crushed by OSU.

      Questions:

      Do “Pop Warner” overachievers used to bench splinters and little fanfare play more for their coach when given opportunity?
      Do the truly high-flying elite players perform best for packed stadiums and full limelight?

      Who is most affected by the shock of empty and silent stadiums once the true theater of the game? Is it the showstopper or the coach’s son who plays to make only daddy proud?

          1. Free yo’ mind and yo’ ass will follow. I’ll suck your soul if you lick my funky emotion. Ain’t nothing good unless you play with it. Play with it Maceo…

          2. Oww, we want the funk, give up the funk
            Oww, we need the funk, we gotta have that funk.
            Merry Christmas Cue Cards!

  5. I often find the varying attitudes with exiting Hoosiers/transfers interesting…
    A highly talented Justin Smith of last year’s basketball team was pretty much given little fanfare when he transferred to Arkansas. Hardly any praises to be found from our Scoop regulars and HT journalists alike.
    Ramsey is still being sent roses from the archdiocese….

    Must it be so obvious?

    I think the BigTen championship game will be fixed/rigged to be a somewhat close affair. I don’t believe anything that happened with football amid a pandemic carries over to next year. Catfish and bottom feeders will return to the river’s floor. The traditional fast swimmers near the surface will once again rule the top of the waters and the top of the conference. A qb as talented as Penix in a Hoosier uniform almost getting through an entire Big season was an anomaly. He is the anomaly who put us in the position and fueled the momentum.
    Northwestern posing as a powerhouse team with a rather pedestrian qb is another pandemic anomaly.
    The powers will shift back very soon. Wildcats and Hoosiers will soon again be catfish feeding off the bottom. Buckeyes and Wolverines will be the fast swimmers moving against the rush of currents while leaping through the whitecaps to display their bright shiny colors.

    Pandemic 2020: A topsy-turvy year never seen again.

  6. I’m happy for Peyton. He is a good kid and a competitor.

    Also glad he’s on another team. If anyone watched the MSU/NW game, Ramsey threw another one of his patented hospital passes. His gimpy arm lofted a floater across the field to receiver Berkeley Holman. It gave the MSU safety enough time to get a 7 yard running start to charge at him. They carted him off the field and straight to the hospital for an overnight stay. I guess he’s going to be ok, but he’s out of the season.

    The offense that NW runs is perfect for Peyton. I wish him well and would be awesome to see a win, but it’ll take a miracle.

  7. Well, NW’s defense wasn’t so good today (especially against the run) and Ramsey made two critical mistakes in the second half that cost NW the chance to win the game. His INT and fumble in the second half pretty much ended NW’s hopes of upsetting a far more talented and more athletic OSU team. As tough, smart and competitive as Ramsey is, OSU simply exposed his limited athleticism.

    If you compare Penix’s performance against OSU to Ramsey’s performance today, it’s a stark contrast. And it should also be fairly easy to conclude that with Penix on the field, IU is clearly the second best team in the Big Ten. But honestly, as for the Big Ten right now, there’s OSU and then there’s everybody else. And that’s not likely to change any time soon.

  8. To I U Football Fans yes, Payton Ramsey was a member of the I U Football Team, however wishing that Ramsey and Northwestern could defeat Ohio State, NW winning would have been a disaster for I U Football, Ohio State drops out of the Bowl Playoff series, NW isn’t ranked high enough to be considered bowl championship material, so Ohio State would drop down and receive the top non BCs bowl and who knows where NW would be placed and your Indiana Hoosier Football would probably receive a much lesser bowl invitation. So be careful for what team your root for.

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