Saturday's Big Ten: Ramsey’s three touchdown passes lead Northwestern past Purdue

Eric Olson
Associated Press

West Lafayette, Ind. — Peyton Ramsey took advantage of his expertise Saturday.

He used nimble feet to evade pass rushers, remained poised under pressure and kept Northwestern moving down the field. The Wildcats needed a solid performance from the fifth-year senior, and they got it.

Ramsey made up for a stymied rushing attack by throwing for 212 yards and three touchdowns, leading No. 23 Northwestern to a 27-20 victory over Purdue.

Northwestern quarterback Peyton Ramsey throws against Purdue during the first half.

“I don’t want to speak for him, but man, it seems like he’s having a lot of fun,” said coach Pat Fitzgerald, who played on the last Wildcats team to start 4-0 in league play in 1996. “I don’t know what it looks like on TV, but on the boundary, this guy is awesome.”

The Boilermakers have seen enough of seeing Ramsey in the past two seasons.

Last November, Ramsey threw three TD passes and ran for two scores in Indiana’s overtime win at Purdue. This time, he was equally poised.

Ramsey finished 23 of 36 with one interception and hooked up with Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman on all three scores. The graduate transfer also ran six times for 21 yards, routinely extending plays while improving to 8-4 as a starter over the last two years.

“That’s what he’s known for,” Purdue linebacker Derrick Barnes said, referring to Ramsey’s mobility. “We have to do a better job against those types of quarterbacks.”

The Wildcats defense was strong yet again. It held Purdue to 2 yards rushing and made two late stops to preserve a fifth straight Big Ten win.

But Ramsey was the biggest key – right from the start.

His 8-yard TD pass on the opening possession ended Chiaokhiao-Bowman’s three-year scoring drought. After the teams traded field goals and Aidan O’Connell tossed a tying 40-yard scoring pass to Garrett Miller on fourth-and-1, Ramsey went back to work.

He completed all seven passes on the ensuing drive, the last to Chiaokhiao-Bowman for an 18-yard score that gave Northwestern a 17-10 halftime lead. Chiaokhiao-Brown finished with eight catches for 86 yards, helping make up for a running game that managed 80 yards on 40 carries.

“When Peyton made the decision to come here, he and Ramaud were in constant communication,” Fitzgerald said. “That’s what older leaders do.”

Ramsey cashed in again with a 5-yard TD pass to Chiaokhiao-Bowman after Northwestern (4-0, 4-0) recovered O’Connell’s third-quarter fumble. And then he burned more than six minutes of clock time while setting up a 42-yard field goal for a 27-13 lead.

The Boilermakers (2-1, 2-1) made it 27-20 on an 18-yard TD pass from O’Connell to Milton Wright with 7:35 left, but they never reached scoring territory again.

O’Connell was 28 of 51 for 263 yards and two scores while Zander Horvath had nine catches for 100 yards, both career highs. David Bell had nine catches for 78 yards, stopping his school-record streak of consecutive 100-yard games at five.

Nebraska quarterback Luke McCaffrey, left, is pursued by Penn State defensive end Jayson Oweh during the first half on Saturday in Lincoln, Neb.

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(At) Nebraska 30, Penn State 23: Luke McCaffrey had a hand in two touchdowns in his first start and Nebraska’s defense made two huge late defensive stops.

McCaffrey took over for Adrian Martinez, who had started all of his 23 previous games at Nebraska (1-2, 1-2 Big Ten) but turned in flat performances in the Cornhuskers’ first two games.

McCaffrey looked good in the first half, but the Huskers generated only three points in the second and Penn State came back from a 21-point deficit to make it close.

A Top 10 team to start the season, the Lions (0-4, 0-4) are off to their worst start since Joe Paterno’s 2001 team also opened with four straight losses.

Sean Clifford struggled again for Penn State, getting replaced by Will Levis after turning over the ball on two the Lions’ first three possessions.

Nebraska led 27-6 at half, but the Lions pulled within 30-23 and had two chances to tie or go ahead in the final 4 minutes.

The Lions turned the ball over on downs after Levis threw four straight incompletions from the 11-yard line. Nebraska went three-and-out, and Levis moved his team to the 9. He threw in desperation under pressure from Ben Stille on fourth down, and the Huskers ran out the clock.

The Huskers led 24-3 early in the second quarter. Zavier Betts took a flip from McCaffrey and ran 45 yards untouched on a jet sweep and then blitzing safety Deontai Williams grabbed Clifford, popped the ball out and picked it up for a 26-yard fumble return.

One of McCaffrey’s highlights came late in the first half as defensive lineman Fred Hansard was about to wrap up him up behind the line. McCaffrey switched the ball to his left hand and dumped it off to Marvin Scott III. Instead of taking a sack, Scott picked up 14 yards to convert the third-and-9 and set up Connor Culp’s 25-yard field goal as time ran out in the half.

Penn State wasn’t out of it, though. Keyvone Lee broke loose for a 31-yard touchdown and the teams traded field goals before Levis connected with Pat Freiermuth for 74 yards to set up Devyn Ford’s 5-yard touchdown run that got Penn State within 30-23 early in the fourth quarter.

McCaffrey cooled off in the second half and was 13 of 21 for 152 yards and he ran 13 times for 67.

Levis was 14 of 31 for 219 yards.

Illinois 23, (at) Rutgers 20: James McCourt overcame two long misses in the fourth quarter to hit a 47-yard field goal with three seconds left.

Rutgers’ offense came out quick, with quarterback Noah Vedral finding Bo Melton on a 29-yard pitch and catch to cap off a six-play, 75-yard drive to make it 7-0 just 1:57 into the game.

While starting quarterback Brandon Peters was missing his third straight game following a COVID-19 test, backup Isiah Williams got the start after his quarantine ended. He was the fourth starting quarterback of the season for Illinois (1-3, 1-3 Big Ten). After having 12 players out due to COVID-19 protocols against Minnesota last week, it was just Peters, who was on the sidelines in street clothes, and redshirt freshman tight end Griffin Moore – who did not make the trip.

Rutgers’ defensive lineman Mike Teverdov stripped Williams, cornerback Max Melton recovered and the Scarlet Knights took it over on Illinois’ 29-yard line with 7:52 left in the first quarter. That set up former Rutgers soccer player Ambrosio Valentino for his first career field goal attempt, a 29-yarder, for a 10-0 lead.

Illinois answered courtesy of Williams, who had five-straight carries, and finished it off with his first score on a 3-yard touchdown run. The redshirt freshman finished with a game-high 192 yards rushing on 31 carries to overcome a 7-for-19 passing effort.

Rutgers (1-3, 1-3) closed the first-half scoring with a 26-yard field by Valentino to make it 13-7.

Illinois made it 13-10 with 8:59 left in the third quarter after James McCourt hit his first FG attempt of the season from 29 yards.

Rutgers countered with Melton having a career-long 66-yard touchdown reception on third and 10 for a 20-10 lead with 7:43 left in the third. It was Melton’s second two-score game of his career. He did it for the first time two weeks ago against Indiana.

Illinois responded with a six-play, 60-yard touchdown drive. Running back Mike Epstein scored on a direct snap from a yard out to make it 20-17 with 4:54 left in the third quarter, before McCourt tied it up at 20 early in the fourth quarter on a 23-yard field goal.

McCourt missed a 54-yard field with 7:20 left, setting up Rutgers with good field position. But Vedral threw his second interception of the game on third-and-three, and gave Illinois the ball back on its own 26-yard line. The Illini drove to Rutgers’ 28-yard line to before McCourt missed wide right from 45 yards with 3:07 remaining.

But Vedral threw his third interception with Rutgers having first-and-10 on Illinois’ 37-yard line. McCourt finally made good with the game winner and gave Illinois its first lead of the game at 23-20.

Isaiah Pacheco had 134 yards on 20 carries to lead Rutgers, while Chase Brown added 135 yards on 17 carriers for Illinois. Vredral finished 21-of-34 for 259 yards and two touchdowns.