Peyton Ramsey sure seemed comfortable in his new surroundings. Northwestern looked like a team out to prove its struggles last season were nothing more than an unpleasant aberration.
It all added up to one lopsided victory and a milestone for coach Pat Fitzgerald.
Ramsey threw for 212 yards in his Northwestern debut, Drake Anderson ran for 103 and the Wildcats gave Fitzgerald his 100th victory, pounding Maryland 43-3 on Saturday night.
Northwestern raced to a 30-3 halftime lead and racked up 537 total yards. It was just the sort of start the Wildcats were seeking after going from playing for the conference championship in 2018 to finishing last in the Big Ten West.
Ramsey, a graduate transfer from Indiana, completed 23 of 30 passes. He threw for a touchdown and scrambled for another score.
It was a promising start for a quarterback who helped lead the Hoosiers to their first eight-win season since 1993 a year ago and is trying to solidify a weak spot for Northwestern last season. The offense appeared in sync with the new quarterback.
“Credit to our preparation and credit to our game plan, for sure,” Ramsey said.
Fitzgerald saw a quarterback making the right reads, showing poise. He was impressed not just by what he saw in the game but in the months leading up to it.
“For a young man that's been in our program now for months, even though he's got years of experience in the Big Ten, to see that his teammates elected him a captain speaks to his leadership and speaks to who he is," Fitzgerald said. "Really proud of his performance today.”
Anderson had a 37-yard TD run. A.J. Hampton helped set up a touchdown with an interception. Charlie Kuhbander kicked three field goals. And Fitzgerald, by far Northwestern’s winningest coach, got a milestone win to open his 15th season at his alma mater.
“It's an honor," he said. “It's humbling. It's about our players, it's about our staff. It's about our players' families, it's about our staff's families. So many people contributed to this.”
Maryland opted to start Alabama transfer Taulia Tagovailoa at quarterback over redshirt freshman Lance LeGendre. And he struggled in a big way.
Tagovailoa was 14 for 25 for 94 yards and three interceptions. And the Terrapins opened coach Mike Locksley’s second season on a familiar note after losing nine of their final 10 games in 2019.
“He’s our quarterback," Locksley said. "He earned the right to be the starting quarterback, did the things that we thought would give us the best chance to win.”
Northwestern held the Terrapins to just 207 yards while dominating the time of possession (37:21-22:39). After Maryland's Joseph Petrino kicked a field goal on the game's opening drive, the Wildcats took control in a hurry.
Ramsey led a 75-yard march, with Isaiah Bowser scoring from the 1. Hampton then intercepted a pass along the left sideline near midfield. And a scrambling Ramsey reached across the goal line as he was dragged to the ground on a 12-yard touchdown, making it 14-3 with 1:31 left in the first quarter.
Kuhbander kicked a 43-yard field goal to bump the lead to 14 with just over nine minutes left in the half. Anderson made it 24-3 with 5:43 remaining, when he burst through a hole in the line and got few good blocks on his 37-yard TD, and the Wildcats didn't have to wait long to score again.
They took over at the Maryland 23 after Isaiah Jacobs muffed the kickoff and Cam Porter recovered the ball. That led to a 23-yard field goal by Kuhbander, and he added a 43-yarder as the half ended.
“It was crucial. That's the one thing we preached all offseason — the time that we had together and during spring ball before we were unfortunately sent home. We were preaching on starting fast. We came together in the offseason and really attacked it and made that the forefront and the focus.” — Northwestern linebacker Paddy Fisher on opening with a lopsided win.
Maryland: A bad outing all around for the Terrapins, who went 3-9 overall and finished sixth in the Big Ten East with a 1-8 record in conference play last year. Their most recent winning season was in 2014. And if they're going to change that, they have plenty of work to do.
Northwestern: The Wildcats want to show last season was not a sign of things to come. This was a good start.
Maryland: Hosts No. 21 Minnesota on Friday night.
Northwestern: Visits Iowa on Oct. 31.
More AP college football: https://apnews.com/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25