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Northwestern moves into driver's seat in Big Ten West as defense dominates in 17-7 win over Wisconsin

Sam Cooper
·2-min read

No. 19 Northwestern’s remarkable turnaround continues, and now the Wildcats are in the driver’s seat in the Big Ten West thanks to an upset win over No. 10 Wisconsin.

The 2019 season was the worst Northwestern has had in the 15-year Pat Fitzgerald era. And that ineptitude — which culminated with a 3-9 record — was mainly due to one of the nation’s worst offenses. That offense has improved, but it is by no means a juggernaut in 2020.

But the defense has leveled up into one of the best in the country and has led the way for a 5-0 start to the 2020 season.

In Saturday’s 17-7 victory, Northwestern smothered Graham Mertz and the Wisconsin offense from the jump. Though Wisconsin was able to tie the score at 7-7 in the first quarter on a long touchdown pass from Mertz, the Badgers would never sniff the end zone again. The Wildcats intercepted Mertz three times and forced five turnovers in all while limiting the Badgers to a miserable 3-of-16 effort on third down.

Northwestern’s offense wasn’t much better. The offense only scored one time off of a Wisconsin turnover, but when it did it gave the Wildcats a lead they would never relinquish. It came late in the first half after Mertz’s second interception of the second quarter.

Peyton Ramsey, in his first year at Northwestern after transferring to Evanston from Indiana, threw a gorgeous 25-yard touchdown pass to Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman with 56 seconds left in the half.

That connection gave Northwestern a 14-7 lead going into halftime. It was all the defense would need to deliver the Wildcats an enormous win.

At 5-0, Northwestern joins Ohio State as the only other undefeated team in the Big Ten. Wisconsin, which had two games postponed due to its COVID-19 outbreak, dropped to 2-1. Every other team in the Big Ten West has at least two losses.

With three weeks left in the regular season, Northwestern is sitting in an excellent spot. Not only is it now the heavy favorite to win the division, NU is a team to keep an eye on in the first College Football Playoff rankings when they are unveiled on Tuesday night.

And beyond just Tuesday night’s rankings is the team’s forecast for the rest of the season. Northwestern’s three remaining regular season games — at Michigan State, at Minnesota and Illinois — are all very winnable. Could the Wildcats continue to inch up the CFP rankings as the weeks progress? Stranger things have happened. It is 2020, after all.

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