To stay in 1st in the Big Ten West, Northwestern’s defense was at their best in a win over Wisconsin

Big 10 Sports

EVANSTON, ILLINOIS – NOVEMBER 21: Blake Gallagher #51 (R) and Jake Saunders #90 of the Northwestern Wildcats bring down Jake Ferguson #84 of the Wisconsin Badgers at Ryan Field on November 21, 2020 in Evanston, Illinois. Northwestern defeated Wisconsin 17-7. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

EVANSTON – One of the defining moments in the history of the program came against the same opponent on the same field as they played on Saturday.

On October 21, 1995, Northwestern dominated Wisconsin in a 35-0 victory that made them bowl eligible with a 6-1 record. It came in front of the first sellout crowd for the program in a decade and was a major part of the Wildcats’ run to their first Big Ten championship since 1936.

A generation later, the teams continue to meet in impactful games for conference standing. Two years ago, Northwestern set the course for their Big Ten West title by knocking off the Badgers. They may have very well done the same thing on Saturday, and once again did so with their defense.

With a swarming unit like the one Pat Fitzgerald played for in 1995, the coach’s defense overwhelmed the Badgers over 60 minutes at Ryan Field Saturday in a match-up of unbeatens. They surrendered just seven points and pitched a second half shutout in a 17-7 win over No. 10 Wisconsin.

They forced five turnovers on the afternoon, including four in the first half, that kept the Badgers from starting strong as they had in wins over Illinois and Michigan. While they gained just 236 total yards, including just 24 on the ground, two first half touchdowns by the offense would turn out to be enough to go to 5-0.

Now a game ahead of Wisconsin, Northwestern only needs wins in two of their last three games to win the Big Ten West title for a second time in three years.

“If you didn’t start fast, it was going to be a challenge, and I thought our guys rose to the occasion,” said Fitzgerald of the win. “Bunch of turnovers caused which were critically important to the game and very resilient by our guys by just staying in the fight.

“It’s wasn’t pretty. Old school game, but they grinded it out all the way through to the finish.”

The Wildcats had a chance to break it open early after getting a touchdown on their first drive when Peyton Ramsey hit Charlie Mangieri for a touchdown. Northwestern forced and recovered a fumble on the Badgers’ next series, but Isaiah Bowser fumbled on the Wisconsin one-yard line to end the drive.

In their only major drive of the game, quarterback Graham Mertz hit Chimere Dike for a touchdown pass to tie the game.

After that, Northwestern’s defense stiffened the rest of the half, forcing three more turnovers, two of which came on Brandon Joseph interceptions. On the last one, Ramsey and the offense capitalized when the quarterback hit Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman for his fourth touchdown in three games to put the Wildcats up 14-7.

That would be enough for the defense, who shutout the Badgers the rest of the way and picked up another turnover when Greg Newsome II snagged a Mertz pass in the fourth quarter. They also stopped the Badgers twice on downs, including a drive with 2:15 to go that essentially sealed the game.

Charlie Kuhbander’s 32-yard field goal in the fourth quarter only made the score a little better for a team that rode their defense to a monumental win.

“It’s not an upset, we knew we were going to win this game,” said Newsome. “We prepare like it. We’ve been working since last season, and we knew we needed our redemption.”

They got that and more on another great afternoon against Wisconsin in Evanston.

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