Football: No. 19 Northwestern upsets No. 10 Wisconsin 17-7, takes Big Ten West lead

Chris+Bergin+celebrates+following+a+big+play.+The+Northwestern+defense+forced+five+turnovers+on+the+day.

Evan Robinson-Johnson/Daily Senior Staffer

Chris Bergin celebrates following a big play. The Northwestern defense forced five turnovers on the day.

Drew Schott, Assistant Sports Editor


Football


Heading into Saturday’s matchup, No. 10 Wisconsin and No. 19 Northwestern ranked first and second in the country in defensive efficiency.

On a cold night at Ryan Field, the Big Ten West clash was certainly a defensive battle — and the Wildcats came out on top.

Behind five turnovers, including three interceptions of Badgers quarterback Graham Mertz, NU upset Wisconsin 17-7 at Ryan Field for their first win over a top-10 team since 2011.

With the victory, the Cats (5-0, 5-0 Big Ten) take sole possession of first place in the Big Ten West and are on track to return to the Big Ten Championship game in Indianapolis for the second time in three seasons.

“We knew it was gonna be a heavyweight fight and that’s exactly what it was,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “But our guys were ready to play. It wasn’t pretty — old school game — but they grinded it out all the way through to the finish.”

Graduate quarterback Peyton Ramsey completed 23 passes for 203 yards and two touchdowns and continued his chemistry with senior wide receiver Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman, who finished with four catches for a career-high 95 yards and a touchdown.

After NU stopped the Badgers (2-1, 2-1 Big Ten) on their first drive, the Cats’ offense came out fast. Ramsey found three receivers for 35 yards and entered the red zone in three plays.

After Wisconsin cornerback Rachad Wildgoose was flagged for pass interference on graduate tight end John Raine on third-and-goal, NU found the promised land. Rolling to his right, Ramsey floated a two-yard touchdown pass to tight end Charlie Mangieri, giving the junior the first score of his Cats career.

NU quickly got the ball back, as senior linebacker Paddy Fisher forced a Garrett Groshek fumble that was recovered by fellow senior linebacker Blake Gallagher at the Badgers 37.

On the next play, Ramsey handed the ball off to junior running back Isaiah Bowser and he pitched it to a sprinting Riley Lees. The senior wide receiver — who was a quarterback in high school — then heaved a pass downfield to Chiaokhiao-Bowman. The play was initially called a touchdown, but Bowman was pushed out at the one-yard line.

Bowser fumbled on the ensuing play and the Badgers recovered in the end zone for a touchback. The mistake proved costly, as Mertz hit wide receiver Chimere Dike on a post route for a 49-yard touchdown to even the game at seven.

By the end of the opening period, the two teams had just under 200 combined yards, with the Badgers outrushing NU 27-0. Gallagher — who led the Cats with 14 tackles — forced a Mertz fumble that was recovered by junior defensive end Trevor Kent.

The Cats got into field goal range at the beginning of the second quarter, but senior kicker Charlie Kuhbander sent a 45-yard field goal wide left to keep the game tied at seven.

NU’s running game struggled throughout the game. Bowser did not play after his fumble and the unit finished with 24 yards on 23 carries. Wisconsin found some success on the ground, with running back Jalen Berger leading the group with 93 yards.

Although, the Cats’ defense locked down promising Badger drives. On the Cats 36, Mertz threw to tight end Hayden Rucci, but Fisher was there to tip the ball. It then fell into the hands of redshirt freshman safety Brandon Joseph.

Less than three minutes later, after an NU three-and-out, Mertz airmailed his receiver and Joseph notched his fifth interception of the season.

“We knew what kind of offense they were gonna run,” senior defensive end Earnest Brown IV said. “We were prepared. We just punched them in the mouth and gave them what we got.”

After the takeaway, Ramsey went 7-for-7 for 72 yards as he surgically moved the Cats down to the Badgers’ 25-yard line. On the ensuing play, he lofted a beautiful pass to Chiaokhiao-Bowman, whose back shoulder, sideline catch gave NU a 14-7 lead and the Minnesota native his fourth touchdown in two games.

The Cats held Wisconsin scoreless for the remainder of the half and Mertz to only 37 yards in the second frame.

As the third quarter began, so did a classic Big Ten defensive standoff.

In 15 minutes, NU and the Badgers totaled 70 yards and combined for nine punts. Mertz and Wisconsin started to move the ball at the end of the third, taking Wisconsin to just outside the red zone at the beginning of the fourth quarter. But on a fourth-and-six from the Cats 23, the Cats sent an all-out blitz and junior cornerback Cameron Ruiz sacked Mertz for a turnover on downs.

Eventually, the Cats picked up their first first-down conversion since the late touchdown drive in the second quarter. They picked apart the Badgers’ defense as Ramsey and Chiaokhiao-Bowman connected for 40 yards on the drive. Kuhbander nailed a 32-yard field goal to give NU a double-digit lead.

Then, the Cats’ defense made a clutch play like they have all season long. Junior cornerback Greg Newsome II jumped in front of Dike for a diving interception — the first of his career — and an entrance into the Pick Club.

“Ramaud (Chiaokhiao-Bowman) has ran that route against me a few times, so I was familiar with it already,” junior cornerback Greg Newsome II said. “It feels good to join the Pick Club. I think I was overdue. So it’s about damn time.”

Across the Badgers’ last three drives, they racked up 71 yards, but no trips into the red zone as the Cats secured the victory at 1501 Central Street.

With the win, NU defeated a top-10 team by 10 or more points for the first time since 1959 and held a top-10 squad to seven points or less for the first time since 1967.

Heading into the back end of the regular season, Newsome II said NU deserves to be recognized as a team to be reckoned with.

“We woke up the country now,” Newsome said. “We need our damn respect.”

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