Starting on Saturday, Dec. 27, InsideNU will be counting down the top five moments of the year in Northwestern sports. With an emphasis on the revenue sports, and from games to controversies to championships, we'll bring you one moment per day in descending order, with the top moment of 2014 being revealed on New Year's Eve.
Two hundred fifty-nine yards on 27 carries and one touchdown. 9.6 yards per carry. Yes, Melvin Gordon did some damage in the wet conditions at Ryan Field on October 4th. Thankfully for Northwestern though, the Badgers decided to throw, and when they did, Godwin Igwebuike was often there to meet the passes of Tanner McEvoy and Joel Stave. By the end of the game, the tandem had combined to throw four interceptions, three of them to Igwebuike. It was only appropriate that a nearly-full student section clad in "Fight For Victory" shirts stormed the field at the end of Northwestern's huge upset win.
The day didn't start well for the hosts. They punted after seven plays, and Wisconsin quickly drove down the field. On the second offensive play for the Badgers, Gordon strode for 58 yards. Six plays later, at the Northwestern 20, McEvoy threw for the end zone, but Igwebuike was there instead. It was a theme that would continue.
Igwebuike wasn't the only Wildcat to step up on this day, however. Justin Jackson burst into national spotlight with a 33-carry, 162-yard performance. His workmanlike effort paced the Northwestern offense as Trevor Siemian struggled with accuracy, completing just over half his passes (15 for 29). Jack Mitchell nailed both his field goals and both extra points, something he had mysteriously struggled with in the previous week at Penn State. Chris Gradone had punts that forced the Badgers to start at their own 4, own 6 twice, and own 9.
Northwestern went into the locker room up 10-0. Students, for the most part, stuck around, and they buzzed with anticipation that a monumental upset was brewing. The weather may have been bad, and I certainly couldn't feel my toes standing on top of the bleachers about 15 rows back, but the excitement was in the air. Plus, how many future Heisman runner-ups would I get to see in person?
Wisconsin received the ball and drove right down the field, with Gordon plowing in from two yards. 10-7, 'Cats. Northwestern punted, and the tide seemed to be turning. But Ifeadi Odenigbo tipped Stave's pass high in the air, and Jimmy Hall leaped highest to corral the ball. Mick McCall called perhaps his best play all year, a reverse to Miles Shuler, who ran 16 yards to put NU up 17-7. Some people were high-fiving and hugging in the student section, but many were shocked the play had actually worked (myself included).
Still, however, Northwestern had to put away the Badgers, who cut the lead to 20-14 with 4:16 left. The Badgers got the ball back with 33 seconds left and needed a miracle. On 2nd and 10 from their own 20, Stave flung a pass down the middle of the field. Who was there, hauling in a one-handed interception to seal the deal? Godwin Igwebuike. Who else? Eighteen seconds ticked off, and the students rushed the field.
Exactly 364 days early, College Gameday had been in Evanston, and momentarily, Northwestern was on top of the college football world. On this day at Ryan Field, again momentarily, the Northwestern players, and their fellow students, were on top of the Big Ten, and they felt like they were on top of the college football world once again.