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Where are we Wednesday: handling success

Can the Wildcats continue their hot start and cement themselves as the favorites to win the Big Ten West?

Nebraska v Northwestern Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Northwestern took sole possession of first place in the Big Ten West after earning another gritty win against Nebraska on Saturday, continuing its perfect start to the season.

In a game that was again highlighted by its stingy, bend-don’t-break defense, Northwestern overcamee a 13-7 halftime deficit to beat the Cornhuskers 21-13. The defense continued its streak of hold opponents scoreless in the second half for the third straight game. They to won the second half turnover battle and intercepted Nebraska twice when the Huskers had made it to at least the NU 25-yard line.

Peyton Ramsey overcame some poor decision making and two first-half interceptions to lead two timely touchdown drives. Despite not having lead running back Isaiah Bowser, Drake Anderson filled carried the ball 18 times for 89 yards, including a shifty 41-yard touchdown scamper in the first quarter.

The win marked Northwestern’s first 3-0 start to conference play since 2000, and it was enough for them to slot in at No. 23 in this week’s AP top 25 poll. As a result of their strong start, their odds of making the College Football Playoff also rose to 100/1, tied for 13th best in the nation.

This past weekend proved once again that this Northwestern team has made significant strides from last season. Despite the offensive flashbacks to 2019, its ability to come back in the second and convert on key third downs is a testament to this group’s talent and resiliency.

On the other side of the ball, the veteran linebackers had a field day, showing why many labeled them the strongest position group on the team in the preseason. The starters amassed 38 tackles, with senior Chris Bergin earning his first ever B1G Defensive Player of the Week honors.

The Wildcats face what’s likely to be their most difficult matchup to date this weekend in West Lafayette against an undefeated and talented Purdue squad. The Boilermakers, like Nebraska this past week, are coming off of a quasi-bye after their third game of the season was canceled due to Wisconsin’s COVID-19 outbreak.

Like Northwestern, Purdue has suddenly emerged as a contender in the West Division after Minnesota and Iowa’s early season woes and the Badgers’ COVID-19 issues. Jeff Brohm’s squad is brimming with playmakers, especially on offense, and there’s no doubt they’ll enter Saturday’s contest rested and with a vengeance.

Peyton Ramsey will need show more consistency and step up his production if the Wildcats want to win not just this weekend at Purdue but next weekend against Wisconsin. He’s been a fine game manager thus far, but 170 passing yards per game and 1:1 TD-to-INT ratio will likely not be enough to lead any team to Indianapolis.

There have been a lot of bright spots for Northwestern through three weeks, particularly a defense that currently ranks 5th in the nation in SP+. Players like Brandon Joseph will need to continue to shine for the secondary to maintain its success.

The last time Northwestern started 3-0 in the B1G, their fourth conference loss came to none other than Purdue in a 41-28 defeat. However, this 2020 squad has shown us some of the magic and grit that helped the ‘Cats go 8-1 in conference play in 2018. If they can continue to ride their hot start and pull off another win this Saturday, it will mark Northwestern’s first 4-0 start since Pat Fitzgerald’s playing days in 1996.