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Rapid Reaction: No. 19 Northwestern upsets No. 10 Wisconsin 17-7

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This. defense. is. everything.

NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Northwestern David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

EVANSTON, Illinois — Tonight was something special.

No. 19 Northwestern (5-0) took down mighty No. 10 Wisconsin (2-1) 17-7 thanks to an impressive defensive unit and a solid performance from quarterback Peyton Ramsey, putting them in the driver’s seat in the Big Ten West. The victory is Northwestern’s first top-10 win since 2011 when it took down No. 9 Nebraska.

The Wildcat offense mirrored its performance against Purdue with a dominant passing game and dormant run game. Ramsey led his team through their air going 23-of-44 for 203 yards with two touchdowns. His primary target on the day was Kyric McGowan who had 80 yards on seven receptions, both of which are career-highs for the senior. Not far behind him was Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman, whose 95 yards topped his career-best from last week’s game. The run game, on the other hand, only posted 24 yards on 23 carries and a fumble.

On the defensive side of the ball, Northwestern was relentless, coming away with five total turnovers. Redshirt freshman Brandon Joseph was a stud — he totaled seven tackles and two interceptions. As expected from a Pat Fitzgerald team, the linebackers showed up ready to play: Blake Gallagher had a big day with 14 total tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery while Paddy Fisher ended the game with 12 total tackles and a forced fumble as well. The defensive line as a whole also showed up, with Eku Leota, Earnest Brown IV and Adetomiwa Adebawore all having standout games.

Northwestern came out swinging this afternoon, shutting down the Badgers offense on back-to-back drives and scoring off their very first possession of the game. Ramsey connected with Charlie Mangieri in the end zone to solidify NU’s fourth opening drive touchdown of the season and Mangieri’s first career touchdown.

The ‘Cats strong play continued right after that when Fisher forced a fumble that was recovered by Gallagher, setting up the Wildcats in Wisconsin territory. On the first play of the next drive, Mike Bajakian pulled out a trick play featuring a 36-yard, receiver-to-receiver pass from Riley Lees to Chiaokhiao-Bowman, which placed NU in a first-and-goal situation.

However, things went south for the Wildcats when Isaiah Bowser fumbled on the one-yard line, and the Badgers recovered it for a touchback. However, this was Northwestern’s only turnover of the game.

The fumble set up a 49-yard Wisconsin touchdown pass from Graham Mertz to Chimere Dike, equalizing the score at 7-7. Following the touchdown, NU’s defense held strong and embodied its bend-don’t-break style of play once again, as Gallagher forced a fumble, which was recovered by defensive lineman Trevor Kent with under a minute left in the first quarter.

Charlie Kuhbander kicked off (pun intended) the second quarter with a missed 45-yard field goal attempt, and Wisconsin regained possession of the ball, but luckily for the ‘Cats, Leota stepped up with a big sack to stop the Badgers’ momentum, his third in two games.

In the final minutes of the half, Wisconsin began to move the chains and venture into NU territory on multiple drives, but Joseph put a quick end to their efforts with two second quarter interceptions, his fourth and fifth on the year, that fell right into his hands.

Finally, with under a minute left in the half following the second Joseph interception, Ramsey connected with Chiaokhiao-Bowman from 25 yards out to put the ‘Cats up by one score to close out the half. After not being able to capitalize on the first three turnovers, Northwestern finally made the most of their 4-1 takeaway advantage.

The second half was much slower, with Northwestern and Wisconsin’s offense recording only 13 and 57 yards total in the third quarter, respectively. It became a defensive battle, as expected, with little offensive momentum in the frame. The two teams combined for nine punts in the third, a stark change from the first half.

A little under two minutes into the final frame, Wisconsin went for it on fourth-and-six from the NU 23-yard line, but cornerback Cam Ruiz grabbed his second sack of the season to put the Wildcats’ total at three and leave the Badgers scoreless. With possession again, Ramsey completed three back-to-back passes, two to Chiaokhiao-Bowman and one to Malik Washington, to put the ‘Cats within Wisconsin’s 15-yard line. The drive ended in a successful Kuhbander field goal to make the score 17-7.

As the clock ran out, Northwestern’s defense remained relentless. With about nine minutes to go, Mertz was picked off for the third time, this time by Greg Newsome II. The ‘Cats D held strong for the remainder of the quarter, as the 17-7 score remained.

Mertz finished the game 23-of-41 with 230 yards, one touchdowns and three interceptions, and Jalen Berger led all rushers with 15 attempts for 93 yards.

Next, Northwestern will travel to East Lansing to face the Michigan State Spartans (1-3) on Thanksgiving weekend, in hopes of getting one step closer to the Big Ten title.