Shannon Ryan has covered Northwestern, Illinois and college football and basketball for the Chicago Tribune since 2007. She gives her thoughts on how the No. 10 Badgers match up with No. 19 Northwestern this weekend.
Which offensive player must have success for Northwestern to beat the Badgers?
Quarterback Peyton Ramsey has been a season-changer for the Wildcats. The Indiana transfer has helped spark a turnaround after Northwestern was plagued by ineptitude last season. Ramsey will have to continue his steady play to keep pace with Graham Mertz.
He’s completing 65.8% of his passes for 723 yards and six touchdowns. His four interceptions (are) a bit worrisome, but he’s shown to have a connection with a bevy of receivers. He connected with Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman for a career-high three touchdown passes. Chiaokhiao-Bowman, Kyric McGowan, Riley Lees and tight end John Raine have all proven reliable targets for Ramsey.
Which defensive player must have success for Northwestern to beat the Badgers?
Wisconsin shouldn’t expect to rush for 341 yards and five touchdowns against Northwestern like it did against Michigan. The Wildcats defense gives up only 91.8 rushing yards per game (eighth in the nation). Linebacker Paddy Fisher and his crew will have to be at their best to limit Wisconsin’s ground attack (261.5 yards per game). Northwestern held Purdue to only 2 yards rushing. Maryland and Iowa were held to less than 80 rushing yards, but Nebraska rushed for 224 yards. A day like that likely would spell doom for the Wildcats.
Which Wildcats player has surprised you the most this season?
A lot of Northwestern players have risen to the occasion this season. Redshirt freshman Brandon Joseph has proven he can be a game-changer. He’s one of just four FBS first-year players in the last 10 years to snag three interceptions through the first three games. His two picks helped Northwestern charge back to beat Iowa. Joseph also had a career-high seven tackles, five of which were solo, in his first start against Maryland.
What’s the feeling of the job Pat Fitzgerald is doing at Northwestern?
Northwestern fans are thrilled to have a Wildcats-lifer like Fitzgerald steering the program. After all the angst following the disaster last season when the Wildcats went 3-9 overall and 1-8 in the Big Ten, it looks like a blip rather than a trend. Give Fitzgerald credit for paring ways with his longtime offensive coordinator and hiring Mike Bajakian. Bringing in Ramsey and handing him the job also changed the direction of the program.
With nine bowl appearances in 14 seasons and four of the program’s five bowl wins in program history, Fitzgerald will eventually have a statue outside Ryan Stadium.
Prediction for the game and why?
Wisconsin still looks just a step ahead. It will be an exciting showdown, but the Badgers will pull it out in the fourth quarter with a 27-24 victory.