EVANSTON, Ill. – Every clutch play by Peyton Ramsey and every big hit by Northwestern's defense – all designed to send a message.
The Wildcats had something they wanted to say.
“We woke up the country now, and we need our damn respect,” cornerback Greg Newsome II said.
Ramsey threw two touchdown passes and No. 19 Northwestern shut down Graham Mertz and No. 10 Wisconsin for a 17-7 victory on Saturday that put the undefeated Wildcats in control of the Big Ten West.
Northwestern forced five turnovers – four in the first half – and sacked Mertz three times in its first win over a top-10 team since a 28-25 victory over No. 9 Nebraska on Nov. 5, 2011. Ramsey, a graduate transfer from Indiana, was 23 for 44 for 203 yards, and Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman had four receptions for a career-high 95 yards.
Rising from the ashes of an ugly 3-9 season, the Wildcats improved to 5-0 for the first time since 2015. They also moved to 5-0 in the Big Ten for the first time since 1996.
“Very resilient by our guys,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “Just staying in the fight. It wasn't pretty. Old-school game, but they grinded it out all the way through to the finish.”
Wisconsin (2-1, 2-1) had committed just one turnover this year, a fumble during a 45-7 victory over Illinois on Oct. 23. The Badgers then had back-to-back games canceled because of a COVID-19 outbreak within the program before rolling to a 49-11 win at Michigan last weekend.
Mertz, a redshirt freshman, lost a fumble and threw the first three interceptions of his career. Senior running back Garrett Groshek also lost a fumble in his return after he missed the victory against the Wolverines.
Mertz was 23 of 41 for 230 yards. Jalen Berger had 15 carries for a career-best 93 yards for the Badgers.
Wisconsin managed to stay in the game thanks to stout defense. But Charlie Kuhbander kicked a 32-yard field goal with 11:35 left, and Northwestern finished off another second-half shutout. The Wildcats have allowed just 10 points in the final two quarters this season.