The season thus far has been a rollercoaster ride for the No. 10 Wisconsin Badgers (2-0 overall, 2-0 B1G) due to COVID-19, but after steamrolling Michigan this past weekend, the team has a new challenge up ahead.
Results thus far:
Northwestern is a perfect 4-0 overall (4-0 B1G) through four contests.
From the coach:
Head coach Pat Fitzgerald — who can be a fun quote in press conferences — spent some time this Monday talking about his new quarterback, Peyton Ramsey. According to our good friends at Inside NU the head man said:
“You can’t put a price tag on experience. Young quarterbacks might let one bad play fester in their minds...we all saw that last year with our young, inexperienced quarterbacks...I think the guys have complete and total confidence in Peyton.”
Status of the offense:
Last season, the Northwestern offense was statistically one of the worst units in the country and in program history. With a new offensive coordinator and a transfer quarterback, the offense has been much improved in 2020.
New quarterback Peyton Ramsey has been a big lift to the position so far this season. While his numbers are not sensational, he has been a steadying presence for the undefeated Wildcats who played musical chairs at QB all of last year. To this point he is averaging 180 yards a game while completing 65% of his throws, and has thrown six touchdowns compared to four interceptions. Ramsey can do some things with his legs as well, considering he is the third leading rusher on the team. However, Ramsey is firmly in the game manager category at this juncture given his pedestrian 6.5 yards per attempt.
Outside of Ramsey’s 122 rushing yards, the Wildcats have generally turned to Drake Anderson and Isaiah Bowser in the running game. Anderson has been the more effective tailback this season on fewer carries, but overall the rushing attack has been just ok by Northwestern’s standards. As a collective, the team is averaging 3.6 yards per carry, and none of the ball carriers have really flashed this season. The Wildcats ran wild against Maryland with 331 yards, but if you look at their last three games they have only managed 365 yards on 138 attempts (2.6 yards per carry).
The offensive group that has been a nice surprise for Northwestern this year has been the wide receivers. The Wildcats lost top receiver Ben Skowronek to the transfer portal, but there have been plenty of faces who have stepped up this season with him no longer in the picture. Senior Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman has been the most productive of the bunch with three touchdowns and nearly 200 yards, but Kyric McGowan and Riley Lees, have also stepped up at times.
Superback Tight end John Raine is not only No. 0, but he has also been effective in the passing game since transferring over from FAU.
Along the offensive line, Northwestern has an experienced group that was probably the most reliable group from a year ago.
Status of the defense:
On defense, Northwestern has been extremely strong.
The group as a whole is led by a trio of senior linebackers. Paddy Fisher steals most of the headlines, but Chris Bergin and Blake Gallagher are really talented as well. All three players rank one through three in terms of tackles, and have also racked up a combined eight tackles for a loss, six pass breakups and two interceptions. Those three stars are a big reason why Northwestern has been so effective against the run, surrendering under 100 yards on a per game basis so far this season.
As a whole, the Wildcat defense has been very good at creating turnovers. They have only forced seven sacks, but eight interceptions and two fumble recoveries more than make up for the sometimes lacking pass rush.
A key reason for the uptick in turnovers this season has been the stellar play of redshirt freshman defensive back Brandon Joseph. Not only is the youngster fourth on the team in tackles, but has also hauled in a team high three interceptions. The defensive backfield has only given up 210 yards passing a game, with an average of only 4.7 yards per attempt.
The defensive line has dealt with some injuries, but the group is tough against the run. Eku Leota and Adetomiwa Adebawore have been the best at getting to the quarterback, but the group is nonetheless sturdy as a whole.
Northwestern has really turned around this year after the train wreck that was 2019. The Wildcats are much improved, and the team has not shied away from ugly games. In fact, Pat Fitzgerald’s group seems to thrive on it. Outside of the blowout win over Maryland, Northwestern has been in some nail-biters.
The Badgers have had some tough times at Ryan Field, and these two teams have had close contests in the past. Northwestern appears ready for another rock fight, and Wisconsin will need to be ready for a tough matchup and potentially adversity against the Wildcats.