Photo courtesy of Northwestern athletics

The path to the Big Ten West title seems like it will go through Evanston, Ill.

Northwestern put itself in the driver’s seat in a major way on Saturday. The Wildcats made a statement on Saturday with a solid 17-7 win over No. 10 Wisconsin.

With the victory, Northwestern has likely cemented its spot in Indianapolis. With the dominant performance, it earns the distinction of Fifth Quarter’s Team of the Week for Week 12.

Defense Dominates

Quarterback Peyton Ramsey passed for 203 yards and two touchdowns for Northwestern on Saturday, but the story for the Wildcats was the defense. Wisconsin finished with 366 yards of offense, but Northwestern forced five turnovers in the win.

Blake Gallagher and Paddy Fisher combined for 27 tackles for a defense that held the potent Badgers’ ground attack to just 3.4 yards per rush. Gallagher added a sack and a fumble recovery in the win.

In the secondary, Brandon Joseph led the way for Northwestern with two interceptions of Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz. Greg Newsome II also recorded a pick in the victory.

The five forced turnovers led to seven Northwestern points. The Wildcats went ahead for good following a Joseph interception. That pick would set up Ramsey’s 25-yard touchdown pass to Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman in the final minute of the first half. Chiaokhiao-Bowman led all receivers with 95 yards receiving.

In addition to the five forced turnovers, Northwestern held Wisconsin to 4-for-16 on third down. The Wildcats also tallied three sacks in the victory.

Through five games, no team has scored more than 20 points against Northwestern. The Wildcats currently rank fourth nationally in scoring defense and 15th in total defense.

It’s Been a Long Time

For Northwestern, the victory serves as its first over a top-10 team since winning at Nebraska in 2011. It’s the first win over a top-10 team at home since beating Ohio State 33-27 in overtime in 2004.

After finishing just 3-9 last season and only 1-8 against the Big Ten, the Wildcats are 5-0 for the first time since 2015. Up eight spots this week to No. 11 in the AP Poll this week, Northwestern has its highest AP national ranking since 1996.

Up Next

Northwestern would clinch a spot in the Big Ten Championship with two wins in its final three games. Even with two losses, Pat Fitzgerald’s team would still probably like its chances.

Northwestern will look to clinch a second trip to Indianapolis in three years this week. The Wildcats can do so by topping Michigan State and having Wisconsin lose at home to Minnesota.

Northwestern will visit the Spartans on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2. Michigan State won last season’s match-up in Evanston, 31-10.

Mike Ferguson is the managing editor for Fifth Quarter. Be sure to follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeWFerguson. Follow all of Mike’s work by liking his Facebook page.