Nov 13, 2021; Madison, Wisconsin, USA;  Wisconsin Badgers tight end Jack Eschenbach (82) rushes with the football as Northwestern Wildcats linebacker Chris Bergin (28) defends during the second quarter at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

No. 18 Wisconsin in complete control vs. Northwestern

Braelon Allen ran for a career-best 173 yards and three touchdowns, while Graham Mertz passed for two scores, as No. 18 Wisconsin extended its winning streak to six games with a 35-7 victory over visiting Northwestern on Saturday at Madison, Wis.

Allen, a freshman who will not turn 18 until after the season is over, scored on runs of 2 and 3 yards in the first half, then broke several tackles on a 33-yarder late in the third quarter that put Wisconsin in front 35-0.

Wisconsin (7-3, 5-2 Big Ten) controls its own destiny in the Big Ten West after a 1-3 start that included two conference losses. The Badgers entered the day in a four-way tie atop the West Division with Iowa, Minnesota and Purdue.

The Badgers were without leading rusher Chez Mellusi after a season-ending leg injury last week against Rutgers. Allen, who had just 12 combined carries in his first three games, had a career-high 25 Saturday and topped the 100-yard mark for the sixth consecutive game.

Mertz completed 18-of-23 passes for 216 yards and one interception. Wisconsin entered first nationally in total defense at 213.8 yards per game, allowed 239 yards, but came up with four interceptions.

The Wildcats (3-7, 1-5) scored on a 49-yard fumble return by A.J. Hampton Jr. in the fourth quarter.

Wisconsin stopped Northwestern’s first drive with an interception in the end zone, then scored on its next three possessions for a 21-0 halftime lead.

After picking off Andrew Marty in the end zone, the Badgers went 91 yards in nine plays, capped by Allen’s 2-yard run to go up 7-0 with 14:53 left in the half. Allen carried seven times for 86 yards on the drive, including a 37-yarder on the first play.

On their next possession, the Badgers needed just seven plays to go 50 yards, increasing the lead to 14-0 on Mertz’s 13-yard pass to Danny Davis III. Allen’s 3-yard run made it 21-0 with 5:13 left in the half.

The Wildcats had a first down at the Wisconsin 6 in the third quarter, but Charlie Kuhbander was wide left on a 32-yard field goal attempt.

Dean Engram’s third-quarter interception set up Mertz’s 11-yard touchdown pass to Jake Ferguson that made it 28-0.

–Field Level Media

Oct 16, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Golden Gophers quarterback Tanner Morgan (2) changes the play at the line against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Huntington Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports

On rise in Big Ten West, Minnesota meets Northwestern

So far this year, it looks as if Minnesota and Northwestern have done a role reversal from last year in the Big Ten West.

When the teams meet on Saturday in Evanston, Ill, it will be a matter of whether the Golden Gophers can continue their ascent, or if the Wildcats can start a winning stretch going into the final month of the season.

After struggling last year in the pandemic-shortened year, Minnesota (5-2, 3-1 Big 10) is tied for first with Iowa in the league standings and looks to be a contender to get to Indianapolis for the Big Ten championship game.

After winning the West division and appearing in the Big Ten championship game for a second time last year, Northwestern has had a rough year, starting off 3-4 and 1-3 in league play.

Minnesota enters red-hot, having won three straight since an upset loss at home to Bowling Green.

The Golden Gophers have since won at Purdue, at home against Nebraska, and last week, at home against Maryland (34-16).

Minnesota has been injury-riddled at running back all season, but new players keep stepping up.

Freshmen Ky Thomas and Mar’Keise Irving each ran for more than 100 yards against Maryland, picking up the slack – and then some — for a depleted unit.

With star back Mohamed Ibrahim and backup Trey Potts out for the season with injuries, Thomas and Irving will be relied upon the rest of the year.

Thomas, who ran for 139 yards on 21 carries, in particular caught the eye of Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck.

“He has matured more than anyone else on this football team in a short amount of time,” Fleck said. “If you would’ve told me last year that Ky Thomas would be our starting running back this year, I wouldn’t think he would be ready for that with his maturity level. When you look at him now, he’s grown a lot.”

Helping the cause is that Minnesota has a veteran offensive line and one of the league’s top quarterbacks in Tanner Morgan.

“They’re physical,” Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald said of Minnesota. “I’m really impressed with both sides of the line of scrimmage.”

Northwestern is hoping to bounce back from a 33-7 loss at Michigan, the second time in three games Northwestern’s offense could muster only a touchdown on offense.

The Wildcats enter second-to-last in the Big Ten in scoring offense (19.7 points per game) and are 12th in points allowed (25.1).

–Field Level Media

Oct 23, 2021; Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA;  Michigan Wolverines running back Blake Corum (2) rushes in the first half against the Northwestern Wildcats at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

No. 6 Michigan runs all over Northwestern

Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins each rushed for over 100 yards and scored two touchdowns as No. 6 Michigan pulled away from Northwestern 33-7 in Big Ten play at Ann Arbor, Mich. on Saturday.

Corum gained 119 yards on 19 carries, while Haskins picked up 110 yards on 23 carries for Michigan, which rushed for 294 yards.

Cade McNamara completed 20 of 27 passes for 129 yards for the Wolverines (7-0, 4-0 Big Ten). The victory sets up a showdown with undefeated in-state rival Michigan State in East Lansing next Saturday.

Evan Hull had a 75-yard touchdown run for the Wildcats (3-4, 1-3).

The Wolverines led 10-7 at halftime.

The first quarter featured five punts and no scoring. The Wolverines finally put together a scoring drive, which they finished off with 12:49 left in the half on Corum’s 1-yard dive into the end zone. The 13-play, 79-yard journey included a 19-yard run by Haskins and an 11-yard, third-down pickup by Corum one play before his touchdown.

Michigan moved inside the Northwestern 5-yard line on its next possession but settled for Jake Moody’s 20-yard field goal. That completed a methodical 16-play, 55-yard drive.

The Wildcats responded seconds later when Hull took a handoff, slipped through the middle and cut toward the left sideline on his 75-yard scamper.

Northwestern made a big defensive play to remain three points down before the break. On third-and-goal, Michigan’s Mike Sainristil fumbled on a pass reception and the Wildcats’ Chris Bergin recovered at his team’s 2-yard line.

Corum’s second touchdown, a 5-yard run, finished off a 74-yard drive to make it 17-7 at the beginning of the second half. Corum’s 24-yard run highlighted that possession.

Charlie Kuhbander missed a 39-yard field goal on Northwestern’s next possession.

Cornelius Johnson blocked a Derek Adams punt to set up the Wolverines’ next score. Haskins powered his way into the end zone on a 13-yard run with 4:50 left in the quarter. Moody made it 27-7 with a 44-yard field goal during the final minute of the quarter.

Following a Wildcats turnover, Haskins scored on a 4-yard run early in the fourth.

–Field Level Media

Oct 16, 2021; Evanston, Illinois, USA; Northwestern Wildcats running back Evan Hull (26) runs with the football in the first half against Rutgers Scarlet Knights linebacker Mohamed Toure (58) at Ryan Field. Mandatory Credit: Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

Northwestern prevails in rekindled series with undisciplined Rutgers

Ryan Hilinski threw for two touchdowns and host Northwestern bounced back with a 21-7 victory over undisciplined Rutgers Saturday afternoon in Evanston, Ill.

Northwestern (3-3, 1-2 Big Ten) rebounded nicely from its disastrous 56-7 loss at Nebraska two weeks ago by riding a balanced showing from its offense in the first home meeting with Rutgers since 1989.

Hilinski completed 18 of 33 passes for a season-high 267 yards and was not sacked after getting sacked four times at Nebraska. He connected with Malik Washington on a 64-yard TD with 6:36 remaining in the first and a go-ahead 2-yard TD to tight end Marshal Lang with 3:15 remaining in the first half.

Hilinski completed five passes apiece to Washington and Stephon Robinson Jr. Robinson finished with 115 yards and Washington had 84 yards.

Northwestern ran 48 times and gained 135 yards as Andrew Clair and Evan Hull combined for 116 yards.

The Scarlet Knights (3-4, 0-4) entered the game averaging four penalties per game — the fewest in the Big Ten — but were assessed 11 penalties for 90 yards and dropped their fourth straight.

Three of those penalties, including an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the team’s sideline occurred on Northwestern’s game-clinching drive that culminated with Clair’s 3-yard TD for a 21-7 lead with 7:33 remaining.

Rutgers quarterback Noah Vedral completed 18 of 30 passes for 152 yards while getting sacked three times before being replaced by Evan Simon. Bo Melton finished with eight receptions for 101 yards, including a game-tying 18-yard TD with 8:44 left in the second.

Northwestern took the lead with 6:36 remaining in the first quarter when Hillinski found Washington in the middle of the field on 2nd-and-2. Melton barely stayed in bounds at the back of the end zone for a 7-7 tie, but Northwestern regained the lead and dominated the rest of the way on a day in which the 1995 Rose Bowl team was honored.

–Field Level Media

Sep 25, 2021; East Lansing, Michigan, USA; Nebraska Cornhuskers head coach Scott Frost during the fourth quarter against the Michigan State Spartans at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Nebraska aims to rebound vs. Northwestern

Nebraska and Northwestern will vie for their first conference victory of the season when the Big Ten West rivals meet in Lincoln, Neb., on Saturday night.

The Cornhuskers (2-3, 0-2) are coming off a heartbreaking 23-20 overtime loss at Michigan State. Nebraska led by seven late in the fourth quarter before allowing a punt return for a touchdown before turning the ball over in overtime.

The Cornhuskers’ three losses this season, all on the road, have been by a combined 18 points — including 23-16 at then-No. 3 Oklahoma on Sept. 18.

“Right now we’re a good team that’s lost some games,” Nebraska coach Scott Frost said. “Now we have to get over that hurdle.”

A key to that will be improving the offensive line, as quarterback Adrian Martinez was sacked seven times versus the Spartans.

Nebraska has allowed 18 sacks in five games after yielding only 16 in eight games in 2020.

“I don’t want to see running backs take the ball and have a wall of (defenders) in front of them,” Frost said.

Northwestern (2-2, 0-1) rushed for a season-best 373 yards in a 35-6 win against Ohio last Saturday. The bulk of that yardage came from sophomore Evan Hull, who ran for 216 yards and two touchdowns, including a 90-yard scoring run that helped him earn Big Ten Co-Offensive Player of the Week honors.

The Wildcats will be hard-pressed to move the ball on the ground that easily this time. Nebraska held Michigan State to 71 yards on 30 carries after the Spartans entered averaging 263.7 per game, including 326 in a season-opening 38-21 win over Northwestern.

That means Northwestern quarterback Ryan Hilinski, a transfer from South Carolina who made his first start against Ohio, may be asked to do more. Hilinski was 12 of 20 for 88 yards against the Bobcats.

“We’re going to do what we have to do to win,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “I think this is an incredibly improved Nebraska team. Defensively, they’re playing at an incredibly high level.”

–Field Level Media

Sep 25, 2021; Evanston, Illinois, USA; Northwestern Wildcats running back Evan Hull (26) runs the ball for a touchdown as Ohio Bobcats cornerback John Gregory (13) pursues him during the first half  at Ryan Field. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Evan Hull and Northwestern run over Ohio

Ultimately, Northwestern’s decision on a starting quarterback mattered little as the Wildcats ran over and around visiting Ohio University in a 35-6 victory Saturday in Evanston, Ill.

Evan Hull piled up a career-high 216 rushing yards and two touchdowns on just 22 carries, including a 90-yard scoring run in the first quarter, as the Wildcats (2-2) were never threatened. Northwestern went with quarterback Ryan Hilinski, who began the year third on the depth chart, with Andrew Marty sidelined by injury. Hilinski finished 12-of-20 passing for 88 yards.

Ohio fell to 0-4 for the first time since 2008 and has yet to win for first-year head coach Tim Albin. Kurtis Rourke completed 20 of 29 passes for 166 yards and rushed for 33 more. But Rourke also had an interception and a lost fumble and left the game with an injury late in the fourth quarter. Backup QB Armani Rogers had a team-high 68 rushing yards.

Ohio avoided its first shutout in eight years when Rogers scored on a 55-yard run on the game’s final play. The extra point was not attempted.

Hull erupted for 161 yards and two scores in the first half alone to power the Wildcats to a 17-0 lead by intermission.

Ohio nearly avoided the shutout on its first possession, but Tristian Vandenberg was wide right on a 31-yard field goal attempt. The Bobcats never got that close to the end zone again until Rogers’ game-ending run.

Northwestern cashed in on Rourke’s fumble with Hull’s 17-yard touchdown run around the right end for a 7-0 lead on its second possession. Late in the first quarter, Hull exploded up the middle for a 90-yard touchdown dash — barely touched — and the Wildcats led 14-0.

Charlie Kuhbander converted a 24-yard field goal inside the final minute of the opening half for the 17-0 lead. Kuhbander made it 20-0 with a 26-yard field with 14:52 remaining.

Northwestern tacked on a 7-yard touchdown from Anthony Tyus III and added the two-point conversion to make it 28-0 with 6:00 left. Jake Arthurs added a 5-yard touchdown run with 42 seconds left for the Wildcats’ final score.

The Wildcats racked up 373 rushing yards on 51 attempts, averaging 7.3 yards per carry. Ohio finished with 348 total yards.

–Field Level Media

Dec 31, 2018; San Diego, CA, United States; Northwestern Wildcats head coach Pat Fitzgerald runs onto the field during the 2018 Holiday Bowl against the Utah Utes at SDCCU Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Northwestern gives Pat Fitzgerald new deal through 2030

Northwestern and football coach Pat Fitzgerald agreed Wednesday to a new contract through the 2030 season.

Fitzgerald, 46, has held the job at his alma mater since 2006, leading the Wildcats to a 106-81 record with 10 bowl appearances.

“We have one of the best coaches in college football and, more importantly, a leader uncommonly suited to this University,” vice president for athletics and recreation Jim Phillips said in a news release. “Over the course of his tenure, Coach Fitzgerald has built a culture of unwavering belief in excellence both on and off the field, and led our Wildcats to unprecedented sustained success. They boast incredible achievement in the classroom, in the community and in competition, and will for years to come.”

He is the winningest coach in school history and the sixth-longest tenured head coach in the FBS.

Northwestern finished 7-2 and ranked No. 10 in the country in 2020 after winning the Big Ten West division for the second time in three years and beating Auburn in the Citrus Bowl. Fitzgerald was named the Bobby Dodd National Coach of the Year.

It was the highest end-of-season ranking for the program since 1995, a team that featured Fitzgerald as a starting linebacker.

“From the moment I stepped on campus as an undergraduate, I have believed this is the finest University in the country, with the potential to offer an unmatched student-athlete experience,” Fitzgerald said in the release.

“… We have built the foundation to compete for championships in tandem with the best academic and personal development opportunity anywhere in college football. We all have a lot to be proud of, but our best is yet to come.”

–Field Level Media

Jan 1, 2021; Orlando, FL, USA; Northwestern Wildcats linebacker Blake Gallagher (51) and defensive back Brandon Joseph (16) combine to stop Auburn Tigers wide receiver Seth Williams (18) during the second quarter at Camping World Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

No. 14 Northwestern beats Auburn to win Citrus Bowl

Peyton Ramsey threw three touchdowns and added another on the ground to lead No. 14 Northwestern to a 35-19 victory over Auburn in the Citrus Bowl on Friday afternoon in Orlando, Fla.

Ramsey finished 24-for-35 for 291 passing yards and contributed 50 rushing yards for the Wildcats (7-2), who won their fourth straight bowl game.

Bo Nix was 25-for-42 for 292 yards and a touchdown for the Tigers (6-5) before leaving the game in the fourth quarter with an injury.

Northwestern dominated the first quarter, totaling 94 more yards than Auburn and scoring 14 points.

On the first possession of the game, the Wildcats paced down the field. Ramsey was a perfect 5-for-5 on the drive, finishing it off with a beautiful 35-yard toss to Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman for the first touchdown.

Later in the period, Ramsey had a couple of 19-yard completions to Chiaokhiao-Bowman and Riley Lees to keep the chains moving. Ramsey once again ended the drive with a touchdown pass, this time a six-yard swing to John Raine to go up 14-0.

Anders Carlson kicked two field goals in the second quarter for Auburn to go into the half down 14-6.

The Tigers cut the deficit to 14-13 in the middle of the third quarter when A.J. Hampton bit on a play fake, leaving Elijah Canion wide open. Nix found Canion for a 57-yard score.

Ramsey pushed the lead back to 21-13 with a 30-yard scramble for a touchdown near the end of the third quarter.

After stopping Nix on a QB sneak on fourth-and-short, Northwestern took over the game. Cam Porter ran the ball on all seven plays of the drive, going 50 yards and ending with a touchdown.

Ramsey added the final nail in the coffin by hitting Lees in the end zone for his third touchdown of the day.

With the win, Northwestern’s defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz earned his 400th career victory as an assistant coach. He had previously announced he was going to retire after the Citrus Bowl.

–Field Level Media

Dec 12, 2020; Starkville, Mississippi, USA; Auburn Tigers running back Tank Bigsby (4) runs the ball against the Mississippi State Bulldogs during the fourth quarter at Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

No. 14 Northwestern, Auburn get postseason rematch in Citrus Bowl

Eleven years to the day after facing off in a thrilling bowl game, the Auburn Tigers and No. 14 Northwestern Wildcats meet again on New Year’s Day in the Citrus Bowl at Orlando, Fla.

The teams played in the 2010 Outback Bowl, with the Tigers pulling out a 38-35 overtime victory. Current Kansas City Chiefs quarterbacks coach Mike Kafka completed 47 of 78 passes for 532 yards with four touchdowns and five interceptions for the Wildcats.

Northwestern scored two touchdowns in the final four minutes to tie the game, but the Tigers’ Wes Byrum kicked a 21-yard field goal in OT and the Wildcats were unable to equalize. Auburn went on to win the national championship the following season.

This year, the Wildcats (6-2) enter the bowl game coming off a 22-10 loss to No. 3 Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game. Northwestern led the Buckeyes 10-6 at the half, but three second-half turnovers and a tired defense gave way to a potent Ohio State rushing attack.

“We just didn’t make the plays we needed to make down the stretch in the fourth quarter to be Big Ten champions,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “But to have the opportunity to represent the Big Ten in Orlando, we are ecstatic.”

The Tigers (6-4) haven’t played since Dec. 12, and in that time they fired head coach Gus Malzahn and hired Boise State head coach Bryan Harsin.

Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele has stepped into the interim head-coaching role for the bowl game.

“These guys have been resilient,” Steele said. “They’ve shown a lot of character, leadership and just the ability to adapt. We’ve actually had an additional bump in the road that we had a change at the top for us, which is something that’s hard on a football program. And so we’re going through that.”

Both teams have their conference’s freshman of the year.

Auburn running back Tank Bigsby was selected the Southeastern Conference’s top freshman after rushing for 834 yards on 138 carries in 10 games. He added 300 kick-return yards and 84 receiving yards for 1,218 all-purpose yards.

Northwestern safety Brandon Joseph won the Freshman of the Year award for the Big Ten, the first strictly defensive player to win the award since Deion Barnes in 2012. Joseph leads the nation with six interceptions.

The game will also be the last in the career of Northwestern’s defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz, who would reach 400 career wins if the Wildcats win the Citrus Bowl.

Hankwitz started his coaching career at his alma mater of Michigan and served as the defensive coordinator for Arizona, Western Michigan, Colorado, Kansas State, Texas A&M and Wisconsin before being hired by Fitzgerald before the 2008 season.

Hankwitz is a finalist for the Broyles Award, which goes to the best assistant coach in the country, and Fitzgerald believes Northwestern’s success on defense starts and ends with Hankwitz.

“You look at my head coaching career here and our success, I mean Mike Hankwitz is in the DNA, the fabric, the architect, take whatever you want to say,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m just so grateful for him.”

–Field Level Media