Chicago

Why Northwestern football is partying like it's 1996

Chicago
USA Today

Throwback game. Old school football. You couldn't ask for more of a Pat Fitzgerald-esque game if you tried.

Unless, of course, you break out some game tapes from the 1995-96 era when Fitz –the linebacker—dominated on the field.

Northwestern is 5-0 in the Big Ten for the first time since 1996 after they defeated Wisconsin 17-7 at Ryan Field Saturday night. It was an absolute defensive assault on the Badgers-- the same Wisconsin team that put 49 on the board in Ann Arbor last weekend and 45 in the season opener against Illinois.

Fitzgerald –the coach—has led the ‘Cats to their first win over a top-10 opponent since 2011 when Northwestern defeated Nebraska in Lincoln, 28-25. The Wildcats came into Saturday’s contest ranked No. 19. Wisconsin was No. 10. In Sunday’s AP poll, Northwestern may be knocking on the top 10 door themselves.

The ‘Cats picked off Badgers quarterback Graham Mertz three times –part of five Wisconsin turnovers on the day—and held Paul Chryst’s squad scoreless after the first quarter. It continues a trend of mind-boggling post-halftime dominance. In five games, Northwestern has given up a grand total of ten points in the second half, all against Purdue last week.

Quarterback Peyton Ramsey was effective, throwing for 203 yards and two touchdowns.

With three winnable games left on the Big Ten slate (at Michigan State, at Minnesota, vs. Illinois), the Wildcats figure to be in pole position for the Big Ten West crown. Should they hold on to that lead, they will land in the Big Ten Championship on Dec. 19. Ohio State, a 42-35 winner Saturday over Indiana, is the heavy favorite to come out of the East. The Buckeyes and Wildcats faced off in the 2018 title game, with Dwayne Haskins and company pulling off a 45-24 win over Fitz’s Cats.

 

It may be time to put the Glory Days of 1995-96 Northwestern football back under the microscope. Both years were special year for Fitzgerald. He was a Bronko Nagurski Trophy and Chuck Bednarik Award winner both seasons, in addition to landing back-to-back honors as Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.

The Cardiac Cats got to the Rose Bowl in 1995 but the ’96 crew was special as well. It may not have ended the way Fitz and company wanted (a 48-28 loss to Peyton Manning and Tennessee in the Florida Citrus Bowl), but the 2020 Wildcats may be on to something just as special.

It may be time to start thinking about warm weather football again for Northwestern come January.

 

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