Ramsey, No. 19 Northwestern top No. 10 Wisconsin 17-7

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
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EVANSTON, Ill. — Every clutch play by Peyton Ramsey. Every big hit by Northwestern’s defense. It was 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 against Northwestern. Senior running back Garrett Groshek also lost a fumble in his return after he missed the victory against the Wolverines.

“Obviously when you turn the ball over the number of times we did, it makes it hard,” Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said.

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.

“Northwestern’s a great, veteran defense,” Mertz said. “They knew what was coming with our progressions. Obviously it was something I’d love to get back, but now it’s just taking it as a learning experience and growing from it.”

Northwestern got off to a fast start. After Wisconsin went nowhere on its first possession, Ramsey tossed a 2-yard TD pass to Charlie Mangieri with 10:50 left in the first quarter. John Raine set up the score by drawing a pair of pass interference penalties in the end zone.

Groshek then fumbled the ball away for the Badgers, and Chiaokhiao-Bowman’s 36-yard reception on a pass by fellow receiver Riley Lees moved the Wildcats to the Badgers 1. The play was originally ruled a touchdown, but a replay review showed Chiaokhiao-Bowman stepped out of bounds.

The overturned call took on added significance when Isaiah Bowser fumbled on the next snap, and Spencer Lytle recovered for Wisconsin in the end zone. The Badgers then put together a six-play, 80-yard drive, tying it at 7 on Mertz’s 49-yard pass to Chimere Dike for the freshman’s first career touchdown with 5:14 left in the opening quarter.

Wisconsin had a couple chances to move in front in the first half, but Mertz fumbled on a sack by Blake Gallagher and threw two interceptions to Brandon Joseph. The first pick was deflected by linebacker Paddy Fisher before it went through the arms of tight end Hayden Rucci.

After Joseph’s second interception, Northwestern put together a seven-play, 72-yard drive to go ahead to stay. Ramsey made a terrific throw to Chiaokhiao-Bowman for a tiebreaking 25-yard touchdown on an over-the-shoulder grab with 56 seconds left in the half.

“I remember seeing the ball up in the air on the touchdown ball and just thought ‘Wow, 12 is great. He just put this in a perfect spot,’” a grinning Chiaokhiao-Bowman said.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Northwestern is going to have to deal with increased attention in the coming days after its best win of the season so far. It’s in line to move up in the AP poll.

THE TAKEAWAY

Wisconsin: Even with Mertz’s trouble, the Badgers outgained the Wildcats 366-263. Their defense allowed just two conversions in 15 third downs. They just couldn’t overcome the turnovers.

Northwestern: The Wildcats finished with just 24 yards rushing on 23 attempts, putting a lot of pressure on Ramsey. Finding a more consistent ground attack could be a key for the rest of the season.

UP NEXT

Wisconsin: Hosts Minnesota next weekend.

Northwestern: Visits Michigan State next weekend.

Lane Kiffin staying at Ole Miss with ‘a lot of work left to do’

Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports
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Mississippi coach Lane Kiffin says he has informed school officials he will be staying at Ole Miss, putting an end to speculation that he was the leading candidate to fill the head coaching vacancy at Auburn.

“Same as I said last week: I’m staying here and we have a lot of work left to do,” Kiffin told The Associated Press in a voice message.

Kiffin added he has not signed a contract extension with the school.

The 47-year-old Kiffin is 23-12 in three seasons as Rebels coach. No. 20 Mississippi finished its regular season 8-4, losing four of its last five, including a 24-22 loss to Mississippi State.

Auburn was playing at No. 8 Alabama in the Iron Bowl, and its coaching search figured to heat up soon after its season concluded.

Auburn fired coach Bryan Harsin earlier this month and has gone 2-1 since under interim coach Carnell Williams, the former star running back for the Tigers.

With Kiffin off the market, Auburn is eyeing a former Mississippi coach to be its next coach.

A person familiar with the search told the AP that Auburn is interested in Liberty coach Hugh Freeze. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because Auburn was not making details of its search public.

Freeze coached at Ole Miss for five seasons before leaving in disgrace in 2017 after the school discovered he used a university cellphone to call an escort service.

He landed at Liberty and has gone 34-14 in four seasons with the Flames.

Nebraska signs Matt Rhule to 8-year deal

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
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After six straight losing seasons and more than 20 years removed from its 1990s heyday, Nebraska is turning to Matt Rhule to rebuild its program and make it competitive in the Big Ten Conference.

Rhule signed an eight-year contract to be the Cornhuskers’ next coach and will be introduced at a news conference, the school announced.

The 47-year-old Rhule quickly turned around downtrodden programs at Temple and Baylor before leaving for the NFL to coach the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers fired him in October after he started his third season with four losses in five games.

“It is a tremendous honor to be chosen to lead the Nebraska football program,” Rhule said in a statement. “When you think of great, tradition-rich programs in college football, Nebraska is right at the top of the list. The fan base is second to none, and I consider it a privilege to have the opportunity to coach in Memorial Stadium on Tom Osborne Field. My family and I are so grateful to become a part of the Husker Family, and we can’t wait to get started.”

Rhule was 11-27 with Carolina and left with about $40 million remaining on the seven-year, guaranteed $62 million contract he signed in 2020. The contract made Rhule the sixth-highest paid coach in the NFL when he signed in 2020, according to Forbes.

Nebraska said it would release details of Rhule’s contract.

“It is a privilege to welcome Coach Matt Rhule, his wife, Julie, and their family to Nebraska,” athletic director Trev Alberts said. “Coach Rhule has created a winning culture throughout his coaching career, and he will provide great leadership for the young men in our football program.

“Matt is detail-oriented, his teams are disciplined and play a physical brand of football. Matt also has the personality and relationship-building skills to build a great staff and excel in recruiting.”

About an hour after Rhule’s hiring was announced, wide receiver Trey Palmer announced on Instagram that he would declare for the NFL draft. Palmer, who transferred from LSU after last season, had three 150-yard games this year and set the Huskers’ single-season record with 1,043 yards.

The Huskers are among eight Football Bowl Subdivision programs with at least 900 wins, and they have won or shared five national championships. The last one came in 1997 under Hall of Fame coach Tom Osborne.

Five coaches have come and gone since then, most recently the quarterback of that ’97 team, Scott Frost.

Alberts fired Frost on Sept. 11 after the Huskers opened 1-2, with losses to Northwestern in Ireland and to Georgia Southern at home. They were 3-6 under interim coach Mickey Joseph and finished the season 4-8 following a 24-17 win at Iowa.

Nebraska was 16-31 in four-plus seasons under Frost, never finishing higher than fifth in the Big Ten West or going to a bowl.

In four seasons at Temple, Rhule coached the Owls to 28 wins. That included 26 from 2014-16. Temple was 10-4 in 2015 and reached the American Athletic Conference’s inaugural championship game. In 2016, Rhule led the Owls to a 10-3 record and an AAC championship. The conference title was the first in 49 seasons for the Temple program, and the Owls reached bowl games in consecutive seasons for the first time in school history.

Rhule was named Baylor’s coach in December 2016 in the wake of an investigation that found the private Baptist university had not responded adequately to allegations of sexual assault by players, resulting in the firing of Art Briles.

Rhule’s trajectory was similar at Baylor, where he went from 1-11 in 2017 to 7-6 with a bowl game the next season. In his third and final season, Baylor was ranked in the top 10, played in the Big 12 championship game and finished 11-3 after a Sugar Bowl loss to Georgia.

Rhule’s collegiate success provided him the opportunity to take over as the Carolina Panthers’ head coach in 2020. He guided the Panthers to five wins in each of his first two seasons before this year’s 1-4 start got him fired.

Rhule has ties to the Big Ten. He moved from New York City to State College, Pennsylvania, as a teenager. He played linebacker at Penn State from 1994-97 and began his coaching there as a volunteer assistant.