Just when it was looking like Northwestern was on its way to another season-killing midseason swoon, Wildcats redshirt freshman quarterback Clayton Thorson made his team bowl eligible by using both his arms and legs.
Thorson came up huge for the Wildcats in a 30-28 road win over Nebraska last Saturday. He gained 126 yards on 13 carries with one touchdown. Through the air, he completed 13-of-28 passes for 177 yards and one touchdown. For the game, he accounted for 303 of Northwestern’s 333 yards of total offense.
“I’m really proud of Clayton. It wasn’t going the way we wanted it to be going throwing the football early, but he stayed the course and he made some huge plays with his legs and settled down and really started to take what the defense was giving him in the second half. That was really the difference in the game,” said Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald.
Last Saturday’s win was a big one for Northwestern’s psyche after devastating losses at the hands of Michigan and Iowa in which the Wildcats were held to just 10 points. Fitzgerald said it was about his team’s ability to keep fighting and not giving up.
“For two weeks we played two really good football teams,” Fitzgerald said. “That’s going to happen when you get into conference play and you just have to keep swinging and battling. It’s the world you live in, and you’ve got to shut the noise off and I think the kids did a good job with that and they stayed the course.”
For the last two seasons, Northwestern has had hot starts to the season only to see its year end with identical 5-7 records. Thorson told the media after Saturday’s win over Northwestern that the team was determined to avoid the fate of the previous two years.
“It’s tough being shut out and then losing by 30. It weighs on you,” Thorson said. “We came together on Monday morning and said we’re not letting this happen, we’re not letting down.”
Watching the way Thorson played against the Nebraska, fans saw his determination as he put the Wildcats offense on his back. He had two long runs of 68 and 49 yards to set up scores. The first long run led a one-yard touchdown run and the other led to a field goal.
Thorson also helped his team’s cause with his arm by tossing a 37-yard touchdown pass to running back Dan Vitale to give the Wildcats a 27-22 lead midway through the fourth quarter. He would lead another drive for a field goal , three points that turned out to be the winning points for Northwestern.
While Thorson still has a lot to learn as a starting quarterback at the collegiate level, he took a huge step by helping his team gut out a big win after the team hit a significant patch of adversity in the losses to Michigan and Iowa.
If you look at the game’s final statistics, Thorson accounted for 90 percent of his team’s total offense. When teams are struggling offensively or dealing with a tough losing streak, its best players have to elevate their level of play during the course of a game or during the season.
Like a good basketball point-guard who knows when he has to put the ball in the bucket, Thorson probably learned that there are going to be times when he has to be the distributor; but also times where he has to take things into his own hands.
Thorson did exactly that in the win over Nebraska.