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Northwestern-Michigan recap: Player grades from the Wildcats' 38-0 defeat

How we graded the Wildcats after their weak showing on Saturday against Michigan.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Every Sunday after a Northwestern win or loss, we'll be handing out player grades as a way to analyze the Wildcats' performance from an individual perspective. Rather than rush out the grades on Saturday, we'll sleep on them, and wake up Sunday ready to accurately evaluate NU's players, coaches and opponents.

After NU turned in its worst performance of the season in a 38-0 romping at the hands of the Michigan Wolverines, it's not looking pretty:

I want to preface these grades by explaining the structure of the class. College Football 101 is a unique class. It's not like some of the others that have just a midterm and a final, which constitute your final grade. Instead, this is a 12, potentially 14-part class, with each week being its own assessment. Some assessments are worth more than others, but the sheer number of assessments does not make one poor performance too important. Thus, Northwestern is still in great shape. A win against Iowa next week would, again, put Northwestern atop the Big Ten West and in the driver's seat for a trip to Indianapolis.

Clayton Thorson: C

Thorson really wasn't all that bad against Michigan. Forced to throw more than he's used to after Northwestern fell behind early, Thorson was able to convert a few impressive first downs. He threw some nice balls toward the boundary, one of which was actually intercepted, but also got away with some dangerous throws and poor decisions on balls thrown over the middle. He also wasn't a threat in the running game, an aspect of his athleticism that Thorson needs to take advantage of moving forward to make Northwestern's offense multi-dimensional.

Justin Jackson: D-

The 12-carry, 25-yard performance was easily the worst of Jackson's young career. Obviously, a lot of it has to do with Northwestern's offensive line and Michigan's defense, but Jackson really struggled to get upfield at all.

Wide Receivers and Superbacks: D+

Austin Carr is the only reason this grade isn't a D-. The former walk-on was the only Northwestern receiver that was able to create space consistently. While his performance was fine, he only had two catches for 39 yards. Northwestern receivers weren't able to win one-on-one matchups on the outside, plaguing the rest of the offense.

Offensive Line: F

The most glaring weakness between Northwestern and Michigan was the Wolverines' front against the Wildcats' line. As head coach Pat Fitzgerald said, the group "lost the six-inch war up front." Thorson found himself under pressure often and the running game was non-existent because of this. The group was completely dominated.

Defensive Line: D

This group was almost as bad as its offensive counterparts. The only player keeping this grade about "failing" was Deonte Gibson as the senior end collected 2.5 sacks. Fellow senior Dean Lowry was completely neutralized by Michigan as quarterback Jake Rudock had all day to throw. On the interior, Northwestern never got a push and the Wolverines were able to carve up the Wildcats' defense on the ground.

Linebackers: D

Anthony Walker looked completely out of sync yesterday. He was getting eaten up by blockers and often looked lost in coverage. Two tight ends, A.J. Williams and Jake Butt, led Michigan in receiving with 48 and 40 yards, respectively, and on a few of Michigan's big plays to tight ends, Walker and his fellow linebackers were confused on whom to cover. Drew Smith and Jaylen Prater were also unimpressive.

Defensive Backs: C

Probably the brightest spot in Northwestern's defense, the defensive backs held Michigan wideouts Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh to just four combined catches for 37 yards. But as the last line of defense against the run, the group didn't fully get the job done.

Special Teams: F

No matter what Fitzgerald might say about not allowing Michigan's Jabrill Peppers to return a punt, the special teams were brutal. Obviously, the game-opening return touchdown is inexcusable. Regardless of whether you agree with Fitzgerald's decision to go for the points with a 42-yard field goal down 21-0 in the second quarter, Jack Mitchell still missed the kick. There was also a gaffe in the punt coverage game that could have cost Northwestern 15 or so yards via downing the ball too early. The game was a complete mess in all three phases, and special teams was no exception.