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.
Northwestern won its most important game of the year. Despite an offense that was absolutely awful, the Wildcats held on for an insane win that included just about every weird facet of football. Let's get into grades:
9/20, 60 yards; 7 carries, 7 yards
The only reason this grade isn't lower is that Thorson threw no interceptions and lost no fumbles. However, it's hard to find any bright spots from this performance. He didn't do much with his legs or his arm, though he was somewhat limited by his play-calling (keep reading for more on that). Overall, another subpar week but, more importantly, another win.
35 carries, 139 yards, 1 TD
This was Justin Jackson at his finest. He showed his phenomenal vision, footwork and patience throughout, picking and choosing his holes as well as any running back in the nation could. Against an elite run defense, Jackson's effort, much like in last year's win over the Badgers, fueled the win. There was basically no offense outside of the sophomore back.
There was no production from this group. The leading receiver, in fact, was superback Garrett Dickerson. Austin Carr had his customary one big third down catch, but other than that there was basically nothing from this position once again. Guys still struggle to create separation in one-on-one matchups on the outside.
Deonte Gibson and Dean Lowry (and the entire defensive line)
Gibson: 6 tackles, 4 TFL, 3 sacks
Lowry: 3 tackles, 1 TFL, 0.5 sacks, 1 FR, 1 PBU
These guys were fantastic. Gibson lived in the backfield and Lowry was his usual stout self. The senior bookend linemen were clearly too good for the Wisconsin tackles, often beating them with speed, power or a combination of the two. When a team runs for negative 26 yards, the guys up front are getting it done. It was namely Gibson and Lowry, but this entire group deserves a ton of praise, as Gibson mentioned in the post-game press conference.
8 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 1 INT, 1 PBU
Walker was all over the place once again. He made good reads and solid tackles, but no read was better than the one he made of Joel Stave in the fourth quarter. He picked off Stave's throw and made it look like a really bad one when, in fact, it was a phenomenal play by the breakout middle linebacker.
8 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 PBU
Hall has quietly done a very good job in place of Jaylen Prater, who's out for the year due to injury. Hall has more speed than Prater and that was on display in his biggest play yesterday: breaking up a pass down the middle late in the fourth quarter. The tandem of he and Walker is one that should continue to get better and better, something that's very exciting for Wildcats fans.
6 tackles, 1 FF, 1 INT, 1 PBU
VanHoose played well once again and came up with one takeaway on a heads-up interception of a deflected Stave pass while forcing another with a savvy punchout. He got back to his steady, rock-solid self after getting beaten a few times against Purdue.
7 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 FF, 1 FR, 1 PBU
The only reason Harris doesn't earn an A+ is that he got bowled over by Corey Clement on Wisconsin's lone touchdown. Other than that, it was the same story as it is seemingly every week for him. Harris is just about as good as they come in coverage, he-- like VanHoose-- forced a fumble, and also recovered one of his own to boot. Plus, when Northwestern needed it most, it was Harris playing perfect coverage to seal the win.
Northwestern ran a reverse inside the Wisconsin 10, which is aggressive play-calling but almost irresponsibly so. Outside of that, the Wildcats went incredibly conservative for most of the game, even after the defense gave them phenomenal field position over and over again. McCall was once again creative in confounding spots and boring when creativity would have been effective. Northwestern started every single drive yesterday with a run. That's simply too predictable. Luckily for McCall, the defense bailed him out multiple times.
Yes, part of this grade is boosted because he has fantastic players, but Hankwitz dialed up pressure at the right times and had his guys ready to play against a top-notch running back. He was very good all game with his play-calling and crafted up some unique blitzes that thoroughly confused the Badgers' young linemen and even Stave, the senior quarterback.
1-0 this weekend.