When the final whistle blew, signaling the end to Northwestern's 24-19 victory over Ball State, Clayton Thorson could hold his head high. The freshman quarterback, now 4-0 for his career, went 18-31 for 256 yards, with three touchdowns and an interception. He also ran for 54 yards and lost two fumbles
But Thorson's game against Ball State and, most notably, its up-and-down nature are a microcosm of what Northwestern has gotten out of the young signal-caller this season. That is to say that against Ball State, Thorson showed both his immense talent and a few maddening mistakes.
First Quarter: Northwestern 0, Ball State 3
Thorson's night got off to a rough start with a fumble on Northwestern's first possession.
But on the very next drive, Thorson looked to have found a streaking Miles Shuler for his first touchdown of the night, but the wide receiver dropped what appeared to be a pinpoint throw.
Northwestern turned the ball over on downs that drive.
Second Quarter: Northwestern 7, Ball State 10
Northwestern, needing a spark, got one from its defense when Traveon Henry recovered a fumble on Northwestern's own 4-yard-line. Four plays later, Thorson lofted a pass high into the night sky to no one in particular, it seemed, for an interception. Only Cameron Dickerson was in the area, but even he had no idea where the ball went.
After a few empty drives, Thorson was able to get something positive going, finding a wide-open Dan Vitale for a 66-yard touchdown, putting Northwestern ahead 7-3.
But on Northwestern's very next possession, with time winding down in the first half, Thorson lost control of the ball twice on the same play, eventually losing it for his second fumble of the night.
Ball State scored a touchdown on the very next play to go up 10-7 at halftime.
Fitz said he never considered replacing Thorson at HT vs. Duke. Struggled mightily again today tho. Do they have the conversation this week?— Inside NU (@insidenu) September 27, 2015
Pat Fitzgerald came out of the locker room wearing only one shoe. Experts suspect it was lost somewhere in Thorson's butt.— Michael Odom (@RealMichaelOdom) September 27, 2015
Thorson finished the first half going 5-9 for 88 yards, along with a touchdown and interception. He rushed five times for 36 yards with two lost fumbles.
Third Quarter: Northwestern 24, Ball State 16
Thorson followed up that drive with another strong one in which he went 4-6 for 63 yards, including a strike to an open Austin Carr for another touchdown.
Fourth Quarter: Northwestern 24, Ball State 19
For the most part, Northwestern counted on the run game to put away the victory over Ball State. Thorson, though, converted some nice third downs. But he also escaped from what would have been a bad redzone turnover on an attempt to Cameron Dickerson.
For pretty much the entire second half against Ball State, Thorson looked great, a welcome sign for Northwestern heading into Big Ten play. The Wildcats host Minnesota (3-1) on Oct. 3 at 11 a.m.