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Northwestern 16, Stanford 6: Player grades from Northwestern's upset

This week's team GPA will be on the Dean's List.

Caylor Arnold-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.

Today, after Northwestern's upset of Stanford, it's all players:


Clayton Thorson

Grade: B+
Stats: 12/24, 105 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT; 8 carries, 68 yards, 1 TD

I don't want to ruin all the fun with this grade. I want to grade him higher because he had zero turnovers and scored the only touchdown of the game. But looking at that passing stat line, it's tough to grade him higher than a B+. Thorson threw several risky passes and could have had two or three interceptions. But Thorson also made a lot of big-time throws, especially on third down.

It was an impressive debut from Thorson, who did pretty much what he had to while taking some shots downfield, a welcome sight. Plus, his legs are the reason Northwestern won this game. Last year, Trevor Siemian couldn't make that touchdown run, nor some of the throws Thorson made. There are areas to improve, surely, but Thorson solidly passed his debut.

Justin Jackson

Grade: A+
Stats: 28 carries, 134 yards

If you're a Wildcat fan and you don't absolutely adore Justin Jackson, I'm not exactly sure what you've been watching for the past 13 games. Jackson is tough between the tackles, quick enough to get outside and agile enough to make guys miss when he gets there. His skills were on full display against a Stanford team that has been terrific against the run in recent years. It seems like every play, he fell forward, too. He gets the tough yards and he gets the flashy yards. Thorson had the biggest highlight of the day, but the threat of Justin Jackson was the reason Thorson had so much room to run.

Warren Long and Solomon Vault

Grade: B
Long: 7 carries, 21 yards
Vault: 6 carries, 25 yards

Long and Vault saw a decent amount of action when Jackson needed a breather, and they both performed solidly. Long showed toughness and power between the tackles and really good vision on his longest run of the day (a nine-yarder), but I still don't know why he gets called on to carry it outside the tackles so much. His speed has undoubtedly improved, but he's not as quick as Vault, who saw the carries we expected Auston Anderson to see. Vault showed good speed outside, held onto the ball and was overall solid.

Christian Jones

Grade: A-
Stats: 5 receptions, 52 yards

Christian Jones is exactly what Northwestern missed last year. He has great hands, runs great routes — albeit sometimes he and Thorson were on different pages — and is as reliable a third down target as anybody NU has had in recent years. Of Jones' five catches, four went for first downs — three on third down, and one on fourth down. He was great, especially as a go-to guy for a young quarterback.

Offensive line

Grade: A

Paving the way for 225 rushing yards is very impressive. Giving up zero sacks AND paving the way for 225 yards rushing is terrific. The offensive line got it done all game long. Ian Park earned an individual A+, playing both left guard and center. He's a 6-foot-4, 305-pound road grader. Outstanding job all around by what was a major question mark coming into the game.


Defensive line

Grade: A

On the defensive side, Dean Lowry, Deonte Gibson, Tyler Lancaster, Max Chapman and C.J. Robbins were stout against the run, and got pressure against Kevin Hogan fairly often. The play of Lowry and Gibson on the outside took a lot of pressure off of the tackles in the run game. But the only defensive lineman to pick up a sack was...

Ifeadi Odenigbo

Grade: A
Stats: 3 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks

This was the Ifeadi Odenigbo Northwestern has been waiting to see. He showed great quickness and athleticism — which we know he's always had — but improved power and presence against the run is really what impressed me. This was his best game since Penn State and Wisconsin last year.

Anthony Walker

Grade: A
Stats: 10 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 0.5 sack, 1 fumble recovery

This was one of the most impressive linebacking displays I've seen at the college level in a while. Walker was everywhere, showed outstanding speed and play recognition, and was generally everything you could have possibly wanted in a middle linebacker. This would have been an A+ if it weren't for two dropped interceptions. Phenomenal display from the redshirt sophomore.


Grade: A

This grade — and Northwestern's hopes of winning — might have plummeted if Michael Rector had caught the perfectly-placed bomb from Kevin Hogan. But he didn't, and that was really the only time anyone got behind Northwestern's secondary. Matt Harris (who registered five tackles) and Nick VanHoose (who had a huge third-down pass breakup) were solid in coverage, as were Keith Watkins II and Kyle Queiro. Queiro's game-sealing pick was the highlight, but the group was solid all day long. Traveon Henry was his typical solid self against the run and even got a sack, and Godwin Igwebuike was good too (except for that Rector drop). When you limit Kevin Hogan to 155 yards on 35 attempts, you're doing something right.

Special Teams

Grade: A-

Yes, he missed one field goal, but Jack Mitchell was great when it mattered, nailing a career-long 49-yarder. If Mitchell had missed, Stanford would've had the ball, down one score, at the spot of the miss. Instead, Mitchell made it a two-possession game.

Hunter Niswander had a 38.8 net average-- a huge improvement from Chris Gradone last year-- and punt coverage was very good. While kickoff coverage wasn't great, there were no breakdowns.


Sometimes, in the future, we'll give grades to opposing players or units. And if we did today, they would not be pretty. Stanford's underperformance was certainly a factor in the outcome of the game. But for now, this is all about Northwestern.

Show this report card to mom.