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Player grades from Northwestern’s 24-20 loss to Ohio State

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Missed tackling marred an otherwise strong performance

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Ohio State Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Every week 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 ready to accurately evaluate NU's players, coaches and opponents.

This week, Northwestern travelled to the Horseshoe and fell to Ohio State in a 24-20 thriller. The team report card reflects an overall strong, gutsy performance from the Wildcats.

Offense

Clayton Thorson

Grade: A-

Stats: 22/42, 256 yards, one touchdown, one interception; six carries, 44 yards

If you just look at the stats, Clayton Thorson’s performance seems pedestrian. But it was much more than that. Facing one of the best defenses in country, in one of the most raucous stadiums in the country, Thorson went toe-to-toe with Heisman contender J.T. Barrett. Down 10-0, and 17-7, Thorson led crucial scoring drives (one touchdown and one field goal) to keep his team in the game. In a game in which the running game never really got going, Thorson was the focal point of the offense, and looked poised throughout. The Wildcats went 8 of 16 on third down, and 2 of 2 on fourth down, in large part thanks to Thorson. He bounced back from early interception—just as he did against Michigan State—and played one of the best games of his young career.

Matt Alviti

Grade: D

Stats: 1/1, two yards; one carry, two yards

This was just weird. Taking out a hot Thorson for Alviti in the Wildcat formation was a confusing decision, and it didn’t work.

Justin Jackson

Grade: B

Stats: 17 carries, 76 yards; three receptions, 21 yards

It was a workmanlike performance for Jackson, who had a difficult time finding space against the fast Buckeye defense. But Jackson ran tough all day, and he broke free for runs of 22 and 24 yards. He also added three catches and 21 yards receiving, including a key fourth-down conversion.

John Moten IV

Grade: B+

Stats: Five carries, 26 yards

Moten IV didn’t get much work in the second half, but he looked good in the first half, in what seemed like an attempt to save Justin Jackson’s legs for later in the game. Moten IV ran well, including a 16-yard scamper.

Austin Carr

Grade: A

Stats: Eight receptions, 158 yards

What’s new? Carr continued to make his case as one of the Big Ten’s best receivers this week, shredding the Buckeye secondary for 158 yards, his third straight 100-yard game. The only negative from Carr’s performance is that his streak of consecutive games with a touchdown ended at six, though he may have gotten robbed on this play, on which Carr was ruled out of bounds:

Via Big Ten Network

Either way, it was business as usual for Carr, whose career is winding down in incredible fashion.

Garrett Dickerson

Grade: A

Stats: Eight catches, 43 yards, one touchdown

Dickerson — who is often used as a blocker — had several big catches Saturday, including a two-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter. Dickerson often found himself open in the middle of the field, including a huge conversion on fourth-and-two from the Ohio State four-yard line in the first quarter.

Offensive Line

Grade: B+

It was a solid performance from the offensive line, which only allowed one sack on the day. Thorson had a clean pocket to throw from on most passes, so the only thing preventing the line from earning an A was the run blocking. While Jackson did average a solid 4.5 yards per carry, 46 of his 76 yards came on two runs, so he averaged just two yards per carry on his other 15 carries. But the performance was all you could’ve asked from the line, which was pass-protecting of most plays, especially in the second half.

Defense

Defensive Line

Grade: C-

The defensive line wasn’t completely terrible, but it wasn’t good. Barrett had seemingly all day to throw on most plays, save for a C.J. Robbins sack and a few other plays. Ifeadi Odenigbo was a virtual no show playing in his home state, and the line failed to set the edge on several big Buckeye running plays. The Buckeyes rushed for 208 yards and averaged 5.1 yards per carry on the day, and though that wasn’t solely on the defensive line, a lot of it was.

Anthony Walker Jr.

Grade: B-

Stats: Eight tackles (one solo)

Walker did have eight tackles, but by his standards this wasn’t a great showing. He missed some tackles in the run game, and although it wasn’t just Walker Jr. who missed tackles, he is the unquestioned leader of this defense, if not the team. After a string of strong performances, Saturday was a slight step back for Walker Jr., though it was against one of the best teams in the country.

Nate Hall

Grade: B+

Stats: Seven tackles (three solo), one tackle for loss, one pass-defensed

It was a good performance for Hall, who moved into the starting lineup this week. He was strong in the running game, notching one of Northwestern’s four tackles for loss and one pass-defensed. Hall should remain in the starting lineup after his performance in Columbus.

Marcus McShepard

Grade: B

Stats: Eight tackles (five solo), one pass-defensed

In his first start of the season, McShepard was tied for team lead with eight total tackles, including a team-high five solo tackles. McShepard wasn’t excellent in coverage, but he wasn’t poor either. And with Trae Williams out again, McShepard’s solid play was extremely important for such a beat-up secondary. He’s looking more and more comfortable every week back at his old position, but he has to tackle better. There are a lot of arm and ankle tackles he whiffed on.

Godwin Igwebuike and Kyle Queiro

Grade: A-

Combined stats: 16 tackles (seven solo), 1.5 tackles for loss, one pass-defensed

The Northwestern safeties were all over the field Saturday. Igwebuike had 1.5 tackles for loss by himself and several big stops in the running game. The duo never really got beat over the top, and did a good job of cleaning up mistakes from the front seven. It wasn’t all positive though: the streak of successful predictions ended at three. Igwebuike tweeted this before the game. He didn’t specifically say an interception was coming, but he didn’t get one (nobody did) and the team lost, so the run of successful predictions is over.

Special Teams

Jack Mitchell

Grade: A+

After an inauspicious start to the season, Mitchell has turned it around. He was perfect again, connecting on fields goals from 23 and 33-yards and hitting both of his two extra point attempts. Mitchell is 5/5 on fields goals and 17/17 on extra points in the last four weeks.