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, ready to accurately evaluate NU's players, coaches and opponents.
With an opportunity to clinch bowl eligibility, Northwestern fell 29-12 to Minnesota in what was a largely uninspired performance from the Wildcats, especially offensively.
Clayton Thorson: C+
28 of 45, 276 yards, one touchdown, 2 fumbles lost
Thorson was under fire all day, so a large part of the offense’s struggles weren’t his fault. But Thorson did miss plenty of receivers down the field, and the two fumbles were killer. It’s tough to evaluate a quarterback when they’re sacked eight times, so Thorson doesn’t get a horrible grade here. Thorson will definitely want some of his throws back though, and the fumbles hurt even more in such a low-scoring game. But it wasn’t as if he didn’t move the ball; the offense just couldn’t convert on key chances in Minnesota territory.
Justin Jackson: A-
22 carries, 90 yards, one touchdown; eight receptions, 51 yards
Jackson was the best player on the offense Saturday, and it wasn’t even close. He ran tough all day, even though he had nowhere to go on many plays. He took a couple screens for big gains, including a 19-yard catch and run on a third and 12. The offense didn’t put up many points, but it wasn’t because of Jackson.
Austin Carr: B+
Five receptions, 68 yards
The Biletnikoff award semifinalist looked like his usual self throughout the game, but left the game in the third quarter after a vicious hit by Gopher safety Duke McGhee, which resulted in a targeting penalty and ejection for McGhee. Carr’s numbers would’ve been better if he finished the game, and he made several difficult leaping catches while he was on the field. Northwestern just has to hope he’s good to go for next week’s clash with Illinois.
Flynn Nagel: B+
Six receptions, 65 yards, one touchdown
It was a solid performance from Nagel, who hauled in a late touchdown in the corner of the end zone. Nagel appears to be the clear favorite to replace Carr as the number one wideout next season.
Offensive line: D-
The offensive line had a difficult time all day against Minnesota’s front seven. The line couldn’t get a push in short yardage situations and gave up eight sacks on the day. The line did give Thorson time to throw at times, though, so that saves the unit from getting an F. In the postgame press conference, Pat Fitzgerald alluded to individual breakdowns on the line as major factors in the game, and he was right. It was ugly.
Xavier Washington and Ifeadi Odenigbo: B+
One tackle for loss each
The duo couldn’t set the edge at all early in the game, which allowed Minnesota to march down the field with ease on the opening possession. But after the first couple of drives, Washington and Odenigbo began to bottle up Gopher running back Rodney Smith, and both had one tackle for loss. With the exception of the beginning of the game and the end (when the game was all but over), the two defensive ends did well.
Anthony Walker Jr.: A
Nine total tackles, two tackles for loss, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery
Walker Jr. had a monster performance Saturday, reminding us why he was viewed as a potential first-round pick before the season. The Franchise was all over the field, and came up with some big stops in the Minnesota backfield. He also made the play of the day for Northwestern by forcing and recovering a fumble on the ensuing kickoff after Justin Jackson’s touchdown run. With the score at 15-6 and over a quarter still to play, the turnover gave Northwestern major life, even though the offense turned the ball over on downs on the next possession.
Brett Walsh and Nate Hall: B+
16 combined tackles
With Jaylen Prater out again, Walsh and Hall played admirably, save for the opening drive of the game. It was an encouraging performance for both linebackers, who will be back next season.
Montre Hartage, Marcus McShepard and Trae Williams: B
There was some good and some bad from the cornerbacks, but it was an overall solid showing. McShepard came up with a big interception after wrestling the ball away from a Gopher receiver on a bomb from Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner, and Montre Hartage had a few good pass breakups. There were some big plays over the top though, including one in which Trae Williams got burned for a huge gain into the Northwestern red zone; Leidner also missed some throws that were probably there. Overall, it was a pretty good outing from the trio of corners.
Kyle Queiro: A
Nine tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss
Queiro tied with Walker Jr. for the team lead in tackles, and led the team in tackles for loss. Against a physical Minnesota running game, Queiro was down in the box a lot, and he proved up to the task.
Jack Mitchell: F
Mitchell missed his only kick of the day from 44 yards out, and is now 7-11 on field goal attempts this season. You can’t help but think that Mitchell’s inconsistency this season was a major factor in some of Pat Fitzgerald’s decisions to go for it on fourth down or go for two or attempt fake field goals, things we have seen throughout the season.