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Player grades from Northwestern’s 21-7 loss to Wisconsin

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NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Northwestern Caylor Arnold-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 put up a poor offensive showing in a 21-7 loss to Wisconsin. The team report card reflects a tough performance, but there were a few bright spots.

Offense

Clayton Thorson

Grade: C+

Stats: 28/52, 277 yards, one touchdown; six carries, negative three yards, one fumble lost

Thorson was very much up-and-down on the afternoon. Tasked with facing one of the best defenses in the country, Thorson put up impressive yardage totals. However, there’s a lot of room for improvement. He missed open receivers downfield, he forced throws late in the game, he took bad sacks outside of the pocket, and the turning point in the game was his fumble with Northwestern trailing 13-7 and driving into Wisconsin territory. Thorson needs to be a better decision maker if Northwestern wants to beat Top 10 teams like the Badgers. Still, given the limited amount of help around him, it’s not a total disaster.

Justin Jackson

Grade: C

Stats: 13 carries, 42 yards; one receptions, 1 yards

It was a game to forget for Jackson, tying his lowest rushing total of the year. In fact, we almost forgot he existed. The Wildcats found themselves in a 10-0 hole and abandoned the run to some extent. Jackson’s numbers are buoyed by a 28-yard scamper in the second half; he was bottled up for one-to-two yards the entire game. It’s far from his fault, however, but it’s tough to give Jackson a positive grade for today.

Austin Carr

Grade: A+

Stats: 12 receptions, 138 yards, one touchdown

Another week, another spectacular performance for Carr. The Big Ten’s leading receiver added to his already impressive numbers, surpassing the 1,000 yard mark on the season. Carr seemed to open at the right time, converting a couple huge third downs, including receptions for 22 and 32 yards. His 13-yard touchdown put Northwestern back in the game, trailing by only three points. Either way, Carr remains a huge bright spot on the team, and a legitimate contender for the Biletnikoff Award.

Andrew Scanlan

Grade: A-

Stats: Five catches, 46 yards

It was nice to see Scanlan haul in five receptions, doubling his season total in one game. He held his own on the perimeter with Wisconsin’s physical corners, had a nice run after the catch to pick up a first down in Northwestern territory, and also he hauled in a 19-yard reception while sliding and making an adjustment to a ball slightly behind him. Solid performance for the senior.

Offensive Line

Grade: C-

This game was won in the trenches. Wisconsin’s defensive line punished Northwestern’s front five, applying pressure on Thorson and eliminating Justin Jackson and the run game. Wisconsin’s defense was in the backfield nearly every play, picking up two sacks and six tackles for a loss. After a solid performance last week against an impressive Ohio State defensive front, the Northwestern o-line took a step backwards this week.

Defense

Defensive Line

Grade: C-

The defensive line wasn’t much better than its offensive counterparts. They were gashed for 227 yards, most of the damage coming from Corey Clement (32 carries, 106 yards) and Bradrick Shaw (11 carries, 54 yards) and Jazz Peavy’s 46-yard end-around touchdown scamper. They also struggled applying pressure on Wisconsin’s quarterbacks, failing to register a single sack all game. To be fair, freshman Alex Hornibrook hung in the pocket phenomenally and delivered a few nice throws in the face of pressure, although Northwestern’s defensive line was simply not active enough. Xavier Washington got an encroachment penalty on a 3rd and 6 that led to an easy first down, and Hornibrook usually had plenty of time to throw. The bright spot in this unit was Tyler Lancaster, who registered 8 tackles and had 2 tackles for a loss.

Anthony Walker Jr.

Grade: B

Stats: Nine tackles (five solo), 0.5 tackles for a loss

Walker played well; his nine tackles were second on the team, but he didn’t do much to stand out. Northwestern let up seven third-down conversions and really struggled in short-yardage situations, and Walker bears a lot of the responsibility as the middle-linebacker and the unquestioned leader of the defense. He’s getting a lot more attention from teams than he was last year.

Brett Walsh and Joseph Jones

Grade: B+

Stats: Both had eight tackles (six solo), Jones had one tackle for a loss

Walsh played well filling in for the injured Jaylen Prater. He notched eight tackles against a strong Wisconsin offensive line and running game and disrupted some potential big plays on screens. Jones put up good numbers as well, getting into the backfield to stop Wisconsin’s rushing attack. Both linebackers played well, but there’s room for improvement, especially in short-yardage situations.

Trae Williams and Montre Hartage

Grade: C

Combined stats: Ten tackles, seven solo, one tackle for loss

Williams and Hartage didn’t yield up lofty passing numbers as the two Wisconsin quarterbacks combined for only 143 yards. But both young corners were beat on corner routes by playing soft coverage, and struggled sticking with shifty receiver Jazz Peavy (4 catches, 73 yards). They also failed to register a single pass-defensed in the game, something that Northwestern’s defense can’t afford happen again as they try to reach bowl eligibility these final three games.

Godwin Igwebuike

Grade: A-

Stats: 10 tackles (nine solo)

Igwebuike had himself another impressive game, leading the team in tackles and helping Northwestern’s front seven with Wisconsin’s run game. He never got beat over the top, and closed quickly on his tackles, notably preventing Hornibrook from picking up a first down late in the first quarter.

Special Teams

Flynn Nagel

Grade: C

Stats: 1 punt return, 1 yard

Nagel simply needs to be smarter when fielding punts, but some of it was just impressive work from Wisconsin’s punter, Anthony Lotti. When Nagel fielded punts, it seemed like he was calling for a fair catch too early, leaving no chance for a return. From our perspective, there was at least one chance for him to gain positive yardage on a kick he ended up fair-catching.