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Rapid Reaction: Northwestern racks up almost 700 yards of offense, dominates Bowling Green 49-7

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Northwestern put this one away early, for once.

NCAA Football: Bowling Green at Northwestern Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Northwestern entered tonight’s matchup with Bowling Green needing a return to normal on both sides of the ball.

That’s just what they got in a 42-point win over Bowling Green.

The Wildcats nearly reached 700 yards of total offense, averaging over 9.2 yards per play against an overmatched Bowling Green defense. Clayton Thorson returned to top form, tossing two touchdowns to Bennett Skowronek and completing 23 of 30 passes for 370 yards. Thorson and superback Garrett Dickerson connected nine times for 150 yards, a career high for the senior.

Perhaps the best sign was Northwestern’s rejuvenated run game, which totaled 303 yards and five touchdowns. Three came from Justin Jackson, who moved into third place in program history with 34 touchdowns and carried 18 times for 126 yards. Redshirt freshmen Jeremy Larkin and sophomore Jesse Brown both notched their first career touchdowns as Northwestern poured it on in the second half.

A forced fumble by Montre Hartage keyed an eight minute stretch in which Northwestern racked up 21 points, stemming some early offensive momentum for the Falcons. Bowling Green was able to move the ball well early in the game and ended up averaging almost five yards per play, but Northwestern’s defense tightened up in the red zone and minimized any big plays from the Falcon offense. After allowing opponents to convert 56 percent of their third downs through the first two games, Northwestern held Bowling Green to only 29 percent on Saturday. Linebackers Nate Hall and Paddy Fisher led the way defensively, tallying twelve tackles and two tackles for loss. Tyler Lancaster and Jordan Thompson both registered sacks as well.

After trading punts to start the game, Northwestern’s offense was able to move the ball with a short field. Leveraging its host of capable runners, the Wildcat offense kept the ball on the ground for six of the seven plays during the drive. Clayton Thorson kept the ball himself on the read option twice for gains of 14 and 16 yards before Justin Jackson scored to make it 7-0.

Bowling Green answered with a nine-play, 81-yard drive that culminated in a 20-yard Josh Cleveland touchdown that saw the senior scamper to the end zone nearly untouched. Cleveland finished with 64 yards and 4.5 yards per carry. Northwestern’s defense struggled to get the Falcon offense off the field early, allowing two consecutive third down conversions through the air.

Northwestern had no problem picking apart Bowling Green’s defense following the Falcons’ touchdown. After starting the game 2-4 for eight yards, Thorson took a shot on a play-action pass to Ben Skowronek. The sophomore wideout burned his defender en route to a 58-yard touchdown to put the Wildcats up 14-7 with just under two minutes left in the first quarter.

A botched kickoff return left Bowling Green at its own six-yard line to start its next drive. However, the Falcons continued to keep Northwestern off guard behind Cleveland and moved the ball to midfield as the second quarter began. On third-and-long, Bowling Green converted for another big gain, with James Morgan completing a pass to Datrin Guyton, who beat Montre Hartage on a slant. However, Hartage closed and stripped Guyton as he streaked into Wildcat territory. Safety Godwin Igwebuike picked up the fumbled and weaved his way to the Bowling Green 18-yard-line to set up a short field for the Wildcat offense.

On the very next play, Thorson tossed a gorgeous back-shoulder throw to Skowronek, who made a great catch along the sideline for his second touchdown reception of the game.

With a 21-7 lead and plenty of momentum, Northwestern’s defense stuffed Cleveland twice and forced a Falcons punt. Behind the all-star backfield of Thorson and Jackson, the Wildcat offense hit its stride during what might have been the best drive of the day, going 75 yards in five plays and burning only 1:34 on the game clock. Thorson found Dickerson two times for 54 yards, and Jackson punched it in from the two-yard line for his second touchdown of the game.

Following three consecutive short scoring drives, the Wildcat offense was more methodical following another Bowling Green punt. With Justin Jackson taking the drive off, Thorson and Dickerson continued to connect, highlighted by an 18-yard hookup that preceded Jeremy Larkin’s first career touchdown run to put the ‘Cats up 35-7 before halftime and allow me to start writing this recap early.

The second half continued to be a bona fide Bowling Green massacre. Despite fumbling twice in Bowling Green territory, including a Larkin fumble at the goal line that resulted in a touchback, the Falcons could not capitalize. In garbage time, Northwestern put up two more touchdowns, one set up by a 68-yard Matt Alviti run, which is a real thing that actually happened! The only downside for the Wildcats was injuries to linebacker Jango Glackin and wide receiver Jalen Brown, who both suffered undisclosed injuries and had to leave the game. The backups got some quality playing time as Northwestern completed a comfortable 42-point win.