Out with Player Grades and in with Three up, Three down, Inside NU's newest postgame evaluation. Rather than handing out grades to the different contributors, we'll give you three players whose stock went up and three players whose performances were disappointing. Here's the report from Week 1.
Thorson was awesome Saturday, simple as that. He made one really poor throw — the fourth quarter interception that sailed over Jalen Brown's head — but he was mostly efficient and connected on several big throws. The touchdowns to Macan Wilson and Riley Lees were perfect throws, and the heaves to Bennett Skowronek and Macan Wilson in the second half were gutsy. He tied a career-high with 352 yards passing, and he completed nearly 74 percent of his passes, which was a big improvement from last season. The team wouldn't have won without him, and he looked like the leader we expected him to be. We'll have something big on Thorson this week, so stay tuned.
The 6-foot-4 wideout had as many catches and more receiving in the Nevada game than he had in all of 2016 as a true freshman. Like Thorson, he had one killer mistake — a lost fumble deep in Wolf Pack territory — but he made up for it big time, especially when he muscled off his defender for a 48-yard grab when Northwestern was backed up near its goal line. He's different than most of the Wildcats' receivers in that he's a big-bodied target, so he could be a valuable red zone target going forward. Thorson did a good job of spreading the ball around, but Skowronek proved why he's ready to contribute in a key role.
Wilson only had three catches, but man were they important. His 33-yard touchdown in the first quarter opened the scoring for NU, and his 41-yard grab sealed the win. Pat Fitzgerald praised Wilson throughout the spring, and it's clear why. He's was a sneaky-good deep threat in Mick McCall's offense, which was a pleasant surprise.
Honorable mentions: Joe Gaziano, Kyle Queiro, Warren Long (special teams), Jeremy Larkin
Filling in for the injured Keith Watkins in the starting lineup, McShepard got exposed several times. He did make a couple of nice plays, but he got beat for two touchdowns in the first half, in addition to several other longer catches. He got shaken up a few times with what looked like an arm injury, so his health will be something to monitor going forward. Northwestern really needs him to provide depth going forward, so the injury could be a brutal blow. With Trae Williams still on the mend, the cornerback position is dicey going forward.
The true freshman kicker missed a 21-yard bunny in the first half, which won't instill much confidence in Pat Fitzgerald. He bounced back to make his second attempt, but missing a kick that short is an inauspicious start. He'll be fine, though some damage may already be done. Fitzgerald opted to go for it on several fourth downs when a field goal may have been a logical play, including a fourth and seven that fell incomplete.
All defensive ends not named Joe Gaziano
The defense struggled to generate much of a pass-rush throughout the game, and outside of Gaziano, many of the DEs just weren't getting it done. Ty Gangi was rarely forced to move in the pocket, giving him enough time to beat a depleted Northwestern secondary deep on several occasions. If the cornerback situation doesn't improve, which it doesn't look like it will by all that much in the near future, the pass-rush has to better than it was against Nevada.
Honorable mentions: Jordan Thompson, John Moten IV