Clayton Thorson’s mobility and stamina
If you forget the back-breaking second-half turnovers, Clayton Thorson’s performance was pretty encouraging. He stayed on the field for nearly the entire game, playing all but two or three series at quarterback. Thorson may still be on a series count, but he must be pretty close to 100 percent given he threw the ball 52 times and scrambled around the pocket on several occasions as well. Thorson looked really good on two touchdown drives that culminated in tosses to Cam Green.
Obviously, his performance is blotted by three turnovers leading to 21 Akron points. But it seems like No. 18 is nearly full-strength, and NU will need him to perform when the big boys start coming to town.
The junior delivered a career performance on Saturday, snagging 11 passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns. Green has sure hands and excels at finding soft spots in zone defenses. He’s also becoming a red-zone favorite for Thorson.
Big Ten West mediocrity
No one would argue that NU is in a good position coming off two bad non-conference losses at home. The funny thing is, they’re still in first place in the Big Ten West
and still... pic.twitter.com/kRSD7VudyX— Inside NU (@insidenu) September 16, 2018
And the rest of the Big Ten West...doesn’t look good.
Wisconsin lost at home to a BYU team that lost to Cal the previous week. The Badgers probably aren’t that bad, but they’re vulnerable. Nebraska lost to Troy and is 0-2. Purdue is 0-3 after losing to Mizzou.
Point is, NU should have an actual shot at winning its Big Ten West matchups if we’ve seen the true colors of most of these teams.
Honorable mention: Jared McGee in run defense, Joe Gaziano, odds of an upcoming Pound the Ciroc episode, Bennett Skowrownek on that one catch
Offensive execution inside Akron’s 40-yard-line.
There are a lot of ways we could go here, but we’ll stick to three things, starting with the offensive execution.
Northwestern put up 34 points and accumulated 491 yards. They should have scored 50, probably. To be fair, NU ran 30 more plays than Akron did, punting only three times. The Wildcats squandered a host of chances.
The Wildcats had the ball inside Akron’s 40-yard-line ten times (Eleven if you count the final Hail Mary). Ten!!! The Wildcats scored five touchdowns for 34 points, which is usually pretty good, but they came up empty on the other five possessions. NU missed two field goals, turned the ball over on downs twice, and threw a back-breaking interception that went for a touchdown.
That’s the game right there. Never mind the fluky pick-six that bounced off Skowronek’s hands or Thorson fumbling into the endzone. If NU puts through two field goals or gets into the end zone once on those five chances, it wins the game.
Yeesh. A week after NU got ripped apart by Duke’s explosiveness and Fitz blamed it on communism, the Wildcat secondary got torched again. It seemed like every NU defensive back got burned at least once for a huge Akron play. Jared McGee and Trae Williams just got outrun for big Kato Nelson connections. Greg Newsome II bit on a wheel route and got beat downfield by a MAC fullback for a touchdown.
Nelson ended up 17-of-27 for 277 yards and two touchdowns. 173 of the yards and both touchdowns came in a miserable third quarter. He averaged 16.3 yards per completion and 9.9 yards per attempt. Not ideal!
Another bad week for the boys up front. NU was without Tommy Doles and Blake Hance, but got manhandled in the trenches. The Wildcats rushed 32 times for 106 yards — and that’s if you take out Thorson’s four carries for -20 yards. Jeremy Larkin had no space to work with, managing 82 yards on 22 carries with a long of nine yards.
And the play that gave Akron the lead happened because J.B. Butler, a senior and a three-year starter, got absolutely blown up by a linebacker 60 pounds lighter than him, who then forced a Thorson fumble that became an Akron touchdown.
NU quarterbacks were hurried three times and sacked twice, but it seemed like there was pressure on just about every passing play, with Thorson forced to roll out or get the ball out quickly most of the time.
Honorable mentions: NU’s response to adversity, NU fourth-down options/playcalling, Charlie Kuhbander, capitalism’s prospects in the never-ending war against communism, the pass rush