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Northwestern football season in review: Grading the quarterbacks

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It wasn’t always pretty, but it was solid.

NCAA Football: Holiday Bowl-Northwestern vs Utah Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Now that we’ve had some time to reflect after Northwestern wrapped up its 2018 season with a Holiday Bowl victory, it’s time to go back and break down the performance of each position group during the 9-win campaign. We’ll give out some individual grades and also provide an early preview into what that unit will look like in 2019. We start where we always do: quarterback

Overall grade: B+

The stats at quarterback probably trend closer to a B, but a division title and a bowl victory bump the grade to a B+. I already wrote about the impact Clayton Thorson’s had at Northwestern, so I won’t go through it all again, but the main point is that Thorson was a winner. His numbers weren’t always great, but he found a way to win football games. And this season, Northwestern finally got over the hump and won the Big Ten West, which is a massive accomplishment for the program.

TJ Green got some non-garbage time snaps at the beginning of the season, during which he was up and down. He helped Northwestern beat Purdue, but struggled against Duke.

More in-depth recaps are below:

Player grades:

Clayton Thorson: B+

Stats: 3,183 yards passing, 17 touchdown passes, 15 interceptions, 61.1 completion percentage, nine rushing touchdowns

Coming off a torn ACL, Thorson was limited at the beginning of the season. He was on a “series count” and couldn’t play entire games, which probably hurt him in those weeks. He got healthier as the season progressed and began to drive off his injured leg.

He threw for 300 yards three times, and set a career-high with 455 yards in an overtime win against Nebraska. He was excellent against the Cornhuskers and against Michigan State, and played well situationally against Wisconsin and Iowa.

He had a tendency to throw interceptions, though a bunch weren’t his fault. He also took a lot of sacks. If you had said after Thorson’s freshman or sophomore seasons that he’d throw 17 touchdowns and 15 interceptions as a senior, you’d probably be disappointed in his career arc. The bottom line, though, is that he won games, which is what ultimately matters most.

If you’re interested in more Thorson-related analysis, check out our stream with all 12 editions of Thorson’s Throws™ included.

TJ Green: B-

Stats: 169 yards, one interception, 55.6 completion percentage

Green came in against Purdue in the season-opener and went 7-of-11 for 63 yards in a gutsy win. He threw a bad pick against Duke, but, for a backup, he was decent. He moved the ball juuuuust enough to get NU across the finish line against Purdue, which ended up being a big deal.

Nobody expects Green to start next season, but he’s certainly a serviceable backup.

Looking ahead to 2018:

Hunter Johnson.

The former five-star who transferred from Clemson is expected to take the reins under center after sitting out this season. Johnson has had time to learn the playbook, and he comes to Northwestern as the most highly-touted prospect Pat Fitzgerald has gotten in years.

Green and Andrew Marty will be in the mix too, but this is Johnson’s job. Based on everything we’ve heard, Johnson is the real deal; he just got stuck behind a senior (Kelly Bryant) and the best freshman quarterback college football has seen in years (Trevor Lawrence). Based on his recruiting hype, Johnson should be an upgrade at quarterback for the Wildcats.