Football: QB Clayton Thorson makes key plays in first career start

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Football: QB Clayton Thorson makes key plays in first career start

Redshirt freshman quarterback Clayton Thorson scampers 42 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter of Northwestern's 16-6 upset over Stanford.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Clayton Thorson scampers 42 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter of Northwestern's 16-6 upset over Stanford.

Chelsea Sherlock/The Daily Northwestern

Redshirt freshman quarterback Clayton Thorson scampers 42 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter of Northwestern's 16-6 upset over Stanford.

Chelsea Sherlock/The Daily Northwestern

Chelsea Sherlock/The Daily Northwestern

Redshirt freshman quarterback Clayton Thorson scampers 42 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter of Northwestern's 16-6 upset over Stanford.

Alex Putterman, Web Editor

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Facing a key third down with less than six minutes to play and a narrow seven-point lead, Northwestern gave the ball to its redshirt freshman quarterback.

Clayton Thorson dropped back to pass and eyed the right sideline, where senior receiver Miles Shuler streaked ahead, tailed closely by a Stanford defender. Thorson reared back and floated the ball 25 yards downfield, just beyond the reach of a white jersey and into Shuler’s arms.

The pass gave the Wildcats a first down, setting up the Jack Mitchell 49-yard field goal that helped seal NU’s 16-6 upset win.

“We just needed a first down,” Thorson said after the game. “I just let it rip.”

Playing in front of an army of friends and family members from his hometown of Wheaton, Illinois, Thorson finished the game with 105 yards passing on 12-24, plus 68 more yards and a touchdown on the ground. Most importantly, he avoided turnovers and guided the way to an upset win.

Coach Pat Fitzgerald said he thought Thorson “made some really good plays and also some decisions he’d like to have back,” but commended the redshirt freshman’s overall performance.

“I thought he played outstanding,” Fitzgerald said. “I talked to him early in the week about not trying to outplay a fifth-year senior (Stanford’s Kevin Hogan) by just doing what we do. And through that he outplayed a fifth-year senior.”

Fitzgerald pointed to Thorson’s willingness to play within the offense without trying to do too much in his debut. The fourth-quarter pass to Shuler was Thorson’s flashiest throw of the afternoon, but he also completed a number of shorter throws to keep NU drives alive.

And then there was the 42-yard run midway through the second quarter that accounted for the game’s only touchdown. On an apparent draw play, Thorson dashed through a hole in the offensive line and scurried past three Stanford defenders to give the Cats a 10-3 lead.

The Cardinal seemed unprepared for the quarterback’s speed in the open field. Asked about Thorson’s speed, Fitzgerald laughed and feigned surprise. Running back Justin Jackson joked that although Thorson couldn’t beat him in a foot-race, “he’d give me a challenge.”

At the postgame news conference, as Thorson deflected credit to his offensive line, emphasized his room to improve and generally demonstrated the composure that leads Fitzgerald to declare him “unflappable,” senior receiver Christian Jones sat beside him smiling and nodding.

“Now the cat’s out of the bag,” Jones said. “Clayton’s a great quarterback.”

Email: asputt@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @AlexPutterman

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