Football: NU looks to fix mistakes entering Big Ten play


Luke Vogelzang/The Daily Northwestern

Freshman quarterback Clayton Thorson reads the defense as he readies to snap the ball. The Cats quarterback has been praised for his poise and ability to communicate with teammates pre-snap.

Huzaifa Patel, Reporter

The Wildcats are 4-0 entering Big Ten play, but they aren’t perfect.

Coach Pat Fitzgerald, whose team climbed to No. 16 in the nation in the Week 5 AP poll, addressed the negatives at his Monday afternoon press conference.

“If we do what we did in the first half this Saturday every Saturday moving forward in Big Ten play, we’ll get embarrassed,” Fitzgerald said.

The Cats have done enough to win all four games, but many of those game-winning plays occurred in flashes, rather than in conjunction with a consistent 60 minute performance on both sides of the ball.

Perhaps no player has exemplified this more than redshirt freshman quarterback Clayton Thorson.

“The third quarter (against Ball State) was a pretty good snapshot of what he’s capable of,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s got to take care of the football. That’s the number one priority not only this week but every week.”

Fitzgerald touched on Thorson’s development, citing the interception against Ball State as an example of where he could improve.

“He predetermined before he even caught the snap that he was going to throw a fade instead of letting the route progress,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s a lesson learned. You can’t do that in this game and expect to be consistent.”

Even with erratic play, it appears the Cats are in their quarterback’s corner as Thorson tries to fix these early mistakes and build on the positives he has shown glimpses of.

Senior offensive lineman Shane Mertz said he is confident in Thorson’s ability, praising his leadership in the huddle.

“You certainly wouldn’t know Clayton’s a freshman,” Mertz said. “He’s out there, he’s leading the offense, he’s talking to the O-line, he’s talking to the receivers. He might as well be a fifth-year senior for us.”

Another priority for Northwestern is health, as Saturday’s contest against Ball State saw multiple key players go down with injuries. Sophomore safety Godwin Igwebuike is day-to-day and senior left tackle Geoff Mogus was out for today’s practice, Fitzgerald said. The coach gave no update on sophomore safety Kyle Queiro, who is expected to miss games after suffering a broken arm on Saturday.

Fitzgerald praised his team’s time management and preparation for Ball State. He said the team is ready and in a positive routine for October, a month when the Cats have historically struggled.

The first Big Ten test will come against Minnesota, a divisional opponent that dealt the Cats a heartbreaking 24-17 loss last season. The Golden Gophers no longer have workhorse running back David Cobb, who departed to the NFL, but Fitzgerald isn’t expecting the Gopher rushing attack, led by freshmen Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks to miss a beat.

“(Smith and Brooks) are fast and physical,” Fitzgerald said. “Their offensive line has been banged up and obviously that hurts, but I thought they got things rolling last week against Ohio.”

Senior defensive tackle Deonte Gibson described the past four games as teaching tools for the Cats and acknowledged the added significance of Big Ten play.

“The first four games are a preparation for the Big Ten,” Gibson said. “Conference play has a little bit more intensity to it because these games really do count towards us achieving all of our goals as far as winning the Big Ten Championship.”

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