Football: Poor passing game plagues Northwestern offense in loss


Daniel Tian/Daily Senior Staffer

Christian Jones bobbles a pass. The senior and many other receivers exacerbated Northwestern’s offensive struggles by dropping passes throughout the game.

Stephanie Kelly, Managing Editor

With the first half slipping away and the Wildcats losing 9-0, NU needed a big play.

Instead, at their own 13-yard line, the Cats punted after three pass incompletions and no yards gained on the drive. After the ensuing drive ended in another Hawkeyes touchdown, the Cats’ reception-less gameplay couldn’t be ignored.

Saturday’s 40-10 loss to Iowa concluded four quarters-worth of dropped passes, poor throws, an interception, sacks and a lackluster passing game for the Cats.

“Although we want to play with tempo, we have to be a ball-control offense,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “That’s the name of the game.”

Starting quarterback Clayton Thorson ended the day completing 17-of-35 attempts for 125 yards. The redshirt freshman was slow on his reads and jumped around in the pocket, resulting in three sacks and many rushed passes.

Mistakes by the receiving corps highlighted Thorson’s shortcomings. Even when receivers were able to get open—which was far too few times—dropped passes plagued the offense throughout the game, with wide receivers Christian Jones and Mike McHugh failing to follow through.

“Week in and week out we’ve got to find a way to fix it, and that’s catching the ball every week,” Jones said. “No one wants any dropped passes, and you’ve got to take each one like you dropped five.”

During a drive in the second quarter with the score 16-0, sophomore running back Justin Jackson and senior wide receiver Cameron Dickerson each dropped passes from Thorson. After another incomplete pass intended for McHugh, Thorson finally broke through with a rush of 13 yards, converting a third down for the Cats that led to NU’s best drive of the game with five pass completions.

“It seemed like guys caught the ball for (Thorson in the second quarter),” Fitzgerald said. “It looked like we got some momentum going there. It looked like some guys made some plays.”

This week, NU adopted a more pass-focused game than in last week’s Michigan loss. The Cats completed 15 of 33 attempts for 130 yards last game, while this week Thorson, combined with backup quarterback Zack Oliver, ended with 43 attempts, in part because the team trailed the entire game.

Next week’s match against Nebraska will decide whether the Cats continue this passing trend. But with skittish play from Thorson and an inconsistent receiving corps against Iowa, an aerial gameplan is as shaky as ever.

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