Football: Thorson sets career high in passing yards while completing less than 50 percent of his throws


Jacob Morgan/The Daily Northwestern

Clayton Thorson looks for an open receiver. The sophomore quarterback threw for a career-high 320 passing yards but completed just 18-of-39 attempts.

Bobby Pillote, Assistant Gameday Editor


Throwing for 320 yards and three touchdowns is a great night as a quarterback — completing only 18-of-39 passes is just the opposite. Putting the two together gives Clayton Thorson’s night against Duke.

The sophomore looked equal parts stellar and suspect Saturday under the lights, completing three beautiful scoring strikes but otherwise struggling to keep cool under pressure and string together consistent drives. At the end of the day, though, Thorson walked off the field with a career high in passing yards and having accounted for all of Northwestern’s touchdowns.

Thorson kicked off his evening with a strong opening drive, finding junior superback Garrett Dickerson down the seam from 26 yards out for the first score of the night. In the second half, Thorson connected with junior receiver Solomon Vault for a 44-yard toss and also found senior receiver Austin Carr wide open on a busted coverage for a 58-yard touchdown. Those three passes accounted for 40 percent of Thorson’s yardage.

Take out those three throws, though, and things look ugly. Thorson tossed two interceptions, took five sacks and completed less than fifty percent of his passes for the 10th time in 16 career starts since the beginning of last year.

“I think I could have stayed in there a little bit,” Thorson said of his performance. “I threw off my back foot a few times where I didn’t have to. I think I have to stay in there, maybe take a hit, and complete some of those balls. That one to Austin (Carr) finally did that.”

The offensive line — porous a week ago in NU’s surprising loss to Illinois State — again proved to be an issue. Thorson was frequently harried and lobbed passes off his back foot instead of stepping into his throws. Even when he had time, Thorson looked skittish and continued to overthrow his receivers.

The Blue Devils’ five sacks piled on top of a whopping 12 quarterback hurries, with the Duke defense finding repeated success on a safety blitz the offense was either unwilling or simply unable to counter.

All the pressure was not unexpected, coach Pat Fitzgerald said, but regardless, the offense had a hard time coping.

“If they’re going to bring one more than we have, we need to make them pay,” Fitzgerald said. “How many times were balls just slightly overthrown, right? … There’s a ton of things we can do better as a staff. That’s why we get paid to do what we do and we’ve always got to be critical of ourselves first and foremost.”

The game is a sign of progress for Thorson, who’s gone through plenty of ups and downs ever since taking over the offense as a redshirt freshman. But it’s still clear he and the rest of the unit have a long way left to go as the start of Big Ten play looms.

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