Football: Northwestern offensive line rebounds in win over Maryland


Lauren Duquette/Daily Senior Staffer

Northwestern’s offensive line blocks. The Wildcats’ front allowed just one sack of junior quarterback Clayton Thorson against Maryland.

Max Schuman , Gameday Editor


COLLEGE PARK, Md. — It was no secret among Northwestern fans: through five games, the Wildcats’ offensive line had been a major area of concern for the team. Those worries crescendoed a week ago, as NU faced penetration and pressure from Penn State’s defense all day in a discouraging loss.

Coach Pat Fitzgerald called out his offensive line for its struggles after that game, and senior center Brad North said his unit took the criticism to heart.

“We met as a unit on Monday, and the collective sentiment was our attitude … just wasn’t where it needed to be,” North said.

After paving the way for an offensive turnaround in NU’s (3-3, 1-2 Big Ten) 37-21 win over Maryland (3-3, 1-2), the Cats’ offensive line quieted the critics. All game, NU’s front kept junior quarterback Clayton Thorson clean and opened holes for senior running back Justin Jackson. The Cats capitalized by racking up 531 yards in their best offensive performance of Big Ten play this season.

When the dust settled, the offensive line had surrendered a lone sack while setting the table for Jackson’s 171-yard day. Fitzgerald lauded his line for the much-needed bounceback performance.

“(I) went after them a week ago, and I think they handled it well,” Fitzgerald said. “You don’t play well, you have high expectations, and I think they shut the noise off and went to work. They did a good job today.”

After looking uncertain in the pocket against the Nittany Lions, Thorson looked comfortable for much of Saturday’s contest, using the time his line provided him to find open receivers underneath. Meanwhile, Jackson had his best game of the season, using his line’s blocking to find space with relative ease.

Both of NU’s backfield stars were quick to give credit to the offensive line for helping them get back on track.

“Running behind these guys today, I think they were challenged by not only our coaches but our team,” Jackson said. “And, I mean, what a response.”

The Terrapins’ defensive front didn’t pose the same challenges as Penn State’s or Wisconsin’s. And with the heart of the conference schedule still to come, the Cats’ offensive line will have ample opportunity to prove themselves a solid unit. For a night, though, NU’s blockers were the toast of the team.

North, while gesturing to Jackson and Thorson in the postgame news conference, said he and his fellow linemen were just doing their jobs.

“This is my running back and my quarterback. I don’t want them to get tackled by the bad guys,” North said. “That’s the goal every week, to keep them clean, to keep them on their feet.”

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