Football: Thorson overcomes struggles, helps Northwestern to victory


David Lee/The Daily Northwestern

Clayton Thorson fires a pass. The junior quarterback shook off a number of mistakes to lead the Wildcats to their victory over Nebraska.

Max Schuman, Gameday Editor


LINCOLN, Neb. — Clayton Thorson wasn’t at his best Saturday.

Northwestern’s (6-3, 4-2 Big Ten) quarterback sailed throws most of the day, seemed slow through his progressions and chucked a pair of ugly picks, the second of which was returned for a touchdown.

And yet when the final whistle blew in the Wildcats’ 31-24 victory over Nebraska (4-5, 3-3), it was the junior signal caller who emerged triumphant, with his touchdown on a fourth-down sneak at the goal line in the overtime period proving to be the game-winning score.

“Definitely didn’t have my best stuff the whole game, but kept battling,” Thorson said. “That’s why it’s a team game. Really proud of how everybody picked me up.”

A week after confidently slinging the ball around for 356 yards in a barnburner triple-overtime victory against Michigan State, Thorson misfired on some makeable plays during the game. His nadir came on his first throw of the second half, as he air-mailed a pass to sophomore receiver Ben Skowronek underneath. The ball sailed into the arms of Cornhusker linebacker Marcus Newby, who took the interception to the house and put the Cats in a 21-17 hole, the team’s first deficit of the day.

Despite the early struggles, coach Pat Fitzgerald’s confidence in his quarterback never wavered. Fitzgerald said that offensive coordinator Mick McCall told him he wanted to keep throwing after Thorson’s pick-six and get the signal caller going.

“I said, ‘Let’s go,’” Fitzgerald said. “I saw a young man with a lot of resilience and a lot of character.”

Thorson found the plays NU needed in the fourth quarter with his team trailing by a touchdown. On a third-and-nine near midfield, the quarterback threaded a pass to junior receiver Flynn Nagel for a 20-yard gain to keep the drive alive. In the red zone, Thorson broke the pocket and sprinted toward the goal for a seven-yard rushing score that knotted the game at 24 with just over five minutes to go.

The Cats’ defense and running game helped the squad stay afloat while the quarterback scuffled. Thorson’s tying score capped a drive set up by an interception by senior safety Godwin Igwebuike with Nebraska in the red zone, keeping NU within one score of the hosts.

Thorson admitted after the game that his turnovers set the team back. But given the chance to win the game, Thorson capitalized, ultimately scoring the decisive touchdown with a plunge in overtime. His stat line wasn’t one to remember — 19-for-35 for 243 yards and no touchdowns through the air — but it got the job done.

“I don’t think he thinks that he played the best game he could’ve, but when we needed him to make plays, he did,” senior running back Justin Jackson said. “It’s the sign of a great quarterback and a great leader.”

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