How good was Clayton Thorson in the first half against Indiana?
The sophomore matched his career-high with three TD passes. He had 252 yards through the air and helped Northwestern break out to a 24-3 lead after two quarters. It was all the Wildcats needed to beat the Hoosiers on Saturday.
Thorson may have had the best 30 minutes of his career. He was completing short passes, he was finding guys deep and he was putting the ball right on the money. He looked like that four-star recruit that Pat Fitzgerald recruited a few years ago and was living up to high expectations. And this wasn’t against an ordinary defense. Thorson dissected an Indiana team that stymied J.T. Barrett and Tommy Armstrong Jr. in consecutive weekends.
Northwestern’s offense has developed nicely over the past three weeks. It scored 38 points against Iowa, racked up 54 against Michigan State and found the end zone three times in the first half on Saturday. Thorson has tossed three touchdown passes in each of those three games.
So, an explosive first half against the Hoosiers was another impressive mark for the sophomore. And it seems clear now, Thorson is quickly emerging as one of the top quarterbacks in the B1G.
He may not be as dynamic as Barrett or Armstrong, but he is becoming more effective in the pocket. His football senses are improving. He seems to know when to roll out, when to stand in the pocket and when to tuck it away and try to pick up some yards with his legs. It’s all coming together and we’re beginning to kind of quarterback Thorson was expected to be when he arrived in Evanston.
On the first drive of the game, Thorson delivered a perfect strike to an open Solomon Vault to give Northwestern an early 7-0 lead:
Maybe that wasn’t the most impressive throw of his career. The outcome can certainly be attributed more to a better route or a breakdown in the defense than the pass, but that’s a throw we’ve seen the youngster airmail at times throughout the past two seasons.
That may not have impressed you. This will.
On the first play of the second quarter, Thorson found Macan Wilson in the back of the end zone for a 32-yard strike over a couple Indiana defenders:
Too far and the ball sails out of the back of the end zone. Too short and it’s an interception for the Indiana defense. Thorson put it right where it needed to be and gave the Wildcats a three-touchdown lead early in the second quarter. That was a throw that an NFL quarterback makes and he made it look easy.
Things didn’t look as promising in the second half. Indiana’s defense showed up and shut down most of the Wildcats offense in the final 30 minutes. Northwestern didn’t score a point a point and was held to 41 yards. Thorson ended with just 33 yards through the air.
Not the best way to end the game. But on the positive side, he still didn’t toss an interception and – at least for two quarters – the Indiana defense couldn’t stop him.
Michigan State and Iowa had the same issues, too.
In the first few games, it seemed like Thorson’s improved play could be credited to less-than-impressive secondaries. While that may have played a small role, it appears the Northwestern quarterback is finally maturing into a prolific passer.
He may be one of the best in the B1G by the time the season ends.