Northwestern’s offense shows signs of life in win over Iowa

Oct 1, 2016; Iowa City, IA, USA; Northwestern Wildcats quarterback Clayton Thorson (18) and wide receiver Andrew Scanlan (82) celebrate a touchdown against the Iowa Hawkeyes during the first quarter at Kinnick Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Somehow, Northwestern mustered the offensive competency to compete in a game that turned into a bit of a shootout. And the Wildcats didn’t just hang around with Iowa on Saturday, they won.

It began early. Not offensively, but special teams. After Iowa’s first drive stalled, Flynn Nagel returned a short punt to the Hawkeyes’ 5-yard-line. Clayton Thorson scored on a four-yard run two plays later. It was exactly the type of start Pat Fitzgerald needed in order to pull the upset.

Northwestern used that momentum it gained after its first drive to to piece together its best offensive performance of the season at the most critical stage in the year. Thorson made some clutch throws and finished the day 18-of-30 for 164 yards and three TD passes. On the receiving end of all of those scoring strikes, Austin Carr, who couldn’t be defended by the Iowa secondary. And in some situations, he made plays that couldn’t be defended, like this catch that tied the game at 24 in the third quarter:

The leading receiver in the B1G finished his day with six catches for 73 yards and those three scores.

And Justin Jackson? Yeah, he was pretty good, too. He had his best performance of the young season, rushing for 171 and a TD on 26 carries. The junior gave the Wildcats the go-ahead score when he danced by defenders and sprinted 58 yards to the end zone to put his team up 31-24.

For the first time this season, Northwestern’s offense wasn’t stagnant. It wasn’t moving at a snail’s pace and coming away empty-handed. What was the difference this week? And whatever it was, can it continue?

Receivers were getting open. When Thorson was getting pressured, he rolled out and delivered more accurate passes, and never tossed an interception. The line created openings for Jackson. The worst team in the conference in red zone scoring got points on four trips inside the Iowa 20-yard-line.

Those were all factors in the upset win over Iowa at Kinnick Stadium. Those were all things that the Wildcats have struggled with in the previous four outings. If this was a sign of how functional this offense can be, Northwestern’s season is far from over.

RELATED: Northwestern LB Carted off Field after Special Teams Play

In the West, the division is up for grabs. Sure, the Nebraska has already beaten Northwestern, but there’s still seven conference games left on the schedule. If the Wildcats can develop into a more consistent offense, they could be a dark horse for the rest of the season.

Receivers finding openings and Thorson’s accuracy were critical. When Northwestern established a presence through the air, things began opening for Jackson. Over the next few months, maintaining that same effectiveness will be a key for success.

We saw what Northwestern is capable of doing offensively. Whether or not it can sustain this production on a weekly basis is the next question.

If we see more performances like this, the Wildcats are alive and well in the B1G West race.

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Photo Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

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