Coming off their 16-6 upset victory over Stanford on Saturday at Ryan Field, more good news was announced today as sophomore linebacker Anthony Walker was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week, and redshirt freshman Clayton Thorson was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week.
Thorson was the big story going into the opening week, after winning the starting job over the more experienced Zack Oliver and Matt Alviti. Thorson’s performance was up and down, a predictable outcome for a player making his first start against a ranked opponent. He finished the game going 12-for-24 for 105 yards passing with 68 yards on the ground and a touchdown.
He both shined in the win – the highlight coming on a 42-yard touchdown run in the second quarter which put the Wildats up for good – and struggled at times to find open receivers, with at least three throws that could have been intercepted. The struggles were to be expected, and Thorson comes off as the type of player who won’t rest on this achievement.
“I think we brought Clayton in with the right game plan. It’s our job not to ask him to do too much,” head coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “He is really unflappable. He doesn’t get too high or too low”.
Fitzgerald was happy overall with Thorson’s first appearance, but they both know there is still a lot of work to do. In his weekly tele-conference, Fitzgerald complimented Thorson’s work ethic, citing extra motivation coming in practice from Oliver and Alviti, but also noted there was still a lot to clean up after watching the film.
“Our goal is for him to just get 1% better every day and become a winning quarterback”.
Walker was the star of a stellar defensive unit for Northwestern on Saturday, as they held Stanford to only six points and 240 total yards, which included only 85 total yards on the ground. He finished the day with 10 total tackles, 1 sack assist, 2 broken up passes, and a fumble recovery, as part of a swarming defensive attack. For this defense to continue to perform the way they did against Stanford, Walker will need to continue to lead by example.
“We wanted to let everybody know that we’re a physical football team”, Walker said after the game. “We wanted to be able to stop the run first and that starts with the front seven and I think we were able to get that job done today”.
The Wildcats return to action Saturday afternoon at home against an Eastern Illinois team that struggled mightily last week in a 33-5 loss to Western Illinois.