Big Ten

No 2016 repeat: Two late Clayton Thorson QB sneaks give Northwestern season-opening comeback win

There was no repeat of 2016 for Northwestern on Saturday — though you wouldn't have been blamed if you were worried about that sort of thing happening.

With the Wildcats down 10 to visiting Nevada at halftime in the season-opener, there were flashes of last season's nightmarish start, the back-to-back losses to Western Michigan and Illinois State in the campaign's first two games.

Though it surely took long enough, Northwestern showed up late against Nevada, Clayton Thorson scoring a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns on quarterback sneaks to send the Cats to a 31-20 win in the opener at Ryan Field.

Thorson had himself a day, passing for a career-high 352 yards and tossing two touchdown passes. He also rushed in for the go-ahead score in the final five and a half minutes, adding a second touchdown carry a few minutes later to seal the win.

Northwestern had some glaring miscues in the first half, missing a field goal and fumbling in the red zone. In the third quarter, a drive that reached inside the 10-yard line ended only in a field goal. The inability to finish off drives kept Nevada in front. Thorson's second touchdown pass of the day tied the game at 17 in the third quarter, but after the Cats' defense came away with a goal-line interception, Thorson pitched an ugly pick of his own, setting up a field goal that put Nevada back in front 20-17.

But Thorson and the Cats followed with an 11-play, 75-yard drive that went all the way to fourth and goal on the 1-yard line, where Pat Fitzgerald elected to go for it instead of tying the game with a field goal. Thorson kept it and plunged in to give the Cats their first lead since the first quarter.

The Northwestern defense — which allowed only three points after halftime — forced a turnover on downs on the ensuing possession, stonewalling the Nevada quarterback on fourth down. A bold Thorson deep ball on third down set the Cats up on the doorstep again, and Thorson capped the scoring with his fourth total touchdown of the game.

It certainly wasn't a pretty win, as the folks in the desert projected Northwestern to win by more than three touchdowns. But avoiding a start like last year's wil go a long way in a season of high hopes for the Cats.