Big Ten

Stuff to clean up, but Clayton Thorson leads Cats to 'W' in first start

clayton-thorson-0906.png

Stuff to clean up, but Clayton Thorson leads Cats to 'W' in first start

A highlight-reel run. A bunch of iffy throws. But the most important thing about Clayton Thorson’s debut as Northwestern’s starting quarterback: The Wildcats won.

The end justifies the means in college football, meaning that a win is a win and who cares how you got there.

Thorson’s first career game was undoubtedly a mixed bag, but Northwestern’s 16-6 win over Stanford was a statement game for the Cats as they embark on a journey to get back to the winning ways that had them in the postseason just three seasons ago.

Thorson accounted for the game’s lone touchdown in what turned out to be the game’s biggest play. He scampered 42 yards for a score against a vaunted Stanford defense that was one of America’s best last season. That play was all the rage on the highlight shows and a prime topic of discussion after the game.

"Our O-Line had a huge gap, and I just took it," Thorson said. "It's pretty easy when you've got about half the field to work with. Our O-Line did a great job on that play."

“He’s fast,” running back Justin Jackson said. “When he gets in the open field, he can move, he’s got those long strides. He can go, so that’s a big weapon for us on offense.”

[MORE BIG TEN: Behind stellar defense, Northwestern chops down Stanford in upset]

Thorson’s welcome-to-college-football moment, though, came in the celebration, when he wasn’t exactly expecting the way his teammates were going to treat him.

“They really hit your head hard when you score,” Thorson said to laughs. “But that’s what being a team is about, celebrating with the guys. They made that big hole for me. It was a great moment.”

But aside from that game-changing play, Thorson was not exactly accurate with his throws and not exactly wise with his decision-making, at least not on a consistent basis. There was a beautiful strike down the sideline to Miles Shuler on a third down that kept a second-half drive alive and led to a field goal. That throw shows you why Thorson won the starting gig this summer. But there were plenty of other throws that reminded you that he’s a redshirt freshman, more than a couple near interceptions and passes too far to either side of a receiver. A drive that should have ended in a touchdown ended in a field goal because of a poor throw into the end zone on a third down and goal.

Those are things that will surely be corrected, and Thorson can’t be torn apart for what happened in his first career game, especially when he led his team to an upset victory over the No. 21 team in the country.

[MORE BIG TEN: Watch Northwestern QB Clayton Thorson scamper 42 yards for TD]

What’s been apparent leading up to this game and was even more so after it is that Thorson has the complete confidence of his head coach and of his teammates. Wide receiver Christian Jones raved about Thorson after the game, high praise from a senior heaped upon a redshirt freshman.

“He did very well. It’s good to have Clayton out there,” Jones said. “He’s got a lot of talents. I know he wouldn’t tell anybody because he wanted to keep it a secret. Now the cat’s out of the bag: Clayton’s a great quarterback. And even with him playing such a great game, he feels he can do much better, which is a really good sign.

“He’s a great quarterback, and Clayton works extremely hard. It’s nowhere but up from here.”

Remember, too, that Stanford played well defensively in this one. While the length and effectiveness of Northwestern’s drives were as inconsistent as could be, a lot of that had to do with Stanford. Few defenses will present that kind of challenge to Thorson in his first season. Maybe Minnesota, maybe Wisconsin, maybe Penn State. But all three of those teams lost their Week 1 matchups. Northwestern did not.

[MORE BIG TEN: Illini respond to tough week with absolute rout of Kent State]

As Jones said, it’s nowhere but up from here. And whether that proves to be the case or not, it’s certainly mighty believable given that Thorson is just one game into his collegiate career.

“From a standpoint of who he is as a young man, I think that’s what you all saw today. He made some really good plays. He made some decisions he’d really like to have back. And he’ll learn and really grow from this. I thought he played outstanding,” head coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “I talked to him earlier in the week about not trying to out-play a fifth-year senior (Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan) by just doing what we do. And through that, he out-played a fifth-year senior.

“That’s what I saw today. I thought he stayed within a framework of our offense. I don’t think he tried to do too much. And I think that’s a great win for him.”

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

jeremy_larkin.jpg
USA TODAY

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

Tough news out of Evanston this morning: Northwestern announced that running back Jeremy Larkin will retire immediately after being diagnosed with cervical stenosis.

Cervical stenois is the narrowing of the spinal canal in one's neck, according to Mayo Clinic. Larkin's condition is thankfully not life-threatening, though it does prevent him from continuing to participate in the game of football. 

"Football has been a lifelong passion and it has been a process to reconcile the fact I won't be on that field again, given I've played this game since I was five years old," Larkin said.

"I'm extremely appreciative of the Northwestern sports medicine and athletic training staffs for uncovering this condition, and for my coaches and the medical staff for always putting my health first.

"I came to this University to engage at the absolute highest level on the field and in the classroom, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to continue one of those while supporting my teammates from the sideline." 

Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald called the news "heartbreaking."

"This is heartbreaking because I see every day how much Jeremy loves the game, loves his teammates, and loves to compete," Fitzgerald said in a statement. "But this is the absolute best possible outcome for him.

"The discovery of this condition allowed Jeremy and his family to make an informed decision for his long-term health and well-being. For those of us who have known Jeremy Larkin since his high school days, his future is exceptionally bright. I can't wait to see the impact he makes in our world."

Larkin is a sophomore from Cincinnati. He finishes his Northwestern career with 156 carries for 849 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns.

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

anderson.jpg
USA TODAY

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

Former University of Illinois tennis star Kevin Anderson completed a marathon upset against an all-time great on the highest stage of professional tennis.

Anderson came back from two sets down to beat Roger Federer in Wimbledon’s quarterfinals 2-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 13-11 on Wednesday morning. He will play in the semifinals of the tournament for the first time in his career.

As a native of South Africa, Anderson played three seasons with the Fighting Illini and won the NCAA doubles championship during the 2005-06 season as a sophomore. The 32-year-old was a three-time All-American in singles at Illinois.

Now, as the eighth ranked singles player on the ATP World Tour, Anderson is a force to be reckoned with at the professional level. He made it all the way to the US Open final in 2017.

The former Illini star will look to keep his recent success going when he represents Illinois in the semifinals of Wimbledon this Friday.