Big Ten

Thorson throws three TDs as Northwestern stays perfect at 4-0

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Thorson throws three TDs as Northwestern stays perfect at 4-0

It wasn’t exactly easy, but a big third quarter propelled Northwestern to its fourth win of the season on Saturday night.

Clayton Thorson threw a trio of touchdown passes as the Wildcats’ offense underwent a halftime transformation and scored 17 points in the third quarter, shaking off a halftime deficit en route to a 24-19 win over Ball State at Ryan Field. The win kept No. 17 Northwestern perfect at 4-0.

Thorson struggled in the first half, turning the ball over three times — two fumbles and a hideous interception. He had one great first-half moment, hitting a wide-open Dan Vitale for a 66-yard touchdown in the second quarter, the Cats’ sole offensive production in the first half.

Meanwhile, those turnovers — specifically the two fumbles — led to Ball State points. The Cardinals got a field goal and a touchdown following Thorson fumbles.

But it could’ve been way worse for Northwestern. Ball State missed a pair of first-half field-goal tries and had a costly fumble to open the second quarter, when the Cardinals were just a handful of yards from the end zone.

[MORE BIG TEN: Illini narrowly avoid defeat against Middle Tennessee State]

After the break, though, it was all Northwestern and all Thorson. Thorson led back-to-back 80-yard touchdown drives to open the second half. The first ended in a 21-yard touchdown pitch to an again wide-open Vitale, and the second finished with a 25-yard touchdown pass to Austin Carr. The Cats got a field goal the next time they had the ball, scoring on all three of their third-quarter drives.

All that scoring made it a 24-10 Northwestern lead. Ball State, which played well throughout the evening, answered with a third-quarter touchdown drive of its own, against making it a one-possession game at 24-16 after the Cats blocked the extra-point attempt. Late in the game, the Cardinals added another field goal, making it a five-point game. But Northwestern sat on the ball and milked the clock to pull out the win.

Despite an ugly first half and still not a huge amount of points, it was the best showing of the season — excluding a 41-0 romp of Eastern Illinois — for the Northwestern offense. The Cats accumulated 546 yards of offense, while Thorson and Justin Jackson had the biggest days of their young careers. Thorson completed 18 passes for 256 yards and three touchdowns, while Jackson rushed 33 times for a career-high 184 yards. Vitale also caught two touchdown passes in the same game for the first time in his career and finished 108 receiving yards.

[MORE BIG TEN: Gophers survive another MAC foe, beat Ohio in final minute]

The Northwestern defense was tested by Ball State, surprising after the Cats' performances against Stanford and Duke. Ball State had a first-time starter, a freshman, at quarterback and managed 359 yards of offense and more points than Stanford and Duke scored combined. Northwestern allowed one touchdown through three games and allowed two Saturday night.

Worrisome in the long term was the large amount of injuries Northwestern sustained, with Godwin Igwebuike, Geoff Mogus, Kyle Queiro, Connor Mahoney and Ifeadi Odenigbo all knocked out of the game.

Surely it wasn't a smooth night on either side of the ball, but Northwestern's perfect 4-0 record heading into Big Ten play is matched only by four other teams: Ohio State, Michigan State, Iowa and Indiana. The Cats open Big Ten play next week against Minnesota.

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

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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

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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.