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Northwestern Football 2017: Clayton Thorson and Justin Jackson

It’s been over 20 years since the Northwestern Wildcats shocked the nation and won the Big 10 Championship. ¬†1995 Northwestern¬†

Their star Middle Linebacker off that team was injured and never got to play in the Rose Bowl, but Pat Fitzgerald is now the Wildcats’ head coach. Fitzgerald has had some success in Evanston with an overall 77-62 record. His best seasons were 10-3 records in 2012 and 2015.

2017 could be another really good season for Pat Fitzgerald and his Northwestern Wildcats.

You can have a good team with a great defense and a solid offense. But, to be really good, you have to add another element to your offense say as in a great Quarterback and a great Running Back. While right now, the word great might be something of a stretch on either the Wildcat Quarterback or their Running Back. But, if they are not great, they have a shot at being really close especially the

Running Back.

The Quarterback is junior Clayton Thorson.

Thorson is from nearby Wheaton, Illinois and redshirted as a freshman. His first start was the very first game of the 2015 season against a rock solid Stanford. The Cardinal was off that day and didn’t play well at all helping Northwestern to a surprising 16-6 win. The Cardinal, if you remember, had a fantastic season with Christian McCaffrey running wild while they won the Pac 12 and plastered Iowa in the Rose Bowl.

Thorson was a better runner than passer at that moment. As a freshman, Thorson only threw for 1,522 yards with only 7 Touchdowns. He actually threw more Interceptions than Touchdowns with 9 picks. As a strong runner at 6-4, 220, Thorson ran for 397 yards and was second on the team in rushing total.

Northwestern finished 10-3 in 2015 with wins over Stanford, Duke, Nebraska, Penn State and Wisconsin.

2016 saw a completely different Thorson, but the team slid to 7-6 on the year. The Wildcats got off to a horrible start with stunning losses to Western Michigan and Illinois State by a grand total of 3 points. But, they finished strongly with a big win in the Pinstripe Bowl over a good Pittsburgh team.

But, Thorson was like a completely different player with 3,182 yards passing and 22 Touchdowns. He still threw 9 Interceptions and he only ran for 98 yards. In 2015, he completed just over 50% of his passes while in 2016 he completed almost 59%.

Pat Fitzgerald and Northwestern fans must be salivating thinking about how much more Fitzgerald can do in 2017. With his prototypical size, Clayton Thorson must be gaining the attention of NFL franchises. Quarterbacks are always needed.

Thankfully for Fitzgerald, Thorson and the rest of the Wildcat nation, senior Running Back Justin Jackson elected to return for his senior season.

Another member of the fabulous 2014 Running Back recruiting class, Jackson is one of the lessor

know of the great ones. However, he has also been one of the most productive. Neither Oregon’s Royce Freeman, Northwestern’s Justin Jackson, Western Michigan’s Jarvion Franklin or New Mexico State’s Larry Rose III were among the highest rated of the recruits, but they are also now the leading career rushing leaders coming back for their senior seasons. Freeman leads with 4,146 yards, with Jackson right there behind him with 4,129 yards. Franklin has 3,639 yards and Rose is also right there with 3,618 yards rushing.

Justin Jackson and Clayton Thorson both came into Northwestern with the 2014 recruiting class and both were 4 star recruits. Thorson was the 7th rated Pocket Passer Quarterback on ESPN’s recruiting list, while Jackson was the 31st rated Running Back. Coming from Carol Stream, Illinois, Jackson had an incredible high school career running for nearly 6,000 yards as a junior and senior. During his senior season alone, Jackson ran for 3,171 yards.

His lower rating probably came from from his lack of size at 5-11, 175.

Jackson is never going to win any 100 meters races, he is not a burner in spite of not being very big. But, he is quick and gets to top end almost immediately. He’s an incredibly hard worker according to his coaches, he’s a team player and plays hard not only for himself but for his team. He’s got a huge heart and it shows every day on the field, on the practice field, in the gym, in the classroom and everything else required of him. He’s durable, never having missed a game in 3 seasons. He is tough, physical and shifty.

As freshmen, Thorson redshirted but Jackson played immediately. After a somewhat slow start, Jackson ran for 162 yards against an always tough Wisconsin defense and on the season, he ran for 1,187 yards 10 Touchdowns in 2014.

Jackson’s signature game in 2015 may have been in the season opener against Stanford when he ran for 134 yards against a really solid defense. He finished his sophomore season with 1,418 yards rushing, but strangely only 5 Touchdowns.

In 2016, Jackson ran for 171 yards against Iowa and then he followed that up with 188 yards against

Michigan State. But, he followed that up with his best ever performance which was a 224 yard and 3 Touchdown performance in the Pinstripe Bowl against Pittsburgh. On the season, Jackson ran for 1,524 yards and 15 Touchdowns.

Jackson is indeed durable. Jackson has put on some good weight over the past few years and should play at 195 to 200 pounds for his senior season.

Northwestern might have a few problems to work through for the 2017 season. Outstanding Inside Linebacker Anthony Walker declared for the NFL Draft and top Wide Receiver Austin Carr will be hard to replace.

The return of 4 out of 5 Offensive Linemen will be a major bonus.

If Northwestern is ever going to win another Big 10 title and go back to the Rose Bowl, this might be that season.