Northwestern throttles Bowling Green 49-7 in final non-conference game
    Late in the first quarter on Saturday night, Bowling Green running back Josh Cleveland ran essentially untouched from the Northwestern 20 into the end zone to tie the game at seven, and the 21-point spread suddenly felt a little ambitious. Three plays later, Clayton Thorson found a wide open Ben Skowronek for a 58-yard touchdown, and the ‘Cats never looked back. By the end, Northwestern (2-1) crushed Bowling Green (0-3) 49-7 in the unofficial home opener thanks to a dominant first half.

    It’s hard to pick an area to focus on: Northwestern dominated on both sides of the bowl, and several players had career games. Thorson set a career high with 370 yards, and he added two touchdowns with no interceptions. Garrett Dickerson had 150 (!) yards on nine catches, also a career high. Justin Jackson ran for three touchdowns plus 126 yards. Skowronek caught two touchdowns. The maligned defensive line actually came into contact with the quarterback a few times. Even Matt Alviti ran for 68 yards on his first play when only about 30 people were paying attention. “I think we responded really well. I talked to [the team] here at the end of the week about getting up off the mat,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “We got knocked down last week – it happens. The only thing we can do is get up off the mat.”

    Northwestern struck first on their second drive. With good field position at the 50-yard line, Thorson led the ‘Cats downfield with two big runs, and Jackson capped the drive off with a five-yard score on a sweep. At the end of the first quarter, though, there were definitely concerns. Up 14-7, NU’s defensive line was predictably struggling to get pressure, and the Falcons’ Cleveland had already run for 64 yards. In the second quarter, though, the ‘Cats broke it open. After Montre Hartage forced a fumble, Godwin Igwebuike recovered it and ran like the high school running back he was back to the Bowling Green 18-yard line.

    A play later, Thorson found Skowronek once again with a perfect pass on Skowronek’s curl route on the left edge of the endzone, and it was a two score game. After a Bowling Green three-and-out (there were a LOT of those), Thorson led another impressive drive. Two more big plays to Garrett Dickerson put the ‘Cats at the two-yard line, and Jackson pushed through the trenches for his second score. Before halftime, the ‘Cats added one more score (just to rub in it, perhaps) on a 14-yard run by Jeremy Larkin. They went into the break up 35-7 as the student section slowly evaporated. “He’s always part of the plan,” Fitz said of Dickerson’s big day. “The guy has been really consistent in our program, and to have a night like tonight, I hope it’s one of many.”

    Thorson looked sharp in the first half, completing 13 of 18 passes for 215 yards in and two TDs, including a 58-yard bomb to Ben Skowronek. The running game was equally effective: five ball carriers combined for 132 yards and three touchdowns, including two by Justin Jackson. Jackson certainly played well, but the ‘Cats lead and effective ensemble cast of backs allowed him some rest as he continues to get fully healthy.

    During the third quarter, things slowed down – a lot. Neither team scored as Northwestern got more conservative with their play calling and Bowling Green continued to struggle to move the ball on offense. Injuries and seemingly endless incompletions stopped the clock a number of times to further slow the pace. The ‘Cats added two scores in the fourth on runs by Jackson and Jesse Brown (his first career TD). All in all, it was the impressive performance Northwestern needed after last week’s disaster in Durham: the offense was dominant (678 total yards), the defense was stifling (BGSU had only 4.78 yards per play).

    Yes, it was Bowling Green – but an utterly throttling win can’t hurt after last weekend’s disheartening performance. The ‘Cats have a bye week next Saturday, giving them ample time to prepare for conference play. “There’s a ton we’ve got to work on. So many things in all three phases,” Fitz said about preparing for conference play. “When I look at where we’re at, fundamentally, we’ve got to get more consistent.” After the bye, the ‘Cats next two games are against No. 10 Wisconsin and No. 5 Penn State – both far more formidable opponents than anyone Northwestern has seen. “We’ve got to treat the next game like it’s our Super Bowl; we’ve got to treat every game like that,” defensive lineman Tyler Lancaster said. “We can’t dial it down.”


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