Northwestern routs Eastern Illinois 41-0
Sep. 13, 2015
EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) — In the opening week of the season, Clayton Thorson showed he could run.
In the second week, Northwestern's redshirt freshman quarterback showed he can throw the ball, too.
Thorson threw his first career touchdown pass and ran one in himself for the second straight game to lead Northwestern to a 41-0 rout of Eastern Illinois on Saturday.
Justin Jackson and Warren Long also rushed for scores as the Wildcats (2-0) had their way on the ground and in the air against the Panthers (0-2) and rolled up their biggest margin of victory in a shutout since 1970.
Thorson completed 11 of 16 passes for 152 yards, including a throw to Austin Carr who ran in his first collegiate touchdown off a pass to complete a 44-yard play early in the second half.
"Something you want to do is establish the running game," Thorson said. "When that happens, it opens a lot of other things with the passing game and I think that's what we did today."
The Wildcats ran up 496 yards, including 344 on the ground, with Thorson distributing the ball effectively to several teammates.
"It is nice to know you can hand off the ball and run for 344 yards," Thorson said. "It's great. The guys up front (offensive line) did a good job and those running backs obviously did a great job."
Coach Pat Fitzgerald thought Thorson showed he can make smart, effective choices.
"There's a lot of things we need to improve on offensively, and one them is throwing the ball," Fitzgerald said. "But what I though was most impressive today about Clayton was when he did get out of the pocket, his decision-making was excellent.
"He didn't try to force anything."
Matthew Harris intercepted Eastern Illinois' Jalen Whitlow twice. His second pick, with 1:08 left in the third quarter, resulted in a wide-open 71-yard touchdown return.
Jake Mitchell added a pair of field goals as Northwestern followed up on a tight 16-6 upset of then No. 21 Stanford last week by limiting Eastern Illinois to 138 total yards and 70 on the ground. The Panthers never advanced deeper than Northwestern's 28-yard-line and were held to eight first downs as the Wildcats held an opponent without a touchdown for a second straight game for the first time since 1958.
"It was ugly trying to run the ball and trying to throw the ball at that defense," Eastern Illinois coach Kim Dameron said. "Their athleticism on defense is much improved from what I can just remember Northwestern defenses being.
"It was a totally frustrating day."
Jackson, a sophomore who led Northwestern in rushing last year, finished with 78 yards on 22 carries. Long had 72 yards on 12.
Eastern Illinois was drubbed again after opening with a 33-5 loss at Western Illinois. The Panthers have never beat a Big Ten program; their closest game against a team from the conference was a 42-21 loss at Ryan Field in 2011.
Eastern Illinois was held without a touchdown for the second straight game after its streak of 65 games with a touchdown ended against Western Illinois.
Northwestern led 27-0 at the half on touchdown runs by Jackson, Long and Thorson. Mitchell added a pair of field goals as Northwestern rolled up 265 total yards in the opening 30 minutes to 43 for Eastern Illinois.
Northwestern marched down the field on the first possession, gaining 53 of 56 yards on the ground in 14 plays before getting stopped at the 5 and settling for a field goal.
Eastern Illinois advanced as far the Wildcats 40-yard-line the first time they had the ball.
Whitlow's wobbly pass was picked off at midfield by Matthew Harris and returned 28 yards with 2:32 left in the half. That set up Northwestern's third touchdown, scored by Thorson who danced into the end zone.
Zack Oliver replaced Thorson to start the fourth quarter with Northwestern ahead 41-0.
Northwestern's Adam DePietro had to be helped from the field in the first quarter after suffering a lower body injury and did not return.
Fitzgerald said he put every eligible player in the game, including 32-year-old linebacker Tom Hruby, an active Navy SEAL.
Hruby played offense in the final minutes while the Wildcats were deep in the Panthers' zone. He got the ball eight times and rushed for 25 yards, but was stopped just short of scoring a touchdown.
"We weren't trying to run it up out there," Fitzgerald said. "We had Tom Hruby in the backfield. As you know he's our hero and he's a special man."
The Stanley Cup made a pre-game appearance on the field along with the top brass from the defending champion Blackhawks, including team owner and Northwestern grad Rocky Wirtz.
AP College Football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org