Northwestern Struggles Perfectly Epitomize Importance of Quarterback Position


clayton thorson

It’s been said, countless times that quarterback is the most important position in all of sports. Not just football, but all of sports in general. You can see that, perfectly exemplified, by the night and day difference between 2018 and 2019 Northwestern football.

This year’s team is 1-6, 0-5 in league play, just one season removed from going 8-1 in the Big Ten and winning the conference’s West division. Clayton Thorson, a four year starter at NU who graduated last year, was on hand for the Wildcats 20-0′ homecoming drubbing at the hands of Iowa and his presence was a reminder of what Northwestern once had at the quarterback decision, and what they’re missing right now.

I soon as I brought up the name Clayton Thorson, Northwestern Pat Fitzgerald knew exactly where I was going with the question that I was asking. In his response, Fitzgerald pointed out that he was the all-time winningest QB in school history and also “the most underrated Wildcat in history.”

Fitz added: “The haters hated that guy too.”

While many media, myself included, were quite critical of Thorson, when his play and statistics justified it, I would like to issue my own mea culpa right here, right now.

Now that I’ve seen what the Northwestern offense is when Thorson isn’t running it, I have a a lot more respect for current Dallas Cowboy, and I realize the value he brought to the program that goes well beyond his QBR or completion percentage.


“That’s a big stat,” Fitzgerald said of Thorson’s racking up more wins than any other NU signal caller in history.

“Quarterbacks need to lead to win. They need to make the plays that winners make. They need to take care of the ball, put the ball in the right spots…it’s just not firing right now and I think when we take a look at the tape there will be some disappointed quarterback room guys, I think they’ll look at some opportunities left out on the field.”

NU hasn’t scored a touchdown in nine quarters, and they have three whole points in the last two games combined. The offense as a whole is among the worst in the nation, but the running game has been decent at times. The passing game, however, has yet to check in this season.

Aidan Smith is the QB1 for now, with 5-star recruit and Clemson transfer Hunter Johnson having not played since Sept. 28th. This month, Fitzgerald has consistently refused to be drawn into a discussion on why Johnson isn’t playing any more, or why he was benched.

“My decision,” was all he said when a question related to the topic was put to him today.

Smith was 18-32, for only 138 yards, with a pick today. For the year he’s 37-83 for just 315 yards, one TD and five INTs, a 3.8 yards per attempt. Johnson’s numbers, although marginally better are still nonetheless superior.

So what’s the answer? It’s the age old paradox of “do you gain confidence from having success, or do you need to be confident first in order to succeed?” It’s a lot like the timeless the “you need experience in order to get a job, but how do you get experience without a job?”

Said Fitzgerald:

“It’s the chicken or the egg like we talked about. Right now we’re more the egg than the chicken, I don’t know if that makes sense but that’s how I feel.”

Smith spoke of the low morale that accompanies yet another offensive no show and a very poor overall record: “I think after crossing the 50 yard line and not putting any points on the board, the quarterback room will definitely be disappointed. That’s just the way it is.”

Up next is a trip to Indiana, a team that is far surpassing everybody’s expectations this season. For Northwestern, it’s run the table or be home for the holidays. This would be just the fourth time that NU has been bowl ineligible in the Fitzgerald era, which began in 2006.

I don’t listen when you’re playing in a Big Ten Championship game and I don’t listen now.

“It’s been a hell of a rollercoaster ride,” said  Listen, I’m a fan first. I graduated from here. It’s pretty important to me. If anybody needs a hug I’m available for them…We have high expectations, and we’re not living up to them.”

pat fitzgerald

“Instead of being negative, they should be supportive of our guys, they can be negative with me all they want. I got a better face for radio than TV anyways, so I’m fine with that. For our guys just stick with them, keep supporting ’em and having their back.”

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, the author of “No,  I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” regularly appears on WGN CLTV and co-hosts the “Let’s Get Weird, Sports” podcast on SB Nation

You can follow Banks, a former writer for NBC and Chicago on Twitter here and his cat on Instagram at this link.

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