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Can Clayton Thorson and Justin Jackson carry the ‘Cats offense?

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A preview of the Northwestern Wildcats offense AAC (After Austin Carr) in 2017.

New Era Pinstripe Bowl - Northwestern v Pittsburgh Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images

Monday (Appetizer/Cocktail): Jibaritos and LSD

Welcome to the Northwestern potluck! ...as always, Graham makes me say that, but it’s really a catered meal where we hang shiplap or twinkly lights and pretend it’s “rustic,” since that’s all the rage these days or something. (As an aside, holy shit are barn weddings stupid expensive.)

If your drink needs a little freshening up from the cocktail party this morning, we’ve got a selection of “An Ode to Chicago” cocktails from The Vermilion Restaurant, located right downtown. I personally would go with the LSD: Green chartreuse, gin, assam green tea, and oleo saccharum. And do note the Loyola grads walking around with trays of mini-jibaritos. These delectable little morsels, invented by Puerto Rican immigrants at Borinquen Restaurant in Humboldt Park, are essentially a thin steak-and-cheese sandwich...but with fried plaintains for the bread. Yum. Here’s a recipe:

8 ounces beef sirloin steak, sliced 1/4-inch-thick (aguayon)
1 tablespoon Chipotle Rub
2 green plantains, peeled
1 plum tomato
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 garlic clove, pressed
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese
}1/2 cup thinly sliced lettuce

Sprinkle steak evenly with rub; place in resealable plastic bag and refrigerate. Using Santoku Knife, cut plantains on the bias into twenty-four 1/4-inch slices. Lightly spray Double Burner Griddle with vegetable oil using Kitchen Spritzer; heat over medium-high heat 1-3 minutes or until hot. Arrange plantain slices on griddle; cook 4-6 minutes, turning once. Remove from griddle and flatten with flat side of Meat Tenderizer. Return to griddle; cook an additional 4 minutes, turning once. Remove plantains from griddle; keep warm. Meanwhile, core and seed tomato with Core & More; dice tomato. Combine mayonnaise LITERALLY ANYTHING ELSE and garlic pressed with Garlic Press in Prep Bowl; mix well and set aside. Remove steak from bag; discard bag. Spray griddle with oil. Place steak on griddle; cook over medium-high heat 2-3 minutes or until browned, turning once. Remove from griddle and cut into 1-inch pieces. To assemble, spread 1 teaspoon garlic mayonnaise on one side of each plantain slice using Small Spreader. Top evenly with steak, cheese, lettuce and tomato.

In honor of this innovative dish, we want to return to a Northwestern (and Purdue, I guess) innovation: basketball on grass. The ‘Cats ditched the high-tempo spread a few years back, but now Justin Jackson has emerged as an excellent back out of the shotgun and Clayton Thorson has developed as a passer (his YPA rose from 5.2 to 6.7 in 2016, and his passer rating from 95.9 to 125.9). While there’s no Austin Carr returning to handle the load, do you see Northwestern beating teams with offense in 2017? And tell us about one football innovation from your school.

LPW: Provided Thorson can keep improving, someone steps up on the WR/Superback side and our line improves to help out JJ more, yes. Worst case scenario: Thorson regresses and Jackson is locked down. Maybe we’ll win with defense ala 2015. We’ll just have to wait and see.

As for innovations from Northwestern: how about the 2000 game against Michigan where the score was 54-51? Zak Kustok and Damien Anderson faced off against a powerful Michigan team and put up 654 yards of offense, with 332 rushing yards. That game was the coming out party of the spread offense. College Football Study hall calls it the most important game in the history of the Spread Offense.

GF: I know one thing, and one thing only: Inevitably, Northwestern will destroy at least one team in a surprising manner by throwing approximately 1.3 million unguardable out-routes to the sidelines. (see; MSU 2016). A college team with issues in the defensive backfield will struggle to defend that every year.

ZuzuRU: A football innovation from Rutgers? How about college football itself? ;) Oh come on, you know I had too! And I think Northwestern will be a middle of the pack B1G West team. You’ll probably beat teams with poor offenses, and have the opportunity to compete with some teams with decent offenses.

Jesse: Um... no? I mean, I guess Northwestern will need to get wins by scoring points because that’s generally how this works, but without Austin Carr, I just don’t know how you can convince anyone that you have a credible passing attack. Losing literally 30% of your yards and over half of your TD catches is a bad situation, and while we can sit back and talk abut Thorson’s development, it’s difficult for me to buy into the idea that he wasn’t bailed out by a guy who could catch everything.

As for football innovations, do you remember the triple option? I do. That was a hell of an innovation until it wasn’t.

Townie: Lol. The problem with Northwestern’s offense this year will be a lack of a credible downfield threat. If teams can stack the box and just worry about Jackson, you guys are toast. One thing the B1G brings is solid run defenses.

Joe Moorhead brought in an innovative offense...for Penn State. His passing offense requires the quarterback and receivers to read the same keys. In my years at PSU, this was the most fun offense I’ve ever seen. Last year was a roaring success for us.

Stew: Must not take PSU bait, yet. Goddammit, the YOLO offense isn’t innovative! Dammit, just couldn’t resist.

Anyway, no, jNW’s offense still gonna be bad. Their offense was 40th in FEI and 62nd in S&P+ with Austin Carr. Also, nothing structurally changed. Same defensive minded head coach. Same supbar OC. Same mediocre QB.

As for Iowa and innovation? Well, it’s nothing new anymore, but 15 years ago a pro-style zone blocking rushing attack was not seen very much at the college level. And Iowa’s offenses were pretty potent for a while.

People also talk about how Joe Tiller brought basketball on grass and a passing game to the B1G, but it was Hayden Fry (of course), who brought fun offenses to the conference way back in the 80’s.

WSR: You couldn’t beat us without an offense last year, what makes you think it’ll change this year? YOU NERDS GAVE TRACY CLAEYS AMMO IN DEFENSE OF KEEPING HIS JOB! Also, our contribution to football was probably the African American All-American QB. You’re welcome, everybody that’s had one since Sandy Stephens.

MNW: Ah yes, I would surely dump Clayton Thorson for the paragon of...what is it that CJ Beathard was good at? I’ll take Thorson’s one-year improvement and hope that, even if he just maintains that level of performance, he’s as good in 2017. (This is to say stop being a shitty troll, Stew, especially given that Iowa’s offense was markedly worse.)

Austin Carr is a loss, obviously, but Flynn Nagel is everyone’s pick to fill his shoes in 2017, having emerged as a quality #2 option in 2017. Nagel moving up to the #1 target also creates room for Oregon transfer Jalen Brown and RS So. Macan Wilson, who had a couple Carr-like grabs in the Pinstripe Bowl. There could be an awkward feeling-out process if Thorson’s rapport with Nagel doesn’t extend to the other wideouts, but I’m not going to bemoan the level of stability at NU skill positions.

As always in Evanston, this will depend on if the OL can keep Thorson upright and in the pocket for a few seconds. There’s youth at RT but some seasoning everywhere else along the line, and the left side in particular looks strong, but God knows I’ve been fooled before.

To answer my own question? Yeah, I actually kind of do, or at least see them faring about the same. Teams that are good enough to stack the box and make Justin Jackson a non-factor will, much like wisconsin in 2016, quiet the Northwestern offense, but I see little out of secondaries in Iowa City, East Lansing, Champaign, and the like that really terrifies me. If the ‘Cats need to get into another 38-31 or, God help us, 54-40 (or fight!) shootout, I’m not taking them every time, but I’ll at least take ‘em once.

Aaron: It will be interesting to see how Northwestern fills Carr’s shoes in 2017. The All-Big Ten wide receiver caught just under a third of Thorsen’s completions last year and accounted for 12 of the quarterback’s 22 touchdown passes. Those big chunks of production for sure contributed to a lot of the leap Thorsen took from his freshman to sophomore season, so the big question is if he will take another step forward or fall back a little bit without his top target. If Thorsen is able to spread the ball around more and bump his completion rate up to 60 percent, the Wildcats will be able to keep opponents from stacking the box too much against Justin Jackson, and that will lead to more points on the board.


Poll

How will Northwestern’s offense fare in 2017?

This poll is closed

  • 27%
    A new Austin Carr (probably Flynn Nagel) will emerge; First Round Draft Pick Clayton Thorson!
    (29 votes)
  • 28%
    About the same.
    (30 votes)
  • 37%
    Maybe a little regression; Michigan State’s defense can’t be that bad again.
    (39 votes)
  • 6%
    2015-level terrible.
    (7 votes)
105 votes total Vote Now