This was the plan.

With proven anchors at quarterback (Clayton Thorson) and running back (Justin Jackson), Northwestern was supposed to have a strong start. Maybe it would even muster the kind of offense that would make it a contender in the Big Ten West.

The plan was a more than a little messy in an opening scuffle past Nevada and an underwhelming loss at Duke.

On Saturday night, though, the Wildcats did their thing, scoring three touchdowns in less than seven minutes to open a 28-7 lead against Bowling Green early in the second quarter, and went on to a 49-7 victory.

“I think we responded really well,’’ said coach Pat Fitzgerald, intent on a bounceback from the 41-17 loss at Duke. “I talked to them about getting up off the mat. We didn’t play well last week. Tonight was about coming out swinging. And I think we did.’’

No question, Bowling Green (0-3) is not a great measuring stick. But the Wildcats (2-1) will find out where they stand soon enough. After a bye week, they open their Big Ten season at No. 10 Wisconsin and follow with No. 5 Penn State in Evanston.

Meanwhile, they will enjoy this moment and then see if they can keep it going against top-10 teams.

“We need the bye; we’re beat up,’’ said Fitzgerald, unhappy with NU’s two turnovers. “There’s a ton we have to work on, so many things in all three phases. We have to be a lot more consistent. We can’t turn the ball over. In a different kind of game, those could have been deadly. And on defense, we have to get a better pass rush.’’

Like the two quarterbacks who faced Bowling Green before him, Thorson had a big game.

Thorson completed 23-of-30 for a career-high 370 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed seven times for 46 yards, including 30 yards on two carries early in the game that got the attention of the Falcons’ defense.

“Of anybody on the squad, his response was ouststanding,’’ Fitzgerald said. “He had a game he can’t have back last week. But he could do someting about it, and he did today. Thought he really bounced back well.’’

Jackson rushed for three touchdowns, tying his career high. He finished with 121 yards on 18 carries, including touchdown runs of five, two and two yards.

The receiver corps was led by 6-4, 218-pound sophomore wideout Bennett Skowronek, who caught touchdown passes of 58 and 18 yards, the first of his career, just three minutes apart. Skowronek finished with three catches for 86 yards.

If the NU offense, despite 672 yards, still has questions to answer as the schedule gets tougher, so does the defense. The Falcons moved the ball well at times early in the game. But the defense grew stingier as things went on.

NOTES: Bowling Green had won both of the previous meetings between these schools, a rarity in Mid-American vs. Big Ten matchups.

The Falcons beat NU 28-24 on Dec. 26, 2003, in the Motor City Bowl. They also won in Evanston 43-42 on Nov. 17, 2001, in a game that was put together after schedules were disrupted by the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.

• NU junior receiver Jalen Brown, a transfer from Oregon who’s listed on the second-team two-deep, left the game in the second quarter with an apparent right-leg injury. . . . NU freshman linebacker Jango Glackin was taken off the field on a cart after a third-quarter punt return.

Follow me on Twitter @HerbGould and at TMGcollegesports.com

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