Colter? Siemian? It may not matter

Everyone likely has their opinions about what to do at quarterback for Northwestern.

Quarterback, by its very nature, is a polarizing position. This singular player often holds the game in his hands and in his decisions at the end of games. There is so much obsession over finding one guy to fit that role and piling the pressure entirely on him.

There are so many adages about quarterbacks — if you have two quarterbacks, then you don’t have one — that try to say something about their leadership. And so, even with Northwestern at 3-0, fans are thinking about where the team will go at quarterback. There are teams — those who feel Trevor Siemian’s arm is too good not to have in and Kain Colter too talented not to be on the field somewhere.

The one thing we may overlook is that for Pat Fitzgerald it may not matter. More importantly, for those that are actually receiving passes it may not matter. Whether it is party line or messaging or just believing in what both quarterback can offer, Demetrius Fields may have summed up the feeling of Northwestern’s two quarterback system internally:


I don’t really notice which quarterback is in. Even (at Syracuse), I didn’t know Trevor was in until mid-drive.


That might have something to do with me being oblivious, but I have full confidence in both. They spend the same amount of time watching film. They’re on the same page, so it’s kind of the same.


Considering the first thing many fans look for when the offense takes the field is who is at quarterback, I somehow doubt Fields is completely unaware of who is throwing him passes. Then again, Fields is right in the sense that it does not matter who is the quarterback so long as the team is successful. This is why Pat Fitzgerald can fly in the face of convention and use two quarterbacks.

He may be playing coy in saying the position of starter is open. He has said the entire offseason and into this season that Kain Colter is the team’s starter. And Colter still receives the majority of snaps. It certainly does give defenses and opponents something to think about.

As long as things work though, there is no sense in changing. This might be an exception to the age-old adages about quarterback consistency. If it works, there is no reason to fix it. And right now it is working.

Combined the two quarterbacks are not only 3-0, but they are also completing 67.0 percent of their passes for 613 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions. The team has a gaudy 126.6 passing efficiency. Granted, Northwestern is giving up 130.7 passing efficiency to its opponents and is passing for only 204.3 yards per game this season. Those statistics are a step back from last season’s passing statistics in some way and may be an ominous warning. Or they may be a sign that Northwestern has found more consistency in its running game.

When you look at Colter and Siemian’s statistics side by side, it is difficult to find much difference between them (recognizing, as always, that “stats are for losers,” please humor me Fitz it is all I have to work with):

Player Cmp.-Att. (%) Yards Passing TDs Total Drives Red Zone Drives Points Scored
Kain Colter 37-56 (66.1%) 321 2  25 6 50
Trevor Siemian 32-47 (68.1%) 292 1  9 5 23

These numbers perhaps hide some things — for instance, I counted a red zone drive as a drive that ran a play in the red zone, so a 21-yard touchdown pass to Venric Mark does not count as a red zone drive because it technically never reached the red zone — but they are quite revealing in other ways too.

Siemian’s efficiency in very limited action is astonishing. Five of his nine drives have gone into the red zone and he is posting 2.6 points per drive. Colter has only six red zone drives and 2.0 points per drive. For reference, Braxton Miller of Ohio State has led 39 drives and scored 101 points for 2.6 points per drive.

The Wildcats are not scoring at the rate that the Buckeyes are right now, so it is no surprise that Kain Colter is scoring significantly less. But you still expect maybe a bit more. It is an overall sign of how much Northwestern is struggling on offense this season — remember 14 points in the Syracuse game were scored off a punt return and a fumble return for a touchdown.

The thing you see is just how comparable the quarterbacks have been in raw numbers. There is nothing to say Siemian would be as efficient as he has been with more playing time. The numbers may suggest that he deserves that opportunity, however.

The thing is though, why mess with something that is clearly working. Teams have to prepare both for the running threat from Kain Colter and the bullet passing of Trevor Siemian. This change of pace could be enough, along with Venric Mark and (hopefully) Mike Trumpy, to keep a defense really off balance and make it difficult for the defense to get into a rhythm.

So far, there has been little sign that either Colter or Siemian are unable to get into a rhythm and produce.

Saturday seemed to be a real litmus test for this team as Fitzgerald was in full experimentation mode with his two quarterbacks. Kain Colter got the first three drives of the first quarter and Siemian played the entire second quarter. At halftime, he made his decision and went with Colter for the remainder of the game. This is probably not a model that will survive into Big Ten season. There is something to the belief that the coaching staff have confidence in one guy and receivers know who is in the game throwing to them — or, even more important, offensive linemen knowing the quarterback’s cadence.

As LTP noted, it seems like Northwestern is going for a 70/30 split of snaps. And Colter appears to be the guy Northwestern plans to give the 70 to.

Judging by the team’s results, the talent Siemian has and his ability to find a rhythm relatively quickly and produce for Northwestern and the apathy to the issue (at least publicly) the receivers are expressing, there seems no reason to shake the boat with Northwestern’s quarterback situation.

Pat Fitzgerald is keeping the competition open. And, for once, a team may actually have two quarterbacks to depend on.

  • VaWildcat

    Love the quote from Demetrius Fields (even if it might be a little disingenuous).

  • AdamDG

    Let’s not forget: many of Siemien’s reps came in pass-only situations, so it’s not like he had the run game to help him keep the defense guessing. I think that fact alone makes his numbers even more impressive.

  • Cletown Joe

    Rather than continuing to look for the right answer at the QB question, maybe we should just start accepting that there is not one right answer to who should be on the field. Or maybe better said, we have two right answers.
    It is easy as a fan to scream for Siemian every time Colter lobs an inaccurate pass, but maybe Siemian would have gotten sacked had he been in on that play, with the DEs to more agressively attacking. At least in my section of Ryan Field, the anti-Colter bandwagon has grown so large that people are moaning when he scrambles for 6 yards rather than throw downfield (he can’t see his WRs, they say).
    Best example of our QB conundrum occurred in the 1st quarter of the BC game. Most people feel that Siemian would have thrown a TD on that 40 yarder Colter underthrew (by alot) to Jones, but on the play just before that Colter scrambled for 6 yards on 3 and 3. So does Siemian get the first down that then allows him to throw the TD on the next play? Who knows.
    Let’s just remember, our situation is a blessing, not a curse.

    • cece

      I will say again…..there is no spoon. no controversy unless you see one.

      • wcgrad

        Yep. But being a fan isn’t as fun if we can’t rant about the latest Kain-Trevor-sy here!
        H/t BYCTOM.

  • Catatonic

    Expect A ‘Grounded’ Effort As USD Heads To Northwestern

    Coyotes Will Need Better Rush Defense To Slow Wildcats’ Run Game
    Published: Wednesday, September 19, 2012 1:08 AM CDT
    Though the South Dakota football team is flying to its only FBS game of the season, it knows there is a good chance the outcome will be determined on the ground.

    That’s the challenge awaiting in Evanston, Ill., where the Coyotes will face Northwestern (3-0) of the Big Ten Conference on Saturday afternoon.

    With the Missouri Valley Football Conference’s seventh-ranked rushing offense, at 148 yards a game, the Coyotes (1-1) are not hiding their desire to pound the ground against the Wildcats — a team that doesn’t allow much in that area.

    “We feel like we can run the football, and we’ll attempt to run it on anybody,” USD coach Joe Glenn said Tuesday during a media teleconference. “It’s who we are; it’s in our DNA. “You can’t go in and throw 75 times a game. There are certain things we think we can do in the passing game.

    “Any time you play South Dakota, we’re going to try to find a way to move the ball on the ground some.”

    Of course, the other side of that coin is what provides the biggest obstacle for USD — namely, stopping the run.

    The Coyotes rank last in the conference in rushing defense, and it’s not really close. USD has allowed 276 yards on the ground, nearly 100 behind Missouri State (179.3).

    Through two games, USD has surrendered 552 rushing yards and an average of 4.9 yards per carry.

    A common theme for those struggles? Defending the zone option offensive styles of Montana and Colgate, and the likelihood of Northwestern utilizing the same formats.

    “We didn’t do a very good job in the first game,” Glenn said of the zone option. “We didn’t anticipate much of it. Montana changed quarterbacks, and we did not handle the option very well. We worked on it for a week, and turned around and got better through the Colgate game.”

    Among the areas of focus in practice over the last week and a half have been keeping all eyes on the ball, staying gap sound and “playing your assignment,” Glenn said. That can be easier said than done, with dual threat quarterbacks like USD saw in the first two games — with the potential to keep the ball, dive forward or use a delayed hand-off.

    “We didn’t have our eyes in the right place. We’ve tried to identify the schemes we’re getting,” Glenn said. “We’ve had a chance to work on it last week and work on it more this week.”

    Northwestern averages 202.7 rushing yards per game, bumped up by a 560-yard total offensive outburst last week against Boston College. Wildcats junior quarterback Kain Colter is 37-of-56 passing for 321 yards and two touchdowns, to go along with 172 yards on the ground.

    Junior running back Venric Mark leads all of FBS in punt return average (37.25 yards), with one touchdown, and also ranks 35th in rushing yardage per game (94).

    Glenn started his portion of Tuesday’s teleconference by saying Mark is a “guy who really concerns us.”

    “That’s a real key, if we can just control that a little bit,” Glenn said. “We’ll try to punt the ball out of bounds away from him.”

    The showdown with Northwestern, which will net USD $325,000 for the guarantee game, has been on the calendar for a few years — a contest the program announced back in 2009 under former athletic director Joel Nielsen and former coach Ed Meierkort, a native of Chicago.

    Scheduled to expose the Coyotes to the suburban Chicago market, which the program has long recruited, the game still holds local significance for USD players.

    Eight members of the 2012 roster hail from the state of Illinois, including Terrance Terry (WR), Kevin Earl (QB), Charlie Goro (DB), Colin Buscarini (LB), Kyle Guziec (LB), Cody O’Neill (OL), Andrew Schofield (OL) and Kenny Greer (DL).

    “No question, we do recruit that area,” Glenn said of suburban Chicago. “Most of the teams in our league recruit the Chicago area. We want to make a good showing. They want to go home and represent.”

    Ultimately, for the Coyotes to represent successfully on that stage would take nearly a perfect game. And yes, they realize that.

    “We know it’ll be a real strong test, but we feel like we’re improving,” Glenn said. “We made some improvements game one to game two, and then got better after our last game.

    “We’ve been working on this game for a couple weeks, so we’re looking to go up to Evanston and make it a good showing for us.”

    • cece

      thanks for posting this item. interesting to see how they think.

    • ‘Catatonic Tim

      I love how the article (twice!) mentions USD recruiting suburban Chicago. Like they’d be terrified to recruit any city kids.

  • Catatonic

    I like that Fitz says that Chi Chi Ariguzo’s early work this season reminds him of Barry Gardner! I have been very impressed with Chi Chi and absolutely CAN NOT WAIT for see what Traveon Henry can do. He has the physique of a real bruiser in the secondary. Can you imagine if we had a Barry Gardner-type and a Hudhaifa Ismaeli-type in the defense again…could be in for a real special 2012 and 2013 if these guys develop…

  • Kentucky Wildcat

    Like Sanchez and Tebow??

  • heylucas

    Ther controversy bubbles, rather than simmers, in a delightful way…as long as we’re winning that is! But imagine a Syracuse game where Siemian doesn’t come up clutch, or a Vandy game where Colter doesn’t ice the game with a TD and we lose… or a 0-3 or 0-4 stretch (very possible) to come where the round robin at QB doesn’t quite work out…Oh boy.

  • NUmanager

    Certainly thrilled to be 3-0…
    But maybe it’s not the the QB situation that’s working, Maybe it’s the defense that’s covering up for mediocre QB production the last two weeks.
    Colter’s “points scored” are well-padded by two TDs that came as we were essentially trying to run out the clock against Vandy and BC, one of which was all Trumpy.
    Fact remains through the first 3.5 quarters of the last two games (ie during the normal flow of the game), with KC taking the bulk of the snaps, it’s been only FGs when KC leads the offense. That’s not an offense that’s “working” as far as I can tell.

    • Very nice point. Northwestern may be getting away with the QB situation. But the stats I uncovered kind of show that there is not much of a difference. If anything, Siemian has been a bit more efficient with his opportunity. Again, no way to know if that efficiency would continue with more opportunity.

      • GradCat

        I don’t claim to be an expert and I trust in Fitz’s decision-making, but I still say having Siemian behind center with Mark and Colter lined up brings about some beautiful possibilities.

    • s

      And don’t forget the 2 tds that came off of very short fields in the Syracuse game as a result of the fumble return by Chi Chi and Venric’s long return. Under “normal” situations (i.e. – full field, non clock killing drive) Kain has not been able to move the team well at all.

  • Purple Line

    “There is nothing to say Siemian would be as efficient as he has been with more playing time.” I argue that Siemian would be more efficient as the starter. Except for last week’s game, he’s been put in in obvious passing situations in order to drive us down the field quickly. As a starter there would be a mix of running plays as well, which should open up things in the passing game for Siemian.

  • UVA Cat

    Slightly off topic, but a follow up from the Blogpoll post earlier this week…

    Looks like the blogosphere agrees, putting the Cats at #23, right where you had them:

  • ImperioPollo

    I’d say both are on par, but I clearly want more Siemian whenever we’re trailing and more Colter whenever we’re ahead.