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.