The whole season has been a never-ending debate for Northwestern fans. Kain Colter or Trevor Siemian? The Wildcats tried both at the beginning of the season. Tried a Siemian-heavy pass package in the middle and, after struggling, returnign Colter to the primary quarterback position with a healthy dose of option runs.
After some big questions about how Northwestern would manage the two quarterbacks and make the whole thing work, the team found its identity, if you will, against Iowa with Kain Colter controlling and pulling the strings of a dangerous Northwestern rushing attack. At 7-2, that is who Northwestern is and what the team wants to do week-in and week-out.
Either way, the Wildcats have had a bye week now to fix whatever problems or hiccups there might have been in the offense and now have this week to prepare for Michigan. But for what kind of Michigan?
Denard Robinson dressed but did not play for the Wolverines on Saturday in Minneapolis. Robinson pinched a nerve in his elbow two weeks ago against Nebraska and Michigan’s offense has not quite been the same since.
Against Nebraska, Michigan posted only 87 total yards and three points with three interceptions after Robinson went down. Against the Golden Gophers, things were a bit better as the Wolverines turned to converted wide receiver Devin Gardner rather than backup quarterback Russell Bellomy to man the offense. Michigan had 389 total yards — 155 rushing and 234 passing — in the 35-13 win at Minnesota. Gardner threw for two touchdowns on 12-for-18 passing.
That win probably put some concerns about the Wolverines and their quarterback position to rest. But it also allowed Northwestern to prepare for both quarterbacks. Minnesota prepared the entire week without any clue that Gardner would be the quarterback. The Gophers likely believed it was Robinson or Bellomy.
Michigan caught Minnesota somewhat by surprise much like Northwestern caught Indiana by surprise with its revolving door quarterback rotation. Teams have adjusted and forced Northwestern to reassess its strategy on offense.
Robinson’s status remains up in the air for Saturday’s game. The Wildcats are preparing as if both quarterbacks will play, as Pat Fitzgerald told the Chicago Sun-Times earlier this week:
I think Devin stepped up so well and had a terrific second half. Devin has come on as a weapon. They have playmakers across the board. It reminds us of when we played Nebraska: Everyone who touches the ball can score.
Robinson obviously is the more celebrated and accomplished of the two. He beat out Gardner in the spring and necessitated Gardner’s move to wide receiver. This year, Robinson has rushed for 946 yards and six touchdowns in eight games and passed for 1,319 yards and nine touchdowns on 53.6 percent completion percentage. Robinson is still a huge weapon as the results in this week’s poll are indicating.
Gardner though inspired confidence in the Michigan fan base against Minnesota. He did what Robinson has struggled to do — move the ball through the air. Of course, that was Minnesota. The Golden Gophers’ pass defense does not exactly inspire confidence. Then again, neither does Northwestern’s.
How Michigan chooses to attack Northwestern’s defense will be a big part of this weekend’s game. The Wildcats appear to have worked through their quarterback questions. Kain Colter is the main guy and he will be the one largely taking the snaps. Perhaps he will even throw the ball some.
The Wolverines though have the potential for Denard Robinson. Robinson’s improvisation deserves respect and that opens things up even when he “arm punts” and when he scrambles. He makes Michigan that much more dangerous. Having to prepare for Gardner benefits both.
It is still unclear who will be at quarterback fro the Wolverines this week and what shape Robinson would be in if he can indeed play. All Northwestern can do is prepare for both.
What Michigan does at quarterback could have a big impact on this game. What Northwestern does at quarterback could have a big impact on this game. The Wildcats though have found their identity on offense some and had a bye week to develop it further. With the injury questions surrounding Robinson, Michigan’s questions might be bigger.