It did not take long for #PersaStrong to catch on. Northwestern fans are a fun bunch like that. A positive storyline or something they like and they run with it. There is amazing Northwestern social media presence.
And #PersaStrong made sense.
He was Northwestern’s “Top Cat” for the past two years as the weight room all star and before Persa took over as the full-time starter, Fitzgerald noted he was probably the strongest quarterback in the country. There was no doubt after Persa led Northwestern to a 7-3 record last season with a 73.5 percent completion percentage.
Even with the ruptured Achilles, everyone knew Persa was going to come back with the same kind of accuracy and, generally, the same kind of leadership and strength. Maybe the set back in his rehab in June has left him feeling a little uncomfortable with his foot and led to several nagging injuries (with the latest turf toe problem being a bit more random).
So at the beginning of the season, we got our taste of the next big thing at quarterback (or so we thought) in Kain Colter. #ColterFast became the next big meme to sweep through Northwestern as the sophomore’s 17-for-24, 197-yard passing and 71-yard rushing game against Boston College in the opener had everyone believing the Wildcats had secured a solid future at the position.
Then the Army game happened. And in stepped Trevor Siemian for the first time. He led a touchdown drive to get the Wildcats back to a tie on a quick-strike drive. He had another touchdown against Iowa and continues to gain the coach’s confidence as the backup when NU needs to pass.
There is no catchy meme or Twitter hashtag for the sophomore from Central Florida. Siemian still is not even listed as the backup in any capacity behind Persa despite stepping in at quarterback both at Army and at Iowa late in the fourth quarter with the team needing points in a hurry. Siemian is a somewhat forgotten piece of Northwestern’s future.
Sure, Colter is everywhere on the field. We have seen him lineup at quarterback to run the option and occasionally to throw the ball. We have seen him line up at wide receiver — where he already has 15 receptions for 164 yards and a touchdown catch. Colter is too athletic not to be on the field and clearly is someone who will find his hands on the ball at some point during every game.
So where does Siemian fit in? He is definitely back in the spring-long competition to be quarterback for 2012 (a debate for another time, perhaps). But for this season is he the backup or the third string? Has he become a specialty player to come in when Persa cannot go and the team needs to throw? Does he have the command over the offense needed to top Colter in competition? What are we not seeing in Siemian?
He is a great mystery. But one thing is certain, the Wildcats have three quarterbacks — three real quarterbacks — to choose from each week.
Dan Persa is undoubtedly the starter and if he is healthy, which it appears he is, he will get most of the snaps against Indiana. As the senior, and someone completing 74.8 percent of his passes and has 990 yards in four games with six touchdowns against three interception, and team leader, Persa gets the benefit of that doubt. There is no quarterback controversy at all.
The controversy lies in the the backup quarterbacks, and eventually, who starts when Persa graduates (or goes down to injury).
This has not been an easy question to answer.
Colter won the job in training camp and spring with his athleticism. But the play on the field and the confidence when you have to rely on the quarterback — when you are in need of a quick score — sways to Siemian. It is unclear which of these two might have the edge. And it gets more difficult in games to figure this out since Colter plays just about everywhere on the field and subs in for Persa at times.
It seems like all Siemian needs though is a chance to show he can run the offense under a non-pressure situation. He needs the chance to come in with a 0-0 game in the first quarter and lead a drive without the rush of a two-minute drill or with a 21-10 lead in the third. Until he gets those, we do not really know what have in Siemian and whether he can truly challenge Colter to be not only the backup this year but the starter in 2012.
Hopefully by then, Siemian will have his meme… and get his chance.