Saturday night, Mother Nature had some fun at Ryan Field. During the majority of the game, the skies were relatively tame – much like the scoreboard. But along with a steady increase in rainfall in the fourth quarter came the offensive explosion Northwestern had been looking for all night, from none other than last week’s selfless leader, Kain Colter.
Vanderbilt QB Jordan Rodgers, brother of Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, gave reason for Northwestern to worry early on. The Wildcats seemed unable to contain the Commodores’ passing game, as Rodgers threw for 73 yards in the first quarter. Rodgers connected with Jordan Matthews on a 22-yard pass for a touchdown less than five minutes into the game, and it seemed like the Cats would have to rely on Colter to bolster the team.
Colter took the reigns at first, and was Northwestern’s leading rusher in the first quarter with 27 yards. The passing game was weak, so head coach Pat Fitzgerald turned to QB Trevor Siemian, who threw last week’s winning touchdown, to turn things around about halfway into the second quarter. However, he couldn’t get the offense going, and only completed one pass of the three he attempted. The only savior on the offensive side was Venric Mark, who rushed for 45 yards, though his time would come in the second half.
Despite a 10-3 halftime deficit and a lackluster first half, Fitzgerald went with Colter again to start the third quarter, though he continued to share time with Siemian in the second half. In the third quarter, Colter connected with Tony Jones multiple times, and Mark led the running game with 80 yards. Although the offense looked sharper, they just couldn’t find the end zone and once again relied on the foot of Jeff Budzien to keep them in the game.
Down 10-6 going into the fourth, Northwestern needed something, and they found their spark thanks to an improved defensive unit and some mistakes by the Commodores. When Vanderbilt went 3-and-out to start the fourth, the Wildcats decided to capitalize, with Siemian leading the way for the majority of the quarter. On the Wildcats’ opening drive of the fourth, Mark gave the squad their first touchdown of the game, putting them up 13-10. Vanderbilt answered with a field goal on their next drive, tying the game with 5:21 on the clock.
After a failed touchdown attempt by Siemian and yet another made field goal for Northwestern, they knew they had to preserve their lead. And when Tyler Scott sacked Rodgers and Northwestern recovered his fumble, they finally had that momentum they’d been looking for all night.
In the pouring rain, Colter reemerged as Northwestern’s go-to guy with 1:47 left in the game. And after Colter and Mark rushed for losses on the first two downs, he found his own opening in the skies of the Vanderbilt defense and ran 29 yards for a touchdown, securing a Northwestern win, 23-13.
Despite the dual quarterback use, Fitzgerald assured reporters that Colter remains the starter. And rather than blaming Colter for his passing struggles, he pointed towards the efficiency of the receivers.
“Offensively, we fought ourselves for a little while today,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m not trying to discredit Vanderbilt, I thought they had a great plan. But we have to throw the ball better, we have to catch the ball better, and we have to execute better if we’re going to win moving forward.”
Fitzgerald also praised the play of the defense, crediting them for their improvement since last week.
“For the most part, we did a great job of playing team defense,” he said.
NU Defense: The unit had two fumble recoveries on the night, and has forced at least one turnover in the last 16 games.
Venric Mark: Rushed for 123 yards, 158 total. Scored TD
Jordan Rodgers: Threw for 217 yards, rushed 51. One TD
Next Saturday, Northwestern takes on Boston College at home. Kickoff is at 2:30 p.m. CT
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