When Northwestern began the season utilizing both Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian at quarterback, it seemed like an ideal combination of speed and depth from two talented players with opposing strengths. And on Sept. 29 against Indiana the Wildcats unveiled an ostensibly successful new system in which Colter doubled as quarterback and wide receiver. In that commanding 44-29 win, the football gods smiled upon Northwestern’s moxy, as Colter seemed untouchable with 294 yards of total offense in tandem with Siemian’s 308 passing yards.
But in Saturday’s heavy 29-28 loss to Nebraska, the Wildcats’ inefficiency on offense and inability to take advantage of the Cornhuskers’ mistakes upset the delicate equilibrium the Cats had found.
“When you have a chance for a turnover and you miss it, the football gods usually strike you with some lightning,” head coach Pat Fitzgerald said.
With that once-golden offensive scheme on the rocks, is it time to shift the paradigm once again? Sure, Colter doubling as wide receiver and quarterback with Siemian under center for the majority of the time seemed like a perfect solution. Colter’s quick feet and strong rushing game made him seem like an ideal receiver with the strong arm of Siemian at the helm.
But Northwestern’s offense has struggled as of late, with two losses in three weeks at the hands of Penn State and Nebraska. Against Indiana, the Wildcats had an element of surprise, but after a few weeks opponents’ defenses have made Northwestern look predictable.
Probably the most telling statistic of Saturday’s game was the Cornhuskers’ three fumbles in less than eight minutes, and on two of those possessions Northwestern punted. They were able to capitalize on a touchdown after the first fumble, but the Wildcats never got any kind of momentum or rhythm going. They were 5-for-20 on third down conversions on the day.
“We just didn’t go out there and execute, didn’t make plays when we needed to make plays,” Colter said.
Colter emphasized that Northwestern just couldn’t find their rhythm or momentum. Could that have anything to do with sporadically using two quarterbacks, one of which is still on the field when he’s not calling plays? It seemed like Nebraska’s defense was always a step ahead, even when they didn’t know what would come next.
As usual, Colter’s passing yards were miniscule and Siemian took the bulk of the work with 116 yards and two touchdowns. While Siemian wasn’t perfect, completing 15 of 35 attempts, the Cats might be better suited with Siemian starting at quarterback. If he can find his own rhythm without being cut short to watch from the sidelines, Colter could settle into a singular, simpler role. Sometimes consistency helps.
Northwestern may be its own worst enemy, as their offensive predictability hurt them against Nebraska. The defense carried them throughout, and less than a handful of Wildcat receivers made a sizeable impact.
This tough Northwestern loss demonstrates that what once worked flawlessly might not any longer. They need to go back to the drawing board and find a way to play to their strengths in a more effective way. If they’re able to reach outside of that ‘Siemian to Colter’ box and focus on individual consistency, the Wildcats could find the football gods smiling upon them once again.
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