The Northwestern Wildcats are off to a 3-0 start and things are looking up for the program in the seventh year at the helm for head coach Pat Fitzgerald. His squad took care of the Syracuse Orange 42-41 in a shootout, the Vanderbilt Commodores 23-13 and the Boston College Eagles 22-13 just last Saturday at Ryan Field. While the “Cardiac Cats” may thrill their fans with these relative nail biters, I simply don’t think they are giving themselves the best chance to win.
Fitzgerald’s insistence on switching quarterbacks based on feel and matchup is doing more harm than good. The young Northwestern offensive line is having to significantly adjust their blocking assignments based on each quarterback’s perceived strength. Kain Colter is a more of a runner who likes to get outside the pocket using his zone read and option concepts. Trevor Siemian is more of a traditional drop back passer who likes to dink and dunk his way down the field horizontally ideally.
This rotation is also killing any chance either man has to get into rhythm. Northwestern has a relatively good running game through three games with junior Venric Mark in his first year as a scat back, using his speed to cut up defenses and Mike Trumpy powering his way to first downs. I compare what Fitzgerald is doing right now to an NBA coach trying to manage every single thing his point guard is doing despite the game changing and becoming more transition based.
Sometimes you just need to let your guy go for better or worse, especially in your non-conference portion of your schedule when you are still learning what team you have. Another huge check mark in Siemian’s column is his ability to throw the deep ball. Northwestern looks like they have their deepest and most talented wide receiver group in over a decade, yet they can’t show all their talents with Colter at quarterback. He simply can not consistently make the throw to the far hash mark. That’s what scouts look for most when they are evaluating quarterbacks for the next level. Down the field, it’s no contest as well.
I was at field level Saturday against Boston College and on a deep ball, Colter threw to Tony Jones. He simply could not lead Jones despite his two step advantage on the defender. With Siemian in the game, that throw goes for six points and could be the difference in a win or loss. This isn’t an indictment on Colter. He is a phenomenal athlete who clearly has a role on this team. Stowing him on the bench who be the wrong move especially for a team that appears to be clicking as they head towards the Big Ten Conference portion of their schedule. Use Colter in the slot. His short quickness allows him to get a step on the defender and gives you a nice counter with the bigger receivers on the outside. Last year alone, he racked up over 450 yards receiving while splitting his time between quarterback and wide receiver.
Fitzgerald is known as fiercely loyal man who goes to bat for his players. That’s a very admirably trait especially in this increasingly shady time in college athletes, but you’ve got to be honest with Colter. His best chance to make it to the next level is as a wide receiver who can work the underneath routes thanks to his great first step.
That doesn’t mean his days at quarterback are over, especially considering the pounding Siemian will probably take during Big Ten play behind a patchwork offensive line. For now, get the best 11 guys on the field. Do it now before you get into the meat of the schedule. Give Siemian the starting job and the majority of reps in practice he deserves.