Can Northwestern Win With 2 QBs?

Northwestern football fans can agree on three things:

1) Kain Colter is a phenomenal athlete.
2) Trevor Siemian has a better arm than Colter.
3) Can we please just win a bowl game?

With the Cats roaring to a 4-0 start this year and the Big Ten title looking open to all comers, I should be more optimistic than I’ve been in years, but I can’t avoid the nagging feeling, eloquently stated by that old football maxim: “if you have two starting quarterbacks, you have none.”

Colter has been fun to watch. He’s fast, tough, and has a nose for the first-down marker. If it’s third-and-eight and his man isn’t open, he can make a few guys miss and get past the yellow line.

Siemian is a gunslinger. Confident, strong, cool. He’s led a trailing Northwestern down the field on game-winning scoring drives against Syracuse and Vanderbilt already this season.

Coach Pat Fitzgerald has called Colter and Siemian “1A” and “1B,” which I thought was a nicer way of saying that Colter is the starter and Siemian is the backup, but given the way the coach has played them this season (and even last season), he means it. Siemian—even if doesn’t take the first snap of the game—really is something like a co-starter.

But should he be?

You can’t argue with success. The Cats are winning (though in their usual Cardiac Cats fashion), and against Boston College, they ran 100 plays for 560 yards and outrushed the Eagles 293 to 25. They struggled in the red zone, but the two QBs were stellar, completing 75 percent of their passes for 267 yards (and running for 73 more, though most of those yards came courtesy of Mr. 1A). It would’ve been nice if some of those five field goals were touchdowns, as the 22-13 final score did not tell the whole story.

That Colter missed a wide-open Christian Jones on what should have been an easy touchdown and underthrew Tony Jones on the game’s biggest play—a 41-yard completion in which Jones was wide open but had to wait for the ball—adds fuel to the fire of those who feel Siemian should be taking the majority of the snaps. On the other hand, it’s also possible that the defenders weren’t keeping up with the Joneses because they had to worry about Colter’s feet. In other words, Siemian might have thrown a better pass to those receivers, but they might have been well covered.

Things went a little better in the red zone last week against South Dakota…but that was South Dakota. The unfortunate side effect of the 38-7 laugher was that we still didn’t really learn anything to help make a decision (if there is to be one) about Colter and Siemian. With Indiana coming up this week, there could be some interesting new wrinkles in the offense. Many Wildcats fans are clamoring for the chance to see both QBs on the field at the same time, but that’s probably not going to happen, at least not with regularity.

Northwestern has been blessed with an outstanding collection of quarterbacks since the Randy Walker era, progressing from Zak Kustok to Dan Persa with hardly a hiccup (we shall not speak of the brief “Brewfka” experiment of early 2006), so Wildcat fans expect good things at the game’s most important position. Two great quarterbacks are not what fans had in mind, but as long as the Cats keep winning, we won’t complain.

And if things go bad, I hear third stringer Zach Oliver is awesome.

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