Summer Preview: Quarterbacks

WNUR Sports Director Joe Misulonas (@jmisulonas>) previews the Northwestern quarterbacks heading into the 2013 season as part of WNUR Sports’ summer preview series.

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images North America

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images North America

You never know what Northwestern’s going to do at quarterback. Three years ago, Evan Watkins was supposed to be the backup to Dan Persa, but after Persa went down with a ruptured Achilles, coach Pat Fitzgerald burned Kain Colter’s redshirt so he could star the rest of the season.

The next year, Northwestern began the infamous Persa-Strong campaign for Heisman, only for Colter to start the first five games of the season. And last season, Fitz spent all summer saying Colter would be the starter, only to put Trevor Siemian behind center three quarters into the season to win the Syracuse game.

This year, however, might be different. Both Colter and Siemian are returning coming off a ten win season and Northwestern’s first bowl in in 64 years. Earlier this year, Fitz told ESPN, “I believe we have two quarterbacks who can lead us to a Big Ten championship.” If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it seems to be mantra for the Wildcats offense.

But is the dual-quarterback system really the best option for Northwestern? Let’s take a closer look at last year’s stats.

Northwestern’s offense finished last season 42nd in the nation in scoring and 64th in yards. Not exactly a powerhouse offense. And while some will say, “Those numbers are good enough for 10 wins, so what’s the problem?” Remember those three games Northwestern lost last season? In all three, the Wildcats had double digit leads in the second half, but the offense became stagnant. Not only did they not score points, they struggled to get first downs. And you can’t blame it on the run game either. In their three losses, Northwestern rushed for 112, 180, and 248 yards, while passing for 135, 121, and 183.

The dual-quarterback system has its faults. QBs can’t get into a rhythm, play-calling becomes predictable, and it requires versatile offensive lineman who can run block just as well as they pass block. So what are the advantages for Northwestern playing two QBs?

For starters, Northwestern needs to get their QB some rest. Running the spread option can be tiring for a quarterback. Imagine Kain Colter running the option with Venric Mark for four quarters. He’d be running on fumes by the middle of the third, no matter how good an athlete he is. And Siemian dropping back fifty times a game? Have you seen Northwestern’s pass protection? It’s never been elite. And having lost a few offensive line starters from last season (check back later this summer to read our thoughts on the O-Line), Siemian would take more than a few hits in the pocket each game.

Also, they complement each other well. Siemian is the “thrower.” He threw for about 450 more yards, and had a lower interception rate. Colter was the “mobile quarterback,” rushing for nearly 1,000 yards and 12 TDs, not to mention the eight he had through the air. They have two different playing styles, and they each add a different dimension to the offense when they’re on the field. Colter doesn’t have Siemian’s arm strength, and Siemian doesn’t have Colter’s speed and agility. Northwestern needs to use both their abilities in their offense, and that requires a two-quarterback system.

Having said that, I still think Northwestern’s offense needs to evolve. As mentioned before, their offense is prone to stagnation, and they become predictable. When Siemian’s behind center, defenses know the play is going to be a pass or hand off to Mark. And when Colter’s taking the snap, opponents jump into run protection mode.

Versatile offenses are not supposed to be predictable, but that’s exactly what Northwestern is. If Northwestern wants to win the Big Ten this year, they’re going to need to add more surprise to the gameplan. Run the option with Siemian, and don’t be afraid to let Colter air it out sometimes.

They say if you have two quarterbacks, you have zero quarterbacks. Last season, Northwestern proved a dual-QB system can work in the Big Ten. But if they want to take the next step this season and make the Big Ten Championship game, their offense has to gain a new level of consistency that it was lacking last season. And that all starts with the man, or should I say men, behind center.

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