Kevin Trahan
By (@k_trahan)
Aug 2, 2013

This season, we’re going to be doing a lot more film breakdown and technical football analysis to help the average fan learn more about the intricacies of how Northwestern calls and executes plays. We did that for basketball last year and started it for football last month, with a look at how zone blocking is key to the Wildcats’ success. Today’s post will be much shorter, it’s an interesting look at how Kain Colter had success running in “obvious passing situations” last year.

My friend Nick Moffitt is an Iowa football and basketball beat writer — follow him on Twitter at @nickmoff — and he’s a former football player with good technical expertise. He put together this video to show how the Hawkeyes struggled with mobile quarterbacks last year, but it’s also a good case study of how Kain Colter broke down defenses with his feet.

Moffitt does a good job explaining this in the video, but here’s the general overview. NU started with five wide on third-and-9, which makes sense because to most people, that’s a clear passing situation. However, Colter will read the defense pre-snap and decide whether he should run or pass. In general, he seems more comfortable running in those situations if the defense allows it. On this particular play, Colter motions running back Mike Trumpy to the backfield and sees Iowa linebacker James Morris follow him, which tells Colter the defense is in man. That leaves a giant hole in the middle of the field for Colter to take off and run.

Colter’s ability to run is no secret, but when we contextualize it, his tendency to run is even more interesting. Awhile back, we analyzed NU’s situational quarterback use, looking at what Colter and Trevor Siemian did in different downs and distances. On the surface, it was about what you would expect — Siemian threw it more, while Colter ran more — but Colter’s tendency to run was perhaps even more dramatic than you might think:

Third down, 4-6 to go

Siemian passes — 19 attempts
Colter rushes — 12 attempts
Colter passes — 10 attempts
Mark rushes — 4 attempts
Siemian rushes — 2 attempts
Trumpy rushes — 0 attempts

Third down, 7-9 to go

Siemian passes — 15 attempts
Colter rushes — 12 attempts
Colter passes — 12 attempts
Mark rushes — 1 attempt
Trumpy rushes — 1 attempt
Siemian rushes — 0 attempts

Third down, 10+ to go

Siemian passes — 15 attempts
Colter passes — 12 attempts
Siemian rushes — 4 attempts
Colter rushes — 3 attempts
Mark rushes — 2 attempts
Trumpy rushes — 0 attempts

Third-and-mid-to-long is usually a passing situation, and a typical quarterback like Siemian would throw it from that down and distance. However, Colter ran more than he threw it in on mid-range plays, and ran on third-and-long more than most quarterbacks would. He got first downs on runs on third-and-7 or longer just three out of 15 times, but converted half of his rushing attempts on mid-range third down plays.

This is by design. It’s not that Colter can’t throw, but he’s a better runner than he is a passer, so he takes advantage of that no matter what situation he’s in. If the defense gives him a lane to run — like Iowa did — he’s going to take it, and it actually works out a decent amount of the time. Against most teams, Iowa would have been taking less of a risk leaving the quarterback with room to run like that. But against Colter, they had to have both the running and passing lanes covered, and they didn’t. That’s what makes Colter so much of a threat — he can use his feet in situations when many players would just look to pass.

  • gocatsgo2003

    Actually, the fact that Morris follows Trumpy doesn’t really indicate that it’s man across — the LBs will almost always align to the running back against a spread offense. What tells Colter that it’s man coverage is that Iowa has run the same bend-don’t-break cover-2 scheme pretty much forever now. Phil Parker was brought up in Norm Parker’s scheme and didn’t change much at all.

    Colter’s decisions to run on third and medium or long is not by design. If he had his druthers, I’m sure Mick would want him to keep his eyes downfield longer. It’s Kain’s superior athleticism that allows him to get away with what can be some pretty unsound fundamental quarterback play… but that’s also what makes him so dangerous.

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