The obvious question for any reasonable Northwestern fan conditioned by modern sports coverage after Saturday's win against Syracuse is: AHHHH AHHH TWO QUARTERBACKS PLAYED IN THE GAME IS THERE A QB CONTROVERSY IN EVANSTON WHICH ONE SHOULD PLAY MORE THERE CAN ONLY BE ONE WHICH ONE SHOULD I SHOOT.
Instead of just randomly frothing at the mouth and spewing, I decided to take a peek at the game and rewatch NU with some things in mind. My thoughts on the QB situation, as well as detailed notes on NU's secondary and other thoughts, after the jump.
I think the immediate assertion that either Kain Colter or Trevor Siemian is the better one is heavy-handed. Sure, Siemian led NU's game-winning drive, but he was also absent or a non-factor on three series where Northwestern found paydirt and the primary QB. Statistically, the pair were more or less identical as passers: Colter completed 66.7 percent of his throws for 6.43 YPA, Siemian completed a marginally better 72.7 for 7.09 yards per pass. I decided to watch the game and break down individual performances on the film.
Great throws: The only throw I'd put in this category is the TD to Venric Mark, exactly in the right place at the right time 21 yards downfield.
Drops: 1, to Demetrius Fields on a pass for about 15 yards that hit him squarely in the hands early
Bad passes: 3, a throw to nobody on NU's first drive where he had multiple receivers open, a pass in the second quarter too high for Venric Mark while under pressure, a pass on a tough comeback route to the sideline that skipped in front of Kyle Prater
Deflected passes: 2, an outside route to Tony Jones that was a second too late, and a pass tipped at the line
Summary: Colter played a really, really solid game. I don't buy the notion that he struggled. He wasn't asked to make many difficult throws and managed things well. Uncharacteristically, the run game really sputtered with Colter on the field - not sure if this is because Cuse didn't trust his arm or what.
Great throws: The game-winner to Fields, obviously.
Incompletion breakdown (he only had three, but I'm double-listing some that seemingly fall into multiple categories whereas none of Colter's really did)
Drops: 1, another one by Fields on third-and-four, it was tipped but should have been caught for a first down by Fields.
Deflected passes: 2, the one listed above and the one listed below
Bad throws: 1, a pass across the middle - I believe the intended receiver is Tony Jones, but I couldn't make it out - on NU's final drive that could have very easily been intercepted by Syracuse but instead fell to the ground.
Miscommunication: 1, a pass deep to Rashad Lawrence where the two were not on the same page
Summary: Siemian made the best throw by either QB and the worst. I don't think Colter is a good enough passer to hit the game-winner, but don't think Colter would've made a throw that could have gotten picked on the final drive either. Aside from the last throw, I don't think Siemian did anything incredible on the final drive that saw him absolutely coast down the field: Syracuse was playing very bend-don't-break and gave him a lot of space in the middle of the field, and Siemian carved it up. He was also in five-wide almost the entire time, whereas Colter never had the opportunity to engineer a pass-heavy drive.
Conclusion: From the game, I don't think either QB really stands out. Both quarterbacks have their strengths and weaknesses: Siemian appears to be the better passer, Colter looks to be a tad less turnover prone and obviously has the better legs. My point writing all this is there really shouldn't be any "Siemian played the last drive, should he start?" talk. Both QB's are good. I think it's very nice that Northwestern has two quality quarterbacks capable of running an offense when many teams don't seem to have one. Here's a number: Colter and Siemian have thrown 140 passes since the start of last year, and only been picked off twice. That's a good number.
Coming into the year, I thought Northwestern would go with Colter. I thought he was a better player, the guaranteed QB1, and that Siemian would not play a role. It's clear I was wrong, and that Northwestern is comfortable playing both guys. That's a bonus. I expect Colter to get the majority of snaps, but wouldn't mind Siemian playing as well. Maybe NU can even have Colter play some more wide receiver again! Extra wrinkles just make opposing teams think and prepare more, and that never hurts.
So who knows why Northwestern benched Colter on the team's last drive. The pair had been alternating ever since Colter's helmet came off for the first time. Perhaps they were worried a running-prone Colter would have another helmet come off, forcing them to re-enter Siemian and lose ten seconds of playing time. Perhaps they think Siemian is a better passer. Perhaps, as the story says now, Colter's shoulder was balking and he didn't feel 100 percent. Regardless, NU has two good passers that can do different things and they shouldn't be afraid to use them.
(With regards to this tweet: I don't see it as a problem that Colter asked out. Apologies to Loretta, but I remember Grady Little going to the mound in the bottom of the eighth against New York in the ALCS and asking Pedro Martinez if he had anything left in the tank. Martinez had absolutely nothing left in the tank, but was an ultimate gamer, and thought he could stay on. Blame his dishonesty or Little's gullibility, but misplaced competitive desire can hurt a team. If Colter didn't feel good to go, good on him for saying something. Whether I would call that "leadership" as Pat Fitzgerald did, I'm not sure, but that's semantics and has nothing to do with football.) (Oh, and of course there's the possibility this is all just spin. Whatever.)
On Northwestern's secondary: I also went through Northwestern's game looking at Ryan Nassib's passing performance, to see who he was picking on defensively on his way to 470 yards passing.
Well, the answer is simple: Demetrius Dugar. I've never really singled out players for bad performances before, and I feel pretty uncomfortable trashing a hard-working Northwestern student-athlete, but the evidence is pretty overwhelming throughout the game. (I do feel bad writing this, honestly, but Northwestern got the win. Send me an email if you think I should tone it down.)
Some of Northwestern's secondary players played admirably. Nick VanHoose had a strong debut, breaking up some passes and generally playing well on his side of the field. Ibraheim Campbell stood out on a few occasions to me, defending a pass dropped by Marcus Sales and following that up with a TD-saving tackle on a run by Jerome Smith that had broken past the linebackers just a play before Chi Chi Ariguzo's big interception - a 14 point swing there. The two nearly saved a TD in the fourth quarter, with Campbell sticking a receiver in the backfield on a screen pass on first and goal and Van Hoose deflecting a pass a play later.
But Dugar was sort of a train wreck. I noted six plays I considered bad enough to take note of them over the course of the game by Dugar. Three were holding or pass interference calls on jump balls thrown Dugar's way. Only the first, ruled holding, was extremely egregious, but on none of the three did he turn his head to play the ball and a flag was pretty evidently forthcoming in all three, one of which came on third and long. Later, he got burnt on a 38-yard pass on a post corner route by Jarrod West, getting ditched completely by the WR's move, and was again alone on an island for the final TD, where he lost his balance while the ball was in the air and eventually was unable to contest what should've been a jump ball as he fell at the WR's feet. (The sixth bad play was a should've-been first down conversion where the receiver had all sorts of room to make the catch, but had a foot on the line as he touched the ball.) That's 98 yards of offense by my count, just on passes where a reasonable effort might have made a difference.
That's not all, of course: Quinn Evans shouldn't have fallen at all on his play, Jared Carpenter gave up a 41-yard pass, and Davion Fleming - who lost his starting spot after the game - gave up a completion for a first on third-and-13 and Cuse's first touchdown, although both were on tough to defend routes to the sideline, and was also called for a questionable pass interference call. And plus, the most egregious plays in the game weren't beautiful tosses by Nassib. Syracuse generated significantly over 100 yards of offense on plays where he just threw the ball up there, and he got three pass interference calls, one holding call, and a 50-yard touchdown out of plays that looked reasonably defensible.
A lot of discussion has been had about whether the secondary's problems are somehow fixable - mechanical flaws that could be taught. Sure, there are technique flaws that could be taught better, but the players who made the plays that made me go to my notebook - Dugar, Fleming, and Carpenter - are fifth-year seniors, as is Evans. I doubt a drastic improvement is forthcoming. (Here's to them proving me wrong on this claim. I'll be glad to eat my words if any of them have a good year.) I doubt they learn how to be step-by-step while maintaining awareness in their final three months.
But I'm not crazily worried about this. First off, I came into the year saying the secondary would be a major, major weakness, and I'm less than surprised it is. My predictions on the year are unchanged. Secondly, while I don't think the secondary will improve, I don't think teams will continue to put up 500 a week on NU's defense. Syracuse came into the game with one thing on their mind: pass. Nassib gunned early and often, more than most teams will this season, and thus left with a gaudy statline. That's an extreme we could see again, but won't be the norm.