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Northwestern 34, Syracuse 7: halftime thoughts

After outscoring Cal 17-6 in the fourth quarter last week, Northwestern rolled over Syracuse in the first half. The Wildcats lead 34-7. Here are some quick thoughts from a one-sided 30 minutes.

-- There was plenty of speculation before the game – no doubt fanned by the “questionable” listing on this week’s injury report – about whether (or how much) Kain Colter and Venric Mark would play this season. Mark didn’t suit up, and will continue to nurse an unknown lower body injury; Colter played, and played well.

-- Two quarterbacks are better than one. The offense stalled at times last week after Kain Colter suffered a concussion on Northwestern’s second play from scrimmage. Colter was back this week, and showed no lingering effects from last week’s injury; he led the Wildcats on a 4-play, 51-second, 75-yard drive to put Northwestern up 7-0, completed his first eight passes and finished the half 11-for-12 for 97 yards and a touchdown. Quarterback 1B, Trevor Siemian, rotated in near the end of the first quarter and kept the Wildcats’ offense humming. He connected with Tony Jones three times, Cameron Dickerson once, and dusted off an efficient drive by finding superback Dan Vitale in the corner of the end zone on a 20-yard score. Siemian also led an excellent half-closing drive that included a near-impeccable 25-yard touch pass down the sideline to Rashad Lawrence, promptly followed up by Christian Jones touch down. Colter and Siemian completed 22-of-24 throws for 277 yards and three touchdowns.

--  Following his concussion last week, It was natural to question whether Colter’s aggressive running style, and general repugnance of sliding, should be adjusted to reduce the number of hits he takes over the course of the season. Colter, predictably, demurred, saying earlier this week his injury will not affect how (or how often) he roams about once leaving the pocket. He continued to run fearlessly in the first half, and took a number of big hits. Colter is a tough player, a quarterback with a receiver’s mindset, but if last week proved anything, it’s that tough running and trying to scratch out extra yards at the end of runs can often lead to debilitating hits. Though Colter will disagree, it might be wise for him to consider being a bit more conservative when he scrambles. Colter finished the first half with six carries for 67 yards and a rushing touchdown.

-- Evaluating NU’s defensive performance against a conservative and mostly impotent Orange offense isn’t ideal, but it’s better than the small conference-FCS duo the Wildcats face over the next two weeks. Opponent aside, Northwestern’s defense looked good – the defensive line in particular. From Chance Carter’s batted down passes to NU’s swarming linebacker tackling efforts to Traveon Henry’s rangy playmaking (and impressive over-the-shoulder pick, which was only slightly less athletically challenging than Chi Chi Ariguzo’s diving, late 2nd-quarter pick), the D looked more disciplined, and more aggressive, than last week. The Orange’s vanilla attack is much easier to defend than Cal’s Bear Raid, but even removing the quality of opposition, the defense deserves credit for a solid first-half effort. NU’s defense slipped from its otherwise stingy standard late in the half on Syracuse’s lone scoring drive, which featured a costly 15-yard helmet removal penalty by linebacker Collin Ellis, a few missed tackles in the secondary and five carries, 20 yards and a touchdown from Syracuse running back Jerome Smith.

-- One of the smaller storylines from last week was Tony Jones’ 5 reception, 70-yard performance -- a breakout performance and a temporary career-high. He blew past Saturday’s effort in the first half, finishing with seven catches for 131 yards and giving the Wildcats the sort of the deep threat potential they missed last season. Through three halves of the season, Jones has been Northwestern’s most productive pass-catcher