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Northwestern must find way to keep Colter involved offensively

Northwestern v Penn State

Northwestern v Penn State

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Updated: November 11, 2012 6:13AM

It was so obvious Kain Colter was the focus of Northwestern’s offense Sept. 29 against Indiana that quarterback Trevor Siemian at times appeared to lock in on
his slot receiver at the line of scrimmage.

Everybody at Ryan Field knew where the ball was going, but it didn’t matter. Colter went on to run for 161 yards and catch nine passes for 131 more.

Colter went from being a one-man band against the Hoosiers to being the Invisible Man in the Wildcats’ 39-28 loss Saturday to Penn State. Instead of being the focal point of the offense, Colter vanished for long stretches while carrying five times for 24 yards and catching three passes for 17.

Is the Nittany Lions’ defense better than Indiana’s? No question. But that doesn’t fully explain
why Colter, one of the most
dynamic players in the Big Ten, had only eight touches in a game that would’ve given NU the type of visibility it hasn’t had in a dozen years had it won.

Was it great defense by Penn State? Did Wildcats offensive coordinator Mick McCall not call Colter’s number frequently enough? Or did NU’s staff, thinking the Nittany Lions would be focusing on Colter, use him as a decoy to get others involved?

In so many words, Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald said it was a combination of the three.

‘‘There were some things there that we didn’t hit,’’ Fitzgerald said. ‘‘There were some things there when we were going to go to him, but they had good coverage on him. When we ran our base stuff that we typically run with him, we had some success. We’ve got to continue to have some balance there, spread the ball out to all our playmakers. If we do that, we’ll continue to have success.’’

Colter threw for 135, 42, 144 and 46 yards in NU’s first four games. He completed 1 of 3 passes for two yards against the Hoosiers and didn’t attempt a pass against Penn State. That means opponents can anticipate a running play when Colter is at quarterback and a pass when Siemian is behind center.

‘‘Absolutely,’’ Fitzgerald said when he was asked whether he needs to use Colter more as a passer to keep defenses honest.

The Wildcats threw for only 135 yards against the Nittany Lions.
Siemian was 21-for-36, but his
longest completion was 16 yards.

Offense has been NU’s strength in recent seasons, and it will continue to be. When it comes to the passing game, though, some tinkering might be in order. The Wildcats rank 95th among the 120 FBS programs in passing.

‘‘There was a momentum swing, no question, when our
offense went back out on the field when we were up by three [28-25 in the fourth quarter],’’ Fitzgerald said. ‘‘We have to answer the bell there. Everything else that happened in the game is what it is. Our offense has got to go out there and answer the bell better. . . . We’ve got to go out and seize momentum, and we didn’t do it.’’

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