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NU’s Pat Fitzgerald: Unselfish Kain Colter took himself out of game

Northwestern quarterback Trevor Sieman (13) throws ball for game tying touchdown against Syracuse during fourth quarter an NCAA college football

Northwestern quarterback Trevor Sieman (13) throws the ball for a game tying touchdown against Syracuse during the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game in Syracuse, N.Y., Saturday, Sept. 1, 2012. Northwestern won the game 42-41. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink)

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Updated: October 5, 2012 6:16AM

It wasn’t Pat Fitzgerald’s decision to replace starting quarterback Kain Colter with backup Trevor Siemian with Northwestern down by six points with 2:40 left in Saturday’s game at Syracuse. It was Colter, who bruised his non-throwing shoulder earlier in the game, who told offensive coordinator Mick McCall to make the change.

“This was probably the most telling statement of Kain’s leadership and unselfishness,” Fitzgerald said Monday. “He got a little bruised up in the game and said to Mick in the headphones: ‘Trevor gives us a better chance to win.’ To me, that’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who is selfless in his leadership style to say right now I might not be able to go out and do the things my teammates need me to do for our team to win. That’s a pretty strong statement of his leadership.’’

Colter was the first person to congratulate Siemian after the sophomore completed a 9-yard touchdown pass to Demetrius Fields with 44 seconds left to give the Wildcats a 42-41 victory.

‘‘I talked about the chemistry of this team early in camp, and that’s about as strong a statement as you’re going to see,’’ Fitzgerald said. “I wouldn’t read into it any further than that.’’

Playing the ball

Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib set single-game school records for completions (44), attempts (65) and yards (470) against the Wildcats’ secondary, and that was with Alec Lemon, the Orange’s leading receiver in 2011, sidelined with an injury.

‘‘For about 45 minutes we played much better football on defense than we did the whole year last year,” Fitzgerald said. “The other 15 minutes are things we have to get fixed.”

Syracuse scored four straight touchdowns in the second half in the Carrier Dome, where the temperature was 95 degrees with 89 percent humidity, so fatigue may have been a factor. Fitzgerald said he lost eight pounds coaching from the sideline.

‘‘Our whole defense lettered in the first game,’’ Fitzgerald said. ‘‘We played [95] plays. That’s a recipe for disaster.”

Northwestern was flagged for pass interference four times. Cornerback Demetrius Dugar drew three flags. In each case, he was in decent position but had his back to the ball.

‘‘We had great coverage in those situations,” Fitzgerald said. “We have to look back and play the ball. Obviously, that’s what we coach the guys to do, and we didn’t do a good enough job doing that. We take that responsibility on our shoulders. We’ll be better. If we do that, we probably intercept two out of three of those balls. That’s the next step we have to make.”

Odenigbo moves up

Fitzgerald said everybody except defensive end Deonte Gibson, who injured his elbow, would be available to play against Vanderbilt in Saturday night’s home opener. True freshman Ifeadi Odenigbo, the four-star recruit and high school all-American, will give up his redshirt season and take Gibson’s spot in the defensive line rotation.

Fitzgerald expects Gibson to return against visiting Boston College on Sept. 15.

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