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Telander: Northwestern’s Kain Colter is just a ball of fun

NU’s KaColter ran for 166 yards three TDs threw TD pass against Iowa. | Nam Y. HUH~Ap

NU’s Kain Colter ran for 166 yards and three TDs and threw a TD pass against Iowa. | Nam Y. HUH~Ap

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Updated: November 29, 2012 6:52AM

In college ball, with 120 FBS teams and about a million smaller outfits, you always like to see somebody who’s worth the price of admission.

If you’re in the Chicago area, folks, Kain Colter’s your guy.

The Northwestern quarterback/tailback/wide receiver/whatever finished the Wildcats’ 28-17 victory over Iowa at Ryan Field with six pass completions in nine attempts for 80 yards, including a beautiful 47-yard touchdown rainbow to wide receiver Christian Jones.

He also had 26 carries for 166 yards and three touchdowns. He had no receptions for the first time in five games because fellow quarterback Trevor Siemian played very little on this run-run-run day. That, as coach Pat Fitzgerald loves to say, is no excuse. I’m thinking Colter should throw to himself. And why not?

It’s just so much fun to watch this guy when he has the ball that you get excited before every Northwestern offensive snap. This entertainment factor is becoming a trademark of NU quarterbacks going back at least, well, a couple of years to when Dan Persa was scrambling around before his Achilles injury.

When he’s not lined up as a receiver, Colter takes the ball from under center or on a short snap, and then NU’s option/spread offense, often with no huddle, engages. It’s like watching little kids on the playground who draw up something in the dirt.

Yes, the offense is a studied, careful process built on timing, but it sure doesn’t look like it when Colter’s in charge. The 6-foot, 190-pound junior from Denver puts the ball in the belly of a tailback — usually speedy, little Venric Mark — and for a few moments, they are a single moving entity, conjoined twins molded around a leather spheroid.

Then they abruptly split apart, and somebody takes off like a jet. Often the player without the ball gets smeared. Often Colter keeps the ball and cuts by, through and around defenders en route to huge gains. He’s so quick, so agile, so elusive that all you can think of is that maddening kid in the schoolyard who nobody could touch.

Consider that between them, Colter and Mark rushed for 328 yards. Then consider that sometimes Colter will drop back and throw accurately downfield, and you get a sense of how impossible it is to defend him.

There is one way, of course.

Crush him. And that’s what Fitzgerald wants to prevent and avoid. The difference between those two desires? One has to do with good blocking and good luck. The other has to do with Colter staying out of harm’s way.

That would mean running out of bounds, sliding to a stop or maybe not running at all when there’s a true option read and another dude to carry the ball. After all, tailbacks and fullbacks don’t have to throw passes. In the first game of the season, for example, a scary win over Syracuse, Colter threw 21 times for two TDs but got creamed on a running play and hurt his left (non-throwing) shoulder enough that his proper passing motion disappeared.

‘‘He’s a dynamic, explosive athlete,’’ Fitzgerald said after this win that made the Wildcats a shocking 7-2. ‘‘Every time he touches the ball, he has the chance to make a big play. But I think he’s understanding how tough it is to play the Big Ten grind. He’s got to play smart, get himself down and avoid contact.’’

Fitz almost seemed to sigh with happiness when he said that.

‘‘And I thought of any game this year, he did that very well today,’’ Fitzgerald said.

Colter did. But he was limping noticeably for part of the fourth quarter. And there was a late stretch when he called his own number on eight of 13 rushing plays. Or maybe Fitz called those.

But as Colter said after the game, ‘‘Sometimes it’s a read, and sometimes it’s not.’’

If it is an option, he added, it gives the Cats the advantage of having ‘‘almost an extra blocker’’ because he becomes a threat.

But the kid has that joy-of-the-game, who-cares-about-the-future, you’re-only-young-once look to him. Injuries? Har! Yet he did slide twice against Iowa when he could’ve plowed ahead.

‘‘I felt like my whole life I’ve never been a sliding QB,’’ he said. ‘‘I try to bounce back. Sometimes you’re gonna get dinged, like I did at Syracuse. But you can do it.’’

And that limp? Was he faking?

‘‘Yeah,’’ he said with a big grin. ‘‘I was faking it.’’

My butt.

Folks, catch Colter’s act before it blows apart. It’s too much fun to miss.

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