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Northwestern’s two-QB system came in handy in opener

Northwestern quarterback KaColter told coaches it was best if backup Trevor Siemian led team last drive last week Syracuse. |

Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter told coaches it was best if backup Trevor Siemian led the team on the last drive last week at Syracuse. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: October 3, 2013 6:26AM

BERKELEY, Calif. — The two-quarterback system has elicited negative, cynical clichés for as long as college coaches have considered it.

Still, throughout training camp Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald insisted that Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian could co-exist as co-quarterbacks. Fitzgerald pointed to last season to support his claim. Siemian threw the ball more than Colter, who took more snaps.

A 44-30 road victory against Cal on Saturday provided Fitzgerald another reason to maintain the system.

Colter started the game, but after getting hit on the first two plays he departed with a concussion. He wasn’t ruled out until halftime, so Siemian didn’t initially know he would be playing the rest of the contest.

“At that time I had no idea whether Kain was going to come back or not,” Fitzgerald said. “[Siemian’s] ready to go. He’s poised and ready to go.

“We’ve had starter 1A and 1B for a couple years. Although he didn’t go out there first on the first play, he still operates every day like he’s a starter.”

Every team has a contingency plan for the loss of a quarterback — or any player — but injuries are always unexpected.

For Northwestern, giving two guys reps at the position provides the Wildcats with an experienced insurance policy.

The most important dimension of the Wildcats’ offense is the read-option. With Colter in the game, his speed and athleticism make it extremely difficult to defend. But in turn, he’s also vulnerable to injury.

The principle is that Colter keeps the ball himself or draws a defender before he pitches it. Either way, he usually gets hit.

Siemian doesn’t have the same kind of athleticism, so the read-option was virtually nonexistent in the second half of Saturday’s game. He got hit on an option play in the first half and considering Colter was already out, the strategy was abandoned by the coaching staff.

Siemian did provide the Wildcats with a more dynamic passing game, which is a major reason he’s used in addition to Colter. The stronger-armed Siemian threw for 276 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions. Dan Vitale led all receivers with five receptions for 101 yards.

“It’s the same offense,” Siemian said. “We just tweak it a little bit. Obviously I’m not running around as much as Kain, so the option game is probably not as big a part of our offense. But it’s kind of ­tailored to whoever is in there.”

Note: Kain Colter wasn’t the only Northwestern player to go down with an injury Saturday. Cornerback Daniel Jones injured his knee with 20 seconds left in the second half and did not return. Freshman defensive back Matthew Harris was injured on the opening kickoff and also did not return.

Minor injuries to Chi Chi Ariguzo, Damien Proby and Will Hampton drew the ire from some fans who thought Northwestern faked injuries to slow Cal’s fast-paced ­offense. All three players returned to action after briefly leaving the game.

“If anybody were to question the integrity of myself, our program or our players, I question theirs,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “So that’s all I say. Our guys get dinged up. They get dinged up, they’re instructed to go down.”


Twitter: @SethGruen

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