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Monday, September 9, 2013
Colter-Siemian duo clicking for Wildcats

By Matt Fortuna

Kain Colter
Kain Colter returned from a concussion in the opener at Cal and completed his first eight passes against Syracuse.

EVANSTON, Ill. — It took Kain Colter four days to get cleared following a concussion, 51 seconds to score his first touchdown of the season and just more than 27 minutes of playing time to start kicking himself for a mental error.

An error that, nonetheless, still resulted in another score.

Yes, everything was gravy for Colter and the Northwestern offense in the quarterback's return this past Saturday, as he and Trevor Siemian combined to complete 30 of 37 passes for 375 yards, four touchdowns and zero turnovers.

Yet that mental lapse — which came when the senior was hit and reached his arm out over the plane for a 16-yard touchdown run in the second quarter — still nagged at Colter after the 48-27 victory over Syracuse.

"Throughout my career I've seen guys do that in practice and fumble it and coaches just like blow up," Colter said. "[Coach Pat Fitzgerald] said, 'If you do it, it better work.' "

Everything was working for the Wildcats' offense in its home opener, as the unit tallied 581 yards and ran with machine-like efficiency regardless of which quarterback was directing the action. And the nation's No. 17 team might just be getting started.

Colter was cleared on Wednesday after being knocked out of the opener at Cal with a concussion, and he orchestrated a four-play, 75-yard touchdown drive on the game's first possession. He completed his first eight throws for 86 yards on the game's first three possessions.

New signal caller, similar results.

Siemian completed 11 of his first 12 passes for 181 yards and two touchdowns, his only incompletion on a slant pattern to Christian Jones in the end zone that could have easily been flagged for pass interference.

Fitzgerald said both players' production Saturday created a good problem to have, and he credited offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mick McCall for knowing who would fit in at the right time.

"It's just the balance from the standpoint of figuring out what we like schematically, who's got the hot hand," Fitzgerald said. "Today they both did — that's nice, that's an added bonus. It makes it a little bit more difficult."

Siemian stepped up in Colter's absence a week earlier, completing 18 of 29 throws for 276 yards in the victory over the Golden Bears. Both stretched the field throughout Saturday's contest against the Orange, with the threat of Colter's legs boosting the option attack that helped him gain a team-best 87 rushing yards on the night.

"He's a dynamic playmaker," Fitzgerald said of Colter, whose father Spencer played on Colorado's national title team 23 years ago. "He's one of the more dynamic playmakers not only in this conference, but also in the country. He has an unbelievable grasp of our offense."

Fitzgerald got in the face of his defense early in the second half after it surrendered a quick touchdown drive after the break. The unit forced four turnovers Saturday and is tied for third nationally with seven takeaways through two games, but allowing 982 yards of offense so far this season gives Fitzgerald enough to pick apart on that side of the ball.

Still, the offense has been crisp, save for an early Colter fumble Saturday that he recovered himself. And it has produced against a pair of BCS-conference opponents mostly without home-run threat Venric Mark, as the All-America punt returner nurses a lower-body injury.

Big Ten favorite Ohio State visits Oct. 5 to close out a four-game homestand at Ryan Field, drawing a primetime setting that will offer all a chance to see just how far the Wildcats have progressed.

In the meantime, Western Michigan and Maine should provide Northwestern ample opportunities to shore up loose ends going into its Week 5 bye at the end of the month.

"Two weeks in and I'd like to think we're as balanced as anybody," Fitzgerald said. "We've got two very dynamic quarterbacks; I've kind of been pounding the drum for years here talking about 1A and 1B, about two championship-level quarterbacks. I think they're really playing well in the framework of what we're doing and are complementing each other well. I also think what has been going somewhat overlooked is the play of our young offensive line. That group is really starting to come together. There's a lot of room for improvement there but I really think they're starting to get an attitude about them and I think that's only going to solidify going forward."