It is rarely successful and there is the saying that when a team has two quarterbacks it actually has no quarterbacks. But for Northwestern, Coach Fitzgerald has actually found a way to incorporate a two quarterback system that has generated a 14-3 record over the past two seasons with both Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian sharing time behind center.
Colter is more of the prototypical, collegiate dual threat who has rushed for 1128 yards and thrown for 1136 yards the past two seasons. He has averaged a very good 72.2% completion percentage on 10 passes per game the past two seasons. On the opening drive this season versus Syracuse, Colter drove the team down for a touchdown on only three plays, going 3/3 passing, throwing both short, intermediate and long to his receivers. He finished the day 15/18 passing for 116 yards and a touchdown. So although Colter has 208 rushing attempts the past two seasons, he is capable of throwing the ball as well, he is a true dual- threat.
The Wildcats keep it very simple for Colter and he is used just like how Braxton Miller was used early last year. When Colter is in the game, expect read option with the option to keep it, hand it off or throw a quick screen, along with short passing plays such as quick slants, quick outs, curls etc. He usually wants to deliver the ball within two to three seconds and if his first or second reads are covered, he typically tucks the ball and scrambles. The key is to keep Colter in the pocket, which makes him uncomfortable and it is very noticeable. The defensive ends will have to contain him and get their hands up to disrupt the quick passes from the 6-foot quarterback.
A wrinkle that Coach Fitzgerald could use against the Buckeyes to trigger an upset could be by using Colter at receiver and Siemian at quarterback. In last year's game versus Indiana, Colter caught nine balls at wide receiver for 131 yards and rushed 14 times for 161 yards and four touchdowns from the quarterback position. Colter has caught 60 balls in his career, so expect the Wildcats to pull out every trick to upset the Buckeyes.
Let's take a look at how the Wildcats use the dual- threat quarterback
The above is what Colter excels at, using his athleticism to get out of the pocket and turn a sack into a huge gain.
Here is an example of how they use the read option to get Colter on the move to complete an easy bubble screen. They like the get the ball out of Colter's hands quickly with high percentage throws.
This is another example of a high percentage throw that Colter can and will make throughout the game. The Buckeyes could press the receivers off the line to throw off the timing when Colter is in at quarterback.
Although most of his throws are short, Colter has improved as a quarterback and can keep the Buckeye defense honest if they are bringing the safeties up into the box when he is in the game.
Siemian is Coach Fitzgerald's drop back passer, completing 175 out of 287 pass attempts for 1983 yards the past two seasons. He has completed 70% of his passes this season and had big games against California and Syracuse. Siemian went 30/37 for 375 yards and four touchdowns versus the Orange. He is not a playmaker with his legs like Colter but Siemian has the ability to pick up yardage with his legs if he needs to.
Composure in the pocket and passing the ball from the pocket is where the two quarterbacks differ the most. Siemian throws a great deep ball and seems to go through his progressions a little more than Colter. He has a little more freedom in the playbook than Colter and is trusted more to make the tougher throws down field. Last season, the Wildcats' offense became predictable with Siemian only really coming in on third and long, obvious passing situations but it has been more even and less predictable this season.
If the Buckeyes play Siemian the same way they played Joel Stave last week, they could be in for a long night. Substituting for the injured safety, Christian Bryant will not be easy and we will see how Coach Luke Fickell adapts to the huge loss in the secondary. When Siemian is in the game they will see more of what they saw versus Cal with Jared Goff than any other team they've played this season. It will be important to get a pass rush to make both quarterbacks uncomfortable, throwing off short timing routs with Colter and limiting the deep and intermediate balls from Siemian.
Let's take a look at Trevor Siemian's strengths:
On this play, it is 3rd & 3. Siemian was looking for his tight end to hit for the first down but he was blanketed on the play. He may not be Colter when it comes to speed but he saw enough room to scramble for the first down.
Siemian held onto the ball waiting for the route to develop (guessing a post-corner) and threw a perfect deep ball for the touchdown. He takes more shots down field and the playbook opens up when Siemian is in the game.
When the Wildcats have their running game going, it is easy to get the safeties to bite on play action. With Bryant out of the game it will be important for Corey "Pittsburgh" Brown or whoever is in at free safety to acknowledge that Siemian is in the game and is more likely to throw deep.