With Dan Persa out for the spring, Kain Colter, Evan Watkins, and Trevor Siemian were given center stage to compete for a shot at the backup job, and just like the beginning of spring, the job is still wide open.
All three quarterbacks were inconsistent today. They definitely showed positives, but as coach Pat Fitzgerald said, none are ready to start a game right now. Colter started the game impressively, but stalled a drive at midfield. He was impressive all day with his feet--he is definitely the most "Persa-like" of the three--but made some bad decisions, including an ill-advised pitch that likely would have been a turnover in a real game.
Watkins was impressive early, going 7-9 with 70 passing yards and a touchdown on an early drive, but was inconsistent later on, finishing 0-2 the rest of the game. He was uncomfortable in the pocket as well and wasn't able to make many plays on the run.
Siemian was fairly inaccurate early on, but settled down later in the game, finishing with two touchdown passes, including a nice pass to Charles Brown.
In short, none of the three backups turned in a star performance to grab the No. 2 spot. There were plenty of "young" mistakes, but also Division 1-type plays. The Wildcats remain in the same position they were when spring began--with three No. 2 quarterbacks.
Running backs: B
The offense was very pass-heavy today and the running backs weren't given many chances to touch the ball. And when your quarterback leads the team in rushing, you aren't going to learn much about your running backs.
Tyris Jones played well, averaging five yards per carry, and Fitzgerald was excited about his future with the program, saying he will "play a role" in the fall. Mike Trumpy also made the most of his limited role, gaining 14 yards on three carries.
Overall, it was hard to learn much about the running game today, but Fitzgerald seems confident about the depth that unit will have in the fall.
Wide receivers: B+
The receivers were put into a number of tough situations by the quarterbacks, especially against the hard-hitting secondary. However, they were solid after the catch. And save for a few drops, they made the catches they were supposed to.
Offensive Line: C
The offensive line was very inconsistent and seemed to get worse as the game went on. It played well for Colter's first drive, but slowly broke down in pass protection.
The line did perform well in the run game, but it had trouble holding the defense back, even in four-man rushes. Work needs to be done in order for Northwestern to improve its passing game from last season.
Defensive line: B+
The defensive line started the game out slow, but turned on the switch after the first couple possessions and made life difficult for the quarterbacks in passing situations.
All three quarterbacks were under pressure for much of the game and the pocket diminished very quickly the later the game progressed.
The line also did a good job of closing up the outside on run plays and screens.
The linebackers didn't stand out, but they got the job done and were consistent throughout the game. They did a great job of stopping runners shortly after initial contact and got good penetration on blitzes.
The offense struggled mightily on screen plays today, and much of that credit goes to the linebackers, who were instrumental in disrupting screens and stopped many of them for losses.
The secondary has heard all offseason about how it was the Achilles heel for the Wildcats last November and came out playing with heart today.
Both the corners and the safeties had outstanding energy early in the game and put some big hits on the receivers, especially for a spring game.
The corners did a very good job of stopping screen plays, but coverage did break down on occasion later in the game, namely downfield. That needs to be fixed if they Wildcats want to escape last seasons pass defense woes and contend for a Big Ten Championship.
Game MVP: Kain Colter
There really was no standout player, but Colter got the starting job today at quarterback and showed on the first drive why he is a true Division 1 talent. He made some nice passes and was able to make plays with his feet, gaining 42 yards on four rushes, including a 27-yard touchdown run.
He still has a long way to go accuracy-wise in the passing game and needs to make better decisions with the football, but with another year to learn behind Persa, he showed bright spots that proved he can be a solid Big Ten quarterback in the future.