Well, it's settled. Going forward, Trevor Siemian appears to be the primary quarterback in terms of throwing the football. With smirks across their faces, Fitzgerald and his two pivots expressed that this was the plan heading into the week.
Was this an insult to Colter? Far from it. The junior ran for 161 yards and four touchdowns, and added nine catches for 131 yards. He led the team in all of these categories. Despite minimal reps at wideout, Colter made several excellent grabs and dominated the Indiana secondary.
Colter took several snaps from the quarterback position, but most of these were zone read plays. He made excellent decisions, and faked out Hoosiers defenders regularly.
Meanwhile, Siemian held his own. Although Colter clearly emerged as the offensive star on Saturday, Siemian posted his first career 300-yard game. Funnily enough, he seemed most comfortable passing to the starting quarterback. From a statistical perspective, the sophomore excelled in spreading the ball across the field.
With an absurd 704 yards of total offense, this fresh strategy may be used again next week in Happy Valley.
Venric Mark served as the backfield workhorse, as he carried the ball 29 times. Mark played well in the zone read set alongside Colter, but made a costly error midway through the third quarter.
After an impressive 25-yard run, during which he broke several tackles, Mark was stripped by John Laihinen. Indiana recovered, and Nate Sudfeld threw two excellent passes, including a 35-yard heave to Kofi Hughes. Suddenly, Indiana was back within two possessions.
Mark still gained a career-high 139 yards on the ground, and now averages more than 100 yards per outing on the season. Once thought to be a mere change of pace, Mark has thrived in the starter's role.
Mike Trumpy – one of the heroes against Boston College – earned significant playing time after a quiet performance against South Dakota. Trumpy gained 87 yards on 14 carries, bullying his way to first downs.
Even with a rushing attack often centered on Colter, Mark and Trumpy play important roles.
Interestingly enough, even with his speed, Colter does not rely on outrunning defensive backs. Instead, he feels comfortable catching passes in tight spaces.
I've been tough on Rashad Lawrence in recent weeks after a pair of underwhelming performances. Today, he made four grabs for 52 yards and improved on his route running of recent weeks. Christian Jones, a matchup problem for any secondary, also had four catches.
With Northwestern on the IU 13-yard line early in the fourth quarter, holding a 34-21 lead, Siemian rolled out and found Fields in the end zone for a potential wide-open touchdown pass. Fields somehow let it slip through his hands, leading to a field-goal attempt.
That allowed Indiana to remain within two possessions, and after a touchdown and two-point conversion, Indiana got within a single score. Fields failed to record a catch on a forgettable afternoon.
The Indiana defensive line arrived with a great deal of energy, and early on, managed to sneak into the backfield and disrupt the running game.
Particularly in the passing game, however, the Northwestern front four held strong. They created space for Colter, Mark and Trumpy on zone reads.
When the less-mobile Siemian dropped back, they generally protected him. One widely held concern was that the offensive line would struggle to keep Siemian upright due to his lack of speed. That did not prove to be the case.
The Indiana defense presented few challenges. Still, any time an offense goes over 700 yards, the offensive line deserves a great deal of credit.
Nick VanHoose, shrouded in optimism since the season opener, finally struggled on Saturday. He struggled to slow down speedy receiver Kofi Hughes. Although VanHoose was in position to make several plays, Hoosiers receivers preyed on him. Evans' shortcomings may have been less noticeable, though he too put forth a less than impressive performance.
Fitzgerald suggested that Campbell would be fine going forward. Without Campbell at full strength, the unit will be hard pressed to stop Big Ten offenses.
Indiana only had 266 passing yards and one touchdown, but it felt a lot worse. The NU secondary needs to focus and play a full 60 minutes if this team hopes to have a banner year.
It's hard to fault the linebackers for the lousy defensive second half. Damien Proby had perhaps his strongest outing of the season, recording 14 tackles.
Chi Chi Ariguzo did nothing to lose his status as one of the best defensive players in the Big Ten. Ariguzo made several tackles in the open field and was able to impact the game even without a big play. David Nwabuisi added five tackles, including a sack.
Indiana found more success in the running game than anticipated. Stephen Houston averaged 8.3 yards per carry, and his backup D'Angelo Roberts also showed flashes. Some of that falls on the linebackers, although this unit still seems to be the strongest base team on NU.
The emergence of the defensive line served as a sort of revelation for NU. Against Vanderbilt and Boston College, the front four dominated at times. They refused to let opposing running backs find any room. Even in four-man rush situations, Jordan Rodgers and Chase Rettig were consistently pressured.
That simply wasn't the case against Indiana. For whatever reason, the defensive line seemed lethargic. Houston gained space to run, and freshman Nate Sudfeld had more than enough time to find receivers down the field. Look for Deonte Gibson and Brian Arnfelt to perform next time out; both are far too talented to have such quiet weeks.
Lou Groza Award candidate: Jeff Budzien?
Suddenly, Budzien morphed into in an elite kicker, calmly knocking kick after kick between the uprights. The junior added three field goals and continued his perfect season. The first, from 44, cleared the crossbar by about a dozen yards. It gave the Cats an early two-score lead.
Terrible kickoff coverage almost sunk the Wildcats. Even after an initial bobble, Tevin Coleman returned a kickoff 96 yards for a score late in the third quarter. Fitzgerald said he would analyze the problem, starting as early as tonight. It was an uneven performance for the Cats special teams, but NU knows that in future games, it can't hand out scores and expect to win.
Pat Fitzgerald and Mick McCall devised a clever offensive game plan. With Colter operating from the wideout position and Siemian at quarterback, the Cats found a great deal of success. Then, Colter would shift back to his original position and run zone reads with a flourish.
The sudden clarity surrounding the quarterback position will leave a lasting impact on the 2012 NU squad. After putting up a school-record 704 yards, Fitzgerald should see no reason to change their roles again. This is especially true considering that Colter played like a top receiver.
Mike Hankwitz watched his defense labor through the second half. Whether due to fatigue, missed assignments, or bad luck, the Cats wilted after the break. Of course, much of the poor defensive performance rested on execution. Also, the loss of Campbell hurt the overall unit.
I would call out the special teams coach for lousy kickoff coverage. Too bad NU doesn't have one.
Despite the fact that the Cats watched a 27-0 lead turn into a one-possession game, it was another fairly comfortable win. Still, NU has yet to play well for a full game.