Two-QB system marked by improvement

Reflecting on Northwestern's two-quarterback system and its stunning improvement.

"If you have two quarterbacks, you have none."

There are other team sites. And those sites typically preview Northwestern games by briefing the two-quarterback system of Trevor Siemian and Kain Colter. For every outsider–and many insiders–this might be the team's most interesting quality.

It's not some built-in tendency from offensive coordinator Mick McCall. In recent years, one quarterback sufficed. Pseudo-Heisman candidate Dan Persa set the NCAA mark for career completion percentage. Save for the dark, brief Evan Watkins era, the Wildcats have found consistent success under center.

Pat Fitzgerald often goes to his box of sayings and returns with this: "We have the best player development staff in the country." Even with increased talent and clear program stability, NU will always pride itself on building unique talents. This coaching staff turned fringy high school linebacker Tyler Scott into an All-Big Ten caliber defensive end. It's stupid to list examples when there are so many, but it's important to note ones that slip our attention.

The two-quarterback system existed last year, though it was just "good." In games like the one against Minnesota, the NU passing game faltered—bailed out by its plentiful strengths. Our short memories can understandably forget that it wasn't always like this: A consistent midrange passing attack that includes confident throws from both quarterbacks and a lack of dependence on any stable running game. It is what it is.

This two-quarterback system does not work because of brilliant game planning or a simple maximization of strengths. It works because Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian worked their butts off throughout the offseason and into the pivotal 2013 campaign. They improved. They first needed to maximize their own strengths.

Now, there are pretty things like this: 30-of-37 passing for 375 yards and four touchdowns against a bad secondary. 25-of-31 for 343 yards two touchdowns against a top-five team in the nation.

We all watched the short-term improvements. During spring, Colter was crisp in the pocket. It carried over to the season, where he's gradually rounding out his game. And Siemian? In short, the guy looks like a different player. He's averaging more than 10 yards per passing attempt, torching Ohio State until his costly late interception.

What prompted the reflection?

I think Northwestern wins on Saturday, cementing its best ‘W' since Nebraska 2011—with this one arguably more important.

Why do I think that?

Northwestern had enough talent to compete last year. The Wildcats, of course, were–in a liberal interpretation–approximately five minutes from an undefeated season. Regardless of whether you believe in "5:03," NU was capable of getting better.

Part of that involved reestablishing the somewhat broken passing game. They're nearly on pace to throw twice as many touchdowns. They're capable of challenging any secondary—and not just with creative zone reads.

Give Siemian and Colter some agency, some credit. If they go to Camp Randall Stadium and combine to lead another win, we can immediately think about Big Ten Championship hopes.

But of course, things like this don't happen overnight. The system is better than ever, because the parts are too.

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