Siemian guts out win in finale

Sylvan Lane on the quarterback we "expected to see."

It was at some point during Northwestern's game against Wisconsin that Trevor Siemian injured his heel. The game happened seven weeks ago, but the news was revealed after Saturday's victory over Illinois.

The damage apparently was so bad, the quarterback couldn't even walk onto the practice field the following Tuesday, Pat Fitzgerald said. With Kain Colter dealing with a bad ankle of his own, Siemian played on through an injury that he said still really hasn't gone away.

Of course, you can say that the injury might not be as bad for a pocket passer like Siemian. But like Fitz said, it's hard to do anything with just one leg.

The starting quarterback job figures to be Siemian's to lose in 2014, which seemed to be quite terrifying at certain points this season. In that loss to Wisconsin, Siemian completed 13 out of 34 passes for 163 yards. The next week against Minnesota, he went 25-for-46 with two interceptions. He didn't play the next week against Iowa, and he followed the rest up with a four-for-13 day in Lincoln.

We don't know whose decision it was to not speak about the injury. We don't know why the decision was made. However, Siemian refused to dignify the idea that he would use his injury as shield from criticism when it would have been easy and even understandable.

"So many guys have been banged up earlier this year," he said after the Illinois game, "for me to [hide behind my injury] would be cowardice."

As that injury began to heal, Siemian's numbers improved. He only threw for 159 yards against Michigan, but completed 20 of 30 passes. The next week he threw for 227 yards against Michigan State and then tore apart an albeit lackluster Illinois defense for 414 yards and four touchdowns.

"He's played like the Trevor I think everybody expected to see," said Fitz after the game. "I think he got thrown into a tough situation. I think he handled the negativity well, and he just kept persevering … I think he's come out of it stronger, and I'm incredibly, incredibly proud of him."

If Fitz is right and Siemian did indeed come out of this stronger, it makes what looked to be a bleak offseason just a little bit brighter. Siemian put up stellar numbers against Cal (18-for-29, 276 yards, one touchdown), Syracuse (15-for-19, 259 yards, three touchdowns) and Ohio State (13-for-18, 245 yards, two touchdowns) before he was injured.

While none of those three teams posed major defensive threats, those performances coupled with his rebound from that lost four-game stretch reveal the resilience that Northwestern will need to rebuild after a miserable year. Siemian still needs to refine certain aspects of his game—holding the ball for too long and staring down receivers led to several costly mistakes and broken drives—but he's got an entire offseason to get it done.

Even so, he's already been taking steps in the right direction, which is just another thing that's hard to do with one leg.

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