To save season, Northwestern needs QB change

After three more rough outings, Trevor Siemian has proven he's not the right guy.

In recent practices, Pat Fitzgerald has referenced the saying: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Fitzgerald and his staff changed on Saturday. They won for the second time in 11 games, beating Western Illinois 24-7. (“Give credit where credit is due.”) I thought they played pretty well.

But from his quarterback, Fitz is getting the same results. For the third straight week, Trevor Siemian wasn’t very good. He finished a pedestrian 15-of-25 for 117 yards against FCS opponent Western Illinois.

Forget about alternatives, for now. The fact remains that Siemian will not be good enough to succeed in the Big Ten. During a five-game stretch against that competition last year, he threw one touchdown and seven picks. That included a 4-for-13, 36-yard game at Nebraska.

Offensive coordinator Mick McCall — who mentored Bacher, Persa, Kafka and Colter — has somehow faced the most pressure from this. This year, he’s been perfect in establishing two freshman running backs. He’s working without two elite receivers in Christian and Tony Jones.

Watch the game and the failure appears to lie with the play calling, at times. People hate the third-and-short gut runs and the underneath routes short of the sticks. But if you’re McCall, do you trust Siemian to make big throws in big moments (this year)? Do you?

Siemian has been erratic at best. Against Cal, he might have cost them the game with wild throws. Against NIU, he was just okay. And today, in one of those all-too-common moments, he rushed a throw to Cameron Dickerson with 20 yards of space. The ball sailed over his head and the drive ended. And while he does make comfortable, short throws, those have been interspersed with too many missed targets and risky plays.

I won’t devote 2,000 words to explain why the offense sputtered through another game, with a miserable 4.3 yards per play against WIU. Anyone with a TV or any drunk freshman student could see one of the basic problems. They don’t have a comfortable quarterback right now. It really needs no description.

It’s not the same Trevor as 2012. Behind Kain Colter, Siemian would enter games and lead late drives. He made strong, confident throws and anchored the big wins. You could argue that he was one of the team’s five most valuable players. He’s also still talented and clearly has the respect of the locker room.

But insanity could also involve basing decisions on the performances from two years ago. That Trevor didn’t show up last year, when Fitz partially blamed a sudden “heel injury.” He’s not showing up this year — with everyone considering him a liability right now.

You only get 12 games each year, and now only nine more. You’re in a situation where your offense is severely limited by the timid play of its quarterback. You know, if you’re not insane, that it’s time to make another bold risk and move on from the Siemian era. This can’t keep happening over and over again.

We don’t know how Zack Oliver will play. That doesn’t stop me from saying that it’s time for him to be the starting quarterback. This could reset an offense, a season, and highlight a naturally talented and prepared player.

Oliver entered his first meaningful action against Northern Illinois and threw a 54-yard touchdown. No unprepared player does that. As a redshirt junior, he’s learned the offense for four years. He also matured and shed 20-some pounds before spring ball.

But most important: It can’t hurt. Pat Fitzgerald is headed for what most project to be a 5-7 or 4-8 season. His QB, in a good sample size, failed to lead a successful offense. And even with a fairly deep receiving corps — and 12 or so guys who can make plays — the passing game has stalled.

When Zack Oliver came up in any conversation, Colter or Siemian would say: “Strongest arm in the room.” He’s very talented and not just some scrub alternative to Siemian. (I would almost guarantee that Oliver starts in 2015.)

There are unexpected results with players every day. You never know. While Justin Jackson and Solomon Vault are talented players, Fitz would never have predicted them to drive his entire offense. What if Oliver had a similar effect?

Fitz wants change. We all want change. And watching each of the past three games, it seems that it should come at quarterback.

There’s no easy fix for a struggling team — certainly not a week before Big Ten play opens.

Still, the team needs different results, and those need to start somewhere.


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