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October 10, 2013

UW looks to solve Wildcats' system

MADISON, Wis. - If you have two starting quarterbacks, you don't have one. Unless you're the Northwestern Wildcats, in which case having two starting quarterbacks has worked out pretty well so far.

It's a schematic rarity, but Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian have kept Northwestern's offense humming ever since Pat Fitzgerald decided to rotate his two quarterbacks following a 39-28 loss to Penn State last season. The Wildcats have averaged a little over 33 points per game in their last 12 games, and the Wisconsin Badgers aren't expecting Northwestern's offensive potency to drop off any time soon.

A two-quarterback system might be rare, but the Badgers will need to find a way to stop the No. 19 Wildcats this Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium if they want to bounce back after a tough loss to Ohio State two weeks ago. But before they can try and stop Northwestern, the Badgers need to know what they'll be facing when either Colter or Siemian is under center.

"Anytime you prepare for a two-quarterback system you look for two things: how well do they do it, and what's the effect of each one being in? Different personnel, different tendencies, stuff like that," senior outside linebacker Brendan Kelly said Monday. "We kind of break it down like a two-game plan system, where when one quarterback is in we're going to do this and where the other quarterback is in we're going to do this."

And after several day's worth of prep, it sounds like the Badgers have identified just how often the Wildcats throw or pass when Colter or Siemian is under center. Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda said Wednesday that Northwestern's offense is much more prone to attacking defenses through the air when Siemian takes over, whereas Colter gives the Wildcats many more options to work with.

"The five step throws for [Siemian] is about just under 50 percent of his snaps," Aranda said. "The five step throws for [Colter] is about 20 percent of his snaps. Taking up that [other] 30 percent are all of those option plays. You don't see that with Siemian. You'll get a zone read here and there, but the majority is zone and power-o and tailback runs."

But breaking down Northwestern's run-to-pass game tape only goes so far, because the Wildcats have the luxury of being a little unpredictable. It's true that Colter is much more mobile than Siemian, but both quarterbacks can be effective passers.

The pair has combined to complete 73.3 percent of their passes for 1,278 yards this season, with Colter actually completing a higher percentage of his passes than Siemian. But the Wildcats tend to go downfield more often with Siemian than Colter. Siemian is averaging 10.4 yards per attempt this season, while Colter sports an average of 7.7 yards per attempt.

It all adds up to an unusual but undoubtedly successful offensive formula. But even though the Badgers know the basic equation, they'll still need to make some big plays if they want to slow down the Wildcats this Saturday.

"It's one thing to identify it, it's another thing to stop it," Aranda said Wednesday. "Not a lot of people have up to this point."

For more Wisconsin Badgers news, notes and discussion, follow John on Twitter.

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