EVANSTON-The Slash is back for Northwestern.
After four games as the starting quarterback, Kain Colter returned to the multi-purpose slash role he played the last two seasons as the Wildcats' wide receiver/quarterback/offensive dynamo.
It's safe to say that coach Pat Fitzgerald's new strategy was an unqualified success, as Colter slashed his way through the Hoosiers for 294 total yards and four touchdowns and the Wildcats set a school record with 704 yards in their 44-29 win over Indiana.
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Colter was the Wildcats' leading rusher, with 161 yards on 14 carries and all four of his TDs. He was also the leading receiver, with 131 more yards on nine catches. He went just 1-for-3 for two yards as a passer, but that enabled him to find yet another way onto the stat sheet when he made a tackle after the first-quarter interception he threw.
"[Colter] is unbelievable," said Fitzgerald. "He is the most dynamic young man, I think, in this conference...I'm very proud of the way he's playing but none of us are surprised."
They weren't surprised because Northwestern had been playing Colter at receiver for a couple weeks in practice. Fitzgerald even thanked the media after the game for not letting the Cat, so to speak, out of the bag in their practice reports.
Fitzgerald wasted no time disclosing his secret on Saturday, however. On the very first offensive play against the Hoosiers, Trevor Siemian trotted out to the quarterback spot behind the center, while Colter lined up as the slot receiver.
The move seemed to turbocharge Northwestern's offense. After alternately purring and stalling through the first four weeks and often getting bailed out by the defense, the Wildcats found their gear against Indiana, tying a school record with 36 first downs and holding the ball for 36:14.
If Colter wasn't serving as Siemian's favorite receiver, he was running the read-option with Venric Mark, who ripped through Indiana for 139 yards on 29 carries of his own. It was the first time the Wildcats had two 100-yard rushers in a single game since 2003 (Noah Herron and Jason Wright). Mike Trumpy was the third wheel in NU's rushing machine, and he even collected 89 yards on 14 carries, including a 24-yarder.
As a whole, the Cats ran for 394 yards on 59 carries, numbers that would have made the 1983 Nebraska Cornhuskers proud.
Colter scored on a pair of 8-yard runs in the first half, a 15-yarder in the third and -- after Indiana cut Northwestern's 27-0 third-quarter lead to just one score, 37-29, in the fourth -- it was Colter who finally subdued the feisty Hoosers with a 22-yard scamper around right end on a QB keeper.
As for Siemian, all he did was complete 22-of-32 passes for 308 yards.
Northwestern had been rotating Colter and Siemian throughout the first four weeks, with one or the other taking snaps as the quarterback, usually for a possession each. Fitzgerald said the impetus for the change in the roles came whenever they pulled Colter off the field.
"We looked at ourselves collectively as coaches and said, 'What are we doing?'" taking their most dangerous player off the field.
The scary thing for the rest of the Big Ten is that Fitzgerald and Colter said that the Wildcats are just scratching the surface of how Colter can be employed.
"There's a lot of ways we can go with this," remarked Colter. "It worked pretty well today," he added in an understatement as big as his stat line.
Colter, in fact, said he would like to flip the script, with him lining up at quarterback and Siemian at receiver.
Siemian smiled at that suggestion, saying, "I'm not the fastest guy on the field." But he also admitted that he would be up for it, if that's what the coaches wanted to do.
The possibilities seem limitless for the suddenly resurgent NU offense.