Football: NU dealing with embarrassment of riches at QB

Colin Becht and Colin Becht

Entering the season with senior quarterback Dan Persa still not medically cleared to play, Northwestern faced a potential predicament of not having a capable starting signal-caller.

After two games, the Wildcats face a new predicament. Whether Persa returns to action this week or later, NU will have to figure out the best way to utilize two proven, dynamic quarterbacks whose play all but requires they both be on the field.

“There’s no doubt it’s an opportunity,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said of his excess of quarterbacks. “If it’s the alternative, you don’t even have a chance.”

In wins over Boston College and Eastern Illinois, sophomore Kain Colter elevated himself from fill-in starter to a legitimate challenger for time on the field. Colter has thrown for 301 yards with a 73 percent completion rate and rushed for a team-leading 180 yards and four touchdowns.

“I’m excited about him,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s given us an opportunity to win and he’s just going to continue to get better.”

Colter is one of just two players in the FBS with at least 301 passing yards and 180 rushing yards.

However, how much longer Colter can retain the title of starting quarterback is in doubt because of the much-awaited return of Persa. The senior, who is questionable for this Saturday’s contest against Army, brings with him the reputation of a first-team All-Big Ten quarterback who NU hoped could turn into a Heisman candidate. And Persa said he is nearly ready to take the field again.

“I felt like I could have played (versus Eastern Illinois),” Persa said. “If I play or if I don’t play this week, I think I’ll be 100 percent ready by Illinois.”

With Persa close to making his return, Fitzgerald will need to figure out how to get both of his playmakers on the field as much as possible. Colter said Fitzgerald hasn’t said anything to him about what his role will be when Persa returns.

“Each game I’m going to have a certain role, whether it’s starting quarterback or whatever,” Colter said. “So I’m just going to embrace that role to the best of my abilities.”

Colter could potentially play in another position as he did during the TicketCity Bowl last season. In that game, Colter played a mix of positions, ending with 38 passing yards, 32 receiving yards, 105 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns.

“I definitely feel like I could play a spot on the field, wherever they need me to,” Colter said. “I did some of that last year in the bowl game, so I think I’m prepared for that.”

Persa, who ran for NU’s trainers on Tuesday and participated in 11-on-11’s in practice for the first time on Wednesday, said Colter’s success on the field has put less stress on him to rush his recovery.

“I’m excited for him,” Persa said. “It takes a lot of pressure off me. I don’t have to hurry back when we’re winning games.”

For Persa, his return to the field hinges on proving to his doctors that he has built up enough strength in his right leg.

“I feel like I’m so close I could reach out and touch it,” Persa said. “It’s getting frustrating, I’ve just got to stay the course.”

Until No. 7 gets medically cleared, the starting job is still Colter’s.

“I’m confident that I can do it whether Dan comes back or not,” Colter said.