Football: Fitzgerald, Siemian address passing game


Luke Vogelzang/The Daily Northwestern

Senior quarterback Trevor Siemian and the rest of the Wildcats offense have struggled to move the ball this season. Siemian is averaging only 5.58 yards per pass attempt and has thrown three interceptions to two touchdowns.

Alex Putterman, Sports Editor

With an underwhelming 1-2 on the season and the team’s offense sputtering, senior quarterback Trevor Siemian’s play has come under scrutiny.

Siemian has completed a respectable 59.1 percent of his passes on the season but thanks to a diet of short passes, averages only 5.58 yards per average. Saturday’s win over Western Illinois was the epitome of the senior’s dink and dunk tendencies.

Siemian completed 15 of 25 passes for only 117 yards, with a long of 21 yards and few other attempts downfield.

At his weekly news conference Monday, coach Pat Fitzgerald addressed his quarterback’s struggles, attributing some of the issues to Siemian’s ankle injury, suffered Sept. 6 against Northern Illinois.

“He’s coming off an ankle injury. He didn’t drive off his back foot,” Fitzgerald said. “He didn’t drive the ball. I’m proud of him for being out there. The reason why he played is he needed to be out there. We don’t have rhythm and timing right now as a skill group.”

Siemian said his ankle didn’t bother him much Saturday, and he didn’t think the injury was preventing him from driving off his ankle.

Senior receiver Tony Jones missed the last two games with an undisclosed injury but could return in coming weeks. Injuries to Jones, senior Christian Jones and junior Cameron Dickerson have somewhat stunted the rapport between Siemian and the receiving corps.

Still, Siemian said he expects the issues in the passing game to be worked out eventually.

“It’s coming along,” the quarterback said. “The last two weeks we kind of did a better job of finding that rhythm. We’re coming along, and we’re getting there. By no means are we a finished product now.”

Chris Gradone’s big week

On Sept. 12, during NU’s bye week, junior punter Chris Gradone received some big news: He would be awarded an athletic scholarship for the 2014-15 year.

“I was ecstatic,” Gradone said. “It was right before our bye, and I was planning on going home to surprise my mom. I came home, she was really surprised and then I told my parents I got the scholarship. It was a great moment.”

Eight days later, Gradone — who earned the starting job late last season — had the best game of his college career, pinning the Leathernecks deep in Cats territory.

For the performance, the junior was named Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week.

Gradone said the scholarship helped his confidence entering the game against Western Illinois.

“I don’t know whether it directly carried over,” he said. “But it was definitely a boost.”

Praise for Ifeadi Odenigbo

Sophomore defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo had a breakout game Saturday, with two sacks and three forced fumbles. 

“He’s improved a lot since he’s gotten here,” senior left tackle Paul Jorgensen said Monday. “From a technique standpoint, he used to be a guy that could run around anybody in high school and make plays, and now he’s become a technician and is running around guys.”

Fitzgerald said Odenigbo, who didn’t start playing football until his sophomore year of high school, still has room to improve but is “working his fanny off.”

“Ifeadi’s got a ton of desire. He’s got a ton of passion,” the coach said. “He’s just got to continue to get stronger and get more technically sound. … He’s realized this isn’t just about talent. It’s about talent plus technique.”

NU plays at Penn State on Saturday.

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