Football: Northwestern’s passing game not good enough for victory over Minnesota


Nathan Richards/Daily Senior Staffer

Senior quarterback Trevor Siemian completed 32 of 50 passes for 269 yards, but that wasn’t enough for Northwestern on Saturday. Issues in the passing game, particularly downfield, helped doom the Wildcats to their 24-17 loss to Minnesota.

Bobby Pillote, Assistant Sports Editor

MINNEAPOLIS — Trevor Siemian had probably his best game of the season against Minnesota, and Northwestern still lost.

The senior quarterback completed 32 of his 50 passes for one touchdown and one interception on the final heave of the game. Considering he only took two sacks along the way, that’s a very respectable stat line. But midway through the season it has become clear that Siemian cannot carry this Wildcats team to victory.

“We threw the ball obviously not well enough to win the football game,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said after the ​loss.

It’s the rare truism from Fitzgerald that resonates. NU’s game plan seemed to break down during the second and third quarters after Siemian struggled with the accuracy of his deep ball.

Offensive coordinator Mick McCall fed his signal caller a steady diet of short throws and screen passes, resulting in too many plays in third-and-manageable situations that ended up just short of the first down marker. The Cats converted just seven of their 17 third​-​down chances.

True freshman running back Justin Jackson was once again the best offensive player on the field, but trailing for most of the game NU was only able to call 32 designed runs. The Cats had a chance to win by controlling the ball and keeping the score manageable, but that slipped away as the mistakes and miscues piled up.

“Sometimes we played well enough to win,” Jackson said. “Other times we shot ourselves in the foot. … We (regressed) in this game.”

That was most true in the receiving corps, where a lack of focus came back to haunt the team’s pass catchers.

“There were one, maybe two throws he’d like to have back,” Fitzgerald said of Siemian. “I think we had about four or five drops.”

It seems that midway through the year, NU has flipped the preseason script. Fans and writers alike thought this was going to be a breakout year for Siemian, one in which he took advantage of the bevy of weapons around him.

Instead the product on the field has been a grind-it-out, defensive-oriented team. The Cats can still win any of their next six games, and still have a good shot at making it to a postseason bowl, but don’t expect the heroics to come from Siemian.

“I think we were forced to throw it down the stretch,” he said.

That’s not a position from which NU can succeed.

Twitter: @BobbyPillote
See our full coverage of the 2014 football season on our Gameday blog.