Football: Wildcats should consider quarterback move

Bobby Pillote, Assistant Sports Editor

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Trevor Siemian looks like he just walked through a snow drift.

The senior quarterback’s ankles have been bound in white during practices this week, carefully and tightly wrapped with medical tape to the point of bulging outward. It’s pronounced enough that the right ankle, the one the right-handed Siemian plants on to throw, is noticeably thicker than the left.

Coach Pat Fitzgerald revealed at the end of last season that Siemian had played most of 2013 with a hidden heel injury, offering an excuse for the quarterback’s poor play during the team’s seven-game losing streak before Siemian recovered and recorded an impressive performance against Illinois in the season finale.

This year, we saw Siemian leave the Northern Illinois game late in the fourth quarter after suffering an apparent ankle injury. He started the next game and every game since, but his play has been a far cry from how it was at the end of 2013.

Play calling this season has emphasized short passes, perhaps in an attempt to mask Siemian’s difficulty with accurately throwing deep passes. In the past he hasn’t had the healthiest feet, and based on the appearance of his ankles, that’s still an issue at the midpoint of the 2014 campaign.

There are still six (and maybe even seven or eight) games left to play, so if Siemian’s health is so severely affecting his performance or causing the offense to alter its game plans, he needs to be benched. Even if he wasn’t apparently hurt, his stats alone would be enough to warrant a change.

Among starting quarterbacks in the Big Ten, which is not a very illustrious group, Siemian ranks 13 out of 14 in yards per attempt with 5.9. That trails Wisconsin’s Tanner McEvoy, the quarterback the Wildcats forced out of the game two weeks ago, by 0.6 yards per attempt.

Put more starkly, Siemian is second in the Big Ten in passing attempts — trailing Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg by just one throw — but sixth in yardage with 1,323. His four touchdown passes is the second-worst total by a starter in the conference, with the worst total belonging to Minnesota’s Mitch Leidner, who has thrown just 91 times this year.

The offense is a model of inefficiency with Siemian at the helm. Its incapability to generate big plays through the air has been a key contributor to the team’s depressing 4.7 yards per play this season.

Some of that blame lies with the receiving corps, which has committed many noticeable drops this year, but at this point, it’s hard to imagine backup Zack Oliver is a serious downgrade from Siemian.

The junior came into the Northern Illinois game and threw a perfect 54-yard bomb to junior wideout Pierre Youngblood-Ary. One pass is not an appropriate statistical sample size, but qualitatively, it shows that Oliver is prepared and ready to play each week.

If Oliver is healthy and able to execute the game plan and Siemian is not, Oliver should get the starting nod. This team is no stranger to having a second quarterback, and it’s clear from the stats that something has to change.

Email: robertpillote2017@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @BobbyPillote

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