Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Football: Ben Bryant vs. Brendan Sullivan: Which quarterback will we see more on Saturday against Howard?

Sixth-year+quarterback+Ben+Bryant+and+junior+quarterback+Brendan+Sullivan+in+the+game.
Daily file photos by Angeli Mittal
Sixth-year quarterback Ben Bryant and junior quarterback Brendan Sullivan in the game.

Graduate student quarterback Ben Bryant’s upper-body injury silenced the Ryan Field crowd immediately on Saturday versus then-No.6 Penn State.

The big hit occurred seconds after a third quarter snap, as Nittany Lions defensive tackle Zane Durant accelerated past the ‘Cats offensive line unscathed, smacking Bryant from his blindside. The 25,064 fans in attendance held still as NU’s training staff tended to the wounded warrior for multiple minutes.

Although the ‘Cats exited the possession with three points, it was clear that Bryant’s day was done. Interim head coach David Braun was unsure of his starting quarterback’s status following the contest, waiting to hear from medical staff.

Fast forward to Monday’s press conference, Braun still didn’t know the timeline for Bryant’s recovery, but felt confident that his starting quarterback would return to the field quickly.

“That dude is tough, he’s gritty, he’s a warrior, you know, he’s going to do everything in his power to get back to full health and be ready to play,” Braun said.

And up to this point in the season, Bryant has earned that type of respect. Even though his final statline on Saturday didn’t show it, the veteran efficiently orchestrated NU’s scoring drive in the first half even against a strong defense.

According to Pro Football Focus, Bryant was pressured on 50% of his dropbacks. This doesn’t take into account how strong Penn State’s defense is — a defensive line front filled with NFL Draft talent and arguably college football’s top defensive unit.

But after Bryant went down in the fourth quarter, junior quarterback Brendan Sullivan took over for the rest of the contest. Braun noted that if Bryant can’t go against Howard, the Davison, Michigan’s native’s name will be called.

“Brendan’s earned that opportunity, he’s played well in his opportunities to come in and spell Ben,” Braun said. “But as of right now, we’re moving forward anticipating that Ben will be ready to go.”

Braun said he would “absolutely not ” rest Bryant this week with FCS opponent Howard on Saturday and a bye week the next, which would give the starter nearly three weeks to rest.

However, even if Bryant leads the ‘Cats out onto the field during their first drive, the question remains how long the starter will remain in the game.

NU’s 98.0% chance to win according to ESPN says it all — Saturday’s game could be decided in the first half. This would allow the ‘Cats to sit back, take in the Homecoming weekend festivities and roll out its second unit, which would include Sullivan.

The junior struggled against the Nittany Lions, completing two of six passes for eight yards and throwing an interception directly to a Penn State defender lurking in the secondary. But Sullivan was pressured even more than his teammate on dropbacks: 83% of the time, according to PFF.

Braun described the quarterback’s effort as tough and gritty — in typical Sullivan fashion, he said.

“(He was) doing whatever he could to just keep battling with this team,” Braun said. “We’re anticipating and expecting Ben to be able to go, but regardless of how that plays out moving forward, (we’re) very confident in Brendan’s ability to step in and help this team go win.”

Although both quarterbacks stand at 6-foot-3 and are separated by only five pounds, Bryant and Sullivan bring starkly different attributes to the table. Bryant’s experience and elite play against Minnesota demonstrated why Braun and his staff handed the keys over to the veteran.

On the other hand, Sullivan’s mobility and flashes of potential highlight why he and the former competed for the number one job in the spring and fall. Sullivan only played in the fourth quarter but led the ‘Cats with 25 rush yards on Saturday.

Braun made it known if Bryant is ready to go, he doesn’t have a problem sending the pro-style quarterback out. Yet, with the chance to let him rest for multiple weeks before the remainder of Big Ten West play, the team can believe in the backup.

“He’s been a guy that’s taken charge, he’s been a great leader for our team,” sixth-year wideout Cam Johnson said. “We didn’t have any doubts when Sullivan was going to come in and play a great game, and we’ll continue to have that confidence in moving forward no matter what happens.”

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