A week after Kain Colter endured a concussion, no one knew what to expect as he jogged out to start the Wildcat offense. Four plays, four completions and a touchdown strike later, Ryan Field breathed easy: Colter and the Cats would never look back.
With his head cleared for play, the senior flashed a strong arm and speedy legs as No. 19 Northwestern (2-0) cruised to a 48-27 win against Syracuse (0-2). Colter completed 15 of his 18 passes and ran for 87 yards, outdone only by fellow quarterback Trevor Siemian, who threw for 259 and three touchdowns. Many of those landed in the hands of Tony Jones, as the senior churned out a career day with nine grabs for 185 yards.
“Mentally, I’m going to a different place. I feel more locked in and focused, and I think that’s paid dividends,” said Jones, who tallied just 335 yards all of last season.
The wideout added the exclamation point in the third quarter with an untouched 47-yard touchdown.
“The corner came in on a blitz, and the safety rolled over, so I was one-on-one,” he explained after the game. “He was flat-footed, and I was like, ‘let’s just go deep.’ Luckily Trev was on the same page as me.”
“We need to find new ways to get him the ball,” Pat Fitzgerald said. “...For two weeks, I think he’s played at an All-Big Ten level.”
In the early going, Colter’s first score went to Treyvon Green, who slipped through the flat to cap a four-play, 75-yard drive that took less than a minute off the clock. Northwestern’s first three drives yielded 10 points and 119 yards, but Colter was swapped with Siemian at the end of the quarter.
It was tough to spot the difference: Siemian found Jones for three straight completions, then lofted a touchdown to a wide-open Dan Vitale streaking toward the right end zone.
Northwestern would score on its next three possessions, including an agile 16-yard touchdown scamper from Colter, who juked a host of Orange defenders between the seams, muscled past corner Brandon Reddish at the goal line and extended his arm past the plane to put the Wildcats up 27-7. The Cats tacked on an extra seven with two seconds left in the half, as Siemian engineered a smooth 5-of-5 drive that ended in an athletic back-foot touchdown toss to Christian Jones.
“When we could take the nickels, we did, and when the big plays opened up we had an awareness level to take the shots,” Fitzgerald said. “I thought we had really solid momentum...We were trying to keep the pedal down.”
After Cal burned NU for 548 yards a week ago, Syracuse struggled to even move the ball past midfield. The Orange’s average starting field position in the first half was its own 18-yard line, and its offensive line struggled to slow Northwestern’s four-end defensive front.
The Wildcats snagged two first-half picks off Drew Allen, including a sideline interception from safety Traveon Henry. The Orange’s lone score of the half came on a 3-yard plunge from running back Jerome Smith, set up after Northwestern’s secondary got lost on a 27-yard reception from fellow ‘back Ashton Broyld.
Syracuse strung together three scoring drives in the second half, exposing the continued struggles of NU corners Dwight White and Nick VanHoose. Northwestern gave up 85 yards through the air in the third quarter, but made up for it with two more interceptions of Allen from Ibraheim Campbell and defensive end Dean Lowry.
“One thing we pride ourselves on is being able to get the ball back to our offense. We emphasize strips, rips and tips,” Henry said.
Ten different Wildcats caught a pass Saturday, with nearly half of the team’s receiving yardage coming from Jones. Green ended the night with a 28-yard touchdown burst, highlighting one of Northwestern’s most dominant wins in recent memory. It all came without Venric Mark, who Fitzgerald said is still “day-to-day.”
“He’ll be back, and he’ll be back with a vengeance,” Fitz promised.
NU continues a four-game homestand by hosting Western Michigan next Saturday at 8 p.m. CT.