Along with the standard reasons – academics, great campus, playing in the Big Ten – there was one factor as big as any other that drew 2010 Northwestern commits Trevor Siemian and Tony Jones to the Wildcats: the spread offense.
And on the heels of the Cats’ wild, record-breaking Outback Bowl performance – a game in which Northwestern tossed 78 passes for 532 yards – Siemian, a quarterback, and Jones, a receiver, are itching to get a taste of Northwestern’s pass-happy offense.
“I was just thinking I really need to get ready because hopefully there will be a lot of balls going my way,” Jones told Purple Reign over the weekend. “(The Outback Bowl) definitely made me feel I made the right decision going to Northwestern.”
“It’s definitely a lot of fun,” Siemian said. “A lot of quarterbacks would love to throw it around 78 times in a game….It’s exciting the way they spread people out and throw the ball around and stuff. I’m sure the fans like watching that too.”
Indeed, these future cogs of NU’s offense were as entertained as the rest of the nation.
And why not? Mike Kafka threw more passes against Auburn than any quarterback had the entire season. His 78 tosses were also just seven shy of the all-time attempts record of 85; the 532 yards was the third-highest total of any QB this season, behind only a pair of slinging exhibitions by Houston’s Case Keenum. Moreover, four different NU receivers had at least eight catches, led by Zeke Markshausen’s Outback record-tying 12.
Asked if he had ever seen anything like it, the 6-3, 180-pound Siemian chuckled.
“No way,” he said. “That was pretty wild, a pretty wild game.”
Siemian, an Orlando native, is Northwestern’s only quarterback commit at the moment. With Kain Colter’s recent decommitment from Stanford, NU could grab another quarterback; defensive lineman Will Hampton defected from Stanford last summer and later committed to NU. But the fact that Siemian has been committed since the summer is in part due to Northwestern’s spread.
“To be honest with you, it was a big factor,” Siemian’s high school coach, Bob Head, told Purple Reign. “He wanted that spread offense because we’re always in the gun (at Olympia). We run the ball out of the shotgun, we do a lot of quick passes, we spread the ball all over the field. We do everything from that formation, so Northwestern running the spread was big.”
Indeed, Siemian wanted a chance to conduct that kind of offense, and NU’s coaches knew he was familiar with it.
“This year and last year I ran (the spread) a lot,” said Siemian, who is rated by Scout as a two-star prospect. “And that’s one of the reasons (the coaches) liked me is that my offense down here was a lot like theirs. I’ll be pretty comfortable with it when I get there.”
Jones, a three-star recruit from Grand Blanc, Mich., is one of a trio of receivers currently committed to NU. Rashad Lawrence, a high school teammate of Siemian, and Ohio native Jimmy Hall are also on board. Neither Lawrence nor Hall could be reached in time for this story.
Jones, though, is the best of the bunch, according to Scout.com recruiting analysts. And he spurned offers from Michigan State, Stanford, Vanderbilt and others partly because NU’s wide-open attack made his mouth water.
“There were a lot of things I liked about the school in general,” said Jones, who is 6-foot and 180 pounds with a 4.45 40. “But the spread offense definitely did stand out in my mind. Northwestern having that reputation for throwing the ball so much – I love that.”
While the Cats hadn’t approached the 78-pass total this season – Kafka’s previous high-attempt game was 47, which he did twice against MSU and Minnesota – they were a passing outfit all year. NU led the Big Ten in attempts and completions during the regular season, plus Kafka was seventh in the nation in completions per game (24.5) and 17th in yards per game (263.3). Moreover, Northwestern was No. 13 in the nation in passing yards per game.
“As a receiver,” Jones said, “you want a lot of passes coming your way and you want to be successful. And (Northwestern has) shown they can throw the ball a lot and win.”
Indeed, Northwestern’s combination of passing and winning stands out. Consider the passing totals from other New Year’s Day bowls. These are the combined attempt totals for the other Jan. 1 bowls:
43 passes in the Gator Bowl
59 passes in the Capital One Bowl
57 passes in the Rose Bowl
81 passes in the Sugar Bowl
Basically, Northwestern passed it more in the Outback Bowl than other teams – plural – did in their bowls. And Northwestern’s only 2010 quarterback and top-rated receiver took note.
“They definitely threw the ball a lot – that’s something that any wide receiver commit would like to see,” Jones said. “And I really just admired how hard they fought. They could have given up when they got down by two touchdowns but they really fought. Going into the game, everyone usually favors the SEC school because everyone says the SEC is a great conference – which it is – but I think we showed some people that Northwestern and the Big Ten are pretty tough too.”
Said Siemian: “I was there. It was a heck of a game. Northwestern struggled a little bit with turnovers, and that never helps you win games. But that being said, they still had a couple opportunities at the end of the game to win it, and that’s all you can really ask for.”
And a team that passes it 78 times in a New Year’s Day bowl, well, that’s all a quarterback and receiver can ask for.