Oct. 30, 2013
The Wednesday Skip Report focuses its attention on how the Wildcats offense plans to recapture the spark it has demonstrated for most of the last 14 months:
CHECKING IN WITH: Trevor Siemian has ridden shotgun on the roller coaster that has been the 'Cats season. Through their opening four wins and their stare-down with Ohio State, he completed 60 of his 88 passing attempts (68.2 percent), threw for six touchdowns, suffered only three picks and was sacked just a half-dozen times. But then, while taking the majority of the snaps against Wisconsin, he went 13-of-34 (38.2 percent) with no touchdowns and suffered five sacks. And next, with Kain Colter sidelined for the Minnesota game, he went 25-of-46 (54.3 percent) with one touchdown, suffered a pair of picks (one returned for a touchdown), was sacked three times and lost a fumble that set up a Gopher field goal. And finally, last Saturday at Iowa, he took just seven snaps, handing off on six of them and getting sacked on the other.
That is why, when we caught up to him, we wondered if his recent experiences had affected his confidence.
"Not much," he said. "Obviously, you're going to play well or you're not going to play well. That's part of the deal. As a quarterback, you've got to be ready to take some of the blame. But if you're going to get your confidence shook after two (bad) games in your career, you're probably in a little bit of trouble going down the stretch. I'm just like anybody else. If you have a couple of bad games, you've got to be ready to bounce back through adversity. That's what we're trying to do as a team right now."
We then mentioned that wideout Rashad Lawrence, who has known him since the ninth grade, said that Siemian doesn't get too high or too low. But that he then added, "Sometimes he can get to a point where he's trying to be too perfect, as we all can." True?
"A little bit," Siemian admitted. "Especially when we (the `Cats offense) were beginning to struggle, I was probably pressing a little bit too much, trying to make things happen that weren't there. But, yeah, you try and stay on an even keel, especially when you're going through patches like this. It's a grind, man. We're in a grind."
Finally we tell him that Pat Fitzgerald expected him, despite his troubles, "To keep gripping it and ripping it."
"Yeah," Siemian said here, a big grin on his face. "I was talking to Coach (Mick) McCall (the offensive coordinator) and I was like, `Give me the ball. Let me throw it.' Hopefully he does. I'm ready to play and we're excited for Saturday (and the game at Nebraska). I'm ready to go."
OTHER OUTTAKES: On his paucity of snaps at Iowa: "It just so happened that we were running the ball well and Kain was playing well. That's the beauty of the two-quarterback deal. When one guy's playing well and one guy's not, the other one can pick up the slack."
On his mindset heading into Saturday's game at Nebraska: "Just as it's always been. I prepare to play every play in every game. If I don't do that then I'm in trouble. So I'm just prepping like everybody else, getting ready to play every snap if I have to."
On whether he has to prove himself again after his recent performances:
"Everyday I'm just trying to improve myself. Even before we started losing, I always felt I had to improve myself, that I still got a lot to prove. Not much has changed in that sense."
BACK TO SCHOOL: We had superback Dan Vitale say this on Monday when asked about the crucial illegal blocking penalty called on him late in the Hawkeye game. "I just tried to do way too much. Overstepped the bounds of my job."
We had Lawrence, up above, saying all players try to be too perfect on occasion and Siemian admitting that he had pressed too much. So we brought up an old analogy with Fitzgerald, the one about the hitter who wants a hit so bad he grips his bat so tight he inhibits his ability to hit. Could that be the case with his 'Cats, that they're trying too hard?
"I'm going to go get a minor in psychology," he said with a laugh, then he reiterated a point he has stressed often during these weeks of offensive struggles. "Do your damn job. It ain't hard. Do your damn job. That's all we talk about. Do your job, period. We've got to do a better job of explaining to them what that is and how to do it, and then we've got to show them, 'All you've got to do is that. That's it. Just do your damn job and things will work themselves out.' We've got plenty of evidence not only this year, but most importantly in the last couple weeks. When we do that, we can move the ball and we can score points."
POWER OUTAGE: Here is a comparison that aptly captures the difference between then and now. In its first five games, the 'Cats offense unfurled 29 plays that went for 20 yards or more. That's a hiccup under six per game. But in its last three games, that same group has managed only seven plays like that. That's a hiccup over two per game.
So would an explosion play or two cure that offense, or is it more about consistency?
"I saw a lot of it in the second half (at Iowa)," said Fitzgerald, and that was indeed true. In those 30 minutes there was a 31-yard completion from Colter to Vitale, a 30-yard run by Stephen Buckley and drives of eight and 16 plays.
"I thought we moved the ball well," Fitzgerald would continue. "You think about the two drives we moved across the 50 and didn't score. We got a penalty and we fumbled the ball. You can't do that. You just can't do that. You saw us play Ohio State and they're undefeated, but there wasn't a big difference there on that Saturday. And there's not a big difference with anybody we play. The difference is in what you do in the moment and we've just got to get the guys to play smarter, to play more disciplined. You can't fault guys for trying to do their best. There were a couple of those issues. But then there were the issues we have to fix. Just not moving our feet. Getting holding calls. Jumping offsides.
"You can't do that."
Be the first to know what's going on with the 'Cats -- Follow @NU_Sports on Twitter, become a fan of Northwestern Athletics on Facebook, subscribe to the NU Sports Express e-newsletter and sign up to receive promotional text alerts for the latest news, schedule updates and video and to interact with NU. For more information on following specific Northwestern teams online, visit our Social Media page!