EVANSTON, Ill. -
Kain Colter found ways to dominate without throwing the ball.
He ran where he wanted, caught big passes and just might have unveiled the blueprint for Northwestern in the process.
Colter ran for 161 yards and four touchdowns, and the Wildcats set a school record with 704 yards of total offense in a 44-29 victory over Indiana on Saturday in both teams' Big Ten Conference opener.
Along with the big gains on the ground, Colter also finished with 131 yards receiving in a dominant performance in which he barely threw the ball. He left that to Trevor Siemian instead.
"There are a lot of ways we can go with this," Colter said.
He mentioned the possibility of Siemian lining up at receiver, which drew a big grin from his teammate.
"I like that a lot, actually," he said.
The way he threw the ball on Saturday, Northwestern might want to keep Siemian behind center. He passed for 308 yards, and Venric Mark ran for 138 and a touchdown on a day when the Wildcats (5-0) had to hang on after they appeared to be on their way to an easy win.
They led 27-0 lead early in the third quarter before things got interesting.
Indiana (2-2) got within 37-29 when D'Angelo Roberts scored on a 2-yard run and Kofi Hughes ran it in on a reverse for the two-point conversion. Colter gave Northwestern another cushion when he scored on a 22-yard run to make it 44-29 with just over 5 minutes left. The Hoosiers then drove to the 4 before getting called for a false start on fourth down, and the Wildcats stopped them there and ran out the clock.
Northwestern is now 5-0 for the third time in five years, a good start for a team that finished fifth in the Legends division a year ago. Now, the question is: Can the Wildcats keep it up?
They looked good building that big lead before things got tense down the stretch.
Colter attempted just three passes and got intercepted once while Siemian handled most of the quarterback duties. But he was a huge contributor in the run and passing games, carrying 14 times and finishing with nine receptions, and his play at receiver caught the Hoosiers off guard.
"We didn't really prep as much for it because the first couple of games we saw him at quarterback," safety Greg Heban said. "Those first couple of possessions, we saw him at slot and Siemian at quarterback. We had to adjust to that."
Siemian did his part, completing 22 of 32 passes with an interception. But Colter came up with some big catches, including six on third downs.
"This was kind of Chapter 1 of what we plan to do," coach Pat Fitzgerald said. Still, Fitzgerald insisted Colter's not finished as a passer.
"We believe in Kain as a thrower; trust me on that," Fitzgerald said.
Mark wound up over 100 yards rushing for the third time in four games, and Northwestern came out on top after pounding South Dakota following narrow victories over Syracuse, Vanderbilt and Boston College.
Indiana simply couldn't overcome the big deficit.
Cameron Coffman started at quarterback and threw for 109 yards with an interception after suffering a hip pointer in a loss to Ball State two weeks earlier. Nate Sudfeld came on in the third quarter and provided a spark for the second straight game, going 9 of 16 for 157 yards and a touchdown. And coach Kevin Wilson said he plans to use them both.
"There won't be a controversy," he said. "I think they are both adequate, I think they will both play, we'll just keep evaluating. We will watch the game tape and see what we thought."
Northwestern got a pair of 8-yard scoring runs by Colter and two field goals by Jeff Budzien en route to a 20-0 halftime lead, and Colter's 15-yarder early in the third made it a 27-point game. The shutout ended when Indiana's Stephen Houston scored on a 20-yard run, and things got really wild when Sudfeld came into the game.
He immediately led Indiana on a 64-yard TD drive after Mark lost a fumble, connecting with Hughes on a 35-yard pass. And after Mark responded with a 1-yard TD run, Tevin Coleman returned the kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown, making it 34-21. Another field goal by Budzien made it a 16-point game late in the third, but Indiana injected some more drama into this one.