NU's young QBs ready for bowl game

EVANSTON, Ill. -- If Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald had his way, he would be a couple years away from seeing redshirt freshman quarterback Evan Watkins or true freshman quarterback Kain Colter playing in a significant game.

He certainly didn't not envision them playing any time this season -- especially not on New Year’s Day 2011.

But Fitzgerald wasn’t given that luxury. With the season-ending injury to star signal-caller Dan Persa against Iowa, Fitzgerald had to throw Watkins and Colter into two of the Wildcats most difficult settings this season – at Wrigley Field against Illinois and at Wisconsin.

In each situation, Watkins and Colter played as one would expect freshmen QBs to play -- they struggled. But now as they prepare for the biggest game of their young college careers, with Northwestern facing Texas Tech in the TicketCity Bowl on Jan. 1, Colter and Watkins are grateful for those adversity-filled experiences. They are ready to show they’re capable of leading the Wildcats to their first bowl victory since 1949.

“I wouldn’t say I’m so nervous,” Colter said Saturday following Northwester’s first practice since finishing finals. “I’ve been dreaming of playing in a bowl game ever since I was little. I’m more anxious. I’m just ready to try and get my name out there and prove to the team that I can do it. Going into that first game, you get that first-game jitters out. I’m getting a little more comfortable.”

Watkins echoed the statement.

“Those two games were pretty big games,” Watkins said. “They were kind of like bowl games in a way. I think that would really help up us especially going into a big bowl game like this.”

Watkins has been the predominant passing quarterback with Colter being inserted to run the ball. Watkins was 10 of 20 for 135 yards and one interception in the 48-27 loss to Illinois and 13 of 22 for 123 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions in the 70-23 defeat to Wisconsin. Colter has thrown three incompletions and rushed for 31 yards on 11 carries in the two games.

Both understand they must get better for the Wildcats to have a chance.

“There’s a lot of room to improve obviously as a team, but I look at that personally,” Watkins said. “There’s a lot of things I could have done better. I’m really going to appraise myself and learn from that and eliminated that in the future. Mainly, just being smarter with the football.”

Colter was hopeful to get more opportunities to show off his arm against Texas Tech.

“I came here as quarterback, so I’m going to have to throw at some point of the game,” Colter said. “If I get the chance, I just want to make the best out of it. If I get in put the situation, I feel like I can do it.”

Fitzgerald is thankful the Wildcats are playing on Jan. 1 rather than an earlier bowl game. The more reps he can get Watkins and Colter, the better.

They’ve already had five practices leading up to facing Texas Tech.

“They’ll be much more prepared for this game than there was any way they could have been our last two games,” Fitzgerald said. “To me, that’s exciting and encouraging. I like the steps they’ve made so far, but I’m glad we don’t play today. We have a long way to go.”