Like all quarterbacks, Northwestern's Kain Colter must master clock management.
But not only the clock on the scoreboard. The one in his head, too.
Colter has racked up yards (180 rush, 301 pass) and touchdowns (4 rushing) in his first two career starts. He also has racked up hits, a few too many for anyone's liking, especially with top quarterback Dan Persa still not medically cleared to play.
There's no doubt Colter is a special player with the ball in his hands. While Northwestern looks for its first bell-cow running back since Tyrell Sutton, the team's best option appears to be the guy taking the snaps.
"Dynamic," offensive coordinator Mick McCall said of Colter. "That's the one word that describes him best. He's a handful to defend. He's done a very, very good job and we're really pleased."
McCall's challenge is to develop Colter into a complete quarterback, one who knows when to take off and when to stand his ground in the pocket and wait for pass plays to develop. Although Northwestern boasts one of the Big Ten's deepest groups of receivers, the team ranks near the bottom of the league in pass attempts (40).
The good news is McCall has been down this road before. Mike Kafka was a run-first quarterback who led the Big Ten with 3,430 pass yards in 2009. Persa began his career as a run-first quarterback before completing a league-record 73.5 percent of his pass attempts for 2,581 yards and 15 touchdowns last season.
"You look early in Dan’s career, early in Mike's career, all them have the ability to make plays with their feet," McCall said. "They go, '1-2, I got to get out of here.'"
McCall is trying to get Colter to wait a little longer.
"There's times he's pulled it down where he didn't have to," McCall said. "Last week he checked the ball down a lot better. ... As time goes on, he'll get better at checking the ball down, getting that progression to the third or fourth [receiver] and he won't have to use his feet so much."
Colter went through some sliding drills this week in practice, and McCall is telling the sophomore when he should run out of bounds rather than absorb another hit.
"I've got to teach him to manage himself a little bit better," McCall said. "He wants to go make every play like every young guy does."
Another item on McCall's agenda is what to do at quarterback when Persa is medically cleared to play. Persa, who has had increased participation in practice, said this week he should be back by the Big Ten opener Oct. 1, at the latest. McCall said there's still a chance the senior plays Saturday at Army.
Although McCall isn't too wrapped up in how he'll use Persa and Colter, he admits the coaches will "get our creative juices going" soon.
"Until I get told that he's a full-go, that's what I'm waiting on," McCall said. "We'll see when that comes and we'll get him going again. I know he's been itching to play and he's working his fanny off. It's been a tough ordeal. It's hard coming back because you're so close but you've got to get over this hurdle. ... There's always going to be times where you get setbacks in your rehab; it doesn't matter what the injury is.
"But he's still way ahead of the game compared to the normal timeline."
While Persa tries to accelerate his return, Colter's best approach could be to slow things down just a bit.