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updated: 9/21/2012 6:10 PM

For Northwestern, perfect record but imperfect play

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  • Boston College's Jaryd Rudolph forces Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter to fumble during the third quarter last Saturday in Evanston.

    Boston College's Jaryd Rudolph forces Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter to fumble during the third quarter last Saturday in Evanston.
    Associated Press

Associated Press

For all the work that needs to be done, there's one area where Northwestern is absolutely perfect.

That would be its record.

The Wildcats will try to keep it that way when they host South Dakota in what appears to be a breather after opening with three wins over BCS teams.

Northwestern squeezed by Syracuse, Vanderbilt and Boston College. Now, it's eyeing a Championship Subdivision team before opening Big Ten play against Indiana.

Time to exhale? Don't tell that to the Wildcats.

"We are not the finished product," coach Pat Fitzgerald said.

That was clear last week.

Forget that Northwestern (3-0) remained unbeaten against BCS teams while the rest of the conference is a combined 1-8 in such games. There was plenty of room for improvement, particularly on offense and near the end zone.

The Wildcats didn't get a touchdown until Mike Trumpy broke off a 27-yard scoring run with 1:37 left to make it a nine-point game, the second straight week they didn't reach the end zone until the fourth quarter. But unlike the Vanderbilt game, Northwestern had plenty of chances against Boston College.

They racked up 560 yards over 100 plays and had no trouble moving between the 20s. The problem was what happened once they got deep in Eagles territory, particularly in the early going.

Northwestern had chances to score touchdowns on all five possessions in the first half, but rather than break the game open, the Wildcats settled for four field goals.

"We've got a lot of room for improvement," Fitzgerald said. "We've not yet put together a clean game, and especially with our performance of the offense in the red zone, we've got a ton to work on. We've got a lot of competition on that side of the ball, too, and that competition is going to lead to see who's playing as we move forward."

That includes the quarterback spot, where starter Kain Colter has been splitting time with Trevor Siemian. They combined to complete 30 of 40 passes last week, with Colter throwing for 144 yards and running for 66, while Siemian threw for 123 yards.

Fitzgerald continues to say the Wildcats have "1A and 1B" quarterbacks, although he didn't dismiss the idea of starting Siemian this week. Instead, he said "maybe" when asked if he might.

Either way, receiver Demetrius Fields doesn't see much difference between the two, although Siemian is more likely to throw.

"Even the first game when they talked about it, I didn't know that Trevor was in until mid-drive," said Fields, who caught the winning TD from Siemian in the opener against Syracuse after a banged up Colter pulled himself. "That might have something to do with me being oblivious, but at the same time, I have full confidence in both quarterbacks. They're both in the same amount of time watching film. They're both in telling us what they want out of routes. And they're both on the same page, so it's kind of the same in our minds."

The Wildcats have gotten big contributions from Venric Mark, who ran for 123 yards against Vanderbilt and 77 yards last week before sitting out the fourth quarter with an undisclosed lower body injury. He was not listed on the injury report for this game.

With Mark out, Trumpy came up big in the end and finished with 106 yards rushing.

Now, Northwestern is staring at South Dakota in what seems like a mismatch on the surface. The Wildcats have won five straight over FCS opponents by a combined 186-45 since a 34-17 loss to New Hampshire in 2006 -- Fitzgerald's second game -- and they're 4-0 against South Dakota. Their most recent meeting with the Coyotes was a romp, with Northwestern winning 47-2, although it's worth noting that game was on Oct. 1, 1927.

South Dakota (1-1) has a new coach in alum Joe Glenn and a new league affiliation in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. It has a poor record against the Big Ten at 2-25, but it did knock off Minnesota by three in 2010 before getting pounded by Wisconsin a year ago.

Quarterback Josh Vander Maten has been on target this season, completing just over 70 percent of his passes, and Marcus Sims rushed for 127 yards and a TD to lead the Coyotes to a 31-21 win against Colgate last week.

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