by Kevin Trahan (@k_trahan)
On a touchdown drive in the second quarter — fittingly a drive with all run plays — Venric Mark did something no Northwestern running back has done since Tyrell Sutton in 2006: he went over 1,000 yards on the season.
“I’m excited; I’m not overly excited right now,” Mark said. “We have more games to play.”
Of course, individual accolades are nice, especially a 1,000-yard season for a running back, but Mark still has the chance to help his team do much more, namely something is hasn’t done since 1949: win a bowl game. But if Northwestern can finally accomplish that goal, it will be due largely in part to the excellence of Mark, who has come out of nowhere to be one of the most explosive offensive players in the Big Ten.
The run game has been NU’s bread-and-butter all year, and Mark has been a big part of that success. The Wildcats shied away from the run the past few weeks, but this week, it was a run-dominated gameplan, and consequently, an NU-dominated game.
“We knew what our plan was, and it was to run the ball,” Mark said. “And it was working very well.”
“Working very well” might be an understatement. Mark rushed for 162 yards, while quarterback Kain Colter rushed for 166 yards and three touchdowns. Overall, NU rushed for 349 yards and a whopping 7.1 yards per carry. The Wildcats ran 49 times and threw just 10 passes all game, but if that’s what it takes to be successful, that’s what NU needs to do.
“I feel like we’re running the ball well and calling it an identity or whatever, maybe that was the wrong word, but we’re running the ball well and I feel like that’s a key to victory,” Colter said, referring to his comments to ESPN.com earlier in the week when he said NU doesn’t really have an offensive identity. “When you can dominate the line of scrimmage, get yards running the ball, take time off the clock, that’s huge. If you’re running ball, stopping the run well, you’re going to win games, so I feel like that’s what we have to do to win games.”
It’s tough to argue with that right now.
But any review of the running game consisting of just Mark and Colter would be a disservice to the rest of the offense. They get the stats, but as Pat Fitzgerald likes to say, stats are for losers.
“I have to give credit to the offensive line,” Mark said. “They’ve been playing really well and I just give all the credit to them.
“I just have to give a lot of credit to them because they’ve been coming through throughout every game.”
Colter also credited the wide receivers, who have been criticized for a disappointing year, but have provided solid run-blocking on the perimeter. They only caught seven passes for 84 yards, but again, stats don’t tell the whole story.
When you put it all together — Colter, Mark, the offensive line and the receivers — you get one of the best rushing offenses in the Big Ten and an offense that moved better than it has in nearly a month.
“When we’re blocking at the line of scrimmage and we’re blocking on the perimeter, we’ve got Venric back there and me back there, we’re tough to stop, and you know, I feel like that’s kind of the direction we need to go,” Colter said. “And we see that, when we’re able to do that efficiently, we’re winning games.”
And when you’re winning games, why try anything else.