Despite loss of Mark, success remains

The offense is thriving even without Mark, writes Jamie Lovegrove.

When Northwestern took the field Saturday night for warmups, Venric Mark was nowhere to be seen. He emerged from the tunnel shortly before the game started, but with no pads on.

Mark had participated lightly in practice throughout the week after his brief 11-carry performance at Cal last weekend. On Thursday he was listed as questionable, but so was Kain Colter, who ended up playing comfortably and successfully en route to the 48-27 win.

Last season's Big Ten all-purpose yards leader is clearly frustrated with the injuries that have sidelined him through much of the first two games this season.

At halftime, he tweeted to make that perfectly clear: "Sometimes life doesn't give you something you want, not because you don't deserve it, but because you deserve more. #PatientlyWaiting."

Coach Fitzgerald had little to say about Mark's status after the Syracuse game, simply repeating that his status is still "day-to-day." But Fitz also acknowledged that Mark is itching to play and that he feels for the senior.

At some point, Venric Mark will return to the starting lineup. That might be the most exciting takeaway from Saturday's comfortable victory over the Orange. The offense played so seamlessly that nobody would blame you for forgetting that a preseason Heisman dark horse candidate was watching from the sidelines.

The absence has given Treyvon Green an opportunity to step in and prove himself. Over the two opening games, Green has run for 195 yards and three touchdowns on just 30 carries, and he picked up a receiving touchdown against Syracuse too.

Though Mark stood out last season, we knew there were offensive weapons that could keep the team scoring without him. But 102 points in two games against respectable teams (even if 14 of those can be attributed to the defense) would have been tough to predict.

No Venric Mark has meant limited use of the triple option and zone read that were so successful last season, and the few times that Mick McCall has tried to run the plays with the backups have not worked quite as they used to.

Even so, while the offense is operating differently without Mark, that does not necessarily mean that it's worse. McCall and the players deserve credit for their ability to adapt and create successful game plans even while some of their favorite plays are no longer at their disposal.

The offensive success is also great news for the program's long-term prosperity. Venric Mark and Kain Colter only have one season left with the Wildcats, so the experience for some of the younger guys to get a chance to play together will be useful down the line.

While the Venric Mark injury is unfortunate for the team and especially for the workhorse himself, it has still given the rest of the offense the time to mature. I would even argue that they may have developed faster in these two games than they would have had Mark been helping out in the backfield.

I wouldn't be surprised if the offense as a whole is better and more dynamic when Mark returns than it would have been if he had played every down. Now that's an exciting prospect.


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