Quiet injury, major return?

Eight days from Ohio State, Northwestern fans can only hope that Venric Mark makes his return at full strength. It could push NU to one of its biggest wins in program history.

We might never know what happened to Venric Mark.

"Lower-body injury," they explained each week, like any hockey team would.

(It made sense only because Director of Athletic Communications Paul Kennedy spent three years with the Chicago Blackhawks.)

Did Mark aggravate his "lower body" at some point during the Cal game? Could he have played this weekend if the Maine Black Bears weren't on the opposite sidelines?

Questions abound, but there's one thing we cared about. In eight days, Northwestern needs Venric Mark. The Wildcats might not survive with him at 50 percent; they'll want their best playmaker to lead a winning effort next Saturday.

So as the APU tensions reached their semi-awkward climax, Mark quietly but obviously excelled on the practice field. PW's Sylvan Lane wrote on Wednesday that he was in "peak form against the scout defense," appearing at nearly full strength.

The loss of Mark brought forth pleasant surprises and dismaying negatives. Treyvon Green had an outstanding first month, gaining seven yards per carry and five touchdowns. Glancing at numbers, you might think the Cats were fine.

But Kain Colter was not the same quarterback, particularly when Mike Trumpy ran the read option alongside him. Green could even co-exist with Mark; both appear capable of establishing starring roles on the same team.

After his stunning 1,366-yard, 12-touchdown campaign last year, Mark was hobbled against California, gaining only 29 yards on 11 carries. Save for a vague Green quotation in which he noted that Mark "went down," no one released much information. "Day-to-day," they still note.

"Like I said all along, he's day-to-day and he's had different participation in practice based on how he feels and things of that nature," Pat Fitzgerald told PW on Tuesday. "I've just been encouraged by the way that he's worked and his attitude. Hopefully he'll get back on the field soon."

Are you left with more questions? Understandable.

We're left with this: Northwestern salvaged a 4-0 record without its best player, established more options in an increasingly dynamic rushing attack and makes Ohio State's preparation confusing.

They'll have no idea what to expect. Even if Mark reaches 100 percent, how will Fitzgerald and Mick McCall deploy he and his backups? Expect a complicated gameplan, especially from an offensive coordinator who threw several wrinkles in the playbook this offseason.

They kept it quiet. They'll want Ryan Field loud. With Mark looking ready, those chances of winning grow by the minute.

Brian De Los Santos and Sylvan Lane contributed reporting.

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