What is there that needs to be said more about Venric Mark’s game last weekend at Syracuse that is not said in his stat line?
Mark earned a spot as the Big Ten’s special teams player of the week with 134 punt return yards on two punt returns, including an 82-yard scamper that marked the first score of the season and a 52-yard return in the second quarter that set up Kain Colter’s 14-yard touchdown pass to Christian Jones. Mark also had 49 yards on three kickoff returns. In addition, Mark had 82 yards rushing on 14 carries for 5.9 average yards per carry.
That kind offensive weaponry from a running back or special teams player simply has not existed at Northwestern for some time. The comparisons to Tyrell Sutton continue to grow and grow (including the size thing, which the ESPN broadcast continually mentioned).
If Mark can be a Sutton-like offensive weapon out of the backfield and in special teams, Northwestern is going to survive a lot of poor performances. Consider where Northwestern was at in the first quarter before Mark’s big return.
The Wildcats trailed the Orange 7-6 at that point and had three drives for a total of 72 yards in the first quarter. None of those three drives were three-and-outs, but all three ended in punts — including that first drive which ended with the botched punt. Mark’s play changed the momentum of the game. It breathed confidence into Northwestern and it helped the team find a rhythm and energy offensively.
Northwestern’s average starting field position in the first quarter was its own 18. Its average starting field position in the second was its own 49. Mark’s big returns were key to Northwestern scoring drives. The Wildcats had only two drives of 50 or more yards — one being the thrilling final drive of the game.
Mark played a much bigger impact than a simple seven points and field position. You could feel it watching the game and on the sideline. The Wildcats needed to get the ball to Mark in open space however possible. And surely they will try to do that again this week — particularly if teams purposely try to avoid punting and kicking to Mark. Mark’s ability to run kept defenses honest in defending Kain Colter. The threat of Mark in open space will give Colter more running room and Northwestern a more consistent offensive attack.
Through one week, it should be very clear that Mark is a very special player for this offense.
Chelsea Armstrong, Field Hockey: Armstrong ended up with five goals in three games in Northwestern’s perfect 4-0 road trip to California last week. The Wildcats topped No. 11 Stanford, No. 16 California to start the road trip and then defeated Pacific and UC Davis. Surely Northwestern will be climbing from No. 20 in this week’s poll. Armstrong’s highlight this week came when she scored the only goal in Northwestern’s win over No. 16 California with 42 seconds remaining in regulation. The senior is Northwestern’s all-time leading goal scorer, bringing her career total to 77 this weekend. She has six goals and two assists for Northwestern, who is 5-1 this year. Also of note, freshman Carolin Troncelliti recorded a hat trick in the win over No. 11 Stanford.
Trevor Siemian, Demetrius Fields and Kain Colter, Football: Recording the win on Saturday came down to that fateful final drive — as it always seems to in Northwestern games. There was a lot at play though in this final drive and it took execution, sacrifice and leadership from these three players. That final drive turned out to be everything we love about Northwestern football. First, Kain Colter, feeling the effects of an earlier shoulder injury, told offensive coordinator Mick McCall that his team would have a better chance of winning and avoiding the complete collapse with Siemian at quarterback. That was an incredibly selfless move from Colter and the result was obviously a good one. Siemian led the 10-play, 75-yard drive that gave Northwestern the win. Siemian was 6 for 7 for 62 yards on that final drive with Fields catching three of those passes for 43 yards, including the game-winning touchdown.
Stephanie Holthus, Volleyball: Holthus took home her second consecutive tournament MVP award as Northwestern continued its winning ways with a championship at the La Quinta Invitational in New Mexico. Holthus capped off her tournament with 21 kills and 10 digs in the championship victory over host New Mexico State on Saturday. She finished with 58 kills, 29 digs and five blocks for the three-day tournament. Northwestern is 5-0 for the second straight year and ties its best start since 1997.