Venric Mark was an All-Amercan punt returner in 2012 for the Northwestern Wildcats and also rushed for 1,366 yards as he guided the team to a remarkable 10-3 record. He was poised to come back for his senior season and take the Big Ten by storm as an all-purpose offensive threat for Pat Fitzgerald and help the Wildcats take the next step as a program. But with six games in the books, Mark has played one full game and has less than 100 yards rushing. So what has caused this lost senior season for the promising running back?
In short: injuries. Mark suffered a leg injury early in the opener against the Cal Bears after rushing for 29 yards on 11 carries with a catch for five yards as well and missed the entirety of the team’s next three games. He returned against the Ohio State Buckeyes and showed flashes of the dynamic playmaking he’s capable of, accounting for 103 total yards of offense and returned one kick (his only return of the season so far) for 38 yards. In Northwestern’s blowout loss against the Wisconsin Badgers, Mark reinjured his leg very early in the game and did not return and his status for this week’s game against the Minnesota Golden Gophers remains in question.
In his absence, the entire offense has struggled. Northwestern is averaging just 189.33 yards rushing per game this season after running for 225.54 yards per game in 2012. The return game, which was so important for Northwestern when establishing field position last season, has been a complete non-factor. Mark averaged 1.2 returns per game and nearly 20 yards per return while breaking two for touchdowns. This season, the team has returned just one punt through six games (a six-yard return by wide receiver Tony Jones).
The good news for Mark and Northwestern is that there is still a half a season to play. Fitzgerald has been impressed with the way his senior running back has handled the frustration of getting injured and says it has not affected how hard he works in practice or his attitude as a leader of this team. If he can get healthy, he’ll provide a much-needed boost to the offense and help get the Wildcats back to the bowl season in 2013.