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Northwestern goes to 4-0, gains momentum for Big Ten play

Teammates mob Venric Mark (16 carries 117 yards) after one his three short touchdown runs Wildcats’ victory. | Nam Y.

Teammates mob Venric Mark (16 carries, 117 yards) after one of his three short touchdown runs in the Wildcats’ victory. | Nam Y. Huh~AP

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Updated: October 24, 2012 6:51AM

A schedule that resulted in Northwestern being the only Big Ten team to start the season against three BCS opponents offered a breather Saturday. The Wildcats took full advantage, turning in the type of decisive victory that has been a rarity for a program that has earned a reputation for cliffhangers.

Running back Venric Mark scored three touchdowns as the Wildcats (4-0) ended their nonconference schedule with a 38-7 thumping of South Dakota (1-2) before 28,641 at Ryan Field.

The same offense that required 100 plays before scoring a touchdown in last week’s victory against Boston College scored four in its first 31 plays against the Coyotes, which only bolsters the quiet confidence this team has developed heading into conference play.

“Going into the Big Ten we expect to win games, we expect to win the conference,” quarterback Kain Colter said. “We’re not going to get too high because we’ve had some success. We’re going to keep doing what we’ve been doing.”

The plan was to give Mark and backup Mike Trumpy limited reps because both got banged up against BC and both are expected to carry much of the load when conference play opens against Indiana next weekend. Mark finished with 117 yards on 16 carries. Trumpy had four carries, all in the second half.

“Venric is playing at a very high level,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “The way he’s been able to run the ball between the tackles, that has been the question for him with some of the experts out there, and he’s proven in the last four weeks that he can. Now the heavy lifting starts in Big Ten play.”

The mold was cast early when Mark exploded up the middle for 47 yards on the second play of the game. He would later score on runs of 3, 6 and 4 yards. Reserve running backs Tyris Jones and Treyvon Green also scored touchdowns as Northwestern amassed 277 rushing yards while holding South Dakota to 51.

It was the third game in a row Northwestern had 200 or more rushing yards.

“Would I like to throw a bunch of touchdown passes and would the receivers like to catch a lot of touchdown catches, yeah, but the running game is working for us so we’re going to stick with that,” Colter said.

Those wondering just how good this team is found few answers against the overmatched Coyotes. Northwestern scored on four of its first five possessions to take a four-touchdown lead at the break. Green opened the second-half scoring with a career-long 33-yard run on the Wildcats’ first possession.

South Dakota had nine penalties for 67 yards.

“It’s obviously gratifying, but the mentality our team likes to take is that it’s a clean slate for us now,” defensive end Quentin Williams said. “While we did go 4-0 in nonconference, it doesn’t mean much if we don’t do well in conference. This is going to be a big week and we’re going to take it one step at a time. We’re in a great place, but we have a long way to go.”

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