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Patient Venric Mark putting up healthy numbers for Northwestern

Northwestern v Nebraska

Northwestern v Nebraska

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nebraska at northwestern

The facts: 2:30, Ch. 7, 720-AM.

Updated: November 21, 2012 6:14AM

Junior running back Venric Mark already was on the preseason watch list for the Paul Hornung Award, given to the nation’s most versatile player.

He validated his status last week with a career-best 182 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries against Minnesota.

And Saturday, when Northwestern (6-1, 2-1 Big Ten) plays Legends Division foe Nebraska (4-2, 1-1) at Ryan Field, a national TV audience will get to watch Mark.

‘‘He’s just executing what we do and how we do things,’’ Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald said. ‘‘He’s got really good patience, and he’s a physical player.

‘‘He’s always been a physical player for us, but I think the hallmark of what I’ve seen from him to this point is being patient, setting up his blocks, playing behind the concept.

‘‘He’s not trying to force things and play too fast. But once he sees a seam, he’s got the explosiveness to get through the hole.’’

The Texas native ranks first in the Big Ten and fourth in the nation in all-purpose yardage (184.6 yards per game) and is fifth in the conference and 15th nationally in rushing yards per game (113.9), averaging 5.9 yards per carry.

‘‘He’s been playing amazing,’’ co-captain David Nwabuisi said.

‘‘He’s been playing at a real consistent high level. We just hope Venric can keep it up and keep it going.’’

In his first season as the Wildcats’ starting tailback, the 5-8, 175-pound Mark already has four 100-yard rushing games.

‘‘[Venric] is his own player,’’ Fitzgerald said.

‘‘Where he separates himself from a lot of other guys is his dynamic ability to return the kick, too.

‘‘He goes about his business, does his thing, and he’s a joy to coach.’’

A strong game from Mark will be on Northwestern’s wish list against Nebraska, which is coming off a bye week and lost 63-38 the week before to Ohio State.

Nebraska fans coming to Evanston also will remember last season’s meeting in Lincoln when the Wildcats upset the Cornhuskers 28-25.

The Wildcats, who boast the conference’s No. 2 run defense, will have their work cut out against the Cornhuskers, who have the Big Ten’s best rushing attack at 292 yards per game.

On the other hand, Nebraska’s run defense will be facing a strong ground game, as well. Northwestern is averaging 229.9 rushing yards.

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