The plan which the Wildcats enjoyed success with returned to full form in a 28-17 victory over the Iowa Hawkeyes.
Kain Colter led the way as Northwestern's quarterback, scoring four touchdowns and tallying 166 rushing yards. Running back Venric Mark added 162 yards on the ground, eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark on the season. NU's offensive success stemmed from the read-option look, led by Colter.
"We've got Venric back there and me back there," said Kain Colter. We're tough to stop."
That is an understatement. Colter and Mark combined to average 7.9 yards per carry.
"Some of the things that we have done well have had Kain [Colter] there at QB so we made some decisions to kind of focus on that," said head coach Pat Fitzgerald. "For the most part, that worked out efficiently today."
Right out of the gates, Colter and the offense were moving. An 11-play drive was capped by Colter's first of three rushing touchdowns.
When NU was in danger, backed up to its own one-yard line, Venric Mark sprinted 72 yards into the open field, only to be caught by Iowa safety Micah Hyde.
"I didn't know he was behind me," Mark admitted after the game. "It was a huge hole and honestly I thought I was going to get to the end zone, but great play by him."
Northwestern later did reach paydirt, with Colter scampering for his second score.
Starting the second half, the Hawkeyes scuffling offense was held to three plays and out. Tyris Jones blocked a Cody Sokol punt, setting NU at the four-yard line. Colter would collect his third touchdown of the game.
Or so they thought.
With their backs against the wall, the Hawkeyes reached the end zone with quarterback James Vandenberg scoring on fourth-and-goal from the one-yard line, cutting into Northwestern's lead. Midway through the fourth quarter, Vandenberg reached the end zone again, making NU's lead just a 28-17 margin.
That uneasy feeling churned in the stomachs of purple-clad fans at Ryan Field, as fears of another late-game collapse returned.
On the sidelines, the Wildcats remained confident; not dwelling on past failures.
"I was excited," said senior defensive tackle Brian Arnfelt. "It was an opportunity for our defense to step up and make plays and get more experience."
The defense held Iowa in its comeback attempt. The Hawkeyes offense fizzled in NU territory. A Kain Colter 39-yard run sealed Northwestern's victory.
NU planned to control the game with a solid, two-headed rushing attack and it did just that.
"We're running the ball well ad that was the key to victory," Colter said. "When you can dominate the line of scrimmage and control the clock, that's always a good thing."
A bye week now awaits the Wildcats, but that doesn't mean it's time to rest.
"It's a week to improve," said Arnfelt. "We're going to practice. It's not like we're going to be sitting around on the couch eating potato chips or anything."
--Northwestern running back Venric Mark became the first Wildcat to rush for 1,000 yards in a season since Tyrell Sutton in 2006. Sutton tweeted: "Congrats venric!! Welcome to the 1,000 yard club!!"
--The zone-read handoff has brought Northwestern plenty of fire on offense. Said Mark, of the tricky exchange: "You have to treat it like you would treat a lady -- nice, calm, you know? I think that's what makes it work so well."
--Senior linebacker David Nwabuisi paced the Wildcats with 18 tackles on the game. Fitzgerald was asked about the linebacker's play, compared to his. "That's an insult to the young man," he joked of the comparison.
--It wasn't all jokes for Fitzgerald. He offered a subtle shot at the media for its coverage of Northwestern's loss to Nebraska. "It's just amazing," he said. "When we win, it's like, 'hey, wee found a way to win.' When we lose, it's like the sky is falling. That's all I read and that's all I see and that's all our kids see. We've had great fan support and they've done a great job of not listening to the negative."
--Following the win, inside the Northwestern locker room, the wife of the late Leon Brockmeier was presented with a No. 67 jersey donned by senior offensive tackle Patrick Ward. Fitzgerald described it as a very touching moment.