The NUmbers Guy: The Venric Effect

WNUR’s Jim Sannes (@JimSannes) looks at the injury to Venric Mark and tries to quantify how much the loss has affected the Northwestern Wildcats.

Photo via USA Today Sports Images

Photo via USA Today Sports Images

Generally, people of authority will tell you not to dabble in hypotheticals and counterfactuals. However, when Northwestern is 0-3 in the Big Ten after a mind-boggling loss to Minnesota, reality blows and needs a solid kick in the crotch. Thus, the rampant speculation and assumptions that will follow are my futile attempts to drown out whatever the heck has happened the last three weeks and enter my happy place. ALSO RECOMMENDED: Using the lyrics of Kendrick Lamar’s “Swimming Pools” as life advice.

Question: What would Northwestern’s 2013 season look like if the team had the healthy 2012 version of Venric Mark? Well, we’re going to use math to dissect this question because SCIENCE.

Method: Last year, Mark received 226 of the 364 carries (62.1 percent) given to running backs. On those 226 carries, he averaged 6.0 yards per rush. For the sake of this, we will make two categories: carries by 2012 Venric Mark (which will be assessed a per-carry average of 6.0), and carries by everyone else (which will be assessed the actual per-carry average of the running backs in that game). The total number of running back carries will remain the same with 62.1 percent of the former and 37.9 percent of the latter.

You could make the argument that Mark’s 6.0 yards per carry is unusable because of games against South Dakota and others. Well, he actually sported a 6.5 ypc average against conference teams, so, for the sake of this argument, we’ll just go with 6.0.

Yes, I realize that ceteris paribus isn’t actually a thing here because you can’t assume the same number of carries based on situation, et al, but just indulge me for a second if you will. If anything, there would be additional carries for running backs with a healthy Mark and more passing lanes for Trevor Siemian and Kain Colter, so these estimations would be conservative, if anything.


Ohio State: Yes, Mark did play in this game. But, he only recorded two carries in the second half, despite Northwestern maintaining a lead for a good chunk of that time. I’d be hesitant to state he was at full health. INSERT MAGICAL HEALTHY VENRIC!

Running backs totaled 25 carries in this game. This means we give 2012 Venric 16 carries and everybody else nine. On those 16 carries at six yards per rush, Venric would have accounted for 96 rushing yards. In the actual game, the running backs averaged 3.44 yards per carry, which in this scenario gives them 30.96 yards total, so we’ll round it up to 31. That puts the running back total at 127 yards. When you add this to the yards from the other players (who recorded a whopping total of 10 yards on 17 carries), the rushing total for the game ends up at 137 yards. This exceeds the total from the game by 43 yards.

This may not seem like a lot. However, on Jeff Budzien’s three field goals, the ‘Cats were a total of 33 yards from the end zone. If one of those field goals is instead a touchdown, the game is tied at 34 prior to that wacky last-second lateral play.

What does that mean? LITERALLY NOTHING. But, it does call into question whether or not a healthy Venric could have helped the ‘Cats topple those stanky Buckeyes.

Wisconsin: So, this game was a major pile of donkey dung in every way possible, and I don’t think 52 Venrics could have won the game. But, just for fun and giggles, let’s look at what the ground game would have done.

Against Wisconsin, there were only 13 running back carries in the entire game. So. Yeah. Super Venric would have had eight carries for 48 yards with the rest of the backs getting five carries for 21 yards after averaging 4.23 yards per carry. This brings the team running total to 58 yards after you subtract (yes, subtract) the yards accumulated by the other players. I’m pretty sure that’s still a loss, but, you know, those 14 yards might have been worth a free cookie or something.


In this gem of a game, Northwestern running backs carried the rock 21 times for 96 yards (4.57 yards per carry). That’s actually not that bad. Super Venric would have had 13 carries for 78 yards with the rest of the backs at eight carries for 37 yards, giving them a total of 115 yards. The 19-yard difference isn’t huge, but, in a three-point game, that can change the outcome of a game. Also, again, if Venric is healthy, you’re going to see more than 21 carries for the running backs when the score is that close.

The biggest effect, though, could be on Kain Colter. Last year on non-sacks, Colter averaged 6.26 yards per carry. This year, against Ohio State and Wisconsin, Colter had a total of 38 rushing yards on 12 non-sack carries (3.17 yards per carry). If there’s one less weapon for the defense to worry about, they can dedicate an additional defender to Colter. Just bring Brian Arnfelt back, give him the ball, and all of your problems are solved.

Another part of this is Venric’s abilities as a blocker (GASP!). Is it strange to praise a guy who weighs about 160 pounds for his blocking? Uh, heck yeah. But, while healthy in the Ohio State game, Mark made at least three sack-saving blitz pick-ups (yet they still managed to give up five sacks… woof). There are so many facets in which this dude helps the team that it is really impossible to quantify his value to the team. But, that said, I think it’s safe to say that his presence in the last three games would have resulted in at least one win, if not two.

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