EVANSTON-Venric Mark set the tone in Northwestern's matchup with FCS opponent South Dakota on the second play of the game.
The speedy junior tailback broke through the middle of the line and was off to the races, bursting down the left sideline for 47 yards before he was dragged down by Chris Lundy at the USD 26. Seven plays later, Mark punched it in from the 3 and the Wildcats had a 7-0 lead.
Northwestern never looked back, posting an easy 38-7 win against the overmatched Coyotes.
And neither did Mark, who ran for a game-high 117 yards and three touchdowns to pace the Wildcats.
This is what a Big Ten team is supposed to do against an FCS opponent: make it look easy. The Wildcats used their ground game to grind down the Coyotes, rushing for 277 of their 408 total yards and five touchdowns, their most scores on the ground since 2009.
"No. 1, we ran the ball more effectively," said coach Pat Fitzgerald. "We controlled the line of scrimmage."
The Wildcats led 35-0 with 4:10 left in the third quarter before South Dakota got on the scoreboard with a four-yard Josh Vander Maten run.
After a Steve Flaherty 39-yard field goal made it 38-7 with 10 minutes left, Fitzgerald began to empty the bench, inserting third-string QB Zack Oliver, who made his college debut.
South Dakota, meanwhile, looked less than ready to face a Big Ten foe. The Coyotes' first five plays resulted in two penalties, two dropped passes and a run for a four-yard loss.
The Coyotes also kept the officials busy with nine penalties for 67 yards, including eight flags in the first 30 minutes.
Northwestern took a 28-0 lead into the locker room at halftime, the last score coming as a result of a South Dakota miscue in its own territory. Operating out of a shotgun, center Tim Ross's snap hit quarterback Josh Vander Maten in the shin, and Brian Arnfelt recovered it at the Coyote 28.
Four plays later, Mark scored his last TD, with just 52 seconds left in the half.
The game wasn't entirely without drama for Northwestern, however, as both of their quarterbacks were shaken up in the first half and had to leave the game.
Kain Colter (7-of-9 for 46 yards passing) took a solid shot in the first quarter and left the game with a wrist injury. He came back, however, to lead a scoring drive in the second quarter. Trevor Siemian (4-of-5, 72) was shaken up on a sack and was helped off the field. He returned to lead Northwestern's last TD drive before the half.
Vander Maten finished 17-of-33 for 189 yards passing, and had 9 carries for 38 yards rushing to lead the Coyotes in both categories.