"Biggest Challenge So Far"

Badger Nation checks out exactly how much of a challenge containing Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez might be on Saturday.

LINCOLN, Neb. - Quarterback Taylor Martinez doesn't say much to begin with when he is put in front of the media. After getting humbled in last year's conference opener, he didn't say anything at all. After all, it was hard to put into words an event that Martinez calls ‘the low point' of his three years career.

  Martinez has popped in the film a couple times of No.8 Nebraska's 48-17 defeat to No.7 Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium last October, an embarrassing performance for a proud school looking to make a positive debut in Big Ten conference play.

  Martinez, a sophomore at the time, wanted to figure out why Nebraska watched a 14-7 advantage turn into a 41-14 route in less than two quarters. The answer: turnovers. More specifically, his turnovers.

  Following a 10-play, 74-yard drive to take the lead, Nebraska went three-and-out before Martinez threw interceptions on consecutive drives. Following a missed field goal to end the half, Martinez threw an interception on the first play of the second half.

  Just like his previous two interceptions, Wisconsin turned the second-half pick into seven points and cruised from that point forward, dealing Nebraska dropped its league opener for just the third time in 37 seasons.

  "That little series just killed it," Martinez grumbled this week.

  That low point has served as the base for Martinez's maturation process as a quarterback and a leader, so much so that when Wisconsin travels to No.22 Nebraska tonight, most Badgers players have acknowledged that the player taking the Cornhuskers' snaps has evolved.

  "You can see he's changed his mechanics a little bit," said junior linebacker Chris Borland. "He seems more confidence. He definitely has improved as a passer."

  That improvement could be traced to a week after the Wisconsin blowout. Facing Ohio State next week, Martinez rebounded to lead Nebraska from a three-touchdown deficit to beat the Buckeyes, 34-27, earning the game ball. He spent the summer working with a quarterback coach to refine his mechanics, which caused people to roll their eyes when coach Bo Pelini proclaimed that Martinez was going to make a huge jump in his junior year.

  He has, and so have the Huskers. Entering tonight's rematch here at Memorial Stadium, Nebraska leads the Big Ten in total offense (541.8 ypg), points per game (48.5) and rushing yards (317.5). Martinez has been the catalyst, completing 70.7 percent of his passes for 878 yards, nine touchdowns and one interception.

 

After being harshly criticized following his Madison meltdown, Martinez leads the Big Ten and ranks 10th nationally in pass efficiency (180.93 rating).

 

"Pretty much the whole offense, they've been doing a great job for me," said Martinez, who threw for a career-high 354 yards and connected for five touchdowns in Nebraska's 49-20 season-opening win over Southern Miss.

 

"I've been getting them the ball and luckily they've been catching it and getting some yards. As an offense from the first game to Idaho State, I think each game we've been growing … We keep maturing as an offense."  

That came to a head last weekend, as Nebraska's 73 points against Idaho State marked its most in five seasons under Bo Pelini. The Cornhuskers racked up 569 yards of total offense and rushed for five touchdowns, bringing its season total to 14 (13 more than Wisconsin has allowed this season).  

"That's an impressive number," said Borland of the 73 points. "They certainly are a really good offense. I don't think statistics lie in that regard. What's more impressive is the film. They execute well. You don't need to see many more than a few plays on film to know they play well."  

It also doesn't take long to realize Martinez is no longer run first. Standing in the pocket longer and looking to make a throw, Martinez has rushed for only 192 yards through the first four games – 92 of which coming on one play against UCLA.  

By comparison, Martinez rushed for 496 yards through his first four games teams as a freshman and 421 yards through the same time frame as a sophomore, but Wisconsin is still cognizant of Martinez's ability to make plays in space.  

"He's gotten to be a better passer and better at making his reads," said senior linebacker Mike Taylor, who had 14 tackles against Nebraska last year. "We just have to keep our eyes on him. If he breaks out and breaks contain, we have to have good pursuit and get to the ball."  

At one point in last season's matchup, Wisconsin's defense held Nebraska to just 53 yards on six consecutive possessions. Martinez admitted that the Nebraska offense has planned all week for certain Wisconsin coverages, and didn't adapt when the Badgers unveiled a whole new scheme.  

Should Wisconsin attempt that same tactic tonight, Martinez is ready.  

"Throughout these first four games, we've seen the craziest defenses," said Martinez. "They've been playing so many different defenses, and I think our offense is ready for that because our defense plays a lot of different stuff. I think we're well prepared for anything anybody throws at us."

Martinez still has his naysayers, as evident by Wisconsin junior defense end David Gilbert saying that Martinez ‘still can't throw' and is ‘soft.' Call him what you want, but Martinez is engineering the most explosive offense in the conference.  

"This," said Borland, "will be our biggest challenge thus far."


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