A Running Problem

When Wisconsin prepares to face an opposing quarterback, the Badgers' defenders often look at that player as a passing threat first, a running threat a distant second. When it comes to Nebraska and sophomore quarterback Taylor Martinez, the roles are completely flipped.

MADISON - When it comes to flash and pizzazz in front of the microphone, sophomore Taylor Martinez isn't a subscriber. Blunt and to the point, Martinez doesn't elaborate, choosing the asked and answered approach while being somewhat evasive.

Consider the following examples:

On what he knows about Wisconsin: "That they're 4-0 and that they're a good team."

On his health through four games: "Great so far."

On the differences between the Big Ten and the Big 12: "I don't think it's going to be much different. Football is football."

It's fitting considering he answers probing questions the same way he handles aggressive defenses: by being evasive.

Martinez isn't the strongest passer in the world – completing just 50.4 percent (43 of 84) of his passes for four touchdowns and two interceptions through four games – but it's the running game that makes him dangerous.

Averaging 105.2 rushing yards per game, Martinez ranks second in the conference in rushing, has averaged over 7.0 yards per carry twice this year and has six rushes of 20 yards or more.

When teams load the box, Martinez has the ability to go over the top with a throw and have success, which is what he did against Washington in week 3 by throwing four passes that went for 19 yards or more.

"I think he's dangerous at both," co-defensive coordinator Charlie Partridge said. "Part of it is because of the running game and if you have commit to stop their run game.

"I think the thing that's fair is anytime you are rushing a passer with a guy like this, you need to be smart in every pass rush decision that you make. You try to take any kind of risks, the guy can make you pay for it dearly. We've got to be smart to keep the guy inside and in front of us."

Conventional wisdom would try to draw comparisons between Martinez and Michigan's Denard Robinson, a duel-threat quarterback that the Badgers saw first-hand last season in Ann Arbor. Although Wisconsin won, 48-28, Robinson gave Wisconsin's defense some headaches, throwing for 239 yards, running for 121 yards and being responsible for four touchdowns.

"I am sure he has been getting a lot of grief about how he throws the ball, but the kid is a playmaker and that's something you can't coach," senior captain Aaron Henry said about Martinez. "His ability to make plays, the last time I checked, is ridiculous. There's a reason he's at the University of Nebraska."

Henry described Robinson as having a better arm than the Nebraska quarterback, but Martinez runs the option extremely effective because he has the use of a solid running back in Rex Burkhead.

Like Martinez, Burkhead has run 63 times for seven touchdowns and a 6.7-yard average. The only difference is that Burkhead has run for one fewer yard than Martinez (420 yards), ranking him third in the Big Ten in rushing. What's more impressive is that Burkhead has lost a total of 3 yards on his carries.

As a result of the two-prong attack, Nebraska leads the Big Ten and ranks No. 8 in the nation in rushing offense, averaging 272.5 yards per game.

"In our heads going into this game, pressure is definitely one of our goals, especially against Taylor Martinez, but we have to contain him at the same time," senior defensive end Louis Nzegwu said. "We can't go outside our lanes because we know how dangerous he is on his feet. We can't get too overzealous."

Martinez creates an interesting problem for Wisconsin's defense. His passing abilities are suspect, meaning the Badgers could create some turnovers if they can flush him out of pocket and force him to make throws on the run. Do that, however, and the Badgers could be giving Martinez a huge alley if Wisconsin doesn't obey backside containment.

"His percentage is low because sometimes he's scrambling when he throws and it's sometimes a wild ball that could create some picks," Nzegwu said. "There was a bunch of drop picks we saw on film. You just frustrate and pressure him to try and get him to throw an easy ball for us. When he has time and is in the pocket, he throws pretty good and we can't give him that. If he doesn't' see what he wants, he'll find a gap between the pass rush lanes."

Wisconsin ranks No. 22 in the nation in run defense, allowing 89.3 yards per game, a number that increased after allowing South Dakota 124 on the ground last week. Nebraska has rushed for more than 200 yards in the second halves of the past two games while the Badgers haven't allowed a team to reach that mark in the past 27 games.

When asked what he's seen from the Wisconsin's defense, Martinez blatantly said the group is kind of basic.

"Hopefully they stay that way," Martinez said.

Don't count on it.

"We haven't had to go to our back pockets yet," Nzegwu said. "As we face these teams down the road, I am not sure if it's going to get tougher than this game, but we're going to have something to accommodate whatever we do."

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