The amount of criticism senior Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez received last year was arguably at its peak after their 48-17 defeat in Camp Randall Stadium on Oct. 1st, 2011. His one-and-a-half quarters of solid play was short-lived to say the least. The Cornhuskers jumped out to a 14-7 lead just five seconds into the second quarter, but by the time “Jump Around” came on, the game was already decided.
Martinez ended up throwing three picks in that game, and criticism ranged from his throwing motion to simply not making good enough reads in the pocket.
Obviously, a lot has changed since then, and Wisconsin senior linebacker Mike Taylor is definitely aware of the difference just one year can make.
“Everybody gets a little more comfortable each year,” he said. “[Martinez] has had a year in their system and they got a good group of guys surrounding him.”
“For Nebraska, it’s all coming together and we have to do a good job of defending them.”
Many considered Martinez’s junior campaign mediocre at best. This year however, he looks anything but. After completing just over 56 percent of his passes last season, he has completed 70.7 percent this year and needs only four more touchdown passes to match last year’s total of 13.
But don’t think that those numbers are hefty enough to shake the suddenly-confident Badger defense, which has looked improved in multiple facets compared to last year’s unit.
“We’ve seen a quarterback that has been throwing the ball a little bit better, so we’re keeping that in mind,” redshirt junior defensive lineman Ethan Hemer said.
“But at the same time, we’ve gotta realized that we’re a defense that can make plays, too. So Martinez, while he’s a good payer, he’s not something we’re intimidated by.”
The first few defensive possessions will be vital for the Badgers’ considering how baffled the offense looked when they were forced to play catch-up against Oregon State in week two.
Luckily, the Badgers offense was not phased by the Huskers’ strong start last year. But considering that the offense has a completely different identity this year and that Nebraska put up 73 points on Idaho State, keeping the Huskers close early on will be paramount.
“That’s something we have to take into this game,” redshirt junior Dezmen Southward said. “[We have to] just start real fast and match their intensity the whole game, because it’s going to be a four-quarter game.”
While Martinez dominated talk in practice this week, the Badger defense clearly has more to be concerned about. Senior running back Rex Burkhead showed last weekend that he is more than ready for Big Ten play, rushing for 119 yards and two scored on only eight carries.
Southward is blocking out the hype that both players carry and said that communication defensively will be key, even though it has taken huge strides this year.
“We’re not taking it any different, as far as how much more [Martinez] is going to throw or how much more they will run it,” he said. “We’re just going into it just like any other game.”
He is also treating the Memorial Stadium atmosphere in much the same way.
“It’s not like we’re going to Mars or anything,” he said, laughing. “We’ve played in big time environments before. It’s going to be really fun.”