Many people see Saturday’s Big Ten battle between No. 8 Nebraska and No. 7 Wisconsin as a preamble to the inaugural championship game this December.
Don’t count me as one of them. I think Nebraska is a good ballclub with playmakers on each side of the ball, but in order to win a game under the lights in front of a well-lathered crowd, you’re going to have to throw the ball.
And let’s face it, that’s something that Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez just can’t do. The speedy sophomore is a wizard when it comes to the Huskers’ patented triple option — which would explain why he’s second in the Big Ten in rushing with 421 yards and seven scores — but he throws the pigskin like javelin.
And that’s why he’s 74th in the nation in passing efficiency, with a 50 percent completion percentage. Last year, defenses in the Big 12 weren’t anything special. They were mainly there to give its highlight-reel offenses a breather.
Martinez’s best game last year came against Oklahoma State, who finished the season ranked 88th in total defense, by throwing for 323 yards and five scores. The defenses Martinez faced last year were so pedestrian, he only faced two — Texas at No. 6 and Missouri at No. 47 — in the top 50.
Which means if Martinez had a less-than-stellar line of 14-of-26 for 167 yards and a pick against Kansas’ 98th best defense, how is he going to fare Saturday against the No. 7 defense?
I understand that Nebraska only passes when passing is necessary. There’s a reason four running backs have been drafted in the last 11 years. They know what they’re doing when it comes to running the football.
But so does Wisconsin. Its defense has gone up against first round offensive linemen that are smaller than Paul Bunyan. So don’t think Nebraska can just come in here and push these guys around.
In order to win this game, Nebraska must pass the ball down the field. When it becomes apparent that Martinez can’t put the ball into tight windows, is when he better start looking over his shoulder with blitzes coming from all over the place.
And that will transfer over to the other side of the ball as well. With the Wisconsin defense muzzling the Huskers’ running game, Nebraska will take chances on defense but unlike Martinez, Russell Wilson will make the Blackshirts pay.
Martinez may be one of the nation’s best running quarterbacks, but Wilson is the total package. He has the pocket presence by completing over 75 percent of his passes and has three touchdowns in his last three games.
Nebraska may be looking to prove how they stack up in the new-look Big Ten. But after facing Wisconsin, coach Bo Pelini might want to teach his quarterback the finer points of throwing the football.
My prediction: Wisconsin 34, Nebraska 24