- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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It would be a gross oversimplification to say any football game comes down to just the two quarterbacks.
Except that Saturday's game between Nebraska and Ohio State sure looks like it will come down to just the two quarterbacks.
The reason is that both quarterbacks -- the Buckeyes' Braxton Miller and the Cornhuskers' Taylor Martinez -- have been so outstanding so far this season. And it's hard to imagine either team winning without a great performance from their star signal-caller.
"I think you'll see two of the finest athletic quarterbacks in America on the field this weekend," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said.
Both players have always been known as great athletes, but they've also developed into much more polished quarterbacks this season.
Martinez spent long hours this offseason working on improving his throwing mechanics, even visiting quarterback guru Steve Calhoun during his spring break. The result has been a career-high 67.8 percent completion rate for the Nebraska junior, who currently leads the Big Ten in passing efficiency.
His sharpness as a passer and the Huskers' deep stable of running backs has meant that Martinez hasn't used his feet as much as in years past. But he's still dangerous whenever he does decide to take off. He's averaging 6 yards per carry and had a 92-yard touchdown run at UCLA earlier this season.
"He's one of the best runners I've ever seen at the quarterback position," Meyer said.
Meyer sees an elite running quarterback every day at Ohio State. Miller has already run for 577 yards and seven touchdowns this season, averaging 6.4 yards per carry. What makes him so deadly is his ability to run with power and to spin or juke his way past defenders. And when defenses crowd him, he can beat them over the top.
"He's the best quarterback we're going to play all year," Nebraska safety P.J. Smith said. "When we get pressure and he tries to escape, we've got to stay with our guys until he finally steps past the line of scrimmage. Because when he tries to scramble to the sideline, the next thing you know, he's throwing it to the end zone."
Preparing for mobile quarterbacks is never easy, but at least both defenses see one of the best every day in practice.
"There aren’t many quarterbacks around that run sub-4.4s, high-4.3s [in the 40-yard dash]," Buckeyes linebacker Etienne Sabino said. "I think it definitely helps us to practice against Braxton. If [Martinez] sees a crease, he has that same ability."
"[Miller] reminds me of Taylor," Smith said. "And in practice, it's really hard to defend Taylor."
Both quarterbacks also boast some underrated skills. For Miller, it's his toughness. He's carried the ball 18 times per game and has repeatedly bounced back from big hits. His ability to stay in the game against Michigan State last week despite taking a hard fall on the sideline early and twisting his knee late impressed his teammates and coaches.
For Martinez, it's his laser-like focus on the details of the offense.
"He's so locked in that he knows every little thing that's going on," Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead said. "He gets in that zone, and that allows him to play with confidence and lead us as our quarterback."
With Michigan's Denard Robinson struggling in the passing game, Martinez and Miller are the top two dual-threat quarterbacks in the league right now and the two leading candidates for Big Ten offensive player of the year. Saturday's outcome could have a large impact on that award and, who knows, maybe the Heisman Trophy race.
When Martinez is off, the Huskers usually follow suit. He didn't play well in Nebraska's blowout road losses at Wisconsin and Michigan last season, and his worst half this year came at UCLA in the team's only loss. He had a slow start last week at home against Wisconsin as Nebraska fell behind 27-10, but he led the way in a 30-27 comeback victory.
Miller, meanwhile, has repeatedly bailed Ohio State out of bad situations this season. While he's made some mistakes, like last week's three turnovers at Michigan State, he makes up for them with dazzling plays. The Buckeyes wouldn't be anywhere close to 5-0 without his heroics.
"The key to stopping their offense, which is an explosive offense, is stopping him," Smith said.
That normally would sound too simplistic. But in this game, the simplest question -- which quarterback plays better? -- may well provide all the answers.
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