NCF Nation: Badgers-Huskers-092912

Martinez engineers Nebraska rally

September, 30, 2012
9/30/12
2:27
AM ET

LINCOLN, Neb. – Statistically, Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez fared only slightly better in the second half Saturday night than the first.

He rushed for 42 yards before halftime, 65 after. He completed 10 of 13 throws before halftime, 7 of 16 after.

Reality, though, tells it differently. Martinez, the junior quarterback, continued to come of age at Memorial Stadium. He led the Huskers from a pair of 17-point deficits to a 30-27 victory over Wisconsin by producing perhaps his most courageous effort in three seasons as the Nebraska starter.

“There are games like this for Taylor where he has been in a tailspin and gone the other way,” Nebraska running backs coach Ron Brown said. “Not this time. Not tonight. You have to be proud of that kid.”

Martinez, after fumbling on the Huskers’ opening possession of the third quarter, directed a pair of touchdown drives on the next two drives that flipped momentum.

It was a performance unlike even what he did a season ago as Nebraska rallied from a 21-point deficit to beat Ohio State. The Huskers relied more on big defensive plays and the legs of I-back Rex Burkhead in that one.

[+] EnlargeTaylor Martinez
AP Photo/Nati Harnik"He made plays when he had to," one Nebraska coach said of Taylor Martinez. "He did what a good quarterback does to win."
This was clearly Martinez’s comeback.

With the Huskers down 27-10 after Montee Ball scored following the third-quarter Martinez fumble, the QB took Nebraska on a four-play, 77-yard march. He connected with Kenny Bell for a 20-yard completion and handled the final 38 yards with a rush through the heart of the Badgers’ defense.

“I thought that was a big answer,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. “It got momentum going for us.”

Pelini said the Huskers were “kind of asleep” early on Saturday night as Wisconsin jumped to leads of 14-0 and 20-3.

If so, Martinez awoke them.

He directed a 10-play, 75-yard drive after the touchdown run, hitting Jamal Turner for 27 yards, then tight end Kyler Reed for a 10-yard score on third-and-4 with 3:47 to play in the third quarter.

“He put in a spot only I could catch it,” Reed said. “It was a tight window.”

A pair of field goals by Brett Maher put the Huskers ahead for good.

Martinez, on those scoring drives, helped his team by avoiding the mistake. Too often in that situation, he’s forced throws or lost composure. It happened Sept. 8 in the second half against UCLA, a 36-30 Nebraska loss.

“Taylor has gotten so much more confident,” tight end Ben Cotton said. “He’s matured so much.”

Offensive coordinator Tim Beck said Martinez ran as hard against Wisconsin as in any game he’s played at Nebraska.

“He made plays when he had to,” Beck said. “He did what a good quarterback does to win.”

Martinez deflected credit. He praised Beck. He recognized the Nebraska defense for holding Wisconsin to seven points in the second half and for stopping the Badgers on their final drive that ended on Ball's fourth-down fumble near midfield with just more than one minute to play.

“We’ve been in that situation before,” Martinez said.

Maybe so, but he had never responded with such resolve.

Despite his spot in second place on the all-time Nebraska total-offense chart and status among 25 quarterbacks in NCAA history to rush for more than 2,000 yards and throw for more than 4,000, Martinez faces plenty of critics.

They question his throwing mechanics and ability to win with his arm.

In the days before this game, Wisconsin defensive end David Gilbert was harsh in his analysis of Martinez.

Martinez heard.

Gilbert got the third-quarter sack of Martinez, forcing the fumble that Chris Borland recovered. But Martinez got the final word.

So did he say anything to Gilbert?

No, Martinez said with a big smile after the game.

“Wish I did,” he said. “Should have.”

But that’s football, Martinez said. He’s glad Gilbert talked. Maybe it played a role in the comeback -- and the quarterback’s big night.

Intense atmosphere on tap in Lincoln

September, 29, 2012
9/29/12
7:11
PM ET
LINCOLN, Neb. -- The atmosphere at Memorial Stadium on Saturday night promises to be intense for Wisconsin’s first visit here as a Big Ten foe of Nebraska.

The Huskers are looking to avenge a 48-17 loss in Madison a year ago as Wisconsin welcomed Nebraska to the league. The players and fans in Lincoln remember. Expect the noise level to crank up early for the 8 p.m. ET start on ABC.

Nebraska has won nine straight night games at home, 35 of 40 all time at Memorial Stadium and 11 of 13 under fifth-year coach Bo Pelini.

It’s homecoming. The weather is reminiscent of summer. And the late start has allowed all of downtown Lincoln to work up a nice lather before kickoff.

Watch the running backs for an early idea of how this one may unfold.

Wisconsin senior Montee Ball is set to play after sustaining a concussion last week against UTEP. It was his second head injury in less than two months. The Badgers need Ball to pound Nebraska’s suspect rush defense and remove the heat from redshirt freshman quarterback Joel Stave.

Nebraska junior Rex Burkhead returned last week after missing two games with a sprained knee ligament. Burkhead, while wearing a brace on his left leg, rushed for 119 yards on eight carries in the 73-7 Nebraska win. But consider the competition: Idaho State couldn’t stop the Huskers’ fourth-teamers, let alone Burkhead, a returning All-Big Ten back. Wisconsin presents a real test.

Finally, keep an eye on Wisconsin defensive end David Gilbert, who called out Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez this week, mocking the third-year starter’s passing ability.

UW coach Bret Bielema said Gilbert would not start. One has to wonder how quickly he’ll play -- and if Bielema is secretly pleased that his defender may have given Martinez more to consider as he prepares for the big-game atmosphere.

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