When the Wildcats defense takes the field against Nebraska on Saturday, there’s no question who the unit will be focused on: quarterback Taylor Martinez.
The junior signal caller is averaging 212 yards passing and 56 yards rushing per game on the season; he has 12 TD passes and 5 rushing scores.
“We’ve just got to keep him contained, we’ve got to try to make him a pocket passer and if he gets out we’ve got to get a cavalry there to tackle him,” linebacker David Nwabuisi said. “Sometimes it’s going to take more than one guy to get him down.”
That’s a method for stopping Martinez running, but the Nebraska quarterback has been much more dangerous as a passer this season. His completion percentage is 66 percent, up 10 points from last season. His 12 touchdowns through six games are one shy of the 13 he threw all of last season.
“He’s been throwing the ball a lot better this year, making better decisions with the ball,” Nwabuisi said. “So we’ve got to respect all aspects of his game and come prepared.”
Much of Martinez’s running skills come on broken plays in the passing game. Defensive end Tyler Scott said keeping contain on the quarterback is crucial to prevent this.
“It’s huge,” he said. “We want to not let him get out of the pocket outside but we also don’t want to get too far up the field, create vertical seams on the inside that gives him lanes to run through.”
Scott, however, said the NU defense has one key factor that will help contain Martinez: Kain Colter.
“It’ll be challenging but we have Kain, who’s one of our own who’s pretty quick and we get a lot of practice with him in the offseason and stuff, so hopefully that helps.”
Nebraska won’t just be throwing Taylor Martinez at the NU defense, however. Running back Rex Burkhead, who has been dealing with an injury, will likely return against the ‘Cats.
With a solid running back lined up next to Martinez, Scott said the NU defense has to control the trenches to have success stopping the Cornhuskers.
“You just have to control the front,” Scott said. “You’ve got to control the line of scrimmage and that will really help just us seeing who has the ball when we get off blocks and things like that.”
And while the Wildcats defense has been much improved this season – they are second in the Big Ten in rush defense – the team has struggled somewhat late in games, particularly against Syracuse and Penn State.
To keep Nebraska at bay, according to Scott, the Wildcats will not only have to get off to a quick start, but will have to keep the intensity for the entire game.
“That’s always a big key,” Scott said of getting a fast start. “But we’ve got to sustain that through the whole game. We’ve had some troubles here and there in the third quarter, fourth quarter not finishing, so hopefully we can keep that consistency through the entire game.”