By TOM LEA
MADISON – Though Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez dedicated his offseason to finding his comfort zone as a passer, and though he’s off to one of the hottest starts of any quarterback in the Big Ten, Wisconsin’s junior defensive end David Gilbert has reservations about the Huskers signal caller that has prevented him from accepting the new look Martinez for the passing threat he seems to be.
“I’m not convinced,” Gilbert said Wednesday night. “The one game he didn’t play very well in they lost to UCLA. You’ve got to look at who they’ve played. You’ve got to look at who they’ve played. We’re definitely going to bring it. It’s Big Ten season.
“All that is out the window and it really doesn’t matter. All that matters is we’ve got to line up and we’ve got to hit him.”
Nebraska (3-1) lost 36-30 at No. 22 UCLA during a horrible week two for Big Ten teams. Martinez, the league’s most efficient passer through four games, completed 17-of-31 passes for 179 yards, zero touchdowns, one interception and two sacks for a loss of 18 yards in that contest.
He did, however, rush for 112 yards (92-yard touchdown run) on 13 carries, his highest output of the season to date.
Aside from his performance against the Bruins, though, Martinez has been lights out.
The junior dual-threat quarterback has completed approximately 71 percent of his passes for 878 yards, nine touchdowns and one interception. His 219.5 passing yards per game rank second in the Big Ten only behind Penn State’s Matt McGloin.
Gilbert, who missed Wisconsin’s lopsided 48-17 win over Nebraska a season ago with a foot injury, isn’t buying in.
“It still looks like he’s skipping rocks out there to me,” Gilbert said. “But that’s not my concern. That’s probably more a concern of the defensive backs. My concern is hitting him. I don’t care what he throws like. I’m not trying to let him throw at all.
“He still can’t throw. I’m just going to say it. He still can’t throw. He’s not going to beat us with his arm.”
The Badgers intercepted Martinez three times during their game with the Huskers in 2011. So far in 2012, though, Wisconsin is the only Big Ten team yet to force a defensive turnover.
Though Gilbert acknowledged the possibility teams may look at that stat and think the Badgers aren’t capable of forcing turnovers defensively, he still seemed very confident in the way his side of the ball (a unit that ranks sixth in the Big Ten in both scoring and total defense) is playing entering the conference opener.
He feels Nebraska is susceptible to turning the ball over.
“They did turn the ball over a bunch of times against Idaho State,” he said. “I’m not knocking Idaho State or Nebraska. They are an opponent and they’re who we have on the menu this week. We’re going to go 100 percent. That’s all the more drive. If Idaho State has three turnovers in the first quarter — that’s all I saw, I know there’s more — that just puts the emphasis on it even more for what we should be able to do.”
The Badgers — and Gilbert — are well aware of the threat Martinez poses with his legs. He’s one of the fastest players on the field at any given time. So fast that Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema said Martinez could outrun any defensive back or linebacker the Badgers have if he finds open field.
Knowing that, even though Martinez hasn’t run near as much this season as he has in the past, the Badgers are anticipating the potential for him to run, whether it comes when a play breaks down or on a scripted option route.
In order to thwart Martinez’s production in such situations, Gilbert plans to get physical with him.
“He’s the one getting the turnovers,” Gilbert said in reference to Martinez. “Hitting him is going to be the key. Hitting him hard and hitting him often. Any chance I get. If you see the game (film) he tries to pitch or option away and he tries to throw a little fake, ‘I’m going to cut (block) you or I’m going to get in your way.’
“I’m going to run through that. I’m going to make him feel it as much as you can. That leads to turnovers, that mentality of getting hit over and over.”
Wisconsin and Nebraska kick off from Memorial stadium at 7:00 p.m. Saturday night.
Click here to hear my entire interview with David Gilbert.
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