When the Wisconsin Badgers and Nebraska Cornhuskers meet this Saturday, both teams are going to bring something special to the table.
The Badgers, for their part, have a remarkably consistent offensive attack spearheaded by Heisman candidate Russell Wilson, not to mention a very legitimate -- albeit untested -- defensive unit. The Huskers, on the flip side, have a potentially deadly rushing attack that, when firing on all cylinders -- which is never guaranteed -- can put a hole in even the most potent of defenses.
What makes the Nebraska rushing game so special is the unique talent of quarterback Taylor Martinez to not only manage the game a la most quarterbacks, but also to take off running and gain some decent yardage when he feels a sack is on the horizon. This year alone, Martinez has put up 371 yards and seven scores – essentially carrying the offensive load for the first two games of the year until the squad’s running back Rex Burkhead got back into the swing of things.
"I think he is as fast as any quarterback we'll see," Wisconsin defensive coordinator Charlie Partridge told reporters. "That will be the challenge."
In an effort to get the Badgers defense in tune with some of what they’ll experience against Martinez, the coaches have utilized Badgers freshman wide receiver Lance Baretz as a fill-in for the Nebraska quarterback during practices.
"Lance has got extremely quick feet," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema recently said. "I'm not saying he's Taylor Martinez, otherwise he might be playing, but he's doing a really nice job of simulating him.
Wisconsin better hope so, because the one area where Nebraska can seriously challenge them this weekend is the ground attack. As it stands, the Huskers come into this one boasting a No. 8 ranked rush game which has only gotten better as the season has progressed.
Wisconsin, for its part, currently ranks 22nd in defending against the rush.
Burkhead, after a somewhat slow beginning to the year, has really been catching fire as of late with an especially impressive 170 yards and two touchdowns versus Wyoming. Similarly, he had a strong showing against the Washington Huskies two weeks ago with 120 yards and two scores on 22 rushes. For the season, the Huskers running back has accumulated seven scores and 417 yards.
"I'm impressed with how hard he runs," Wisconsin linebackers coach Dave Huxtable said of Burkhead recently. "He can make people miss, and he can run over people. He runs with an attitude."
Respect from the opposition is always nice, but Burkhead also has a fan within his own ranks.
"He is tough, hard-nosed," Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. "He is a guy that kind of brings his lunch pail every day and plays really hard. He is a great guy to have on your football team in so many different ways."
The Badgers are coming off a week when they gave 124 yards on the ground to South Dakota. Whether that motivates them to try harder or is indicative of their major weakness remains to be seen.
Despite everything, Wisconsin is embracing the challenge.
"We know it is going to be a tremendous challenge, which is what you embrace," Partridge said. "The thing that Nebraska does is not only assignment football, they've got really good players. They've got good offensive linemen and good skill.
"They challenge you from both standpoints. You've got to play physically and assignment football."
Nebraska and Wisconsin are scheduled to kickoff at 8 p.m. eastern time this Saturday.