Wisconsin Badgers quarterback Russell Wilson is an early Heisman favorite and, in the traditional sense, better than Nebraska Cornhuskers quarterback Taylor Martinez. Come Saturday, the former passer will undoubtedly win the battle – meaning he’ll have the better statistics. What’s still up for grabs, though, is who wins the war.
All season long Martinez has consistently been the Huskers’ savior. In the face of an inconstant offensive line, sporadic run game and erratic defense – he has been the lone (sort of) consistent piece. Granted, the statistics may not totally reflect that, however, anyone who has watched Nebraska play over the last month can attest to the fact that more often than not the team won because of Martinez and not in spite of him.
For the year, Martinez has racked up seven touchdowns and 417 yards on the ground as well as four scores and 647 yards through the air. Obviously, it would be better if those touchdown totals were reversed – but Martinez just doesn’t conform to traditional quarterbacking norms. As expected, the fumbles have been problematic for the second-year starter, though not as bad as some anticipated after 2010’s horrible showing.
More important than his production in any single statistical category, however, Martinez has exhibited the type of leadership and courage necessary when things aren’t going you way. Without his trademark defense backing him up and a haphazard offensive line, the young passer had every excuse in the book to fold up – but he didn’t. Rather, he took control, accepted responsibility for the new-look offense, and carried the team to four consecutive victories in which they have scored no less than 38 points.
In fact, through three games, the squad was averaging at least 40 points throughout – a feat that hadn’t previously been achieved since 1995.
On the other side of the field, Wilson has seamlessly transitioned into his role as the leader of the Badgers quicker than just anyone could have anticipated. On the year, he’s put up 1136 yards and 11 touchdowns, as well as 91 yards and one touchdown on the ground. Although he isn’t the dual threat quarterback that his counterpart in Martinez obviously is, Wilson has shown a certain propensity for being able to move around and sift through the defensive attack as he seeks out receivers.
Neither Martinez nor Wilson has played against anything even remotely resembling a real defense as of yet, and that’s part of what makes this weekend’s game all the more fascinating to watch. Still, you have figure that Wilson has had a slightly easier go so far considering the stability that he’s had with his huge offensive line that weighs in at 320, 330, 315, 315 and 330 pounds.
The truth of the matter is, nobody is expecting for Martinez to get the better of Wilson this weekend. The former has an awkward throwing style, an unconventional way of running the offense and not nearly as good of an arm. That being said, people who haven’t followed the Huskers closely this year haven’t seen the type of intangibles this kid has, either. They haven’t seen his unique ability to squeak out a big play when you least expect it, or make something out of nothing when it looks like the defense has him boxed in.
Wilson will win the battle come this Saturday, but if Martinez can lead his team to victory, he’ll be the one to win the war.
If he can, Martinez will shock the world. Does he have the right mindset for that?
"Everybody on the team, we have something to prove," Martinez told reporters recently. "We're ready to shock the world."
It appears so.