Nebraska football fans know that the Cornhuskers under offensive coordinator Tim Beck have grown into a formidable offense. But regardless of the arsenal of weapons at Beck’s disposal, Nebraska’s offense is still going to go only as far as quarterback Taylor Martinez takes it.
Martinez, who looks on track to hold every major offensive record in Nebraska history at the conclusion of his career, has the skill set to punish defenses both on the ground and in the air. But Martinez has also shown that a solid defensive performance can turn him into a non-factor—or worse—for Nebraska.
So which defenses on Nebraska’s schedule will give Martinez the most trouble this season?
No. 3: Northwestern
Yes, Northwestern. Hear me out. In two games, the Wildcats have gone 2-0, notching wins on the road against Cal and at home against Syracuse.
The top-line numbers aren’t eye-popping. Northwestern allowed 30 points against a pretty poor Cal squad and 27 at home to an improving, but still below-average Syracuse team. In two games, the Purple are allowing 491 yards per game, worst in the Big Ten.
So why would Northwestern be one of the teams that would give Taylor Martinez the most trouble?
In two games, the Wildcats lead the B1G in total turnovers, notching seven interceptions in their two contests. History tells us that the Nebraska-Northwestern games have been fourth-quarter affairs, coming down to plays that need to be made as the game winds down.
And a lot of that was due to turnovers. Northwestern led the B1G in turnover margin in 2012, averaging plus-1.08 turnovers per game. This season, they are on track to nearly double that number, averaging plus-2.00 in 2013. And those turnovers, combined with Martinez’s propensity to give the ball away, could lead to trouble.
No. 2: Penn State
It’s no surprise that Linebacker U has been solid on defense throughout Bill O'Brien's tenure. Last year, Penn State was No. 4 in the B1G in total defense, and in 2013, the Lions are up to No. 3 in that list.
The Nittany Lions are also No. 3 in the conference in sacks, with eight through two games this season, and they led the B1G in sacks last season.
Couple that with Nebraska going to a hostile environment in Beaver Stadium and coming off a tough stretch of three straight games against Northwestern, Michigan and Michigan State, and Martinez could find Penn State's defense a tough nut to crack.
No. 1: Michigan State
Make no mistake, Sparty is going to live and die with defense in 2013. And the Michigan State defense might well be the best in the B1G.
The Spartans are No. 1 in the B1G this season in sacks (eight), No. 2 in total defense (179.5 yards per game), No. 2 in scoring defense (9.5 points per game), No. 1 in rushing defense (50 yards per game), No. 3 in passing defense (129.5 yards per game) and No. 2 in total turnovers caused (two fumbles gained, four interceptions).
So Michigan State's defense looks set to give Taylor Martinez fits when Sparty arrives in Lincoln. Thankfully for Nebraska fans, Michigan State's offense looks soft enough where NU might not need much from Martinez to win the game.
All stats from cfbstats.com unless otherwise indicated.
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