Making Gilbert Eat His Words
Joe Namath's guarantee prior to Super Bowl III has probably given trash talk a better name than it deserves. Whether it's on school ball fields and gyms around the country or at the highest levels of sport, you'll see that many of the guys that do the most talking often do the least to back it up. At times, the trash talk almost seems like a product of the mouthy guy's fears. It's as if the trash-talker is trying to convince himself of something he doesn't fully believe. While the Badgers will do what they can this weekend to try to help defensive end David Gilbert save face after he disrespected the play of NU quarterback Taylor Martinez, you kind of expect him to be in for a major karmic smackdown.
Gilbert hasn't exactly been a star player at Wisconsin. He was a fairly highly touted recruit out of high school. So he might still be a star in his own mind. He sort of reminds you of former Husker Bernard Thomas. Sure, there was some talent, but at the end of the day the production never matched the hype.
Gilbert's remarks about Martinez might reveal the anxieties for the Badgers. Wisconsin's defense while above average overall has been middling to poor against the pass. One big reason is that they've gotten fewer than two sacks a game and not many tackles for losses. That's a reflection of your defensive ends. The interceptions by Martinez a year ago in Madison were a big reason for NU's lopsided defeat. But so far his passing this season has been a team strength. If he comes out with another hugely productive outing (like he did against Southern Mississippi) or another hugely efficient effort (like against Arkansas State), that would seem to leave Wisconsin with little opportunity to keep pace. U-dub also hasn't given up any long runs this year. T-Magic's 92-yarder against UCLA might give them some pause as well.
What is fair to say is that Martinez is not at his best under pressure (few quarterbacks are). If Wisconsin needs to blitz to get pressure, then the key will be how well NU can recognize and adapt to it. Can Martinez find the checkdowns and hot routes? Can he communicate blocking assignments to stop extra pass-rushers? That's the critical test for Taylor. He likely won't need to complete passes every time someone's in his face. Instead, it's just about avoiding negative plays if and when that happens. It will also be up to the offensive line to keep him from being under constant pressure. Missed assignments or just getting beat can't happen too often. If it does, it could make Gilbert look a bit smarter.
And if the Huskers are able to effectively run the football, look out. The Badgers have struggled against the pass when doing well against the run. How good can things be against a running game that's clicking? It could get ugly for Wisconsin.
So far, Nebraska hasn't stooped to trash talking through the media in response. Evidently, the plan is to let the play on the field do the talking. If they were speaking their minds, what might defensive ends Eric Martin, Cameron Meredith and Jason Ankrah (who all have more sacks than Gilbert) have to say about walk-on freshman quarterback Joel Stave? Would they point out that he had trouble beating out a guy who played his way out of a starting job at lowly Maryland before doing the same at Wisconsin? Would they point out he has as many picks as touchdowns (whereas Martinez has 9 touchdowns against 1 pick)?
Gilbert may accuse Martinez of throwing stones, but it may be the Badgers living in the glass house. We'll find out Saturday.