LINCOLN — Suddenly, Superman was on ice.
Rex Burkhead had just burst down the field, 57 yards to the end zone, cape flapping in the breeze of his jet stream. Fourth play of the season.
Up in the stands, a legion of fathers and sons wearing No. 22 jerseys (perhaps the most popular jersey number in Nebraska history) could not have dreamt of a better opening script for their hero.
But then he was gone.
Burkhead was soon sitting on the Nebraska bench, left knee wrapped in ice. The news was not good: knee sprain. Done for the day.
Who you gonna call when Superman needs an MRI?
Look, up in the sky. It's a bird. It's a plane. It's ...
A Taylor Martinez pass!!!
So this is what we missed with no spring game. This is what we've been hearing about for months, what the coaches and practice insiders have been teasing us with for weeks. Guess what?
It was worth the wait.
Martinez flashed a new form and improved mechanics. And I'm sure the footwork was crisper, the reads were cleaner and that shoulder came across on the follow-through just like it should.
What we saw on a mind-blowing, record-setting day was a new kind of T-Magic.
It was the look and feel of someone who loses weight, gets a new haircut and a spanking new wardrobe, then comes out from behind the curtain and turns heads. The cosmetics were part of an overall newer quarterback.
It's called confidence, with a dash of maturity for good measure.
And it was right on schedule for Nebraska on an opening day that could have been shaky but went swimmingly, thanks to the Magic Man.
On a day of missed field goals and tackles, when veteran starters were being helped to the sideline, and Superman was on ice, the Huskers needed a lift. From a leader. From a playmaker.
That's what Martinez was on Saturday, his best Saturday.
To be sure, the young man has had his moments. Outdueled Jake Locker and Brandon Weeden on the road. Turned the corner and ran like a flash of lightning. He's taken your breath away before.
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And he's made you pound your fist: throwing off the back foot, the cellphone in the locker room, the turnovers, bristling at criticism, finding the passing guru in California.
Goodness, sometimes it seems like Martinez has had several careers at Nebraska. And he's just starting his third season.
What we saw on Saturday may have been a new phase. A new Taylor.
Get a load of these numbers: 26 of 34 completions, 354 passing yards, five touchdowns in the air and 10 receivers. Again, only eight incompletions. That's 76.5 percent. No interceptions (though he got lucky on one).
And it was how he did it. Martinez was consistent. Robotic, almost. Just relentless in his dissection of an athletic Southern Miss defense.
The people who have seen this look, seen the project behind the curtain, weren't surprised a bit.
“That's what I expected from Taylor,” Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini said. “I thought he directed things very well. He took us out of bad plays and put us into good plays.”
“I'm not surprised,” offensive coordinator Tim Beck said. “From the time last year we sat down and talked about what he wanted to do, all the hard work he put in, this is the result.”
“I saw it coming,” receiver Kenny Bell said. “I mean, he's worked so hard it wasn't not going to show today.”
It was a pretty good advertisement for the Manning Quarterback Academy. Meet the long lost Manning brother. Taylor Manning.
He looked sort of like Peyton at times on Saturday. Getting Beck's quick-tempo offense to the line. Taking the snap. Quick read to the right. Then back to the left and fire a short pass to an open man.
Yes, it's the second year of Beck's offense. But, so far, it seems that Beck has also shaped the scheme to help his quarterback's growth and confidence.
The offensive line played well. But the plays come so fast that there isn't a lot of time to sit back in the pocket. The fast pace had Southern Miss' front seven huffing and puffing in the heat. Nebraska wore down the opponent with the pass.
Martinez also got big assistance from his good hands people. The receivers. They caught just about everything Martinez threw at them, including one of the few he threw behind a receiver. Quarterbacks and receivers helping each other? What a concept.
Pelini was asked if the game plan changed after Burkhead was out. No, he said, the Huskers took what Southern Miss gave them. Sure. If you're Southern Miss, why not make Martinez show you his new footwork?
Now that he has, it will be interesting to see how UCLA plays it. Even more interesting if defenses have to adjust to play Martinez's arm, and the running lanes open up for Burkhead and the stable of capable backs.
There are a lot of weapons in this offense. And, suddenly, a director under center with a ton of confidence.
It's one game, but it was hard not to get caught up in Martinez's brilliant strokes. Like the one over the shoulder to Bell for the Huskers' second touchdown, a flag route that Martinez audibled at the line.
He was so good that nobody was looking at his feet. They were too busy noticing tight spirals zipping all over the field.
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“I'm sure you guys are going to write something about (his new form),” Martinez said with a smile. “If that's what you want to say.”
Post-victory Taylor was humble, not brash or sarcastic. He praised his line, praised Beck and graduate assistant Joe Ganz. There were kudos all around, but everyone seemed to know this was only one game, just the beginning. And that was the exciting thing.
“I trust him a lot,” Beck said. “I think I was his only friend last year. He's had a lot of critics. I'm sure you guys will build him up for the Heisman today, but then tomorrow you'll say ...”
Did Martinez get the last laugh? It looked more like the first of many laughs to come.
Contact the writer:
402-444-1025, email@example.com; twitter.com/tomshatelOWH
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>> Video: NU coach Bo Pelini at the postgame press conference:
>> Video: NU's Taylor Martinez at the postgame press conference:
>> Video: NU's Cameron Meredith at the postgame press conference:
>> Video: Postgame analysis with World-Herald staff writer Jon Nyatawa:
>> Video: Pregame sights and sounds: