For those in attendance at the Huskers' season opener or for those who shelled out $39.95 to see Nebraska predictably pound the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers to the tune of a 49-10 final score, there were actually a few surprises (both positive and negative) in store for Husker Nation.
The biggest surprise (and easily the most positive) was undoubtedly the electrifying play of Taylor Martinez.
Prior to the game, the coaches' announcement concerning who would lead the 2010 Husker offense was shrouded in a Big Red veil of uncertainty.
Though the Husker players themselves were told of the decision earlier in the week, the Husker faithful weren't told until 45 minutes before the opening kick. Much to Martinez's delight the scarlet and cream clad denizens of Memorial Stadium let out a triumphantly hopeful roar when they learned that he would be the starter. He later admitted that the warm reception gave him goosebumps.
Understandably, a healthy dose of the fans' enthusiasm was simply the result of a desire to see a change.
A change to an oft-times anemic offense that never really hit on all cylinders in '09 until a finally healthy Husker squad laid a 33-0 thrashing on the Arizona Wildcats in the Holiday Bowl.
Fortunately, the sellout crowd, hungry for an offensive explosion, didn't have to wait long.
Martinez ran the zone-read flawlessly (fooling the camera crew multiple times) and ripped off a 46-yard warp-speed sprint to the end zone on his first run as the Huskers' new signal caller.
Before the coaches brought in Cody Green and, eventually, Zac Lee, Martinez had scorched the WKU defense for 127 yards and three touchdowns on just seven carries, the first 100-yard rushing performance by a Nebraska quarterback since 2003.
Not bad for a debut by a redshirt freshman.
The result, however, wasn't completely unexpected. After all, offensive coordinator Shawn Watson openly hinted at the Huskers' desire to see Martinez showcase his talent more often, a remark that didn't go unnoticed in a Bleacher Report article earlier this year (though, admittedly, it was perceived as an allusion to Nebraska's version of the Wildcat formation).
Apparently, Martinez can throw as well, going 9-of-15 for 136 yards. Lee, who had injury problems in 2009, had trouble with accuracy last season. At first glance, it would appear that Martinez had no such trouble against Western Kentucky.
Now before we anoint Martinez as the next coming of Tommie Frazier, we should tap the brake a little. After all, Martinez's stellar play came against a Hilltoppers squad mired in an 20-game losing streak and Martinez should face a slightly tougher test against the Idaho Vandals.
The Vandals, winners of last year's Humanitarian Bowl and coming off a fresh 45-0 drubbing of North Dakota, are also the proud owners of last season's second-best turnaround in the nation, having improved from 2-10 in 2008 to 8-5 in 2009.
And while there are other concerns that the never-satisfied Coach Pelini must address (namely, the Blackshirts giving up 179 rushing yards to Bobby Rainey and the never-say-die Hilltoppers' ground attack or the otherwise talented Niles Paul failing to protect the ball...insert loaf of bread joke here), all eyes should once again be on Martinez and his fellow QB's, Green and Lee.
Fortunately, there seems to be no quarterback controversy yet. Those watching the game on television most likely saw an unselfish Green place the headset on Martinez's head after his first scoring run. And while Lee declined any interviews this week, Martinez followed suit.
In a refreshing display of character, Martinez seems to be content to let his play on the field do the talking.
Equally refreshing is that Green and Lee have offered their assistance to Martinez not only on the practice field, but in the film study room as well.
So while his teammates and coaches aren't shy about heaping platitudes on Martinez and we're sure to see a healthy dose of Zac Lee, Cody Green and an increased role by the Husker I-backs and receivers (the unpredictable offensive "multiplicity" that Pelini and Watson have been stressing), the focus should once again be on Martinez as he attempts to cement his starting spot against Idaho, a week before a key September 18th showdown in Seattle against Jake Locker and the Washington Huskies.
Hopefully, the early indicators are that the energizing play of Taylor Martinez will do just that.
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