LINCOLN — This is why Nebraska pays Bo Pelini the big bucks.
At barely a stone's throw into the 2012 season, the Husker head coach may have to make a decision with how he's going to use junior quarterback Taylor Martinez going forward.
Superman, aka Rex Burkhead, may be out for awhile — he may not be.
That may be simplifying things a bit, but Nebraska's running game took a big hit against Southern Miss Saturday in Lincoln.
NU's best runner is now No. 3.
It was a great start to the season for No. 22.
Nebraska's Heisman Trophy hopeful I-back raced 57 yards for a career-long touchdown run in the first quarter against the Golden Eagles, showing off a burst of speed rarely seen from the senior leader best known for his 3 yards and a cloud of dust.
Then he was gone in the blink of an eye.
Burkhead carried one more time for 9 yards later in the quarter then sat the bench with his knee on ice — sprained MCL.
It remains to be seen if the heart and soul of Nebraska football can make it back to full speed in 2012.
How important is Burkhead?
Against Southern Miss it took a full-on assault by NU's receiving corps and all three back-up I backs — Ameer Abdullah, Braylon Heard and Imani Cross to carry the load.
After he left the game near the end of the first quarter Nebraska's offense could muster only 21 yards on the ground for the remainder of the first half, 42 yards in the third quarter, and 102 on junk yards in the fourth quarter.
What to do? Can Nebraska win the big games through the air? Has Martinez improved that much with his footwork, his decision making with the ball?
Martinez was impressive in going 26 for 34, a career-high 354 yards and five touchdowns. He made really only one bad throw, a dropped interception by a Southern Miss corner who would have found the end zone in the first half.
So is that the end of the Nebraska running game?
It doesn't have to be.
On this day special teams were not all that special and the Nebraska defense still awaits its first test, but the offense was efficient and impressive.
Hard to remember the last time Nebraska committed just two penalties and committed zero turnovers in a game.
It's even more impossible to remember an opening game with so few mistakes.
Nebraska kicker Brett Maher missed two field goals, shanked a punt out of bounds early in the third quarter, and worst of all the Husker kickoff team gave up a 100-yard return for a touchdown to SM's Tracey Lampley in the first half.
That was the only ugly about NU's 49-20 win.
Though Martinez talked a big game in the preseason on how he would run more instead of dancing out of bounds as he did in 2011, coaches continue to hold the line on what used to be Nebraska's biggest weapon — Martinez on the run.
Maybe that's because Martinez through the air has become pretty formidable.
It could be that the game dictated Nebraska taking to the air — makes sense with your best player on the bench. But aren't we still waiting to see it all from Martinez? Remember that freshman season when he was two steps faster than defenders?
Right now coaches are running from that aspect of his game, and it shows whenever he takes to the ground.
He looked hesitant and avoided contact against Southern Miss.
Come on, just let it fly.
Assuming Burkhead will be sidelined for awhile, Nebraska coaches have a key early decision to make with this offense.
Either turn Martinez loose in all facets of the game, or watch the running game dwindle.
Ameer Abdullah is a nice back, but is he or any other back on the roster capable of carrying the ball 25 or 30 times a game? Abdullah led the ground attack with 81 yards on 15 carries in Burkhead's absence.
If Burkhead's injury turns out to be a season-long lingering issue, Nebraska will need all hands on deck.
We saw that on Saturday through the air — seemingly nearly every Husker had a touch. I kind of lost count at 11 different receivers — heck even Waverly's Tyler Evans had a catch, Steven Osborne made an acrobatic play in the end zone and the tight ends were a factor — all of them.
But just how good was Southern Miss? The Golden Eagles were outmatched on a defense that was thought to be pretty good.
Next is a road game at UCLA. Pelini said Burkhead's injury is day to day, week to week. It probably makes little sense to play him this week with a rugged Big Ten season ahead.
Either way, run Taylor, run.