Arkansas State vs. Nebraska, 9.15.12

Nebraska defensive lineman Eric Martin (46) runs into Arkansas State quarterback Ryan Aplin (16) causing him to fumble the ball in the second half on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012, at Memorial Stadium.

FRANCIS GARDLER/Lincoln Journal Star

Nebraska senior Eric Martin doesn’t quite know how to describe the position he played Saturday.

“It’s different,” he said.

On one play, he might line up as a linebacker. The next, a defensive end.

“You have to be able to play against linemen that are stronger than you and bigger than you, and also be able to man up against a running back, and drop back into coverage,” he said. “Most D-linemen can’t drop back into coverage.”

The 6-foot-2, 250-pound Martin, of Moreno Valley, Calif., is able to drop back in coverage.

“I’m pretty average when it comes to dropping back into coverage,” he said. “But I’m proud that I’m able to do it. I feel I’ve worked hard for my physical abilities, and that they’re able to transition into a position that most people can’t play.”

In Nebraska’s win Saturday against Arkansas State, Martin pressured quarterback Ryan Aplin several times. In the fourth quarter, Martin hit Aplin hard, the quarterback fumbled, and Martin recovered.

“That’s my favorite thing about football — contact,” he said. “I just love to hit people.”

Martin’s confidence is increasing. It helps that his teammates are encouraging him.

“(Linebacker) Will Compton told me in practice, ‘Dang, I’m glad I get to play next to you now,’” Martin said. “That kind of made me feel good.”

* MEMORIES: For obvious reasons, Saturday’s game was memorable for Nebraska defensive coordinator John Papuchis.

“I cut the newspaper article out,” he said. “I’ll save it and show it to my kids when I get a little older. I hope that’s not the pinnacle (of my career), but maybe it will be. Who knows?”

With head coach Bo Pelini in the hospital during the second half, Papuchis took over the on-field duties as head coach.

“A lot of friends and family kind of got a kick out of it,” Papuchis said.

Pelini is the team’s emotional leader. With him gone, there was a void that Papuchis tried to fill.

Under normal circumstances, it’s a void he wouldn’t try to tackle.

“If I’m signaling calls and making adjustments on the sideline, I’m not head-bumping and jumping around — which is really not very impressive on camera,” he said. “I saw it. I probably shouldn’t do that anymore. But if I’m not the one making all the corrections on the sideline and doing the signaling, then I can play a little more of an emotional role for the guys.”

* SCHEMATICS: Nebraska used a three-man front on defense for much of Saturday’s game against Arkansas State.

The three-man front gives a defense balance, Papuchis said.

“Sometimes against quarterback-run teams, especially the one we played (last week), having that balance is critical,” he said. “You can get a little more athletic because whoever that fourth guy is (near the line of scrimmage) — whether it’s a D-end or hybrid guy like Eric Martin — you get a little more speed on the field.

“It’s always been a piece of what we do. Depending on who we play, it’ll be a factor more in some weeks than others.”

* CONFIDENCE: Ameer Abdullah already had confidence before the season began.

But still, it meant something to the sophomore running back that he was trusted to carry the ball 30 times against Arkansas State.

"I feel like as the coaches' confidence grows in me, so does my confidence," Abdullah said.

The question this week is how the carries will be divvied it up among the running backs with the return to the field of senior Rex Burkhead.

Abdullah said Nebraska's offense is diverse enough to feed the football to a lot of different people.

“It’s not about trying to get this guy that many carries or this guy a certain amount of touches," Abdullah said. "It’s about just running our offense and letting the statistics come.”

As for Burkhead, Abdullah can tell his running back cohort is anxious to see the field again.

"I'm sure he has fresh legs."

Reach Brian Christopherson at bchristopherson@journalstar.com or 402-473-7439. You can follow him on Twitter @HuskerExtraBC.

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