LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Bo Pelini wasn’t acting like himself on the sideline Saturday, and defensive coordinator John Papuchis could tell something wasn’t quite right with the Nebraska head coach known for being effusive and emotional.
“Not that I knew there was anything wrong with him,” Papuchis said. “He was just a little bit less vocal than he normally is.”
Pelini was taken by ambulance to a hospital while his Cornhuskers were in the middle of a 42-13 victory over Arkansas State on Saturday. He said in a statement after the game that he underwent precautionary tests that “checked out just fine.” He added that he planned to go to work Sunday.
When Pelini gets around to watching the film, he’ll like what he sees.
Taylor Martinez threw two touchdown passes to Kenny Bell for Nebraska (2-1), and Ameer Abdullah ran for a career-high 167 yards and two scores, filling in for the injured Rex Burkhead.
“I’m proud of our team and coaching staff for the way they responded this afternoon,” Pelini said.
The 44-year-old Pelini complained of not feeling well in the first half. A member of the Nebraska athletic medicine staff was seen checking his pulse, but he continued to coach through the end of the second quarter.
There was no word on the nature of Pelini’s symptoms.
Papuchis led the team onto the field for the third quarter and shared head coaching duties with offensive coordinator Tim Beck.
“Bo is as close to me as anybody,” Papuchis said, “so my initial reaction was more as a friend than business colleague. I had to compose myself for a second because of my concern for his well-being. At the end of the day he would want nothing other than for us to go out and perform as well as we possibly could, so you have to pull together and go to work.”
Linebacker Will Compton said there was a subdued mood in the locker room when Papuchis and Beck told the team that Pelini was heading to the hospital.
“We did it for him out there, we did it for each other,” Compton said.
The Huskers were in bounce-back mode after surrendering 653 yards in a 36-30 loss at UCLA last week. It was the second-most Nebraska had ever allowed an opponent.
Nebraska mixed three-man and four-man defensive fronts against a Red Wolves team (1-2) that scored 34 points in a loss to then-No.5 Oregon two weeks ago and averaged 574.5 yards its first two games.
The Red Wolves’ offense dented the Huskers for some big gainers but couldn’t get into the end zone. The Huskers held them to two field goals and 286 yards, 89 in the second half.
The Red Wolves’ only TD came when Qushaun Lee recovered Taylor Martinez’s fumble in the end zone in the third quarter.
It was a far cry from a performance in which Nebraska defenders missed upward of two dozen tackles against UCLA.
“We were embarrassed,” Compton said. “We said we’d bounce back and it would be on us to get that corrected. We have to keep doing that moving forward. We can’t take a break now and say we’re good tacklers. We have to keep building off that.”
Martinez was 13 of 14 for 180 yards and ran 18 yards for the Huskers’ final touchdown.
Ryan Aplin was 16 of 30 for 138 yards — the first time in five games he’s thrown for under 300 — and was sacked three times.
Arkansas State gambled and lost on the opening series of the game, giving Nebraska a short field for its first touchdown. Red Wolves coach Gus Malzahn went for it on fourth-and-8 at the Nebraska 49, and Aplin overthrew J.D. McKissic along the sideline.
Abdullah, who carried 30 times, touched the ball on six of eight plays before he crashed in from the 1.
Martinez followed with touchdown passes of 42 and 25 yards to Bell.
Nebraska went 75 yards to score just before half, with Abdullah running on seven of 10 plays and going 2 yards for the TD.
The Huskers finished with 527 yards, 347 on the ground.
“Here’s what you’ve got to do when you play a group like them: you have to sell out to stop the run,” Malzahn said. “You’ve got to take chances to stop the run. They’re very good. It’s one of the best offenses in college football.”
Down 28-3 at half, Arkansas State got within 28-10 on Lee’s fumble recovery in the end zone. The Red Wolves had a chance to make it closer after officials ruled they recovered a punt that glanced off Abdullah’s right foot.
Arkansas State netted no yards and three plays and had to settle for Brian Davis’ 32-yard field goal.
Papuchis said the Huskers learned a lot of life lessons in recent days.
First, there was the stunning loss to UCLA. Then starting defensive lineman Chase Rome quit Tuesday because of a disagreement over playing time. Then they responded after Pelini went to the hospital and Arkansas State threatened to tighten the game.
“It’s been a trying and emotional week,” Papuchis said. “I’m glad to see the way our team fought today.”
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