COLUMBUS, Ohio — It has been six weeks since Nebraska's 56-10 loss to Michigan. Coach Scott Frost said after the matchup in Ann Arbor that he honestly believed it was "going to be the bottom" for the Huskers.
And then the 42-28 loss to Purdue happened. And the 41-24 loss to Wisconsin. And the 34-31 overtime loss to Northwestern. From the outside looking in, it felt like the bottom kept getting lower and lower for Nebraska. What wasn't seen was the confidence that was rising behind closed doors.
The Huskers went to Ann Arbor wanting to win, but unsure if they could against then-No. 19 Michigan (who happens to be ranked No. 5 now).
"I’m not sure deep down if some of the guys thought they could win," Frost said following last Thursday's practice.
Since that fateful loss six weeks ago, something changed. Frost was careful in how he addressed that change following Nebraska's 36-31 loss to No. 10 Ohio State, only because he didn't want to imply he was pleased with a loss.
That also doesn't mean everything he saw on Saturday was bad.
"What did please me though was the heart that these guys showed," Frost said. "This was a long time coming. A lot of things had to happen to get a team that would go toe-to-toe with a top-10 team.
"Six weeks ago, we went to Ann Arbor and played a team like that and we had no chance. We walked out of there with our tails between our legs. Now guys are banding together and fighting and going blow-for-blow with a team like that."
That goes back to that shift within the team over the last six weeks. There's been attrition. There have been moves and swaps at a variety of positions in hopes of putting the best available players on the field. Those changes have helped, but there's something that's made an even biggest impact: Nebraska's confidence as a team.
And there was something about that overtime loss to Northwestern that really shifted Nebraska's confidence.
"We’re a completely different team than we were when we played Michigan," senior linebacker Luke Gifford said. "We really felt like, and Coach Frost has talked about it, the Northwestern week, how much the culture and just the program in general had changed. We didn’t win that game and it was kind of hard to see but we knew within our walls that things were changing."
Nebraska's numbers on the field proved that. The Huskers' 450 yards again Ohio State on Saturday, for example, marked their sixth straight game with at least 450 yards of total offense. That six-game streak ties the 1972, 1982, 1994 and 1995 seasons for the longest such streak in school history.
Nebraska still needed a win. The coaches and players admitted that week-after-week until it finally happened against Minnesota, but it wasn't the win that put the Huskers on the right track. That was already happening.
As the losses piled on, Nebraska got to work. Through the ups and (let's be honest) many downs, the Huskers found a way to motivate themselves. That meant finally buying in to Frost's message and putting the work in Monday through Friday.
"In the beginning of the year, we'd have two good practices in a row but we couldn't string together the whole week, ever," sophomore defensive end Ben Stille said. "Now, I don't remember the last . . . It's been three or four weeks that we've had every practice of the week that's been a good practice. I don't remember the last time we had a week where there was a bad practice mixed in there."
So when Frost comes to the podium Monday morning and says it was Nebraska's best practice yet, he won't be lying. Stille said the team is continously practing the good habits the staff has worked to put in place, and those habits are starting to change the results on the field.
"We’re heading in the right direction and I’m so proud of it," sophomore offensive lineman Matt Farniok said. "No one’s discouraged, no one’s doubting. We know where we’re heading and we’re proud of where we’re going to be."
It took six weeks to get here. It's not perfect yet, but it's trending in the right direction.
It's hard to tell what these final weeks of the 2018 regular football season will look like for this Nebraska team. They'll likely tell us a lot about this team, though.
And maybe Frost was right all along. Maybe Sept. 22 really was the bottom for this Nebraska football team.
Erin is the Deputy Editor and Digital Marketing Strategist for Hail Varsity. She has covered Nebraska athletics since 2012, which has included stops at Bleacher Report, Cox Media Group’s Land of 10, and even Hail Varsity (previously from 2012-2017). She has also been featured on the Big Ten Network, NET’s Big Red Wrap-Up, and a varsity of radio shows nationwide. When not covering the Huskers, Erin is probably at Chipotle.