COLUMBUS, Ohio — For all those clouds hanging over the Husker football program Saturday night, the man who leads it could not have been more clear in his expectations for the rest of the season.
"We need to win out," Bo Pelini told reporters following a 63-38 thrashing from Ohio State. Then he repeated it, some extra emphasis on the words.
We need to win out.
"Because that's the only way we can guarantee getting to Indianapolis," he said.
There is likely some snickering out there about those words after the debacle in Columbus, but Pelini knows time is of the essence, with the next four weeks likely to play a large role in deciding who wins the Legends Division.
A 25-point loss in which Nebraska turned it over four times on offense and was gutted for an average of 8 yards per play on defense will make plenty of people wonder how realistic it is that Nebraska can do what Pelini hopes.
If you are a Husker fan searching for any silver lining to come out of the paddling in the Horseshoe, it's probably this: Nebraska still controls its fate in the Legends race.
While Ohio State was a spotlight game for obvious reasons, the three games ahead — at Northwestern, Michigan, at Michigan State — are the ones that many have been pointing to since January as the games most pivotal to deciding who from that division is going to Indy for the Big Ten championship.
Of course, the question Husker fans are surely wondering: How the heck does this team quickly find the answers to those glaring issues that have been spotlighted on two road trips this season?
"I think you go back to work," said wide receivers coach Rich Fisher. "You have to go over that film and see what you did that caused us not to perform the way we wanted to perform. But you keep moving forward. Nothing you can do about the past. We got to move forward."
Players and coaches have spoken a lot since the offseason about how close this team is and how they feel it is better equipped than past Husker teams to deal with adversity.
Offensive coordinator Tim Beck even said a few weeks ago that the closeness and accountability of this group reminds him of the 2007 Kansas team that made an Orange Bowl run while he coached there.
Nebraska players tried to build up mental toughness and leadership in the offseason, even undergoing some special training sessions with former military leaders.
But now, with many doubting, the burden will be on them to prove their resolve.
"You can't let bad things accelerate," said running backs coach Ron Brown. "You have to stop things. That's what great players, great teams, great men do. … And when you hit a tough point, you have to be your own worst critic. You have to look at it for what it is. But you can't take it out of perspective.
"There will probably be some things, as we watch some film, that are good. And there will probably be some learning lessons that come out of this thing that benefit us. But what appears something right now may be very different later, and a lot of it has to do with who we are inside."