It was Oct. 31, 2015, and it turned out to be a dark day for Nebraska football.
But it was also the end of the beginning of Mike Riley’s run as head coach.
On that day, the Huskers went to West Lafayette, Indiana, to play a Purdue team that was 1-5 on the season.
The Huskers were without injured quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr.
Grand Island’s Ryker Fyfe filled in and threw for 407 yards and four touchdowns, but he also had four interceptions in his 48 pass attempts.
What the backup quarterback was doing throwing 48 times against a Purdue team that wasn’t very good against the run is still somewhat of a mystery, except to say that the Huskers got behind and the defense was unable to slow down a Boilermaker attack that put up 457 yards of offense against the Blackshirts in a 55-45 Purdue win.
“We definitely thought that was a team we should’ve handled pretty well, and we didn’t take care of business of how we were supposed to,” Husker defensive back Kieron Williams said. “As a team, we feel like we should win every game, so any game if we lose, we’re disappointed about it. If you’re not disappointed then there’s something wrong with you.”
The Huskers, the coaching staff, the administration and the fans were all extremely disappointed that day. The “Fire Mike Riley” Facebook page was probably getting a lot of hits as well.
“It was a big low point for the team,” Husker I-back Terrell Newby said. “Obviously we had a lot of games like that where it came down to those close situations, but that game kind of hit us so we definitely want to be able to bounce back from that this year.”
The Huskers host Purdue in a 2:30 p.m. game Saturday at Memorial Stadium. The attitude of this year’s team is pretty much a complete 180 from what it was a year ago.
The Huskers are rated eighth and ninth in the country and bring a 3-0 Big Ten record and are 6-0 overall going into the game against Purdue (3-3, 1-2). The Boilermakers will be led by interim coach Gerad Parker after head coach Darrell Hazell was fired last weekend.
Since that loss to Purdue almost a year ago, the Huskers have turned things around. They are 9-1 since that day, with the only loss coming to Iowa in the regular season finale.
The Huskers’ 9-1 mark makes them one of 10 teams in the FBS with a 9-1 record in the last 10 games. Alabama is the only one of those teams with a 10-0 mark in that stretch.
“Everything turned around,” Newby said. “We knew from then that wasn’t a season we wanted to have at all. We knew that we were capable of a lot better, so I think since then we knew what we were capable of and we just tried to put it all together.”
It’s a much different Husker team this time around, a team that has grown accustomed to the new coaching staff. The players understand what the staff wants and the staff better understands how to use the players they have.
“I feel like we have just grown in the scheme,” Williams said. “Our coaches have coached us up, and we’ve just had more time to learn the ins and outs of the scheme and the best way is to play with each other.
“I think right now we’re just playing great with each other. We’re working together and we know what each other is good at.”
Riley said it’s important to be realistic. When things aren’t going well -- like last year after the Purdue game -- his job is to tell the players how to get better.
Riley said when he’s talking to the media, he’s also talking to his team.
“I’ve got to give a message to you guys and to the fans and all that, but when I talk like this I am always thinking about the team is hearing what I’m saying about this stuff,” he said. “I think that’s always a focal point because in the end our job is help these guys grow, have a program you can all be proud of, and then win games. Most of my messages are, even though I’m talking to you, I’m directing it at our own team and coaching staff.”
Defensive coordinator Mark Banker remembers what it was like a year ago on that dark day at Purdue. He also remembers how the Huskers picked themselves up and went from there.
“I tell you what, the group last year they could have caved all the way in, especially after that Purdue game,” Banker said. “That will haunt us forever. It was just such a mess and so embarassing. And then to come back and continue to play better with more effort, I think that helped us turn the corner.”
Banker said what the Huskers did as much as anything was just keep competing.
“If you’re a competitor, ahead or behind, you just keep competing,” Banker said. “Because when you go out on the field, one of two things is going to happen.
“It’s like a chemical reaction. Heat’s going to be given off and either you’re going to get burned or you’re going to stay away from the flames.”
The Husker got burned last year. So far this year, they’re staying out of the flames.