Somehow, the players still have that sense of progress, the feeling that things will get better even though the record is getting worse.
The University at Buffalo's record continued to plunge -- 1-6 overall, 0-5 in the Mid-American Conference -- after Kent State strolled into Dix Stadium on Saturday and simply stifled the Bulls, 35-13, in front of 8,260 Homecoming fans.
It is becoming more difficult to sell the notion that UB is making steps forward when the reality is there's a strong possibility of a second winless season in the MAC in three years. Saturday produced this: three interceptions, 80 yards rushing and the fifth time this season an opponent has scored at least 30 points.
Even optimistic coach Jim Hofher couldn't find many positives after the loss to Kent State, which entered the game with just one Division I-A victory on its resume this season.
"This is a disappointment," Hofher said. "We didn't deny the run the way we needed to; we didn't cause any problems in the passing game the way we need to; we lost our poise in the second half in regards to penalties. Offensively, we had turnovers and didn't create enough movement for our running game."
UB was expected to at least be on the same level as Kent State (3-4, 2-2), a program that headed into this game with only four conference wins since 1999. But after Saturday and last week's upset over Northern Illinois, the Golden Flashes have won two consecutive league games and are 3-0 at home for the first time since 1985.
Perhaps the tide is changing at Kent State.
"They've played very good football and today was no exception," Hofher said. "They caused us not to do things well, far more than us not doing things well. I thought it was very complete on their part."
None of the Bulls would bite on the notion that there could be added pressure for Saturday's game at Eastern Michigan, but this will be the setting: The two teams will come in a combined 0-6 in the league, so the game stands to be a contest to see who avoids the cellar.
"We have to be more sound," said senior linebacker Duane Williams. "You can't win when you make a lot of mistakes."
The Bulls couldn't handle slippery quarterback Josh Cribbs and the Kent State offense and, once again, they couldn't muster much offense. The Bulls ran 72 plays, 12 more than the Flashes, which produced 273 yards and 13 points.
Kent State was successful early behind Cribbs, who concerned Hofher because of his ability to run. He proved his arm is just as dangerous with 15 of 19 passing for a career-best 194 yards and two TDs.
The Bulls trailed, 14-3, late in the first quarter before Kent State surged to a 28-3 bulge just before halftime. Kent State tailback David Alston scored from 4 yards for the Golden Flashes' first touchdown, then Cribbs locked in on wideout Jurron Kelly for a 26-yard touchdown. But the most damaging touchdown -- and the one that assured the outcome -- was when linebacker James Harrison returned an interception 26 yards for a touchdown.
UB quarterback Joe Freedy looked to the sideline for a receiver who instead made a cut to the middle, and Harrison picked off the pass. Harrison received a couple of key blocks as he sprinted down the left sideline then leaped over Tim Hedges into the end zone to put Kent State ahead, 21-3.
"That was my fault completely," said Freedy, who was pressured all afternoon and finished 16 of 34 for 193 yards, with one touchdown and three interceptions. He also was sacked three times. "It was poor timing on my part."
This was hardly Freedy's loss alone. In truth, this was a win by a program that is slowly making progress, and the results are apparent in the win column. UB is in search of similar results.
"Good teams get better week by week, great teams get better day by day," said senior tailback Derrick Gordon, who rushed for a game-high 80 yards on 22 carries. "We need to keep getting better because every team we play, we have to assume, is going to get better every week. We've been going through this for a while, and it's a hole we have to dig ourselves out of."