LOUISVILLE — A coach Kentucky tried to hire once upon a time, a fellow by the name of Bill Parcells, is famous not only for winning Supers Bowls but for saying that if you want to know how you're doing, just look at the won-lost record, look at the final score.
Kentucky did some good things on this Sunday afternoon at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.
Quarterback Maxwell Smith completed 70 percent of his 50 pass attempts. CoShik Williams ran the ball with vigor. In his collegiate debut, Daryl Collins caught a bunch of balls.
Mired near the bottom of the Football Bowl Subdivision yardage totals last year, the Cats moved the ball up and down the field on the Louisville Cardinals and kept fighting when most would have thrown in the rain towel.
And yet, as the sunlight gave way to the dark night, there was the over-riding finality of that final score: Louisville 32, Kentucky 14.
"We're better than that," said UK Coach Joker Phillips afterward.
Before the season is over, Kentucky's embattled football coach might be proven right.
Yet on this wet afternoon, a declining and pessimistic fan base is likely to see only Louisville's 99-yard touchdown drive to open the game, the Cardinals' devastating 219 yards rushing, the fact that U of L quarterback Teddy Bridgewater scattered just two incompletions among his 21 pass attempts.
"You can't give up 76 yards on four-plus drives," Phillips said. "You can't do that, and we are better than that on defense."
The Cats might be better than that, but the impression left on this Sunday was much like the performance of the Kentucky offense — 373 yards of total offense but two costly lost fumbles and a missed field goal. Ultimately, the Cats didn't do what needed to be done.
"We need to finish," said offensive coordinator Randy Sanders. "We know that."
There are plenty, of course, who said they were finished with UK football even before the season began Sunday. They've kept their wallets closed to the point that the number of season tickets sold is 10,000 less than a year ago, and that number was less than the season before.
Kentucky's home opener Saturday against Kent State at Commonwealth Stadium might be a joyous occasion and an annual rite of fall, but it's likely to be celebrated by fewer patrons than any time in recent memory.
Asked what he would tell the disgruntled fans, Phillips said, "I've got to talk to my football team. I've got to get them better."
There was little doubt Sunday that Louisville was the better football team. The Cards are a legitimate Big East favorite, a team ranked in the Top 25.
Bridgewater was, as advertised, a stellar sophomore, often using his feet not to run but to create space to get off pinpoint throws. His running backs, Senorise Perry and Jeremy Wright, ran hard and fast.
Surprising were the size of the holes they ran through.
Perry rushed for 108 yards on 16 carries. Wright ran 22 times for 105 yards.
UK's defensive line was supposed to be a Kentucky strength. Size and experience were the perceived attributes up front. Instead, the line kept getting pushed back, to the side or to the ground.
"It was demoralizing to be honest with you," said defensive coordinator Rick Minter of the 99 yards of serious smash-mouth that U of L hit the Cats with on the Cards' opening drive.
"We practiced it and we executed it," said Perry, "so it felt easy to us."
The Cats are left with no easy task. The fans want fewer excuses and more progress. They see rocky waters ahead, and if Sunday produced a few glimmers of hope, there was no shining light to show the way.
Phillips' club didn't necessarily have to win this Governor's Cup to get more of the fan base back in the boat, but his team had to be more competitive than a year ago.
Despite the positive points, UK came in to the game as a 13-point underdog on the point-spread sheet and lost by 18 on the scoreboard.
As a certain fellow named Parcells will tell you, the scoreboard is where it counts.
John Clay: (859) 231-3226.Email: firstname.lastname@example.orgBlog: johnclay.bloginky.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv.