LOUISVILLE — Kentucky wouldn't have had to do much to improve offensively from last season.
Only two schools in the nation were worse offensively than Kentucky's 259.8 yards per game. Only six schools had fewer passing yards (135.6) than the Cats.
After a season of head scratching about the offense, it performed better than expected in a 32-14 loss at Louisville on Sunday.
UK's 373 yards of total offense was more than it amassed in all but two games last season, but offensive coordinator Randy Sanders still sees plenty of room for improvement.
"We were better; we weren't as good as I expected us to be," he said. "We obviously have to do a better job finishing drives."
The brightest spot was sophomore quarterback Maxwell Smith, who threw for a career-high two touchdowns and 280 yards. He connected with 11 different Cats in the loss.
"Max proved a little bit to me," Sanders said. "I hope he proved something to the UK fans. I think he proved something to his teammates."
He completed eight passes to senior La'Rod King, seven to redshirt freshman Daryl Collins and three apiece to four different receivers.
Collins was impressive to his coaches and to Smith.
"I thought he played exceptionally well," Smith said. "He's young, a redshirt freshman, and hopefully me and him will have a connection for a number of years."
Sanders wasn't sure what he was going to get from Collins, who injured his knee before the start of last season and had to sit out. He ended the day with 64 yards.
"Daryl played like he has practiced," Sanders said. "He really played well. I thought Demarco Robinson played well. La'Rod King did a nice job. There were a number of guys who played well. It doesn't mean we're perfect, but I liked the way we played."
Another huge question mark coming into the season was the offensive line, which lost three longtime starters. Coaches and veterans thought the line held up well, allowing Smith to only be sacked twice.
Senior center Matt Smith was encouraged.
"There were a lot of good things going on," he said. "It was very encouraging to see how we could move the ball when we wanted to, when we weren't making mistakes, when we were doing things the way we practiced them."
Coach Joker Phillips was pleased by the tempo the offense set, which included mostly going without a huddle against the Cards' defense.
Sanders said to expect more of that this season.
"That's pretty much the way we've been practicing and that's the way we want to play."
Freshman learning curve
Kentucky knew it would skew young and it did, playing seven true freshmen in the loss. Those were receivers A.J. Legree and DeMarcus Sweat, running back Dyshawn Mobley, defenders J.D. Harmon, Fred Tiller and Pancho Thomas and punter Landon Foster.
Foster, who punted twice for 88 yards on Sunday, including a long of 53 yards, got a lesson via social media on how hard it is to be a freshman.
Foster posted a tweet on Saturday comparing Louisville to a trash heap. The tweet was quickly removed and he apologized for it on Twitter and then again after the game.
"Obviously it was a huge mistake," he said. "I realize I represent stuff that is bigger than just me. I was trying to be funny and light-hearted. ... I regret it. It wasn't a personal shot at Louisville at all, for the people or any of that. I was just trying to be funny."
Kentucky came out of the game relatively unscathed. Maxwell Smith hit his elbow on a facemask, but said he could play on Monday if called into action. Josh Forrest had a hip flexor and Miles Simpson had a bruise to his quadriceps.
Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com