At his weekly news conference, Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops was asked if he believed the Wildcats went to Georgia last week believing they could win.
"No, I don't think we did," Stoops said bluntly of UK's 27-3 loss. "I'm not going to lie to you, and I'm not going to lie to the players. I didn't see that belief."
One metric that will tell us when Kentucky football is truly elevating is when the Wildcats' annual meeting with Vanderbilt no longer shapes up as a pivotal game.
That point is not now.
When struggling Kentucky (4-5, 2-5 SEC) takes its four-game losing streak to Nashville for a 4 p.m. kickoff Saturday, it will not only be the biggest game of the UK season to date, it will be the most important game of Stoops' three-year tenure.
With home games remaining against Charlotte and Louisville, a Kentucky victory in Music City completely flips the script on what is becoming yet another discouraging football season.
If UK beats Vandy for win number five, then Charlotte — a start-up college football program in its third season — becomes the Cats' bowl-eligibility threshold.
That would mean the season finale against Bobby Petrino and U of L is for pride, not to salvage the season. (And I think the Cats are far more likely to beat the Cards if they enter that game with six wins already in hand.)
As bad as Kentucky has looked in being outscored 121-40 while losing at Mississippi State (42-16), to Tennessee (52-21) and at Georgia (27-3), there are now all kinds of questions about whether UK can pull it back together and best Vanderbilt (3-6, 1-4).
UK's fluid situation at quarterback is question one.
Patrick Towles suffered through a brutal afternoon (8-of-21 passing for 96 yards with two interceptions) at Georgia. The Fort Thomas Highlands product has not enjoyed the step upward in his redshirt junior season that some (OK, I) predicted.
Stoops said in the Georgia post-game the QB job would be up for grabs this week in practice between Towles and redshirt freshman Drew Barker. The UK coach reiterated that point Monday.
"We've addressed it with Patrick," Stoops said. "He understands that and accepts that. He has got to go out and perform and produce just like everyone else on our team."
The problem with a quarterback change this week is you would be asking Barker to make his first career college start on the road against a high-level SEC defense.
Vanderbilt has a bad record because its offense has been both anemic (14.8 points a game) and turnover-prone (21, including throwing 14 interceptions).
However, Vandy Coach Derek Mason, the former Stanford defensive coordinator, has built a salty defense. The Commodores are fourth in the nation against third-down conversions (allowing only 25 percent), 14th in the country versus the run (112.4 yards a game) and 19th nationally in total defense (316.1 yards).
In its last three SEC games, Vanderbilt has allowed only 31 points combined.
If you thrust Barker into this game against this defense, are you setting him up to succeed?
"It has crossed our mind. It's difficult," Stoops said of making a QB change against the stout Vandy defense. "We will see how the week goes. Whoever gives us the best chance to go to Vandy and win will take the first snaps. If we feel confident in both guys and one is struggling, then we will go to the other."
A UK victory over Vanderbilt would give the Cats three wins over SEC East teams (South Carolina, Missouri) for the first time since the league went to divisions in 1992.
For Stoops, what is at stake Saturday could be the narrative that will attach to his third season at Kentucky.
Win, then beat Charlotte, and the season will end up being viewed as progress.
Lose to Vandy, and there's a good chance this season will ultimately be seen as disappointing.
In the perception-is-reality world of college coaching, that matters.
Given the lack of UK self belief he saw at Georgia, Stoops was asked Monday if he thought his players believed they could win a potentially season-defining game at Vanderbilt.
"They better," Stoops said.