LOUISVILLE — Kentucky's offensive players walked away from Sunday night's 27-2 win over Louisville knowing one thing:
They have to get better.
A lot better. Soon.
The returning starters know that this year's version of the offense isn't going to be last year's version that averaged 443.4 yards and put up nearly 37 points a game.
But they know they have to be better than the unit that only managed one offensive touchdown and 210 yards of total offense, converting four of 16 third-down attempts.
"We missed way too many opportunities to get in the end zone," said receiver Dicky Lyons Jr., the most veteran of the returning offensive players. "We've got to take advantage of opportunities, and we didn't. The defense definitely bailed us out. We've got to get better."
The coaches are preaching patience, noting that the Cats lost six starters on offense, including four that went to the NFL. The offensive line lost two starters and its top reserve from last season.
"It's still a learning process," offensive coordinator Joker Phillips said. "The best thing we did is we didn't turn the ball over until late."
Patience is important, but the offense is going to have to produce more for UK to be successful this season, Coach Rich Brooks said.
"We can't wait much longer for this offense to mature," he said. "We've got to get that on track."
UK's ground game never got off the ground on Sunday. Despite returning talent like Tony Dixon, Derrick Locke and Alfonso Smith, UK ran for only 63 yards after averaging 155.5 yards last season.
The average rushing gain against Louisville was just 1.9 yards, the longest a 13-yarder by Locke. The sophomore rushed for 25 yards.
"We should have been a whole lot better," said Locke, who had 10 carries. "Up front we need to be better. Once we get the front line moving, everything will start clicking and you'll see things open up."
A crowded box with an extra Louisville defender created a ton of trouble for UK's running backs.
"They did a good job of stopping the run," conceded Tony Dixon, who scored Kentucky's only offensive touchdown on his 7-yard run with 6:21 left in the game. "We've got to establish the passing game first and get some of those extra bodies out of the box."
But Dixon said UK's backs have to do a better job of making adjustments, too.
"We have to hit the holes more and faster and work together as an offense to get better," Dixon said.
Quarterback Mike Hartline, who completed 16 of 31 passes for 147 yards in his UK debut, didn't lay the offensive sputtering at the feet of the runners.
He said the passing attack will need to get better, too.
"We've got to try to produce more each week," he said. "We've got to get in and start watching film together as a group and learn how to fix some of our mistakes and our execution."
Louisville gave Kentucky plenty of chances. UK started only one drive behind its own 20-yard line, and 10 times it started at its own 35-yard line or better.
But the offense couldn't capitalize.
"The field-position battle was ours all day, and the disappointing thing is that, offensively, we didn't take advantage of a whole bunch of good scoring opportunities," Brooks said. "We're still a long ways from being a really good football team because we've got to get sync in our offense."