5 things to know about Iowa's Citrus Bowl opponent: Kentucky
Iowa’s season didn’t exactly end on a high note, dropping a 42-3 decision to Michigan in the B1G Championship Game on Saturday. Still, the Hawkeyes put together a pretty memorable season.
A 10-3 record was the mark for Iowa this season, and after hitting a double-digit win total for the second time in 3 seasons, Kirk Ferentz’s team is headed to Orlando to play Kentucky (9-3) in the Citrus Bowl.
This will be an interesting matchup in a warm-weather bowl for the Hawkeyes and Wildcats. Here are 5 things to know about Kentucky:
Wan’Dale Robinson. Will Levis.
Do those two names ring a bell? They should. Robinson was a top receiver at Nebraska and Levis was a backup quarterback on Penn State’s roster before both hit the transfer portal following the 2020 campaign. They’ve made a huge role in getting Kentucky to the 9-win mark this month.
Robinson has totaled 1,178 yards and 7 touchdowns on 94 receptions this season, ranking second in the SEC in receiving yardage. Levis has proven to be a dual-threat weapon in the offensive scheme, throwing for 2,579 yards, rushing for an additional 387 and accounting for 32 total touchdowns.
Iowa does have some familiarity with both guys, but they’re flourishing in this new system. It’s going to be tough for the Hawkeye defense to contain this weapon in the passing game.
Shutting down the run
Teams haven’t had much success running on Kentucky’s defense this season. The Wildcats are allowing just 117.8 yards per game on the ground — good enough for fourth in the SEC and 19th nationally.
At times this season, Iowa has struggled to run the ball with Tyler Goodson and Gavin Williams. It could make for a tough afternoon in Orlando for Brian Ferentz and the offense.
No opponent hit 200 yards on the ground against Kentucky this season. A big reason for that is the play of linebackers JJ Weaver and DeAndre Square, who combined for 19 tackles for loss during the 2021 season.
Trouble with the turnovers
Looking for Iowa’s greatest advantage? It’s going to come in the turnover category.
Iowa has thrived off takeaways this season, forcing 30 turnovers in 13 contests, ranking third nationally. Kentucky, on the other hand, has done a poor job of protecting the football.
The Wildcats have lost possession 22 times during their 12-game season, ranking 13th in the SEC. A dozen of those have come from the arm of Levis, who’s tossed 12 picks on the year.
Believe it or not, Kentucky has been on the positive side of the turnover battle just twice this entire year.
An RB who makes plays
Chris Rodriguez Jr. is another player the Iowa defense is going to have to keep in check. The Kentucky running back has had one of the best seasons in the SEC this year, putting him near the top of the conference’s leaderboard in every category.
Rodriguez rushed for 1,272 yards and 8 touchdowns while maintaining a 6.2 yards per carry average. He hit the century mark 8 times this year, including in each of the last 4 games.
Keeping Rodriguez under the 100-yard mark is critical for Iowa’s success. The Wildcats lost just 1 game in 2021 (a 45-42 decision to Tennessee) when the running back hit triple digits.
This year’s meeting between Iowa and Kentucky in the Citrus Bowl will be the first time in history the two teams have ever met on the gridiron. How about that for a fun B1G-SEC storyline?
Mark Stoops is an Iowa graduate and played under Hayden Fry. He was also a graduate assistant with the Hawkeyes from 1990-91. He and Ferentz are probably pretty familiar with each other, despite the lack of on-field meetings.
It should set up a fun storyline in Orlando.