Stoops Versus His Alma Mater
With so many bowl matchups between the Big 10 and SEC, anyone who does bowl projections always wants to put Iowa and Kentucky together. The reason is there’s a built-in storyline. UK headman Mark Stoops played at Iowa in the late 1980s and started his coaching career there as did his brothers Bob and Mike. After several attempts to make this happen, it finally worked out this year. Let’s take a look at both teams and give a prediction with our 2022 VRBO Citrus Bowl Preview. First some history of the game.
One Of The Oldest Games
The Citrus Bowl is the seventh oldest bowl game in the country. It originally started in 1947 as the Tangerine Bowl and Catawba beat Maryville 31-6 in the first game. Originally small schools in the south were featured with all proceeds going to charity. Since 1993 it’s matched teams from the Big 10 and SEC as it’s become one of the top non-playoff contests each year. The first New Year’s Day game came in 1987 and VRBO, a vacation rental marketplace, became the title sponsor in 2019. Now that we’ve told about the history let’s get to the teams with our 2022 VRBO Citrus Bowl Preview
How Kentucky Got Here
The Wildcats come into Saturday’s match-up sporting a 9-3 record. It’s only the fourth time since 1950 the Cats have won that many in the regular season. However, it’s the second time in four years under Stoops. As we’ve said on more than one occasion it shows how far this program has come. Kentucky started off 6-0, then lost three straight, and won their final three of the year.
For some 2021 is dubbed “the year Kentucky remembered the forward pass.” Quarterback Will Levis, the former Penn State signal-caller who is familiar to Iowa fans, threw for 2.593 yards on the year. He also had 23 touchdowns but did have 12 interceptions, most in the SEC. His favorite target is wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson. The junior set a school record with 94 catches in 2021 and 1,121 yards and seven touchdowns.
As they head into Saturday Levis will be without his second-biggest target in Josh Ali. The “Super Senior” ranked second on the team with 41 receptions for 601 yards and three scores. Ali along with another receiver Isaiah Epps was involved in a car wreck and while they are ok will not play in the Citrus Bowl. Furthermore, Epps put his name in the transfer portal and will use his extra season somewhere else in 2022. Without those two looks for more emphasis on tight ends Justin Rigg and Izayah Cummings.
Not Forgetting What Got Them Here
While we say 2021 is the year Kentucky rediscovered the forward pass they certainly haven’t abandoned what got them to the dance. In fact, the Wildcats rank 21st in college football in rushing yards per game with 206. Chris Rodriguez and his 1,279 yards put him second in the SEC. In addition, he scored nine times. Levis is also a running threat with 387 yards and nine touchdowns. As if that wasn’t enough Kavosiey Smoke also gained 400 yards. When Stoops brought in Liam Coen from the L.A. Rams as the offensive coordinator he promised a more balanced, pro-style attack and that’s certainly what’s happened.
This is the first season Kentucky has had a 2,000-yard passer (Will Levis), 1,000-yard rusher (Chris Rodriguez), and 1,000-yard receiver (Wan’Dale Robinson) in the same season since 2007 (Andre Woodson, Rafael Little, Stevie Johnson).
— TheCatsPause247 (@TheCatsPause247) November 20, 2021
Now that we told you about the Wildcats let’s turn to the Big 10 representative as we continue the 2022 VRBO Citrus Bowl Preview.
Scouting The Hawkeyes
Kirk Ferentz’s squad finished the regular season with a 10-3 record. They went 6-0 out of the gate and rose as high as number two in the rankings. However back to back losses to Purdue and Wisconsin ended any playoff dreams. They won their last four and won the Big 10 West. However, they ran into a buzzsaw in the title game losing 42-3 to Michigan.
Spencer Petras should be the man under center for Iowa. While he’s been in and out of the lineup over the last couple of months he’s listed as the starter for Saturday. They don’t throw the ball that much but when they do he has 1,669 yards and nine touchdowns. Although, he does have six interceptions. When Petras hasn’t played Alex Padilla has been the starter and his stats aren’t that exciting either.
Missing A Key Piece
When you think of Iowa you automatically go to the running game. In this day of the “Air Raid” and spread formations, the two-back Iowa set is a throwback to a different kind of football. Unfortunately for the Hawkeyes, they are without the major component of their attack. Tyler Goodson, who was fourth in the Big 10 with 1,151 yards, announced he was skipping the Citrus Bowl and declaring for the NFL Draft.
Thank you Hawkeye Nation!!🖤💛 pic.twitter.com/R39eZz8Uzb
— Tyler Goodson(Tgood) (@tgood1110) December 10, 2021
With Goodson out Gavin Williams and Ivory Kelly-Martin have to take up the slack. Between the two they gained 397 yards in limited playing time. Kentucky ranked 16th in that nation allowing 117 yards per game so they’ve definitely got their work cut out for them.
Now that we’ve previewed both teams let’s look at their bowl history.
Bowl And Series History
Saturday’s Citrus Bowl marks the first-ever meeting between the Hawkeyes and Wildcats. Overall Kentucky is 11-9 in bowl games winning their last three. In their only Citrus Bowl appearance, they beat Penn State 27-24 three years ago. UK’s played in six Florida games going 2-3.
On the other side of the ball, Iowa is playing in their 34th bowl game going 17-15-1. Much like the Cats they also have won three straight. In addition, they’ve played once in the Citrus Bowl way back in 2005 beating LSU 30-25. Last season they were slated to play Missouri in the Music City Bowl but it was canceled due to COVID issues with the Tigers. The Cats are 2-2 against the Big 10 in bowl games while Iowa is 5-5 all-time in bowl games against the SEC.
Who Wins On Saturday?
This can be said for any game but it is especially true in the Citrus Bowl. Whoever wins the turnover battle likely wins the game. While the Hawkeyes have struggled on offense at times this year their defense has been spot on. Led by linebacker Jack Campbell and defensive lineman Zack Vanvalkenburg the Hawkeyes won several games thanks to that unit. For the year they have four defensive touchdowns and a plus 13 turnover margin. That ranks 4th and 3rd respectively in college football.
What does this have to do with Kentucky? For all of their success this season they rank 128th in the country in turnover margin. Only FIU and Arizona are worse. The one factor in all three UK losses is turnovers. As mentioned earlier Levis led the SEC in interceptions while the previously sure-handed Rodriguez has had trouble all year holding onto the ball.
Quite simply if Kentucky limits turnovers they then win. The Cats opened as a three-point favorite and seemingly every Kentucky bowl game goes down to the wire and this one probably will too. In the end, Stoops gets what will be an emotional win against his alma mater and the Cats bowl win streak goes to four in a row.
Kentucky 27 Iowa 21
Thanks for checking out the 2022 VRBO Citrus Bowl preview here at Last Word On College Football. We’ll be back after the game with a recap.