Iowa and Kentucky Battle in Vrbo Citrus Bowl

Iowa and Kentucky Battle in Vrbo Citrus Bowl

The Iowa Hawkeyes are familiar with the sunshine state. Kirk Ferentz has led his team to a Florida bowl game 10 times in his 23-year run in Iowa City. This will be the 11th trip to Florida and first appearance in the Vrbo Citrus Bowl for Iowa. The Hawkeyes finished the regular season 10-2 before suffering a loss to Michigan in the Big Ten Championship game. It was Iowa’s second Big Ten West title, and fourth 10-win regular season in the Ferentz tenure. The Hawkeyes will face Mark Stoops and the Kentucky Wildcats of the SEC. Kentucky finished the season 9-3 and are headed to their sixth bowl game under Stoops. They won the Citrus Bowl after the 2018 season, and are looking for their fourth bowl win with Stoops at the helm. Iowa and Kentucky battle for the first time in the Vrbo Citrus Bowl.

Opt-Outs and Roster Updates

Iowa

The Hawkeyes have a couple of roster adjustments heading to Orlando. Rimington Trophy winner Tyler Linderbaum has stated that he will suit up for the Citrus Bowl despite his early first-round draft potential. The junior graduated early, but did not go through senior day ceremonies in November. The game against Kentucky is likely his final time in a Hawkeye uniform. 

Running back Tyler Goodson has announced he will forgo the Citrus Bowl to prepare for the NFL draft. Goodson is also a junior and is off a 1,148 yard season where he scored six touchdowns. He finished his career at Iowa with over 3,000 all-purpose yards and 19 total touchdowns in three seasons. Goodson will go down as one of the Hawkeyes’ best running backs in recent history. Gavin Williams and Ivory Kelly-Martin will do the work in Orlando in Goodson’s absence. The two have been solid this year, totaling 400 yards and a touchdown as backups.

Receiver Tyrone Tracy Jr. has transferred to Purdue and will not play in the Citrus Bowl. His production levels were low this season with the emergence of the young receiver group. Tracy has a lot of talent, but didn’t get the ball as much as he would have liked. He’ll be a great addition to the Purdue passing attack. 

On defense, both Matt Hankins and Terry Roberts will be out for the Citrus Bowl. Hankins has been battling injury since mid-November. His backup Roberts is also out with injury and not listed on the depth chart. His absence on special teams and ball-tracking abilities on defense have been missed in recent games. However, Jermari Harris has been a great next-man-in. He has already recorded three interceptions on the year.  

Kentucky

For the Wildcats, they will be without receivers Josh Ali and Isaiah Epps who were involved in a car accident earlier in December. The two are both ok, but according to Kentucky Offensive Coordinator Liam Coen, they will be unavailable to play in the Citrus Bowl. Ali was the team’s second leading receiver with 600 yards and three touchdowns this season. Other than the two receivers, Kentucky should be playing at full strength against Iowa. 

Wan’Dale Robinson and the Hawkeye Secondary

One of the more intriguing matchups to follow in this year’s Citrus Bowl is that of Kentucky receiver Wan’Dale Robinson and Iowa’s secondary. Robinson spent his freshman and sophomore seasons at Nebraska. He played in 18 games with the Cornhuskers and accounted for seven total touchdowns. In his two appearances against Iowa, he accounted for well over 100 total all-purpose yards but failed to score. The Hawkeyes won both games. Robinson will have extra motivation on New Year’s Day, as he’ll be looking for his first win against Iowa.

Robinson is familiar with the Hawkeye secondary. He has already faced four of Iowa’s five starters. Iowa has held him in check to this point, but at Kentucky, Robinson has been the favorite target of quarterback Will Levis and leads the team in receiving by over 570 yards. With 1,172 yards and seven touchdowns this season, Robinson’s speed and pass-catching ability has been a huge weapon for the Wildcats. He has a 90 overall receiving rating and is the sixth best receiver in the country according to Pro Football Focus. Iowa has been known to allow a lot of yards to top-tier receivers, and Robinson has that potential on Saturday. 

Battle in the Trenches

Kentucky’s offensive line was a finalist for the Joe Moore Award this season. The trophy is given to the most outstanding offensive line unit in college football. Their offensive lineman have won SEC lineman of the week five times this season, and average 5.5 yards per rush attempt. No one lineman has allowed more than one sack on the season. While they didn’t win the Joe Moore Award, this unit has received high-praise and several accolades all year. 

This offensive line will match up with one of the Big Ten’s top defensive fronts. The Hawkeyes are 13th nationally in rush defense, allowing 113 yards per game. Joe Evans leads the team with seven sacks on the year along with 17 quarterback hurries. Zack VanValkenburg has a team high 12.5 tackles for loss, and Jack Campbell has 126 tackles on the season. Iowa has been effective at getting quarterback pressure and preventing points. Their matchup against Kentucky’s top offensive line will likely sway the direction of the game. 

Turnover Potential

According to Pro Football Focus, Kentucky has the fourth-ranked offense in the nation. With a 93.2 overall ranking, the Wildcats average 32 points and 430 total yards per game. At quarterback, Levis has been a productive liability. The Penn State transfer has thrown for over 2,500 yards and 23 touchdowns on the season, but has struggled to take care of the football. Levis has turned the ball over 17 times this season. With 12 interceptions and five fumbles, his solid quarterback play has been hindered by turnovers. 

Chris Rodriguez Jr. is the running back for Kentucky who has also had a great season. He has 1,270 yards with nine touchdowns and averages 6.2 yards per carry. He runs behind one of the better offensive lines in the SEC, and his numbers show for it. However, Rodriguez has had his troubles with the football as well. He has six fumbles this season. In 12 games, Kentucky has lost 22 turnovers; 12 interceptions and 10 fumbles. They are tied for seventh most turnovers lost this season in the FBS, and are 128th in turnover margin with -1.08 per game. 

The Hawkeyes are not the team you want to play with this kind of turnover potential. Iowa is third in the nation with 29 turnovers gained this season. They have five fumble recoveries and an FBS high 24 interceptions. The Hawkeyes are also third in the country in turnover margin with an even 1.0 per game. The Iowa defense averages two interceptions per game and 11 different players have recorded a pick this season. The 24 interceptions is a school record, and Iowa will have a great chance to add to that in Orlando. 

Iowa and Kentucky Battle in Vrbo Citrus Bowl

Ferentz has not officially named a starting quarterback for the Citrus Bowl, but the depth chart lists Spencer Petras as the number one. He has been taking reps with the ones at practice this week, and it is likely that he trots out as the starter against Kentucky. The key to success in this game for the Hawkeyes is to capitalize on turnovers. The Wildcats average nearly two turnovers lost per game this season. Iowa has struggled to string together long drives consistently this year, but have been one of the nation’s best in converting turnovers into points. They’ll have their opportunity in Orlando, and look to add to their school-record 24 interceptions. The Hawkeyes are looking for their fourth 11-win season in program history, while Kentucky searches for their second 10-win season under Stoops. Iowa and Kentucky will battle in the Vrbo Citrus Bowl on the first day of 2022.