The old-school matchup between Kirk Ferentz and Mark Stoops in the Vrbo Citrus Bowl lived up to its expectations. Both Iowa and Kentucky played a physical game of football that ended with a 20-17 Kentucky victory. It took a huge drive with three minutes to play for Kentucky to get the win. The touchdown at the end of the game was the Wildcats’ only points of the second half, and they proved to be the difference. Iowa loses the Citrus Bowl in dramatic fashion and ends the season at 10-4.
Kentucky Starts Strong
The first half of the Citrus Bowl was all Kentucky on the scoreboard. With a 13-3 halftime lead, it felt as though the Wildcats were firmly in control of the game. They scored on an 80-yard opening drive after forcing an Iowa punt. Will Levis did not throw an incompletion on the drive. Their early 7-0 lead looked easy, and the Wildcats had all the momentum.
In the second quarter, Kentucky scored with two more field goals after getting deep into the Hawkeye red zone. The first came on a 72-yard drive that included a huge 35 yard pass to Wan’Dale Robinson to convert on third and 26. The pass set up Kentucky inside the red zone. Iowa’s defense held strong and kept the drive to just three points.
On Iowa’s second play of their ensuing drive, Spencer Petras threw an interception at the Iowa 31 yard line. The pass was tipped on the throw, and Kentucky took over with great field position. Again, however, Iowa’s defense held strong and kept the Wildcats to just three points. The 13-3 lead for Kentucky could have easily been 21-3 had they capitalized in the red zone. Both teams averaged 4.8 yards per play in the first half, but Kentucky had the ball for 20 minutes.
Iowa Finds Momentum
Kentucky opened the second half with a short drive that ended in a punt giving Iowa the ball at the 20-yard line. Gavin Williams started the drive with an 18-yard burst. A few plays later, Petras followed it with a 34-yard pass to set Iowa up inside the red zone. Iowa took the ball all the way to the 11 yard line, but fumbled on a fourth down snap to turn it over on downs. The decision not to kick the field goal was very questionable, and Kentucky took over.
The ensuing Wildcat drive would be a quick three and out including Iowa’s fifth sack of the day. Kentucky gave the Hawkeyes the ball back at mid field and the offense picked up where it left off. On the legs of Leshon Williams, the Iowa offense again entered the red zone again. Arland Bruce then did something Iowa hasn’t done in six quarters of football; he took the end around hand off and scored an offensive touchdown. The score pulled the Hawkeyes within three points nearing the end of the third quarter. That wouldn’t be all from the Iowa offense.
Hawkeye Running Game
Tyler Goodson announced weeks before the bowl game that he would be opting out to pursue the NFL. Gavin took the bulk of the load in the backfield, and he showed his talent all afternoon. He finished two yards short of 100, and averaged 6.1 yards per carry on the day. Leshon and Bruce helped out behind Gavin and accounted for an additional 63 yards. Iowa tallied 173 yards on the ground against Kentucky. Goodson’s absence made for a question mark on Iowa’s offense coming into the day, but the next men in proved to be more than reliable options in the backfield.
Fourth Quarter Finish
The Hawkeye offense was not done following Bruce’s touchdown in the third quarter. Iowa forced another punt after the score and took over at their own eight yard line. On the drive, the Hawkeyes faced a key third down at their own 30-yard line. Petras hit Ivory Kelly-Martin out of the backfield and he turned up field to get first down and keep the drive alive. Following the conversion, Petras made two clutch passes to the tight ends, including one to Sam LaPorta that went 36-yards for another offensive touchdown. The touchdown was Iowa’s first passing score since the Minnesota game in mid-November. LaPorta would finish with 122 yards and a score. The Hawkeyes took a four point lead early in the fourth quarter and all momentum was on Iowa’s side.
Hawkeye Defense Gives Iowa a Chance
Kentucky took the ball over with just over five minutes remaining in the game and started to put a small drive together. The drive went for 43 yards and the Hawkeyes actually got two fourth down stops. The first was erased after a holding penalty in the secondary gave the Wildcats an automatic first down. On the next set of downs, Iowa held them to fourth and 10, and Stoops decided to go for it. At the Iowa 46-yard line, Phil Parker called a safety blitz and brought a lot of pressure on Levis. The throw came to the near side of the field where it was intercepted by Jermari Harris. The 25th interception of the year extended the school record for the Hawkeyes, and gave Iowa the ball with just under four minutes to play.
Wan’Dale Wins It
Iowa failed to do anything after the interception by Harris, and opted to punt the ball on fourth and one near mid-field. Kentucky got the ball at the 20-yard line and Robinson hauled in four receptions for 86 yards on the final drive. His second catch of the drive came over the middle on third and long and he took a massive hit but hung on to the ball. Four plays later, Robinson caught a corner route pass after coming wide open on the play. He took it 52 yards to the Iowa two yard line. Robinson would finish with 170 yards on 10 receptions. His performance adds to the list of dynamic receivers who have had career games against the Iowa defense.
The play set up the go-ahead score by running back Chris Rodriguez, and Kentucky took a three point lead with just under two minutes to play. Iowa was able to put together a short two-minute drive afterwards. However, Petras threw his third interception of the game, ending Iowa’s season.
Iowa Loses Citrus Bowl in Dramatic Fashion
In an up and down season for the Hawkeyes, Iowa loses the Citrus Bowl in dramatic fashion at the end of the fourth quarter. The defense played very well on the day, but could not force a stop when it mattered most. Iowa finished with six sacks, nine tackles for loss, and a key interception. However, it was not enough as Kentucky drove the field at the end of the game to win. Iowa finishes the season 10-4, ending with two losses to highly ranked football teams. The Citrus Bowl loss is Iowa’s first out-of-conference loss since the Outback Bowl in 2017, and ends their three game bowl win streak dating back to the 2017 Pinstripe Bowl. This offseason, Iowa will receive a lot of new talent. That coupled with the young running back group that played well today and a strong defense, the Hawkeyes have a lot to look forward to in the near future.