Bowl season is always an interesting time of year because the games tend to feature matchups we would normally never see. This year’s Citrus Bowl is a brand-new matchup between Iowa and Kentucky, two of the better defensive teams in the nation.
By Matt Zemek
Kentucky and Iowa have never played before. At one point in the season, Iowa was the No. 2 team in the rankings before losing to Purdue and eventually finishing the year at No. 15. As usual, the Hawkeyes will be led by a hard-nosed defense and a formidable rushing attack. Not to be outdone, Kentucky enters the game with a respectable rushing attack and defense of their own, but they also have a secret weapon: quarterback Will Levis. This game has a good chance of becoming one of the closer and more dramatic games of the bowl season. Let’s take a look at the three keys to this game for Kentucky.
1 — Frustrate Spencer Petras
If the Wildcats want to get the win over the Hawkeyes, stopping Spencer Petras is going to be crucial to their efforts. Petras is not a quarterback that’s going to hurt defenses through the air. On the year, Petras has 1,669 passing yards with nine touchdowns to six interceptions. He has also been sacked 24 times for a total of minus-168 yards. He is sacked roughly two times per game and doesn’t throw for many yards or many scores. If the Wildcat defense bothers Iowa the way most defenses have bothered Iowa this season, and if UK compiles numbers in a single-game stat sheet which are reflective of overall game control, the Cats are most likely going to celebrate the outcome of this game when it’s over. That has to be music to the ears of Mark Stoops, who has a defense which is much more healthy after midseason injuries caused a loss to Tennessee. Kentucky has to like the matchup against Iowa’s offense; now it just needs to take advantage of it.
2 — Kentucky must get Chris Rodriguez Jr. going early and often
Kentucky has a workhorse running back who should figure prominently in this game, and who needs to be a central piece of a winning performance by the Wildcats. Chris Rodriguez Jr. has 1,272 rushing yards on the year with eight touchdowns. He has another 12 receptions for 56 yards and two additional scores. He is not used heavily as a receiver, but he still does have some value as a pass-catcher and will have to be acknowledged by the Iowa defense. Giving the Hawkeyes something to account for certainly seems like something UK should do on offense. These two teams are known for being tough against the run, but Rodriguez has the ability to hit home runs and create something out of nothing. This game will probably come down to making the simple plays, not the fancy ones. Rodriguez can certainly do that.
3 — Will Levis must have fun
If Will Levis plays within himself and isn’t overly anxious, instead choosing to revel in the moment, it’s going to be very difficult for Iowa to keep up with Kentucky, especially if the Wildcats’ defense can also stop the run. Iowa is one of the worst offensive teams in the nation. The Hawkeyes enter this game at No. 123 in the nation in total offense. The Hawkeyes are also going to miss their best offensive player, Tyler Goodson, who skipped this game to prepare for the NFL draft. On the year, Goodson has rushed for 1,151 yards with six touchdowns. He has also added 31 receptions for another 247 yards. With all of that production gone for Iowa, the task should be simpler for Kentucky’s offense. Will Levis has a chance to dictate the terms of this game. If he thrives, it’s going to be a big day for Big Blue in Orlando.