The Kentucky Wildcats took an early lead in the Citrus Bowl and looked dominant throughout the first half, going into the break with a 13-3 lead. And after not scoring at all during the second half, the Wildcats rallied and scored the winning touchdown with less than two minutes to play.
Ultimately, DeAndre Square sealed the 20-17 victory with his first interception of the season.
Will Levis looked shaky at times, but came through when it mattered throwing for 233 yards and one touchdown. Chris Rodriguez rushed for 107 yards and one touchdown and had Kentucky’s lone receiving touchdown. Wan’Dale Robinson had a career day, catching 10 passes for 170 yards. The Wildcats were led defensively by Jordan Wright with 10 tackles.
It was the end to a solid season for the Wildcats. Although you hate to see a loss at any point, this was against a strong team in a major bowl game. Here is what you need to know from the 2022 VRBO Citrus Bowl.
Lots of key guys missing
While Kentucky ended the season on a relatively healthy note, they entered the Citrus Bowl missing some key players. We know Josh Ali and Isaiah Epps were missing due to a car accident, but several other players were missing due to a variety of injury/COVID/contact tracing issues that were not really clarified by the Kentucky staff.
Going up against Iowa, the Wildcats were missing running back Kavosiey Smoke, edge rusher Josh Paschal, linebackers J.J. Weaver (who did post on Instagram that he had a positive COVID test), Trevin Wallace, and Marquez Bembry, offensive lineman Dare Rosenthal, and wide receivers Isaiah Epps and Josh Ali.
That is a lot of talent unavailable for the Wildcats. Thankfully, this is not the old Kentucky where there is zero depth. While Rosenthal’s absence was very much felt at left tackle with guard Kenneth Horsey moving into that position, there were good players with lots of experience that stepped up and played will in the absence of all the missing Wildcats. And they absolutely stepped up in the fourth quarter when it was needed the most.
Line of scrimmage
Both of these teams came into the game priding themselves on their lines on both sides of the ball. While we have seen more balance this season, both teams still rely heavily on the run.
In the first half, Kentucky controlled the line of scrimmage. Kentucky marched down the field and scored on three of their first four drives of the game. They also came up with huge stops defensively, preventing Iowa from converting any 3rd downs.
The second half was a different story. Iowa made some adjustments and really took it to Kentucky on both sides of the line of scrimmage. Will Levis had no time to throw and no room to run, and the Wildcats could not stay ahead of the sticks enough to sustain drives. Conversely, Iowa was able to run the ball at will in the second half. That set them up to stretch the field when needed to get their offense going.
Some of these issues come down to Kentucky’s lack of depth due to the absent players and the heat (it was as high as 112 degrees on the field). But to some degree, Iowa looked like they got stronger throughout the game while Kentucky looked completely gassed. But ultimately the Wildcats stepped up on both sides of the ball when it mattered the most.
Heck of a year
We need to remember that this Iowa take was ranked No. 2 in the country at one point this season. They were 10-2 and played in the Big 10 championship game. This is a very strong college football team, so fans should not treat this like “another bowl win.” This was a quality win and should be celebrated as such.
Kentucky’s offense took so many strides forward, the defense stepped up often when needed, and the best recruiting class of all time at Kentucky will arrive this fall. This was another great 10-win season, which has only happened one other time since 1977, and the future continues to be bright for Kentucky football.
Now, CHEERS! GO CATS!