Citrus Bowl Champions: Kentucky defeats Iowa 20-17


Kentucky poses with their trophy after the UK vs Iowa VRBO Citrus Bowl football game on Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022, at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida. UK won 20-17. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Hunter Shelton

Kentucky reigned victorious in the 2022 Vrbo Citrus Bowl, defeating the Iowa Hawkeyes 20-17 in dramatic fashion at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida.  

The win makes 10 on the season for Kentucky, which is just the fourth time in program history that the Wildcats have won double digit games in a season. The win is also the fourth consecutive bowl victory for the Wildcats.  

Wan’Dale Robinson was named MVP, totaling 10 catches for 170 yards, the sixth most single-game yards in Citrus Bowl history. Robinson broke the single-season receiving record in the process, as his 170-yard performance brought his season total to 1,334 yards, surpassing Craig Yeast’s record.  

“It is really hard to describe what [Wan’Dale] has meant to us,” UK head coach Mark Stoops said. “He is the ultimate competitor, and he is very selfless. He plays extremely hard. He plays the game for himself, his family, his teammates, this institution, the state. Just plays so hard and makes such competitive plays in big moments. That is what you need to win a bowl game, to beat quality opponents.” 

Will Levis completed 17 of 28 passing attempts for 233 yards, a touchdown and an interception. 

Chris Rodriguez tallied 107 yards for one touchdown on 20 carries, becoming the 48th player in Citrus Bowl history to hit the century mark in single-game rushing yards. Rodriguez averaged 5.4 yards-per-carry against Iowa.  

Defensively, Jordan Wright led the Wildcats in tackles, accounting for 10, including four solo tackles, a tackle-for-loss and one pass-breakup which led to an interception.  

Kentucky picked off Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras on three occasions, as D’Eryk Jackson, Quandre Mosely and DeAndre Square all found the end of a Petras pass on Saturday.  

Petras finished the game with 211 yards passing and one touchdown on 19 completions to go along with his three interceptions.  

Hawkeye running back Gavin Williams ran for 98 yards on 16 carries. Iowa ran for 173 yards as a team on Saturday, despite being without their starting running back and star player Tyler Goodson, who opted out of the Citrus Bowl to pursue the NFL Draft.  

Sam LaPorta led Iowa in receiving, totaling 122 yards and a touchdown on seven catches.  

Iowa made their mark on the defensive end, sacking Levis six times while also acquiring nine tackles-for-loss. 

The Hawkeyes received the opening kick-off, punting after just four plays. UK’s Vito Tisdale provided a big hit to prevent Arland Bruce IV from reaching the first down marker. Tisdale would limp off the field following the hit and not return until the second half.  

Kentucky would make a statement with their opening drive, going 80 yards over 13 plays, ending with Levis finding Rodriguez for a five-yard score. Levis completed all six of his passing attempts in the first drive for the Cats, while Rodriguez racked up 28 yards on four carries before the touchdown.  

Iowa’s second drive would last just one play longer than their first, as Kentucky forced an errant throw from Petras, leading to a second punt from the Hawkeyes. 

UK would not be able to execute back-to-back drives, as following two rushes by Rodriguez, Levis was sacked for the first time on third down, forcing the Wildcats to punt back to Iowa. 

The Hawkeyes would sustain a long drive the third time around, hitting multiple chunk plays, getting into the UK redzone. A false start on third and goal would push Iowa back to the UK 9-yard line before an incompletion led to fourth down. Caleb Shudak connected on a 28-yard chip shot to get the Hawkeyes on the board.  

Kentucky would answer with another big drive of their own. After back-to-back sacks by Iowa’s Joe Evans and Zach Van Valkenburg, Levis would hit Robinson on a 34-yard completion on third down to move the chains into Iowa territory 

A 12-yard dash by Rodriguez got Kentucky into goal-to-go, but the Hawkeye defense provided three straight stops, forcing UK to kick a short field goal of their own. Matt Ruffolo nailed a 21-yarder, extending Kentucky’s lead to 10-3. 

On the second play of the ensuing drive for Iowa, Petras’ pass was tipped by Wright, falling into the hands of D’Eryk Jackson in Iowa territory, giving Kentucky a golden opportunity to go up by two scores.  

With just over two minutes left in the half, JuTahn McClain kicked off the UK drive with a 10-yard rush that would turn into 20 yards thanks to an unnecessary roughness penalty on Iowa. Kentucky wouldn’t be able to gain another first down in the Hawkeye redzone, settling for three more points as Ruffolo made a 28-yard field goal.  

Iowa began their final drive of the first half with 38 seconds remaining at their own 17-yard line. Petras hit Williams and Ivory Kelly-Martin for 10-yard passes each, before Kelly-Martin got loose for a 12-yard rush. Two short pass attempts later, Petras was forced to heave a Hail Mary to the endzone on the final play of the half, which was intercepted by Quandre Mosely.  

The Wildcats entered the locker room with a 13-7 lead, outgaining the Hawkeyes in the first half, 156 yards to 126. Iowa did not convert a thrid-down opportunity in the first half.  

“The first half, I felt like we were really playing very good football. I would have liked to see us capitalize in the red zone and score some touchdowns to create some more separation, but give them credit. They don’t make it easy,” Stoops said.  

UK opened the second half with the ball, handing it off to Rodriguez in the first three snaps of the third quarter. A sack by Logan Lee began the downfall of the Kentucky drive, as the Wildcats punted away three plays later.  

With their backs against the wall, Iowa came out guns blazing in the second half, as Williams kicked off their first drive of the half with an 18-yard scamper, setting up a 34-yard completion from Petras to LaPorta, quickly moving into UK territory. Three plays later, the Hawkeyes found themselves in a fourth-and-one situation at the UK 11-yard line. Iowa head Coach Kirk Ferentz elected to go for it, but a fumbled snap halted the Iowa drive, turning the ball over to Kentucky.  

Despite the momentum, UK would go three-and-out in the following drive, including the fifth sack of the game by the Hawkeye defense.  

Iowa would again push the pace in their next possession, as Leshon Williams rushed for 20-yards in two carries before running back Arland Bruce IV raced down the sideline for a 20-yard touchdown, reviving life into the Iowa faithful at Camping World Stadium, bringing the Hawkeyes within four points.  

On the ensuing UK possession, the Cats mustered two first downs before Iowa stopped Levis on a QB keeper on third down, forcing Kentucky to puntUK punter Colin Goodfellow pinned the Hawkeyes at their own 8-yard line at the end of the third quarter.  

With the momentum in hand, Williams immediately broke for a 19-yard run on the first play of the drive to escape the Iowa redzone. Two first downs later, Petras found LaPorta on second and short in space with blockers in front, as the tight end raced to the endzone for a 36-yard score, giving the Hawkeyes their first lead of the afternoon.  

Facing adversity for the first time in the game, Kentucky began to respond with a pair of chunk plays via Rodriguez and wide receiver DeMarcus Harris that pushed the Cats towards midfield. After short gains by McClain and Levis, Stoops left his offense out on the field, but the Iowa defensive line would hold sturdy, denying McClain a first down, giving the ball back to the Hawkeyes.  

With the wheels falling off the wagon, Kentucky’s defense made a crucial stand when needed, forcing an Iowa three-and-out after stopping Leshon Williams on third and short.  

Unsure of how many opportunities they had left, Levis found Robinson for a 13-yard catch on the first play of the next drive. Two plays later, the Wildcats were bailed out on third down after a pass interference call on Iowa extended the UK drive.  

Izayah Cummings found his first reception of the game on the following play for 13 yards, pushing UK toward Iowa territory. Three Levis incompletions later, Kentucky was forced to go for it on fourth down once again, again coming up short as Levis was intercepted by Jermari Harris at the Iowa 46-yard line. 

Just minutes away from a heartbreaking loss, Kentucky’s defense once again came through in the clutch, as Abule Abade-Fitzgerald stuffed Gavin Williams on third-and-one. Iowa attempted to draw UK offside on fourth down, but the Cats didn’t budge, and the Hawkeyes punted away, giving the Wildcats one more chance to make magic in Orlando.  

With 3:31 left in the game, Levis began his drive the same way he did many, finding Robinson, gaining seven yards. A Lukas Van Ness sack on second down forced third-and-10, which saw Levis deliver a strike to Robinson up the seam, resulting in a 17-yard gain, bringing a roar out of Big Blue Nation.  

Robinson would gain another 10 yards two plays later, as time ticked down. Following an incompletion, Levis heaved his best pass of the game to Robinson downfield, which saw the Nebraska transfer juke his way down to the Iowa 1-yard line, a 52-yard gain.  

“I saw a corner coming at me and wanted to make him miss and whoever else, was coming, make them miss,” Robinson said. “I don’t really know how to explain it. It is just more of instincts. You just go out there and do it. I can’t really tell you how to do it or what to do. It is just God-given, I guess.” 

A false start by Austin Dotson set the Cats back five yards, but the next play saw Rodriguez do what he does best, shedding tackles and finding paydirt, as his six-yard run regained the lead for Kentucky with just under a minute remaining.  

“Credit to the defense for getting the ball back to us, three-and-out — letting us get the ball back with three minutes and change,” Levis said. “We were in a two-minute mentality, but it gave us some breathing room to go out there. I know we had definitely enough time to get things done. 

Iowa would fight to get into field goal territory to give Shudak a chance to send the game into overtime, but an errant pass by Petras fell right into the pocket of DeAndre Square, erupting one half of Camping World Stadium while deflating the other.  

After a sluggish second half, the Wildcats overcame adversity and defeated the Hawkeyes 20-17 behind the star players making star plays.  

“I just really, greatly appreciate the way guys stepped up and competed,” Stoops said. “Our guys rose to the occasion. Offensively, our guys converted. We knew coming into this game how good Iowa was defensively. They make you earn the yards.” 

The victory caps off Stoops’ second 10-win season at Kentucky while earning his second Citrus Bowl trophy.  

Despite being the one at the helm, Stoops believes that his team and his program, runs through the hearts of the players he coaches. 

“It comes down to our players caring about each other and having a toughness and having a resiliency about them,” Stoops said. “You know, respecting the game. We talked about playing the game with honor, and they do that. These players do. This is a player-led team.”