Citrus Bowl: Kentucky faces Iowa in a SEC vs Big Ten showdown this afternoon in Orlando

By Blake Von Hagen

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No. 22 Kentucky and No. 15 Iowa will both be looking to close out successful seasons with another victory when they meet in the Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day. The Wildcats closed the regular season with a three-game winning streak and have a shot at reaching 10 wins this season. Iowa had College Football Playoff aspirations early in the year, but it suffered a costly two-game losing skid in October.

Wildcats looking for fourth-straight bowl victory

No. 22 Kentucky got off to one of the best starts in program history, winning its first six games of the season. The Wildcats knocked off then-No. 10 Florida and LSU in back-to-back games. They had their perfect season dashed in a 30-13 loss at then-No. 1 Georgia in mid-October. Kentucky proceeded to lose its next two games as well, falling to Mississippi State and Tennessee. The Wildcats bounced back with a three-game winning streak to close the regular season, including a 52-21 blowout at rival Louisville to cap off another successful season under Mark Stoops.

Kentucky is not known as a high-scoring team, but its offense did break the 500-yard mark five times this season. The Wildcats finished as the fifth-ranked offense in the SEC, which was due in large part to its rushing attack. They went over 200 rushing yards in four straight games to close the regular season. Running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. finished second in the conference with 1,272 rushing yards. Quarterback Will Levis completed 66.5% of his passes for 2,593 yards and 23 touchdowns. His top target is wide receiver Wandale Robinson, who caught 94 passes for 1,164 yards and seven scores. The Wildcats are going to be without second-leading wide receiver Josh Ali and tight end Isaiah Epps after the pair were involved in a car accident.

Goodson opts out for Iowa

No. 15 Iowa looked like a potential College Football Playoff contender early in the season. The Hawkeyes won their first six games of the year, including wins over then-No. 17 Indiana and then-No. 9 Iowa State in their first two games. They added a win at home over then-No. 4 Penn State in Week 6, which was the biggest game of the week. However, Iowa, which had jumped to No. 2 in the polls, proceeded to lose consecutive games against Purdue and Wisconsin to dash any chances of making the CFP. The Hawkeyes did respond with four straight wins to earn an appearance in the Big Ten title game, but they were blown out by No. 2 Michigan in a 42-3 final.

They had not given up 30 points in a single game this season prior to the loss to the Wolverines. Their offense has not been nearly as good, though. It could be even worse on Saturday, as star running back Tyler Goodson is choosing to skip the bowl game to prepare for the NFL draft. Goodson finished fourth in the Big Ten in rushing yards (1,151), so he is going to be a big loss. Backup Gavin Williams is second on the team with 207 yards on 49 carries—he is expected to split the duties with Ivory Kelly-Martin. Quarterback Spencer Petras completed just 56.6% of his passes for 1,669 yards and nine touchdowns this season. The leading target in the passing game is tight end Sam LaPorta, who caught 46 passes for 548 yards and two scores.

Bowl games can be all about handicapping motivation, which I believe is going to play a big role in the outcome of the Citrus Bowl. Iowa got as high as No. 2 in the polls this season, so this is not the type of game that the Hawkeyes were hoping to be playing in. There is no better evidence of this than their star running back choosing to opt out. They already struggled offensively, so Goodson’s absence is not going to be easy to overcome. Kentucky put together a strong finish to the regular season and this is still a prestigious bowl game for this program. The Wildcats have won three straight bowl games and should add a fourth on Saturday.

Prediction: Kentucky -3

Written By Blake Von Hagen , “Blake V.”

Blake is a lifelong sports fan and hoops junkie. Prior to joining our team at Winners & Whiners and StatSalt, Blake worked for several newspapers and websites. He enjoys combining his beat writing expertise with the knack for finding the winning edge in a matchup. Blake is also an avid sports being expert and you would not be disappointed in following him on a daily basis. Remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. 
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