Jan 03, 2022

Vrbo Citrus Bowl loss a bittersweet end to incredible Orlando trip for Hawkeyes

By Carla Mangual
Florida Citrus Sports

A second-half rally put 15th-ranked Iowa in the lead late in Saturday’s Vrbo Citrus Bowl but the Hawkeyes couldn’t escape the turnover issues they’d grown so accustomed to creating this season, and they came up a field goal short against No. 22 Kentucky in the 76th annual edition of the game on New Year’s Day.

The loss to the Wildcats ended Iowa’s season at 10-4.

Head coach Kirk Ferentz said he and his team knew going into the game that it would be a tough, physical challenge. Even though the Hawkeyes suffered a loss, Ferentz said he was proud of the effort to cap off a celebration and reward for a season well-played..

“They fought right to the end,” Ferentz said. “We didn’t play well enough to win and left some things out there certainly.”

He said he credits Kentucky for presenting such a challenge, and noted that he expects the loss to motivate him and his team to have a strong offseason.

Throughout the game, Iowa’s vaunted defense held serve against Kentucky’s high-powered offense, but the Hawkeyes offense struggled to put points on the board in the first half.

During the regular season, Iowa posted an FBS-best 24 interceptions from its defense, but saw each of their last two second quarter drives end in a pick on offense to send the Big Ten West champs into the locker room down 13-3.

A 14-0 second half run pushed the Hawkeyes ahead 17-13, with a 20-yard run from Armand Bruce IV and a 36-yard touchdown pass from Spencer Petras to tight end Sam LaPorta putting Iowa on top. But after taking over with 3:31 to play, Kentucky quarterback will Levis connected with Wan’Dale Robinson on four pass plays to put the Wildcats deep in Iowa territory.

The biggest was a 52-yard strike that set up Chris Rodriguez, Jr.’s 6-yard game-winning touchdown run with 1:48 to play. Petras then led the Hawkeyes to Kentucky’s side of the 50 on a last-ditch drive but threw his third interception of the night — this one to linebacker DeAndre Square — to seal the result.

“Our guys were good at halftime,” Ferentz said “I think they realized we could do things better. I thought we did things better for the most part in the second half. Credit to Kentucky. They got the stop when they needed to, and then they converted those plays on that last possession, and we came up short.”

LaPorta said the see-saw second half represented a big swing of emotions for him and his teammates.

“It’s really tough, especially when you feel like you’re going to come out on top,” LaPorta said during the postgame conference. “The emotions are really high and then low and somewhere in between.”

And unlike Iowa’s last bowl trip to Orlando, on New Year’s Day 2005, there was no late-game miracle for ages at Camping World Stadium.

“It seems to be that we get in a lot of games like this where it just goes right down to the last 15 minutes, five minutes, whatever, and it’s one more of those,” Ferentz said.

However, while the season for the Hawkeyes that began with a six-game winning streak and a No. 2 national ranking may have ended in defeat, Ferentz and his team still made the most of the Orlando bowl experience.

“What I just got done telling those guys, [they] fought to the end, to the last whistle and expected it to go down to the end,” Ferentz said “They can be really proud, to have a 10-win season – it’s special, and just have done a great, great job.”

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