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ORLANDO, Fla. — A coach with an affinity for Hayden Fry and establishing the run won in Saturday’s Citrus Bowl.
Unfortunately for the Hawkeyes, that coach was Mark Stoops, not Kirk Ferentz.
Stoops and No. 22 Kentucky (10-3) edged his alma mater with a 20-17 win over No. 15 Iowa (10-4).
A couple of familiar foes came up with the game-changing play in the fourth quarter.
Kentucky wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson, a transfer from Nebraska, caught a pass from Will Levis, a transfer from Penn State, for a 52-yard reception. Robinson, who finished with 10 receptions for 170 yards, evaded multiple Iowa defenders en route to the Iowa 1-yard-line.
After a false start pushed Kentucky back to the 6-yard-line, the Wildcats’ Chris Rodriguez ran for a touchdown to take back the lead for Kentucky.
The Wildcats had the ball after the Hawkeyes opted to punt on fourth-and-inches on their own 45-yard-line. Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz called the decision to punt “pretty simple.”
“I liked our odds, and we played those odds,” Ferentz said. “I felt comfortable with where we're at. Obviously, we would rather have converted on third down.”
Iowa had a little under two minutes to tie the game with a field goal or take the lead with a touchdown, but quarterback Spencer Petras’ third interception ended Iowa’s chances of a comeback.
“I called a Smash concept, trying to get an easy five yards if I could because we’re basically in field goal range at that point,” Petras said. “That was the wrong call on my part.”
Iowa had already dug itself out of a 13-3 hole.
A 20-yard end-around run by Iowa wide receiver Arland Bruce IV in the third quarter gave the Hawkeyes their first touchdown since their Nov. 26 win over Nebraska — their first in six-plus quarters.
Then early in the fourth quarter, Petras connected with tight end Sam LaPorta for a 36-yard screen pass touchdown, capping off a nine-play, 92-yard drive.
In the first game of the new calendar year, Iowa experienced some of the same offensive problems. Iowa’s first three trips into Kentucky territory resulted in three total points.
“We left opportunities out there, especially in the first half,” Ferentz said. “It is not a new story, but in football, those little things really add up to make a difference, and that is really kind of how it shook out.”
In Iowa’s third trip into Kentucky territory, a Petras quarterback sneak went awry and resulted in no gain.
“The nose tackle hit (Iowa center Tyler) Linderbaum right before the ball was snapped and it didn’t get called,” Petras said. “Pretty blatant.”
While Iowa has seen its fair share of offensive woes, especially at quarterback, interceptions haven’t been on that list. Entering the game, Petras had 68 consecutive throws without an interception, dating back to the Hawkeyes’ 24-7 loss to Purdue on Oct. 16, when Purdue picked off Petras four times.
But Saturday, Petras had three interceptions and only one touchdown in the loss.
The Hawkeyes had some bright spots with their defense and rushing attack.
Iowa, which averaged just 3.3 yards per carry entering Saturday’s game, had 173 rushing yards on 5.3 yards per carry despite missing NFL Draft-bound Tyler Goodson. Redshirt freshman Gavin Williams had a career-high 98 yards while averaging 6.1 yards per carry.
“We really have felt good about our depth chart,” Ferentz said. “We have been impressed with Gavin and Leshon.”
The defense, meanwhile, kept Kentucky to its lowest point total since the Wildcats’ 31-17 loss to Mississippi State on Oct. 30.
Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum, who is a projected first-round pick in next year’s NFL Draft, exited the fourth quarter and went to the locker room before returning for the last drive.
“He is one tough son of a gun,” tight end Sam LaPorta said. “ You can't take him out of the fight. ... It was really tough to see him go down.”
A win would’ve tied Ferentz with the late Joe Paterno for most bowl wins as a head coach in the Big Ten with 10. Instead, Stoops got an end-of-game bath of Kentucky-blue Gatorade after defeating his alma mater.
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