ORLANDO, Fla. – Chris Rodriguez ran for a 6-yard touchdown with 1:48 to play, and No. 25 Kentucky rallied in the fourth quarter to defeat No. 17 Iowa 20-17 in the Citrus Bowl on Saturday.
Kentucky was forced to rally after blowing a 10-point lead in the second half. Wan'Dale Robinson set up the winning score when he caught a 52-yard pass from Will Levis to get the Wildcats to the 1-yard line. Robinson, the game’s MVP, finished with 10 catches for 170 yards, while Levis completed 17 of 28 passes for 233 yards and a touchdown.
DeAndre Square intercepted Iowa’s Spencer Petras with 48 seconds to play to clinch the victory. Kentucky (10-3) won a fourth straight bowl game for the first time in school history and became the fourth Wildcats team to win at least 10 games.
Iowa (10-4), which rose to as high as No. 2 in the AP Top 25, saw its bowl win streak end at three games. The Hawkeyes stormed back from a 13-3 halftime deficit and led 17-13 after Petras’ 36-yard touchdown pass to Sam LaPorta with 10:54 to play.
Iowa dominated Kentucky in the second half before the final drive, when the Wildcats drove 80 yards in eight plays. Rodriguez rushed for 107 yards and the go-ahead score, and he caught a short touchdown pass from Levis in the first half.
Iowa cornerback Jemari Harris appeared to have capped the win for the Hawkeyes when he picked off Levis with 3:59 to play. It was Iowa’s school-record 25th interception of the season. The Hawkeyes also registered seven sacks.
But the Hawkeyes elected to punt on fourth-and-1 from their own 45 with 3:38 remaining, and the punt sailed into the end zone for a touchback, setting up Kentucky’s game-winning drive.
The Hawkeyes came in with the nation’s 123rd-ranked offense (297.5 yards per game) and having scored two offensive touchdowns in their previous three games. But Iowa eventually came alive behind Petras, who finished 19 of 30 for 211 yards. Gavin Williams ran for 98 yards on 16 carries, while Arlen Bruce IV gave Iowa its first touchdown of the day on a 20-yard sweep with 3:21 left in the third quarter. LaPorta, the latest in a long line of elite tight ends at Iowa, caught five passes for 98 yards.
Kentucky passed almost every test offensively in the early going against Iowa’s stout defense. Levis connected on nine of his first 11 passes, including a 5-yard swing pass to Rodriguez for the only touchdown of the first half.
Levin completed a 34-yard strike to Robinson on a third-and-26 play, leading to a field goal for the Wildcats. Thirty-nine seconds later, D’Eryk Jackson intercepted Petras after the ball was tipped at the line by Jordan Wright. However, Iowa’s defense held firm and forced Kentucky to settle for Matt Ruffolo’s second field goal.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz and offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz refused to name a starting quarterback in the days leading up the game, but the Hawkeyes went with Petras, the starter most of the season despite injuries that knocked him out of 3 1/2 games.
Robinson, the most electrifying player on the field, came through when the Wildcats needed it most.
The Hawkeyes were without standout running back Tyler Goodson, who skipped the game to prepare for the NFL draft.
Iowa: The Hawkeyes must find a way to upgrade their dismal offense, which came in ranked 97th in scoring (23.9 points) and 117th in pass completion percentage (54.3%).
Kentucky: If the Wildcats can convince Rodriguez and Robinson to return with Levis, they should have one of the most potent offenses in the nation. Adding support will be a strong recruiting class that was ranked in the top 15 nationally, led by offensive tackle Kiyaunta Goodwin.