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Iowa Hawkeyes quarterback Spencer Petras (7). (Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire)
December 30th, 2021
Let’s take a look at the Vrbo Citrus Bowl, set to take place on New Year’s Day between No. 17 Iowa and No. 25 Kentucky — a classic Big Ten vs. SEC holiday matchup.
The Hawkeyes are 10-3 straight up and 7-6 against the spread. They had a hot start to the season, going 6-0 and rising to No. 2 in the country before going 4-3 down the stretch.
Kentucky is 9-3 straight up and a profitable 8-4 against the spread. The Wildcats' rushing attack and tough defense proved fruitful in the SEC, where they finished second in the East, behind only Georgia.
Kentucky is a three-point favorite, and the total is set at 44 points. The game will kick off at 1 p.m. ET.
The 44-point total in this matchup is the second lowest in all of the bowl games, besides the 41 posted for Wisconsin vs. Arizona State. That should come as no surprise, as each team takes great pride in their defenses and will be sure to bring their best here.
Kentucky’s head coach, Mark Stoops, is a defensive-minded leader, and it has shown during his tenure at Kentucky. In 2021, the Wildcats gave up just 195 points, tied with Alabama for third best in the conference.
Mark Stoops said that stand at the end was "one heckuva hill to climb." Thanks the fans for affecting the game, as Florida had eight false starts. His defense tonight? "That was special."— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_ATH) October 3, 2021
Mark Stoops said that stand at the end was "one heckuva hill to climb." Thanks the fans for affecting the game, as Florida had eight false starts. His defense tonight? "That was special."
Stoops has recruited the state well and has 10 seniors to trot out in his starting 11.
COVID-19 gave every team the opportunity to bring back veteran talent in 2021, and Kentucky’s defense has clearly benefited from this as well, with a lot of seasoned leadership along the defensive front and in the linebacking corps.
Iowa’s defense is likely even better. It finished the season 10th in yards allowed per play and was eighth in yards allowed per rush.
Kentucky’s offense excels in the running game, so this will be a strength-versus-strength matchup, and points will no doubt be at a premium. Whichever offense finds a crease or seam or weakness to expose for even a limited time may ultimately be the victor.
The Wildcats have not experienced as much attrition to the transfer portal and opt-outs as a lot of college football teams these days. Quarterback Will Levis and his 66.5% completion percentage will lead the way, and he has all of his top rushers and top receivers available.
The Kentucky seniors on defense are not facing a potent Iowa offense and should be able to key in on the running game, which has slowed down for the Hawkeyes in the second half of the season. Iowa has been an average team since its hot start, and the Wildcats should put forth an excellent effort in their pursuit of a 10-win season.
Score prediction: Kentucky 21, Iowa 17
Our predictive engine is calling for Kentucky to win outright.
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