New year, same bullshit from the Iowa Hawkeyes as they faced the Kentucky Wildcats in Orlando, FL in the VRBO Citrus Bowl.
The fixings were there for the Hawkeyes to earn their 11th win of the season after having rallied from a 13-3 halftime deficit to take a 17-13 lead against the Kentucky Wildcats with just over 3 minutes remaining in the game. The offense did its best to run down the clock but couldn’t convert, gave the Wildcats the ball back with no timeouts, but gave up a huge 52-yard pass that set up the game-winning touchdown. Iowa had its chances to drive for the win or the tie, but instead, Spencer Petras threw his third interception of the day to seal the 20-17 Kentucky win.
It brings a disappointing ending to a bittersweet season for the Hawkeyes, who managed to win 10 games and the Big Ten West division, but were mired all season by a weak offensive line, even weaker quarterback play, and just plain brutal offensive scheme from offensive coordinator.
Petras finished the day 19-30 for 211 yards passing and 3 interceptions. His last interception will be remembered as what lost Iowa the game, but the defense in its last drive is also as much to blame, wasting a seven sack game on blown coverage to set up Kentucky’s game winning touchdown. Will Levis looked downright flustered in the second half — until he didn’t, as Iowa let off on its pass rush, and paid the price.
One bright spot, however, was the running game, featuring carries from Gavin Williams and Leshon Williams in place of Tyler Goodson, who didn’t play to prepare for the NFL Draft. Gavin carried 16 times for 98 yards, while Leshon ran 10 times for 42. Both looked extremely physical, fighting for extra yards, and took advantage of what was the offensive line’s strongest performance of the season.
But it wasn’t enough, and here we are, left with what appeared to be a surefire win turned sour. Sure, I’d be shocked if you told me this team would go 10-4 on the year with an appearance at the Big Ten Championship in August.
But here we are instead, left with a bitter taste in our mouths, because we know that the possibilities are right there, but continue to get ripped from our grasp at every possible chance.
Petras expectedly got the start (and played every snap) and began the game with a great throw to Sam LaPorta for a first down, but as was customary this season for the Hawkeyes, an unsuccessful run play on first down, and a missed pass on second down led to a third and long that went nowhere, and the Hawkeyes quickly punted.
Kentucky meanwhile, used a strong mix of play calls to move down the field with ease on the first drive with a nice mix of the run and the pass and even quarterback draws that the defense couldn’t seem to stop. The Wildcats found the end zone with 5:32 left in the first quarter on a Levis throw, as he went 6-6 for 41 yards and a touchdown.
On Iowa’s next drive, the offense was saved from a 3-and-out from a defensive holding call on third down, but Petras couldn’t convert on a 3rd and 2 after two successful runs, and the Hawkeyes punted again quickly.
Thankfully for Iowa, the defense decided to wake up and force a 3 and out that was capped with a sack of Levis by Zach Van Valkenburg:
and the offense, in turn, woke up as well. Williams got things going and showcased his physicality to fight for extra yards. A dime pass from Petras to LaPorta got the Hawkeyes into the red zone, but a false start on 3rd and 4 in the wildcat formation resulted in Bruce bobbling a catch (that wouldn’t have found the end zone but might have set up a QB sneak touchdown), and Iowa settled for a field goal.
A solid Kentucky drive looked like it decimated by the Iowa pass rush, as Levis was sacked twice in as many places that brought up a 3rd and 26 for the Wildcats, but he converted and brought the drive back to life. Despite that, Kentucky couldn’t convert on third and goal and converted a field goal instead, going up 10-3 with just over two minutes left in the half.
But after an unsuccessful run on first down from the Iowa offense, Petras’ pass was tipped into the hands of a Wildcat defender, and gave Kentucky the ball back. Then, on the first play of the ensuing drive, Logan Lee got called for unnecessary roughness that brought Kentucky right back into striking distance, but continued defensive pressure and some questionable run calls from Kentucky held them to another field goal.
The Hawkeyes tried to move down the field to try and at least get a field goal to end the half before the Wildcats got the ball once again to start the second half, but couldn’t move down enough to get into Shudak range, which resulted in another Petras pick on a Hail Mary to end the half.
After stopping Kentucky’s opening drive, Williams continued his strong play on Iowa’s first drive of the second half, and Petras found LaPorta for a 34 yard gain to bring the Hawkeyes into the red zone. But a bad snap on 4th and 1 caused a fumble on the sneak and gave the Wildcats the ball back with no points to show for it. Thankfully, Iowa’s continued defensive pressure came up strong once again to force another Kentucky 3-and-out.
Finally, the Hawkeyes found the end zone on an Arland Bruce reverse after continued successful runs from the Gavin Williams and LeShonn Williams to open up the field, resulting in the 20 yard touchdown.
SWEET LORD ALMIGHTY IOWA HAS SCORED A TOUCHDOWN pic.twitter.com/sZklKGDqS1— Heavens! (@HeavensFX) January 1, 2022
The defense in turn did its job once again, and Iowa got the ball back down 3 with 14 minutes left to play. Despite a missed pass from Petras to an open Ragaini that would have surely gone for a touchdown, Iowa continued to move the ball thanks largely in part to the run game.
Then, Petras found LaPorta again on a throwback, who took it to the house for Iowa’s first lead of the day on a 36 yard reception:
TOUCHDOWN IOWA SAM LAPORTA THIS IS NOT A DRILL pic.twitter.com/4FuTBjp1PR— Heavens! (@HeavensFX) January 1, 2022
Iowa’s strong defensive pressure continued on the next Kentucky drive, including a stop from ZVV on 4th and short to give Iowa the ball back. On Iowa’s unsuccessful drive, Tyler Linderbaum was injured and taken into the medical tent for a foot injury as the Wildcats got the ball back with just under six minutes remaining in the game, down 17-13.
The defense appeared to come up strong once again, but Riley Moss was called for pass interference on 3rd and 8 that gave the Wildcats a new set of downs. But it didn’t matter, as Levis couldn’t convert on any of his next three passes, forcing the Wildcats to go for it on 4th and 10, which was picked off by Harris.
Iowa was able to burn all of Kentucky’s timeouts on the ensuing drive, but had to punt it away and gave the Wildcats the ball on the 20 with 3:31 remaining. The Iowa defense got its seventh sack of the day early on the drive, but the Wildcats wouldn’t go away, and converted a 52 yard pass to the 1 yardline with 1:54 remaining. Despite a false start, the Wildcats found the end zone on the first play in the red zone to go up 20-17 with just under 2 minutes to play.
Iowa looked likely to at least tie the game on its ensuing drive, moving down the field effective with quick passes and runs...until Petras threw his third interception of the day to seal the deal...and maybe his career as Iowa’s starter.
Again, this was a winnable game in a season of overachievement for a team that had an average at absolute best offense and a strong defense that was susceptible to big plays. We now head into an offseason with a lot of questions..and also a lot of potential.
But rest assured, this team has no set quarterback heading into the fall, an offensive line who will miss its Rimington-winning center but should be solid, loads of talent at running back and wide receiver, but it probably won’t matter. Nothing will change from the top, and knowing this coaching staff, the QB carousel might as well continued. Who knows, next year maybe we’ll have 3 quarterbacks who could lead the team and yet only one will probably get snaps, no matter how much they struggle.
While the future may be bright for the program overall, and while some will look at this as a successful season, it’s not out of the question or unreasonable to ask for more. The possibilities are there — but the head guy seemingly refuses to do anything about it.
Time, after all, is a flat circle.