Vrbo Citrus Bowl: Iowa graduate Mark Stoops and his Kentucky Wildcats take on the Hawkeyes

Kentucky is returning to the Vrbo Citrus Bowl and this time it will take on Iowa, the alma mater of head coach Mark Stoops, on New Year’s Day in Orlando. Game time is 1 p.m. ET and it will air on ABC and the UK Sports Network. The Wildcats defeated Penn State in the 2019 edition of the game following the 2018 season.

The Cats will be looking to extend their non-conference winning streak to 16 games, which is tied with Iowa for the longest active streak in the country. Both programs have won three straight bowl games, tied for the third-longest active streak in FBS.

Offensively, the Wildcats have been guided by quarterback Will Levis, who is completing 66.5 percent of his passes for 2,593 yards and 23 touchdowns. Levis’ top target has been Wan’Dale Robinson, who has 94 catches for 1,164 yards and six TDs. The ground game has been paced by Christopher Rodriguez Jr., who has rushed for 1,272 yards and eight scores. The trio is just the second in school history to reach 2,000 yards passing, 1,000 rushing and 1,000 receiving in the same season.

The Kentucky defense has been exceptional at times in 2021, with linebackers Jacquez Jones and DeAndre Square leading the team in tackles, while safety Yusuf Corker and defensive end Josh Paschal are among the SEC leaders in pass breakups and tackles for loss, respectively.

Cat Scratches: Cats’ Defense Preparing for ‘Old School’ Iowa Attack

As the Kentucky football team prepares for Iowa, it’s Citrus Bowl opponent, defensive coordinator Brad White has been forced to give his team somewhat of a history lesson.

Iowa’s offense employs something that many teams today don’t use – a fullback. White has had to introduce that concept to some members of his unit.

“Obviously, something we don’t see very much is that two-back run game, the fact that they play with a fullback,” White said. “Some of our guys, especially younger guys that came out of high school and have only seen spread offenses, they don’t even know what a fullback is, so you’ve got to coach them up on that. So there’s a challenge in that aspect and it’s nice that we’ve had a couple of weeks to prepare.”

UK linebacker Jacquez Jones could recall only one time in his career that he has faced a team with a fullback…Read More

Kentucky in Bowl Games

• The Wildcats own an 11-9 all-time record in bowl games, including a 4-1 record under head coach Mark Stoops.
• UK is appearing in its school-record sixth straight bowl game.
• Kentucky has won three straight bowl games which is tied with Iowa for the third-longest active streak in FBS. The Cats defeated Penn State, Virginia Tech and N.C. State.
• This is UK’s second appearance in the Citrus Bowl during the six-year bowl run. The Cats ended their 10-win 2018 season in the VRBO Citrus Bowl in Orlando on Jan. 1, 2019, defeating Penn State, 27-24.

Kentucky vs. Iowa/Big Ten

• This marks UK’s first meeting in school history against Big Ten member Iowa.
• Kentucky is 29-37-4 all-time against current Big Ten members.
• UK last faced a Big Ten opponent in 2018 in the Citrus Bowl, defeating Penn State, 27-24.

A UK Win Would…

• Be Kentucky’s fourth consecutive bowl victory.
• Be Kentucky’s 16th consecutive non-conference victory, extending the nation’s longest active streak in FBS, dating to the beginning of the 2018 season.
• Boost UK to 21-3 in last 24 non-conference games dating to 2016. Give Coach Mark Stoops 59 career victories at UK, putting him just one win shy of tying Paul “Bear” Bryant for the school’s all-time winning coach.
• Give UK 10 wins for the second time in Stoops’ tenure as head coach (2018, 2021).
• Be just the fourth time in school history the Cats have won 10 games (1950, 1977, 2018, 2021).
• Give Kentucky six wins in 2021 vs. opponents who played in a bowl game.
• Improve UK to 30-35-5 all-time vs. current members of the Big Ten.

Kentucky-Iowa Connections

• Kentucky coach Mark Stoops lettered at Iowa from 1987-89, playing for legendary coach Hayden Fry.
• Stoops also served as a graduate assistant at his alma mater in 1990 and 1991. In 1990, the Hawkeyes won the Big Ten title and played in the Rose Bowl.
• Stoops’ brothers, Bob (1979-82), and Mike (1981-84) each played at Iowa as well.
• Stoops said his late father, Ron, was buried in 1988 with one of his Iowa game jerseys in his casket.
• Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz was on the Iowa staff when Stoops was recruited to play for the Hawkeyes and knows the family well.

COURTESY KENTUCKY ATHLETIC COMMUNICATIONS

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