Five things you need to know from No. 22 Kentucky’s 20-17 win over No. 15 Iowa in the VRBO Citrus Bowl:
1. Wan’Dale Robinson becomes a bona fide Kentucky football legend. After two lost years being used as a running back at Nebraska, the former Western Hills High School star transferred home to UK looking for a chance to show he was an NFL-caliber wide receiver.
On Saturday in a New Year’s Day bowl, Robinson showed he is as good a wideout as Kentucky has ever had.
With the UK roster depleted by unexpected attrition (see below), UK was down 17-13 when it got the ball back at its own 20-yard line with 3:31 left in the game.
Needing to go 80 yards, UK QB Will Levis got the drive started with a 7-yard pass to Robinson on an out.
After an Iowa sack erased all of that gain, Levis hit Robinson on a deep slant for 17 yards.
UK had it second-and-10 at the 37, when Levis found Robinson again for 10 yards.
Kentucky was facing second-and-10 at its 47, when Levis found Robinson with a short pass.
The former Cornhusker — who never got to play in a bowl while spending his freezing winters in Lincoln — bobbed and weaved, cut back and took the ball all the way to the Iowa 1-yard line.
“I needed to make a play for my team,” Robinson said afterward. “I got the ball in my hands and just did what I could to get it down there.”
After a UK illegal procedure penalty, Christopher Rodrigeuz broke a tackle in the UK backfield and rolled around left end for a 6-yard touchdown run.
A DeAndre Square interception made it stand.
Robinson’s final numbers: Ten catches for 170 yards.
He was the very worthy Citrus Bowl MVP.
2. A “culture win” for Kentucky. Minutes before kickoff, UK announced a “bowl inactive list” that included key players. Offensively, the Cats played without starting left tackle Dare Rosenthal, starting wide receiver Josh Ali, senior receiver Isaiah Epps, and No. 2 running back Kavosiey Smoke.
Defensively, the Cats were without star defensive end Josh Paschal, edge rusher JJ Weaver, standout freshman linebacker Trevin Wallace, and backup linebacker Marquez Bembry.
Paschal left UK’s season-ending victory over archrival Louisville with a “lower-body injury.” Ali and Epps suffered injuries in an auto accident after the regular season.
A UK football publicist said the other sidelined players were kept off the field by a combination of COVID-19 testing issues and contact tracing.
Yet with so many key players out, Kentucky had enough depth of talent in its program and found the will to win against a 10-win Iowa team that won the Big Ten West.
3. Somebody’s non-league win streak had to die. Amazingly, both Kentucky and Iowa entered the Citrus Bowl having won 15 straight non-conference games.
UK has not lost to a non-SEC foe since falling 24-23 to Northwestern of the Big Ten in the 2017 Music City Bowl.
Iowa had not lost to a non-Big Ten foe since falling 30-3 to Florida of the SEC in the Outback Bowl that followed the 2016 season.
Included in Kentucky’s now-16-game non-league win streak are seven victories over Power Five conference foes — No. 12 Penn State, No. 15 Iowa and No. 23 North Carolina State plus Virginia Tech in bowls; and three straight wins over archrival Louisville.
4. Wan’Dale and C-Rod in the UK record book. Kentucky’s offensive stars continued their march into the UK record book.
Robinson’s 10 catches pushed the single-season UK receptions record he had already set to 104 catches. His 170 yards receiving gave him 1,334 for the season. That moved him past Craig Yeast (1,311 in 1998) for the UK season record in that category, too.
Meanwhile, Rodriguez ran 20 times for 107 yards. That gave C-Rod 1,379 rushing yards for the season, the fifth-best single-year mark in UK football history.
With 2,740 career yards, Rodriguez moved past George Adams (2,648) into sixth place on the all-time Kentucky rushing list.
Rodriguez, a redshirt junior, has yet to declare his intentions regarding the 2022 NFL Draft. If he were to return to UK next season, he would need 1,134 rushing yards to pass Benny Snell (3,873) as Kentucky’s all-time leading rusher.
5. Big-picture numbers. Mark Stoops will enter Kentucky’s 2022 season opener vs. Miami (Ohio) with a 59-53 record as UK head coach.
Kentucky will be playing to tie Stoops with the iconic Paul “Bear” Bryant, 60-23-5 as Wildcats head man (1946-53), as UK’s all-time winningest football coach.
After starting 12-26 as Kentucky coach, Stoops has gone 47-27 since the third game of the 2016 season.
In its entire football history, UK has now had four seasons with at least 10 wins — and Stoops has produced two of them.
Kentucky finished 11-1 under Bryant in 1950; Fran Curci’s 1977 Cats went 10-1; now both the 2018 and 2021 Cats have finished 10-3.
The UK program will enter the 2022 season with an all-time mark of 639-635-44. This will be the first offseason into which the Kentucky program will carry an all-time winning record since 2011-12.
For its sixth consecutive bowl appearance, Kentucky wore silver chrome helmets, with blue jerseys with white letters and numbers and blue pants.
Since the start of the 2015 season, UK is now 6-1 when it wears silver chrome helmets over all-blue uniforms.