Robinson leads UK on late drive, beats Iowa 20-17 in Citrus Bowl

Published: Jan. 1, 2022 at 4:22 PM EST
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ORLANDO, Fla. (WYMT) - On the backs of a late drive led by Wan’Dale Robinson, the Kentucky Wildcats rode a 20-17 win over Iowa in the Citrus Bowl.

The Wildcats (10-3) started off the game with a bang, scoring on the first series with a Will Levis to Chris Rodriguez tochdown pass to cap off an 80-yard drive.

After a field goal by Iowa (10-4) in the first drive of the second quarter, Levis connected with Wan’Dale Robinson for a 34-yard strike on 3rd and 26 to set up a field goal of their own, to make it a 10-3 lead.

Matt Ruffolo nailed a 27-yard field goal just before half to send the Cats into the locker room with a 13-3 lead.

Iowa scored touchdowns on back-to-back drives to take the lead, 17-13.

Late in the fourth quarter, the Cats mounted an eight play 80-yard drive behind four catches by Robinson, including one for 52 yards to set up a Rodriguez rushing touchdown to take the lead 20-17 with 1:48 left.

On Iowa’s ensuing drive, looking to set up a game-tying field goal, Hawkeye quarterback Spencer Petras threw an interception to Deandre Square to set up the win.

The win marks Kentucky’s second 10-win season in four years.

Several key Wildcats were out for the Citrus Bowl including Kavosiey Smoke, Josh Paschal, Josh Ali, JJ Weaver, Trevin Wallace, Marquez Bembry, Dare Rosenthal and Isaiah Epps. UK says they were out due to a combination of injuries and health and safety protocols.

Kentucky will kick off the 2022 season at home against Miami (OH) on September 3.

Stats from the 2022 Citrus Bowl.
Stats from the 2022 Citrus Bowl.(StatBroadcast)

MARK STOOPS: Thank you very much. First of all, thank you to all the folks from the [Vrbo] Citrus Bowl. Our players enjoyed themselves. They, obviously, have found a nice balance between enjoying beautiful Orlando, the sunshine, all the fantastic hospitality that everybody gives us here and also putting in the work to beat a quality football team like Iowa.

You know, anything about them. You know, they are not going anywhere. The first half, I felt like we were really playing very good football. I would have liked to see us capitalize in the red zone and score some touchdowns to create some more separation, but give them credit. They don’t make it easy. I felt like at halftime, one of the last things I said was believe me, they are not going away, but neither are we.

We knew it would be a 60-minute football game and again, it was. Our team is used to playing a lot of close games, tough games, against quality opponents, and that was the case today.

So once again, thank you to everybody involved. I have a great appreciation for our players and our team and our coaches. I really feel like they have done a great job this week. In the preparation, we were down some players, and that stood out today.

Some youth and some inexperience stood out in the second half, but that is no excuse. We need to play better, and guys need to step up, and I am proud of the guys that did. I am proud being short-handed in certain areas, moving guys around in certain areas and stepping up and being able to beat a quality opponent in Iowa.

This is not easy to get to this game. It is not easy to win ten games, and just proud of the effort from everybody involved.

Q. You’ve seen some great individual performances in your time here, but what Wan’Dale Robinson did today, when there’s so much attention to him and everybody knows you don’t have a ton of receivers to try to get the ball to, can you contextualize how difficult it is to do what he did on that last drive?

MARK STOOPS: It is really hard to describe what he has meant to us. He is the ultimate competitor, and he is very selfless. He plays extremely hard. He plays the game for himself, his family, his teammates, this institution, the state.

Just plays so hard and makes such competitive plays in big moments. That is what you need to win a Bowl game, to beat quality opponents. You need your guys to step up and make plays when you need them. He certainly did that.

I believe that was in the second quarter, the long conversion, the diving catch. Heck of a throw by Will [Levis]. Not much open on the whole field. They had us in a bad spot, third and forever, and Will makes a tremendous throw, and Wan’Dale lays out and makes that catch. We get that three there. I thought that was very big to convert on some points there.

Q. I know you don’t like to rank wins, but considering all the guys you were down, your defense seemed to be -- to come back and win the game, especially against a program like Iowa, it has to be a very satisfying win.

MARK STOOPS: It really is. You know, it is tough. It is tough on a lot of people right now. I feel like our team has handled the protocols as best we can. We have really been in pretty good shape, but we started having some issues between injuries and some COVID protocols. It put us in a tough spot. We have some inexperience as it is, in particular, on defensive side of the ball.

I just really greatly appreciate the way guys stepped up and competed. The two guys you are going to visit with here in a minute, Wan’Dale, I already talked about, Will, and I believe DeAndre is coming in -- DeAndre got hurt. He knew he couldn’t come out. We were getting thin, and the way he played through that pain, I don’t know how he did it. It just says a lot about this team.

Q. What does it say about the culture you’ve built that you guys had so much adversity and so many key guys missing; it looked like you were wearing down defensively, and you stopped them the last three times maybe and gave the offense a chance.

MARK STOOPS: Yeah, I don’t know if it was the last three. I would have to look at the chart, but I know the last one or two there in particular. When we went for it on fourth down, I put him in a tough situation, and fortunately for us, that ball was intercepted and saved us about 12 yards, and defensively, we got that stop.

It was monumental. It was the game. Our guys rose to the occasion. Offensively, our guys converted. We knew coming into this game how good Iowa was defensively. They make you earn the yards.

In the second half, we didn’t do a great job as a team. Defensively, we had an opportunity to pin them. We didn’t let them. We let them drive it. They ran the ball well in the second half. That puts -- that limits possessions and it puts us in bad position, but we fought our way out of it. Somehow, someway, we fought our way out of it.

Q. Y’all had a couple short yardage situations, why did you go to Chris at the end to punch it in?

MARK STOOPS: Well, it was a read. They took a lot away. They actually had that taken away. Just made a miss.

WILL LEVIS: Made the wrong read.

MARK STOOPS: Well, they had taken you away several times, too, so they were making it difficult. They are trying to get the ball out of Will’s hands as well, and they had a guy there with Chris [Rodriguez Jr.]. Chris made them miss, and you could always second guess plays. They are tough sledding. We knew that going into it. I want to say early. We converted a third-and-two with Will with a read option, then we tried it again and got stopped. We tried to give it to Chris and got stopped. We tried a little bit of everything.

Q. I know you knew coming in that you were a little thin at receiver and maybe Josh Ale wouldn’t be available, but some of those guys, like Dare Rosenthal, how much were you able to prepare without them, did you wake up today and find out he couldn’t play?

MARK STOOPS: Dare was questionable the whole time with a couple issues. Don’t really want to get into too much. Well, he had one issue. The elbow injury he was dealing with and then something else popped up as well. We were able to prepare, but doesn’t make it any easier. They have some guys that can rush that puts pressure on you and you have guys playing new positions and so on.

But again, no excuses. They played hard and we played hard. Our coaches started chipping, started helping the left tackle a little bit and giving him a little bit of time, and we got the ball down the field.

I felt like we had some very good success with these two throwing the ball when we could spread them out on early downs. Again, field position hurt us on several possessions. We were backed up and needed to get a couple first downs, air it out a little bit and spread them out and get some space.

Once again, give them credit. We knew they make it difficult.

Q. This is your fourth consecutive Bowl win, and this is multiple times where you guys have came down to the final couple drives. What does it say about your program and the resilience of your team to fight to the end to win Bowl games?

MARK STOOPS: We are used to that. We have won a lot of close games. I think it comes down to our players caring about each other and having a toughness and having a resiliency about them. You know, respecting the game. We talked about playing the game with honor, and they do that. These players do. This is a player-led team.

These two guys right here are new to our program, but they have had an enormous impact in our program and fit right in and have become leaders and really made a big difference this entire year. They made a very big difference today.

Q. For Will and Wan’Dale, a guy not in this room, Chris Rodr?guez, did a lot, and you had a very balanced attack today. Can you speak to his contribution to open it up for you to get down the field there?

MARK STOOPS: I’m sorry, I was talking to him ?

WAN’DALE ROBINSON: C-Rod, he comes to work every week. There are definitely times during the week you could see he is banged up from the weeks before and how much we are running him. I think he is the best back in the SEC. I think he is going to do whatever he can to get us those extra yards and not go backwards, and just always fighting for us. That is what makes C-Rod special.

MARK STOOPS: I’m going to get out of here and you can talk to these three guys. Does anybody have one last question before I pop out? Thank you.

Q. What are your emotions?

MARK STOOPS: You are so busy in getting all your prep ready. My last messages to these guys and going through my protocol, really didn’t think much of it. I went out on the field early, saw some people I knew, saw the colors. I thought it was cool, you know, just to see the Hawkeyes again, but then, it was right back to business.

I have a lot of respect for their program, but I have a lot of respect for these guys, too. So thank you all.

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