Record-breaking performance from Wan'Dale Robinson leads Kentucky to Citrus Bowl win vs. Iowa

Jon Hale
Louisville Courier Journal

ORLANDO, Fla. - Wan'Dale Robinson cemented his status as a Kentucky football legend to lead the Wildcats to a 20-17 win against Iowa in the Citrus Bowl.

With Kentucky trailing by four points and 3:31 remaining, the Wildcats launched an eight-play, 80-yard go-ahead scoring drive. Robinson tallied four catches for 86 yards on the drive. His final catch, a 52-yard reception, broke the school's record for most receiving yards in a single season (1,334).

Robinson's 52-yard catch gave Kentucky first-and-goal at the 1-yard line. After a Kentucky false start, junior running back Chris Rodriguez broke a tackle in the backfield to score the winning touchdown with a 6-yard carry.

Rodriguez finished the game with 20 carries for 107 yards and one touchdown, giving him nine 100-yard games on the season, most in school history. Robinson finished with 10 catches for 170 yards.

Kentucky quarterback Will Levis completed 17 of 28 passes for 233 yards, one touchdown and one interception. UK had gained only 121 yards of offense in the second half before the game-winning drive.

Senior linebacker DeAndre Square clinched the win with an interception with 48 seconds remaining.

The win is Kentucky's fourth consecutive bowl victory. It broke a tie with Iowa for the longest active nonconference winning streak in the country at 16 games.

Kentucky wide receiver Wan'Dale Robinson (1) celebrates after making a diving catch against Iowa.

Kentucky started the game in dominant fashion, forcing a punt after just one Iowa first down on the opening drive then marching 80 yards on 13 plays for a touchdown on its first offensive possession.

The Wildcats' first punts came on a 5-yard pass from Levis to Rodriguez. Levis completed all five of his passes and Rodriguez gained 28 rushing yards on four carries on the drive.

Iowa scored its first points with a 28-yard field goal early in the second quarter. Kentucky had a chance to gain some breathing room later in the quarter but the Hawkeyes made two red zone stops, holding Kentucky kicker Matt Ruffolo to field goals of 21 and 27 yards to take a 13-3 lead into the halftime locker room.

Kentucky opened the game with nine members of the two-deep depth chart unavailable, including five starters, unavailable due to a combination of injuries and COVID-19 health and safety protocols. Those absences were felt even more in the second half after injuries suffered in the game forced several rarely used backups into action.

With a lineup that included five backups that played only sparingly in the regular season, including two players who have already entered the transfer portal, Kentucky stopped Iowa on a fourth-and-1 play at the Wildcats' 10-yard line in the third quarter.

The success proved short-lived as Iowa received the ball back at midfield following a three-and-out from the Kentucky offense. The Hawkeyes scored their first touchdown six players later with a 20-yard gain on a end-around run from wide receiver Arlan Bruce to take a 17-13 lead. 

Among the normal starters out for the game were All-SEC defensive end Josh Pascal, left tackle Dare Rosenthal, wide receiver Josh Ali, middle linebacker Jacquez Jones and outside linebacker J.J. Weaver. Jones, who was spotted wearing a walking boot in pre-bowl activities, dressed out for the game but did not play. The others were listed as inactive by Kentucky before the game.

Rosenthal's absence proved to be a big blow for Kentucky's offense as the Wildcats surrendered six sacks in the game. Normal left guard starter Kenneth Horsey split time at Rosenthal's left tackle spot with backup Jeremy Flax. 

Iowa played the game without star running back Tyler Goodson, who opted out of the game to prepare for the NFL draft in December, and wide receiver Keegan Johnson, who ranked second on the team in receiving yards (352) in the regular season.

Email Jon Hale at jahale@courier-journal.com; Follow him on Twitter at @JonHale_CJ