5 things to know about Kentucky football, Iowa's opponent in the Citrus Bowl

Adam Hensley
Hawk Central

It's the Citrus Bowl for the Hawkeyes. 

Iowa enters bowl season off the heels of a disappointing 42-3 loss to Michigan in the Big Ten championship game. Iowa's offense struggled to find any sort of rhythm. Head coach Kirk Ferentz benched starting quarterback Spencer Petras in favor of Alex Padilla in an attempt to spark a dormant offense, but the Hawkeyes were held scoreless with Padilla under center. 

But now, the Hawkeye players and coaches turn their attention to Kentucky, their opponent in the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1. Kentucky is 9-3 on the year (5-3 in the SEC), closing out the regular season with three consecutive wins. The Wildcats are led by head coach Mark Stoops.

Here's what Hawkeye fans need to know about Kentucky, Iowa's opponent in the Citrus Bowl.

Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops is a former Iowa football player and coach

When you mention the Stoops name around Iowa football, chances are fans think of  Oklahoma-legend-turned-tequila-salesman Bob Stoops, who also played and coached for the Hawkeyes under Hayden Fry. 

But his brother, Mark Stoops, has quietly turned Kentucky into a competitive program after the Wildcats inhabited the SEC cellar for years. Stoops boasts a 58-53 record in his nine years as Wildcat head coach.

Stoops played as a defensive back for Iowa in the late 1980s under Fry. He was a graduate assistant on Fry's staff after his player career concluded. Since his time in Iowa City, Stoops has had various stops along his coaching trail, including defensive coordinator/defensive backs coach duties with Arizona and Florida State.

More:Iowa football heading to Citrus Bowl for Hawkeyes' first trip to Orlando since 2005: Report

Iowa will see a familiar face in Wan'Dale Robinson

Kentucky wideout Wan'Dale Robinson is a Nebraska transfer who's faced Iowa twice in his three seasons of college football. Robinson touched the ball twice in 2019 before booming for 117 yards of total offense in the Huskers' loss at Kinnick Stadium in 2020.

This season, Robinson boasts 94 receptions for 1,164 yards and seven touchdowns for the Wildcats. He's also carried the ball seven times for 111 yards.

More:College Football Playoff ranking live updates: Iowa gets Citrus Bowl vs. Kentucky, Iowa State gets Cheez-It Bowl vs. Clemson

Speaking of Big Ten connections ... look no further than Will Levis

The Hawkeye defense will face another Big Ten transfer on the Wildcat offense — former Penn State Nittany Lion quarterback Will Levis.

The Citrus Bowl marks Levis' second time facing the vaunted Hawkeye defense. Iowa toppled Penn State in 2020, and Levis threw for 106 yards, completing 13 of his 16 attempts, and ran for 34 on 15 carries.

He looks like a completely different quarterback for Kentucky this season, though. He's thrown for 2,593 yards (66.5 completion percentage), 23 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Levis also has 387 rushing yards and nine scores on the ground this season, too.

More:How to watch Iowa football vs. Kentucky in the 2022 Citrus Bowl game

Beware the Kentucky rushing offense

Levis makes up a portion of Kentucky's ground game, but keep an eye on tailback Christopher Rodriguez Jr. The junior ran for 1,271 yards (6.2 yards per carry) and nine scores during the regular season. 

Fellow tailback Kavosiey Smoke has been solid in relief, too. Smoke has 406 rushing yards (5 yards per carry) and four touchdowns this year.

As a team, Kentucky ranks fourth in the nation in yards per carry (5.51). The Wildcats average 206 yards per game on the ground, with ranks 22nd in the country.

More:Leistikow's 4 thoughts: Iowa football takes a historic postseason beating in its big-stage moment

Josh Paschal isn't just a stud edge rusher — he's an NIL sensation

In what might be the funniest commercial starring a college football player, Kentucky's Josh Paschal shot an ad with Steckler Pediatric Dentistry. On Twitter alone, Paschal's video garnered nearly 500,000 views.

But what about his performance on the field? Paschal has 51 total tackles, including 15 for a loss and five sacks. He's forced a fumble this season, too.

Read more Iowa football news

Adam Hensley is a digital producer with the USA Today Network. You can follow him on Twitter @A_Hens83 or reach him at ahensley@gannett.com.