Ferentz, Stoops preview Iowa-Kentucky Citrus Bowl matchup

Coaches Kirk Ferentz and Mark Stoops provided injury updates and other insights a little more than 24 hours before they face off in the Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day.


Grace Smith

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz and Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops laugh with each other after a head coach press conference for the 2022 Vrbo Citrus Bowl at Rosen Plaza Hotel in Orlando, Fla., on Friday, Dec. 31, 2021. The Hawkeyes and the Wildcats will matchup at Camping World Stadium in Orlando on Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022.

Robert Read, Pregame Editor

ORLANDO, Fla. — Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops started watching Iowa game tape in the days following the announcement that the Wildcats and the Hawkeyes would face off in the Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day. It didn’t take long for a smile to appear on Stoops’ face. Well, a smile, followed by a frown.

The smile was because Stoops, who played defensive back at Iowa under Hayden Fry in the late 1980s and eventually served as a graduate assistant in Iowa City, appreciated how fundamentally sound Iowa plays. It reminded him of when he and his teammates played under the Hall of Fame former Hawkeye head coach.

So, why did Stoops frown?

“The frown was, ‘Oh, damn, they are pretty darned good,’” Stoops said Friday morning.

Stoops and Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz held a joint press conference on Saturday to preview the matchup that has been in the works since it was announced on Dec. 5. The No. 15 Hawkeyes (10-3 overall, 7-3 Big Ten) play the No. 22 Wildcats (9-3, 5-3 SEC) at Camping World Stadium on Saturday. The game will air at noon CT on ABC.

Ahead of the matchup, both head coaches provided some updates.

Kentucky likely without star pass rusher

Stoops said that all-SEC defensive end Josh Paschal is “highly questionable” to play in the Citrus Bowl on Saturday. Paschal reaggravated an undisclosed injury in Kentucky’s regular season finale against Louisville, Stoops said.

Kentucky’s leader in tackles for loss this season (15.5) was delayed in traveling to Orlando because of other health issues as well and has seen limited practice reps.

“He really wants to play,” Stoops said. “I don’t feel like I could play him with a clear conscience. He’s given us everything. You talk about these guys laying it on the line for you every day for years, and Josh, you folks that cover Kentucky, you’ve heard me talk about it many times, but Josh is a guy that just absolutely empties his tank each and every practice, each and every game.”

Paschal recorded 5.5 sacks, 53 tackles, and eight quarterback hurries across 12 starts this season.

Stoops said several other Wildcat players are questionable to play on Saturday, but did not reveal any specifics.

Iowa health updates

The Hawkeyes will be missing some of its key members in the secondary against the Wildcats.

Ferentz confirmed that cornerbacks Matt Hankins, Terry Roberts, and Xavior Williams will miss the Citrus Bowl. Hankins underwent surgery a couple weeks ago and had previously been ruled out for the game against Kentucky. Roberts did not participate during an open practice on Tuesday.

“He’s had a nagging injury here for it feels like about four months — it’s been about two, I think — but he’s not going to be able to go,” Ferentz said.

Ferentz said, other than the three players mentioned above, the entire Iowa team should be out there for the Citrus Bowl.

Iowa’s QB still a mystery

The first questions Ferentz fielded on Friday had to do with who he would be starting at quarterback in the bowl game.

I guess you’ll know at one o’clock [Saturday],” Ferentz said. “Probably before that, actually.

“I really don’t think it’s that big a deal. I know it is to everybody, been asked about it, but we have faith in both guys. Both guys have done a great job. Ultimately it’s about how our team plays, quite frankly. And that’s our goal, is to play good team offense and hopefully be able to move the ball and score some points.”

RELATED: Iowa’s Citrus Bowl quarterback decision has been made, but not announced

Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz said earlier this week that the Hawkeyes have decided who will start the Citrus Bowl under center. However, that decision has not been publicly announced. Spencer Petras is listed as the starter on the depth chart released ahead of the Citrus Bowl, with Alex Padilla down as his backup.

Ferentz announces Iowa team captains

Center Tyler Linderbaum, linebacker Jack Campbell, safety Jack Koerner, cornerback Matt Hankins, and kicker Caleb Shudak will serve as captains for the Hawkeyes in the Citrus Bowl, Ferentz said.

Both programs used to being underdogs

In 18 bowl games under Ferentz, including Saturday’s game, Iowa has only been favored twice: The 2009 Outback Bowl against South Carolina (Iowa won, 31-10) and the 2017 Pinstripe Bowl against Boston College (Iowa won, 27-20).

Kentucky is currently favored by three points against the Hawkeyes. Ferentz brought up Iowa’s history of being the underdogs in his 23-year tenure as head coach, which brought a reaction out of Stoops.

“Our goal is to play as hard as we can, play as well as we can, and then you let the chips fall where they may,” Ferentz said.

“Don’t take my role,” Stoops fired back playfully, pointing out Kentucky’s history of being the underdog. “That’s usually us. We like to feel the same thing.”