Iowa football to take on Kentucky in the Music City Bowl

The Hawkeyes will play their last game of the season at Nissan Stadium in Nashville on Dec. 31 at 11 a.m.


Jerod Ringwald

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz moves to discuss with officials during a football game between Iowa and No. 4 Michigan at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022. The Wolverines defeated the Hawkeyes, 27-14.

Austin Hanson, Pregame Editor

For the second time in the last three seasons, Iowa football has accepted a Music City Bowl bid. Iowa was supposed to play Missouri at Nissan Stadium in Nashville in December 2020, but the game was canceled because of COVID-19.

The 2022 Music City Bowl will be Iowa’s first. Before 2020, the Hawkeyes had never accepted an invitation to Tennessee.

“I was really grateful to receive the call this afternoon from the TransPerfect Music City Bowl,” Iowa athletic director Gary Barta said Sunday. “[This is] something that they’ve been talking to us now for a couple of weeks. Actually, we’ve been in great conversations for a few years. As most of you know, we were invited and then that went sideways due to COVID … I know it’s a great bowl. I know our fans are going to enjoy it, and I know our players and coaches are truly going to enjoy it.”

Iowa will match up with Kentucky for a second consecutive bowl game on Dec. 31. The Hawkeyes and Wildcats played each other in the 2022 Citrus Bowl in Orlando. Kentucky won the Jan. 1 matchup with Iowa, 20-17.

“We certainly have a lot of familiarity with the Kentucky program,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “[Head coach Mark Stoops] being a graduate of this program and playing when I was an assistant … Nothing but great respect for them. I’m not overly knowledgeable about this year’s team. I know what their program stands for and how it’s built. We know we’re going to be in a very competitive situation.

“We kicked off the calendar year 2022 playing Kentucky. Now, ironically, we’re going to finish it on the 31st with the same opponent. So, that’s a bit of an interesting sidebar.”

The Wildcats went 7-5 on the 2022 season with wins over the likes of Mississippi State, Florida, and Louisville.

The Hawkeyes also enter the contest at 7-5.  Iowa ranks outside the top 120 in the nation in passing, rushing, total, and scoring offense.

The Hawkeyes will likely be without backup quarterback Alex Padilla, running back Gavin Williams, and wide receivers Keagan Johnson and Arland Bruce. All four players announced their intent to enter the transfer portal last week.

“Not everybody is 100 percent,” Ferentz said of his players’ decisions to enter the portal. “That was kinda my encouragement when I talked to the team yesterday … Deliberately take some time over the next few days and make sure, you know, if you want to be here, you’re here, and full-fledged, and part of the team.

“My encouragement to our guys is, ‘If you’re serious about playing in this game, let’s go. And if you’re not, wait back.’ We’ll handle each situation individually … I would say the majority of the guys that have announced that they have thoughts probably won’t be back with us.”

Johnson missed 10 regular season games with multiple undisclosed injuries. He recorded two catches for 11 yards this season.

Gavin Williams was reportedly hampered by an ankle injury and mononucleosis this season. He started the year as the top tailback on the Hawkeyes’ depth chart, but ultimately fell behind true freshman Kaleb Johnson and sophomore Leshon Williams. Gavin Williams finished the year with 52 touches compared to the 146 and 124 Johnson and Leshon Williams received, respectively.

Bruce was the Hawkeyes’ top option at receiver for the entire season, catching 19 balls for 187 yards and a touchdown.

Hawkeye quarterback Spencer Petras will not be available for the Music City Bowl. Ferentz said Petras underwent season-ending surgery soon after the Hawkeyes’ 24-17 loss to the Nebraska Cornhuskers on Nov. 25.

Petras injured his throwing arm during the first quarter of Iowa’s matchup with Nebraska. After an extensive visit to the medical tent, Petras was taken out of the game. While Padilla finished the contest under center, Petras was spotted with a sling on the sideline.

In two relief appearances this season, Padilla went 21-of-43 for 173 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions.

Ferentz said redshirt freshman Joe Labas or true freshman Carson May will start for the Hawkeyes. Neither quarterback has thrown a pass in a college game.

Ferentz said tight end Sam LaPorta and defensive back Cooper DeJean are on pace to play in the Hawkeyes’ postseason game. LaPorta injured his leg in Iowa’s 13-10 win over Minnesota on Nov. 19. DeJean sustained an undisclosed injury against Nebraska.

“They would not have played if we played this weekend,” Ferentz said. “I’d expect Cooper, for sure, to return here at the end of the week. Sam’s very close. He’s out on the field moving around pretty good. But he would not have been game ready this weekend, nor would’ve Cooper. But I expect them both to be fully ready to go in the bowl game.”

When he was recognized during Week 13 senior day festivities, LaPorta walked onto the field to greet his parents while the other seniors the Hawkeyes honored ran. LaPorta is Iowa’s leading pass-catcher this season with 53 receptions for 601 yards and a touchdown.

Sophomore Luke Lachey is LaPorta’s backup. He’s hauled in 25 passes for 362 yards and three touchdowns in 2022.

Kentucky’s defense is ranked 18th in the country. The Wildcats’ pass defense is 17th in the 131-team FBS.

The Hawkeyes finished the season ranked inside the top 15 in the country in total, rushing, and scoring defense.

Iowa’s defense will be tasked with slowing a Kentucky passing attack led by senior Will Levis, who threw for 2,406 yards, 19 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions during the regular season. Kentucky finished the year rated 107th nationally in total offense. Levis said on Twitter he’ll likely declare for the 2023 NFL Draft in the coming weeks, and he has yet to decide if he will participate in the Wildcats’ bowl game.

Redshirt freshman Kaiya Sheron is the Wildcats’ backup quarterback. When Levis could not play against South Carolina on Oct. 8 because of an injury, Sheron started and completed 17 of his 29 pass attempts for 187 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. The Wildcats lost to the Gamecocks, 24-14.

The 2022 Music City Bowl will kick off at 11 a.m. and air on ABC.