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Iowa vs. Kentucky Odds & Picks: Citrus Bowl Betting Value Lies With Wildcats

Iowa vs. Kentucky Odds & Picks: Citrus Bowl Betting Value Lies With Wildcats article feature image

Jeff Moreland/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Wan’Dale Robinson.

Iowa vs. Kentucky Odds

Saturday, Jan. 1
1 p.m. ET
Iowa Odds
-110o / -110u
Kentucky Odds
-110o / -110u
Odds via BetMGM. Get up-to-the-minute college football odds here.

In this year’s Citrus Bowl, Kentucky will be looking for its second double-digit win season over the past four years, while Iowa has already locked up 10 wins but will want to bounce back from a blowout loss to Michigan in the Big Ten Championship back in early December.

Iowa got off to a blazing 6-0 start this season and climbed as high as No. 2 in the AP Poll but quickly came back down to Earth when its unsustainable turnover luck started to fade.

It generated a total of 27 takeaways to just five offensive turnovers in the opening six-game win streak but finished the final seven games with a ratio of 10 generated turnovers to 11 giveaways.

Without the aid of turnovers, Iowa’s lack of a pulse on offense reared its head in an ugly way. In the Hawkeyes’ three losses, they scored 17 points combined.

Kentucky, meanwhile, is riding high after blowing out in-state rival Louisville, 52-21, in the season finale. It did lose three straight conference games over a difficult stretch but followed that up with three straight wins to close out the regular season.

Will the momentum continue here and result in Mark Stoops’ fourth bowl win in as many years, or will Iowa’s defense prove to be the difference-maker yet again after carrying the Hawkeyes to a division title?

Iowa Hawkeyes

Iowa Offense

Simply put, there’s not a lot to like about this group.

Starting with the passing game, Iowa has had somewhat of a revolving door at the quarterback position — especially later in the year — with Spencer Petras and Alex Padilla.

Petras started the team’s first eight games, but it was Padilla who took the majority of snaps in the final five contests. For Saturday, Iowa has said it knows who will be starting under center but didn’t elaborate any further.

Having a quarterback controversy in Game 14 of a season should probably tell you all you need to know about how this passing attack has performed. It’s ranked 117th in Expected Points Added (EPA) per pass, while its quarterbacks are ranked 126th (Petras) and 161st (Padilla) in yards per attempt among 172 quarterbacks with at least 100 dropbacks this season, per Pro Football Focus.

If we’re looking at EPA per play, Iowa’s rushing attack was somehow even worse than the passing game in terms of ranking.

To make matters even more difficult, the Hawkeyes will be without bell-cow back Tyler Goodson against Kentucky. His 256 carries on the year are tied for the eighth-highest workload in the country.

Behind him, backup running backs Gavin Williams and Ivory Kelly-Martin have both received a similar amount of carries on the year, but it’s Kelly-Martin listed at the top of the depth chart heading into the game.

Overall, he’s carried the ball 43 times for 4.3 yards per carry this season.

Iowa Defense

This side of the ball really carried the Hawkeyes this season and ranks 12th nationally in EPA per play allowed.

The secondary was arguably the team’s biggest strength, as its outside cornerback tandem of Riley Moss and Matt Hankins led the team to a ranking of 11th in yards allowed per pass attempt.

Moss was one of the top cornerbacks in the entire country this season and ranks seventh in PFF coverage grade at the position while allowing only 18 catches on the year. Hankins also had a very solid season but will be out of this game with an injury.

The Iowa pass rush isn’t really scaring anyone, considering it’s ranked just 89th in Sack Rate. However, the front’s run defense has been much more productive than its pass-rushing, with a top-25 ranking in Rushing Success Rate Allowed.

It did get run over by Michigan’s elite run game in its most recent game, but overall, teams haven’t done much on the ground against this group.

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Kentucky Wildcats

Kentucky Offense

Iowa’s defense has been elite this season, but it’s going to need to be locked in against a Kentucky offense that enters bowl season ranked seventh in Success Rate.

Kentucky can beat teams in both facets, but the ground game is the offense’s bread-and-butter. Chris Rodriguez gets a significant amount of work out of the backfield and ranks in the top-25 in yards after contact per attempt and explosive runs generated, per PFF.

Among the 34 running backs with at least 200 attempts this season, Rodriguez’s 6.2 yards per carry is tied for third.

In the passing game, the Wildcats have enjoyed a big boost at quarterback from Penn State transfer Will Levis. He’s ranked 23rd at the position in PFF passing grade, with the overall offense ranked 38th in EPA per pass.

Up front, there aren’t many units that have performed better than the Wildcats’ offensive line this year, considering it’s a top-10 unit in both PFF pass-blocking grade and run-blocking grade.

Tackle Darian Kinnard decided to return to school despite a high draft grade last season, and Kentucky has absolutely reaped the benefits, considering he’s allowed only one sack and ranks fifth in PFF grade among 848 qualifying offensive linemen.

Kentucky Defense

There’s a significant weakness in this Kentucky defense, but the question here is whether or not Iowa has the personnel to take advantage of it.

The Wildcats haven’t had a lot of success defending the pass this season, and while allowing explosive gains through the air hasn’t been a huge issue, they rank all the way down at 110th in Passing Success Rate Allowed.

Run defense has been a much different story, with Kentucky ranked 13th in EPA per carry allowed and fourth in yards before contact per attempt.

Edge defender Josh Paschal has been particularly dominant against the run, as his 90.4 PFF run-defense grade ranks fourth at his position on top of his five sacks and 15 tackles for loss this season.

Overall, the Kentucky defense ranks 36th in points allowed per drive.

Iowa vs. Kentucky Matchup Analysis

Toggle the dropdowns below to hide or show how Iowa and Kentucky match up statistically:

Iowa Offense vs. Kentucky Defense
Rush Success12240
Line Yards12928
Pass Success121110
Pass Blocking**10572
Big Play101102
Finishing Drives12148
** Pass Blocking (Off.) vs. Pass Rush (Def.)

Kentucky Offense vs. Iowa Defense
Rush Success2125
Line Yards225
Pass Success7112
Pass Blocking**1390
Big Play115
Finishing Drives482
** Pass Blocking (Off.) vs. Pass Rush (Def.)

Pace of Play / Other
PFF Tackling1742
Middle 86363
SP+ Special Teams453
Plays per Minute100118
Rush Rate56.1% (58)57.1% (50)

Data via College Football Data, FootballOutsiders, SP+, PFF and SportSource Analytics.

Iowa vs. Kentucky Betting Pick

As far as opt-outs, there aren’t a lot of needle-movers on either side. Iowa’s running back did opt out for the NFL Draft, but the Hawkeye run game wasn’t exactly doing much with him in the lineup.

Kentucky hasn’t seen any significant opt-outs but will be without its second-leading receiver, Josh Ali, after he was involved in a car accident.

As far as the matchup is concerned, I like Kentucky at this price in a game where I project it as a favorite of just above six points. It’s struggled against efficient aerial attacks, but this Iowa passing game is the exact opposite of efficient.

This should be a low-scoring affair, but the significant gap between these two offenses could very well prove to be the difference-maker.

Pick: Kentucky -3

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