For the second year in a row, the Iowa Hawkeyes will end their football season with the Kentucky Wildcats, as the teams take the field at 11 a.m. Central on Dec. 31 in Nashville, Tenn. If you remember last year’s game, you’re likely well aware that the Wildcats are just as defense-oriented as Iowa is, which means points will likely be at a premium.
Iowa has won three of its past four bowl games under Kirk Ferentz, with the loss to Kentucky last year being the one exception. Here are a few things to know about the Hawkeyes making their first appearance in the Music City Bowl!
If you can’t attend the event, you can check here where to watch the Music City Bowl online, through streaming services or cable TV.
🚨 breaking 🚨
see you new year's eve at @NissanStadium!
— TransPerfect Music City Bowl (@MusicCityBowl) December 4, 2022
The Quarterback Play Won’t Be Pretty
The matchup won’t be the same as last year, because Spencer Petras’ shoulder injury from the Nebraska game will keep him out of the Music City Bowl. In a vacuum, losing Petras really isn’t that disappointing for Iowa fans.
Not only has Petras badly struggled this season, but he was a large reason why the Hawkeyes blew the game against the Wildcats in last year’s Citrus Bowl. Last season, Petras threw three interceptions against just one touchdown, and one of the three led directly to a Kentucky field goal that proved to be the Wildcats’ margin of victory.
But given the alternatives, Iowa fans would probably gladly take Petras now. Backup quarterback Alex Padilla entered the transfer portal, and Ferentz has a policy of not playing players who have decided to leave the Iowa program.
Iowa fans are excitedly looking forward to Cade McNamara taking charge of the offense, but he won’t arrive in Iowa City until 2023. That leaves Joe Labas and Carson May as the only quarterbacks Iowa has to take on the Wildcats’ fierce pass defense.
How Is Kentucky Doing This Season?
Neither has thrown a pass in a college game, and they’re going up against one of the best pass defenses in the nation. Kentucky ranks No. 7 nationally and second in the SEC at stopping the pass, and the Wildcats have held four straight opponents — one of them Georgia — to less than 200 yards through the air.
The good news for Iowa is Kentucky won’t have its starting quarterback either. Will Levis is projected to be a first-round selection in the 2023 NFL draft, and he decided to skip the bowl game and begin draft preparation.
That means the job likely falls to backup quarterback Kaiya Sheron, and unlike Labas and May, Sheron does have experience. It isn’t extensive, but Sheron filled in for Levis when the latter missed the Wildcats’ 24-14 loss to South Carolina. Sheron played decently in that game, but the Wildcats offered him no protection.
The Gamecocks sacked Sheron 10 times in that contest, which could bode well for an Iowa defense that averaged 2.5 sacks per game. Kentucky allowed 42 sacks on the season because of poor line play, and Phil Parker’s defense will likely make getting pressure on Sheron a key part of Iowa’s strategy.
— Kentucky Football (@UKFootball) December 8, 2022
Avoiding Turnovers Will Be Critical
Iowa always makes its living on letting the other team lose the game, and the Hawkeyes have taken that to an extreme this season. However, Kentucky also prefers to let the other team shoot itself in the foot rather than try to win the game itself, and last year, the Wildcats executed their strategy better than the Hawkeyes.
Iowa lost the turnover battle 3 to 1, and even though Kentucky only cashed in three points, the Hawkeyes blew chances to score on their final possession of both halves last season.
In a game where neither team has its starting quarterback on the field, avoiding mistakes becomes even more crucial. Neither team has its ideal offense playing, and both teams excel at frustrating their opponent, which means that there will be a lot of wasted possessions in this contest.
— Hawkeye Football (@HawkeyeFootball) December 9, 2022
Forcing The Wildcats To Give Up On The Running Game
The key is making sure that those wasted possessions end with punts as opposed to turnovers because Iowa cannot afford to give Kentucky a short field. On the turnover that the Wildcats cashed in last season, the Hawkeyes handed Kentucky the ball on their own 31-yard line.
Iowa must make sure that if Kentucky scores, the Wildcats have to burn through a lot of time and plays in order to do it.
Kentucky hasn’t exactly held on to the football all that well either, and the Wildcats have a well-known weakness on the offensive line. Iowa has to make sure that it’s getting in the Kentucky backfield and forcing Sheron to make decisions before he’s ready.
If the Hawkeyes can force the Wildcats to either give up on the running game or have to convert on third-and-long, the chances for a strip sack or an interception will drastically increase. If the Hawkeyes can force an early turnover, they’ll have the edge.
How Does the Coaching Matchup Look?
Kentucky did what Iowa fans wish the Hawkeyes would do: fired its offensive coordinator. The Wildcats changed coordinators in 2022 after Liam Coen joined the Los Angeles Rams, but it’s become clear that Rich Scangarello just wasn’t the right fit in Lexington.
Even with Will Levis running the offense, the Wildcats never got going on that side of the ball. If Kentucky had been even slightly decent in its attack, it probably wouldn’t be playing in Nashville, as the Wildcats boasted a championship defense.
To his credit, Kentucky coach Mark Stoops recognized that the Wildcats were underachieving on offense and opted to change coordinators for the third time in three seasons.
Kentucky will use a mix of assistants to call plays, which could work out given that the Wildcats have almost a month to prepare for Iowa. Changing the voice for the offense isn’t ideal in a week-to-week setting, but considering Kentucky has new personnel anyway, it might not make a big deal in this matchup.
the coaches have spoken. pic.twitter.com/mrjCzfkcCM
— TransPerfect Music City Bowl (@MusicCityBowl) December 8, 2022
Can Ferentz Deliver?
Iowa will use the same coaching staff it’s had all season, and that’s exactly what Iowa fans consider the problem. Brian Ferentz’s offense hasn’t really gotten much of anything done this season no matter who has played quarterback, and most Iowa fans would love to see him receive a request to seek employment elsewhere. Of course, as long as Kirk Ferentz is running the show in Iowa City, that isn’t going to happen.
The Hawkeyes will ride with Brian Ferentz running the offense for as long as his father is the head coach, which puts a lot of pressure on the defense and special teams. In this game, Iowa’s special teams might be the one area where it has an edge, as Kentucky’s defensive-minded approach will make an already weak Iowa offense have to work hard to get anything on the scoreboard on its own.
How Should You Bet on the Music City Bowl?
With a total as low as this game’s number of 32.5, it’s hard to recommend betting the under, but that seems to be the only real option here.
These two teams do not give up a lot of long-scoring plays, and they make teams work for all of their points. Last year’s game saw all but one scoring drive cover at least 50 yards, and the majority of them took at least five minutes to result in points.
Neither team has a particularly strong rushing attack, and Kentucky’s attack will be weakened further by the loss of Chris Rodriguez to the NFL draft. But the Wildcats’ and the Hawkeyes’ defensive strengths both come from their passing defenses, which means both Mark Stoops and Kirk Ferentz will likely try to attack the ground.
That means the clock will likely be running for most of the game, which makes the under far more plausible. Given that drives aren’t likely to result in scoring, even a total of 32.5 won’t be easy to reach.
When it comes to the spread, the money has come in on Iowa ever since Levis declared for the NFL draft. But that might be a tad premature, given that Kentucky actually has more experience at moving the football without its starting quarterback.
Bet On The Music City Bowl With ClutchBet
Betting on the Hawkeyes means that you’re gambling on Iowa’s defense to confuse Sheron and force the Wildcats to make a mistake. Granted, that’s what an Iowa bet always is, but with the Hawkeyes facing a strong passing defense without an experienced quarterback, that’s even more pronounced in this game.
If you’re going to make a bet on Iowa, you should check ClutchBet’s odds. ClutchBet sets the Hawkeyes as favorites, priced at -131 right now, while the Wildcats’ victory is priced at +102.