By Pat Harty
ORLANDO, Florida – The Iowa football team was missing its leading rusher against Kentucky on Saturday in the Citrus Bowl, but that also created an opportunity for two redshirt freshmen and they both took advantage of it.
Gavin Williams and Leshon Williams helped to fill the void created by Tyler Goodson ‘s decision to opt out of the Citrus Bowl to prepare for the 2022 NFL draft.
Gavin Williams rushed for a career-high 98 yards and Leshon Williams rushed for a career-high 42 yards in his first extensive action as a Hawkeye.
It still wasn’t enough to lead Iowa to a victory as Kentucky scored a late touchdown to edge the Hawkeyes 20-17 at Camping World Stadium.
But it is reason to be optimistic about the running game moving forward.
“We have been impressed with Gavin and Leshon,” said Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz. “Gavin has played some. Thought, he did a great job today. Ran hard and ran tough.
“Leshon, really proud of him. I thought he stepped up and played really well. So happy about that.”
Fifth-year senior Ivory Kelly-Martin also made some key plays at running back, including converting on a key third-down on a screen pass in the fourth quarter.
“Wish we had him back for another year,” Kirk Ferentz said of Kelly-Martin, whose career has been plagued by injuries. “We all wish he was part of our team, but I can’t say enough about what he’s done on and off the field.
“He is a tremendous young person. Like all our seniors, wish him the best.”
The Iowa offensive line, which has struggled for much of the season, also performed well in Saturday’s game, especially in the second half when Iowa erased a 13-3 halftime deficit.
“I feel like our line has matured as we have gone along,” Kirk Ferentz said. “Not there yet, but that showed a little bit today, too, against a big front there, missing a guy. They have got some big, physical guys, and I thought we showed growth again today, so that is encouraging.”
Iowa received a scare when All-America center Tyler Linderbaum limped off the field in the fourth quarter with what appeared to be an ankle injury. However, Linderbaum returned shook off the injury and returned to the game.
The question now is whether the Citrus Bowl was Linderbaum’s last game as a Hawkeye as he projects as a likely first-round pick in the 2022 NFL draft.
Keagan Johnson health scare: Iowa was also without one of its leading receivers in Saturday’s game as true freshman Keagan Johnson didn’t dress due to an unspecified health issue.
“Trainers got a call about 3:30 in the morning, and I have not heard a report what it is,” Kirk Ferentz said. “Could be kidney stones. Might be an appendix. But he had a tough early morning, if you will, and as far as I know, he is doing fine, but have not heard a final diagnosis.”
Johnson became a starter about midway through the season and had 18 receptions for 352 yards and two touchdowns in 13 games.
Ferentz explains 4th-and-inches call: Kirk Ferentz was asked after Saturday’s game why he chose to punt rather than go for it on 4th-and-inches late in the fourth.
The decision backfired as Kentucky would go on to score what proved to be the game-winning touchdown with slightly less than 2 minutes to play.
“Pretty simple for me. Felt like, I liked our odds,” Kirk Ferentz said. “Perfect world, you like to get the ball inside the 20, but even with the ball, they had 80 yards. I don’t know if they had a time-out — they didn’t at that point. I liked our odds, and we played those odds.
“In retrospect, a lot of things you do it over, but I felt comfortable with where we’re at. Obviously, we would rather have converted on
LaPorta addresses his future: Iowa junior tight end Sam LaPorta capped a solid season with another strong performance in the Citrus Bowl.
His 36-yard touchdown catch on a tight end screen gave Iowa its first lead of the game at 17-13 with just under 11 minutes to play in the fourth quarter.
LaPorta was then asked after the game about the possibility of declaring for the 2022 NFL Draft.
“I’ve really been focused on the bowl prep these last three weeks,” he said. “It’s something to look towards, I guess, in the future. I’ll consult with my family with that decision, of course, and make the best decision based on that.”
Shudak ranks among Iowa’s most accurate kickers: Iowa sixth-year senior kicker Caleb Shudak score five points in Saturday’s game, raising his season total to 108 points, the fifth highest single-season total in program history.
This season Shudak made 24-of-28 field-goal attempts and connected on all 36 point-after kicks. He finished his career 24 of 29 on field-goal attempts, an 82.8 career percentage that ranks first in school history. His 85.7 field-goal percentage in 2021 is the fourth best single-season percentage in school history with a minimum of 15 attempts.
Campbell shines again: Junior linebacker Jack Campbell led Iowa with 14 tackles in Saturday’s game and finished the season with a team-leading 143 tackles. That is the most tackles by a Hawkeye since linebacker Pat Angerer had 145 tackles in 2009.
Mark Stoops defeats his alma mater: Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops became the first head coach to lead the Wildcats to four consecutive bowl wins.
The former Iowa defensive back under Hayden Fry also matched his older brother, Bob Stoops, by defeating his alma mater in a bowl game.
Bob Stoops led Oklahoma to a 31-14 victory over Iowa in the 2011 Insight Bowl.
“You are so busy in getting all your prep ready. My last messages to these guys and going through my protocol, really didn’t think much of it,” Mark Stoops said. “I went out on the field early, saw some people I knew, saw the colors. I thought it was cool, you know, just to see the Hawkeyes again, but then, it was right back to business.
“I have a lot of respect for their program, but I have a lot of respect for these guys, too.”