Citrus Bowl Notebook: Kentucky is Game Ready

On3 imageby:Nick Roush12/30/21


The Kentucky Wildcats have enjoyed their time in Orlando without forgetting that it’s a business trip.

“Obviously, we are really excited to be here at the VRBO Citrus Bowl. I think our guys are really ready to play in this game. They have been excited. The energy at practice, both at home and here on site in Orlando, has been at an all-time high,” defensive coordinator Brad White said Wednesday morning. “It’s going to be a heck of a battled and one we’re ready for.”

Now appearing in a sixth-straight bowl game, Mark Stoops quickly learned how to strike the right balance between work and play. The key to success on Saturday started in Lexington.

“I feel good. I feel like we’re all healthy, we’re all mentally prepared,” said running back Chris Rodriguez. “It’s going to be a hot game, but I feel like overall we’re ready to play. That was a point of emphasis, leaving Kentucky ready to play. We’re going to leave here ready to play and coaches did a great job putting us in that position.”

It may sound cliche, but bowl practice might be the most important part of bowl season. When asking Freddie Maggard on the KSR Football Podcast for memories from his Citrus Bowl experience with the team at the end of the 2018 season, he immediately went to practice. That’s where the team bonded and that is where they won the game over Penn State. Three years later, history is repeating itself.

No Negative Rush Plays

One thing stood out when Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker watched Kentucky on film for the first time.

“First of all, when you look at Kentucky, they are a well-coached team. I look at their offensive line, how well-coached they are up front. There are some All-American guys. The center is very good, the guy from Sylvania, Ohio (Luke Fortner), and there’s also a tackle that’s pretty good for them guys,” said Parker.

“Obviously, the running back, it’s hard for me — I can’t remember seeing him have negative yards, and that’s going to be a challenge for us. I think he’s a good running back and he can run well. That’s what they want to do, run the ball, play-action pass and boots.”

Kentucky’s rushing success has been well documented over the years. The Wildcats have opened up the passing game with Will Levis, yet have still been able to rush for 5.51 yards per carry, the fourth-most in the country. Rodriguez believes the passing game made things much easier for him this fall.

“Wan’Dale, Josh, Epps, all those receivers, you can’t just count them guys out,” said the UK running back. “You’ll eventually start to realize that Wan’Dale can run by one person. Then you’re going to have to zone up. When they zone up, they can’t load the box up and it became a lot easier (to run).”

Another Potential Injury to Watch

Kentucky’s leading tackler has been in a walking boot this week in Orlando. Kentucky Tweeted out a picture of Jacquez Jones at Thursday morning’s event with a boot on his left foot. Facing an Iowa team that puts a ton of stress on opposing linebackers with fullbacks and tight ends, Kentucky needs Jones ready to roll this Saturday. We should learn more about his status at Friday morning’s press conference with Mark Stoops.

More Kentucky Homecomings

Abule Abadi-Fitzgerald is preparing to play his final game on the UK defensive line. He’ll do it with a ton of family in the stands. Originally from Nigeria, he moved to nearby Lakeland, Fl. when he was 12. Abule is one of 12 Wildcats from the Sunshine State.

“It’s very exciting,” he said. “I have a lot of siblings in my family, a lot of friends and they’re all here. It’s not always easy to fly to Kentucky to watch me play, so the fact that they’re all able to come is probably the biggest, most exciting time of year.”

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