Self-inflicted mistakes cost Kentucky at least two wins, maybe more, throughout the 2022 regular season. If the Cats continue to make mistakes, Iowa will make them pay in the Music City Bowl.
“The number one rule is to not beat ourselves,” Mark Stoops said Wednesday. “We gotta make sure we go into this game and give our kids an opportunity to be successful.”
The Kentucky offense will be without its top two playmakers, Will Levis and Chris Rodriguez, and will no longer have Rich Scangarello calling plays. Kentucky is using a think-tank approach to break in new quarterbacks. The Wildcats will be facing an Iowa defense that’s among the best in the nation. They’re efficient and force turnovers. Their 21 takeaways ranked third in the Big Ten and in the top 30 nationally.
“It’s also important in game like this with two very good defenses to not beat yourself with turnovers and penalties, things that can put you in a bad spot. We have to be very conscientious,” said Stoops. “The games late in the year we were getting penalties on special teams and things of that nature, we cannot do those things. We have to play clean.”
The Next Men Up for Kentucky
Levis and Rodriguez aren’t the only notable absences for the Wildcats. Trevin Wallace will be starting in place for DeAndre Square. Andru Phillips was called on to primarily play in the nickel as a slot corner following Vito Tisdale‘s season-ending injury. Now he’ll be moved outside to fill in for Carrington Valentine at cornerback.
“Andru’s played a lot. We rotate a lot during the season anyway. He’s doing a good job. He’s a competitive person,” said Stoops. “During the year things happen, injuries happen. You’re always the next man up so it’s not really anything we haven’t been through.”
This is not Kentucky’s first game without Chris Rodriguez. The star tailback was suspended for the first four games of the season. In his absence the Wildcats only averaged 81.5 yards per game. Kavosiey Smoke took a lion’s share of the carries during that four-game stretch. Now they’ll lean on JuTahn McClain and La’Vell Wright against the stout Iowa front seven that ranks 13th nationally in rush defense (104.1 rushing yards allowed per game).
“I think we can learn from it and see the things we did well, some areas we fell short and some guys gotta step up. They need to play as hard as Chris does and that’s hard to do,” said Stoops. “He’s a tough physical guy and hopefully we’ll step up.”