Iowa’s final game of the season played out how nearly all of their biggest wins have this year: A slow start followed by a sudden, late charge in winning time. 

It appeared as if the Vrbo Citrus Bowl would be a similar result. But an explosive Kentucky drive and a Spencer Petras interception left the No. 16 Hawkeyes with a season-ending 20-17 defeat. 

Kentucky’s Chris Rodriquez scored the game-winning touchdown with 1:48 remaining in the game. That score capped off an 80-yard touchdown drive in a little over three minutes of game time. Iowa marched into Kentucky territory on the ensuing drive but Petras throw an awkward interception to end Iowa’s season at 10-4.

The first part of the game played out like too many Iowa games this season: With an anemic Hawkeye offense failing to generate much. 

Iowa’s offense has only scored one opening drive touchdown this season — in the opening game against Indiana four months ago. Since then, it’s been nine punts, two turnovers and one missed field goal. Saturday’s first drive ended with similarly, with another punt. Overall, the Hawkeyes finished the first half with just over 100 yards of offense, two turnovers and zero third-down conversions.

Slow starts have also been the trend for Iowa’s defense this year. Kentucky’s opening 13-play, 80-yard touchdown drive added to the 89 first-quarter points surrendered by the Hawkeye defense.

But as they’ve done all year, they adjusted. 

The question, like it usually is, was whether the Iowa offense could do the same. 

Kentucky only managed 76 yards for the rest of the first half, 34 of them on one play. Iowa went into halftime with three sacks and six tackles for loss. In his Iowa finale, defensive end Zach VanValkenburg delivered a masterful performance: 8 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and 2 sacks.

A mantra all season for Iowa’s defense has been “putting out the fires,” limiting opposing points when put in advantageous situations. Twice, one after a Petras interception, Iowa’s defense held Kentucky to a field goal in the red zone to keep their offense in striking distance on the scoreboard.

That moment came midway through the third quarter. 

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