NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Joe Labas threw for 139 yards and a touchdown in his first start and Iowa posted the first shutout in the Music City Bowl’s 24-year history by beating Kentucky 21-0 Saturday.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz capped his 24th season by matching the late Joe Paterno for the most bowl victories among Big Ten coaches with his 10th. This was the Hawkeyes’ second shutout in a bowl game, following the 1996 Alamo Bowl, and the first by a Big Ten team since Penn State beat Texas A&M in the 1999 Alamo Bowl.
“I’m not the smartest guy in the world,” Ferentz said. “One thing I’ve learned: If they can’t score, then you got a shot that you’re not going to lose. I know that. So if we could’ve written the script, it was perfect. Just really happy.”
Iowa (8-5) got a bit of payback for ending last season by losing to Kentucky in the Citrus Bowl after a late comeback by the Wildcats. The Hawkeyes’ defense outscored its offense in this one, returning two interceptions for TDs in the second quarter. The Hawkeyes finished the season with their fifth win in six games.
Kentucky (7-6) lost for the third time in four games, this time without quarterback Will Levis and running back Chris Rodriguez, as both opted out to prepare for the NFL draft. The loss ended the Wildcats’ school-record streak of bowl wins at four.
“Both of us were down some players and a bit shorthanded, and they did what they had to do to win the football game,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said.
The Hawkeyes scored all their points in the second quarter to seize control, scoring twice 11 seconds apart early in the quarter.
Taking his first snaps in a college game with Spencer Petras out with an upper-body injury, Labas hit Sam LaPorta with a short pass that the tight end took 27 yards, pushing through defenders. Labas then found Luke Lachey for a short pass, and the tight end finished off a 15-yard touchdown with 12:08 left.
“I was a little nervous at first, but to get those those (first three completions on the opening drive), it really helped a lot,” Labas said.
Drew Stevens pushed the ensuing kickoff out of bounds, setting Kentucky up at the 35. Freshman Destin Wade, also making his collegiate debut, was picked off by Iowa safety Xavier Nwankpa, who went 52 yards for the 14-0 lead.
Bowl MVP Cooper DeJean picked off Wade on third-and-10 from the Kentucky 7 and easily ran 14 yards for a 21-0 lead.
“Our guys hustle when there is a turnover,” Ferentz said. “They’re trying to make it more than just, you know, getting possession.”
The Hawkeyes didn’t miss All-American defensive back Kaevon Merriweather, who opted out to prepare for the NFL draft. They posted their second shutout this season, holding Kentucky to 185 yards while sacking Wade four times and forcing the Wildcats to turn it over on downs twice.
Iowa: The Hawkeyes must improve on offense, especially after losing All-American linebacker Jack Campbell. This was the Hawkeyes’ sixth game this season posting 222 yards of total offense or less.
Kentucky: Stoops made clear he wanted a look at the future in starting Wade, from nearby Spring Hill, even with Devin Leary arriving via the transfer portal. Wade finished with 98 yards passing and 29 yards rushing as Kentucky was shut out for the first time since Oct. 19, 2019, in a loss to Georgia. The Wildcats are between offensive coordinators, and Iowa came in ranked sixth nationally, allowing just 14.4 points a game.
“He was put in a tough situation, so he will learn from it without a doubt,” Stoops said of Wade.
Ferentz shared after the game that Campbell’s grandfather died Friday night as the result of a traffic accident. William Smith, 76, was walking with family members when he may not have heard a warning not to cross a street. He was hit by a van and declared dead at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
Iowa officials said Campbell’s parents told him about his grandfather’s death after the game, “so that Jack would have one last time to play with his Iowa Hawkeye teammates.”
Campbell led Iowa with 10 tackles and had a sack and two tackles for loss.
Iowa: Hosts Utah State on Sept. 2 to start the 2023 season.
Kentucky: Hosts Ball State on Sept. 2 to start the 2023 season.