Joe Labas threw for 139 yards and a touchdown in his first start, but the Hawkeyes defense outscored its offense — returning two interceptions for TDs — and the Iowa Hawkeyes posted the first shutout in the Music City Bowl’s 24 years by beating Kentucky 21-0 Saturday.

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz also 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 losing to Kentucky in the Citrus Bowl after a late comeback by the Wildcats. 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 straight.

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.

WAVING IN NASHVILLE

LAPORTA AT QB

Iowa tight end Sam LaPorta took three snaps at quarterback but did not attempt a pass. After the game, unanimous All-American linebacker Jack Campbell critiqued his play.

GOT THE T-SHIRT

THE TAKEAWAY

Iowa must improve on offense, especially with the Hawkeyes losing All-American linebacker Jack Campbell. This was the Hawkeyes’ sixth game this season posting 222 yards of total offense or less.

The Hawkeyes ended the game 0 for 11 on third down, but LaPorta defended offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz.

Kentucky: The Wildcats gave Wade, from nearby Spring Hill, some experience even with Devin Leary coming in the transfer portal to replace Levis. 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.

UP NEXT

Iowa punter Tory Taylor announced after the game that he is returning to the Hawkeyes in 2023.

Iowa: Hosts Utah State on Sept. 2 to start the 2023 season

Kentucky: Hosts Ball State on Sept. 2 to start the 2023 season

ENDING ON A SAD NOTE

Jack Campbell learned after the game that his grandfather died in a vehicle-pedestrian accident on Friday.

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