Coen likens VRBO, Super Bowl prep; UK defense expects ‘old school’ from Iowa

New offensive coordinator has Super Bowl experience, Iowa run game is 'old school'

LEXINGTON, Ky. (UK Athletics) – With Kentucky playing in the Vrbo Citrus Bowl on January 1, UK offensive coordinator Liam Coen is getting to experience bowl prep for the first time in his career. But Coen was able to relate what he and his offense are going through right now to an experience has had previously.

“It similar to playing in the Super Bowl, to be honest,” Coen said after practice on Tuesday. “Because where our work needs to be done, and is done, is prior to going down to the site. Third down and red zone tomorrow. Really start to tighten the whole plan up.”

The Cats are in the midst of installing their game play this week as they prepare to face Big Ten runner-up Iowa in Orlando. Coen sees similarity to fall camp as the Cats prepare for their bowl game.

“I think it’s been a little bit of a mix between spring ball, a little bit of training camp, where you do good on good stuff early on, especially when you haven’t started a game plan yet,” Coen said. “So, we got some good work early on in the bowl prep practices. Then once we got into our game planning, it felt like a normal week of preparation.”

Coen and the Cats hope to have everything ready before the team departs for the holidays on Wednesday. That way, when the team arrives in Orlando, they can be ready to go.

“When we get down there, (we will) try to get some good, clean work,” Coen said. “Have fun, let the kids enjoy the situation and the whole experience.”

Bowl prep also brings with it an opportunity for younger players to get additional reps in practice. Coen cited a couple of Cats as those who have stood out as the Cats prepare to depart for the holidays.

“It’s a fine line between the physical aspect but you’re still trying to develop your younger players, get them some reps and some experience in practice but also understand that this is a big game for us and we need to prepare,” Coen said.

While wanting to get the younger players ample reps, the UK staff is also keeping an eye on how much work it gives the veterans on the team during bowl preparations.

“We’re in a little bit of a unique situation because we do have so many leaders and seniors up front, at the receiver position, at the tight end position, at the receiver position and at running back that we need to be careful not to bang too much on those guys,” Coen said. “Because we need them available (for the bowl game).”

Finding the balance between preparing for Iowa and getting younger players involved is a balancing act that Coen is handling for the first time. But it’s not something totally new to him.

In the last few days, Kentucky has turned its attention to its VRBO Citrus Bowl opponent, 15th-ranked Iowa.

The Hawkeyes, like the Cats, opened their season with six straight victories. Iowa beat Indiana, Iowa State, Kent State, Colorado State, Maryland and Penn State and, in doing so, rose to number two in the national rankings.

Also like the Cats, the Hawkeyes had some bumpy roads in the middle of the season. After opening 6-0, Iowa was upset, at home, by unranked Purdue and followed that with a loss as Wisconsin.

Iowa would close out its regular season by beating Northwestern, Minnesota, Illinois and Nebraska. By finishing 10-2 and 7-2 in the Big Ten, the Hawkeyes won their division and advanced to the Big Ten title game.

There, they ran into a buzzsaw that called itself Michigan. The Wolverines beat the Hawkeyes 42-3 in Indianapolis.

Still, at 10-3, Iowa has put together a most impressive season, one that will culminate with a game against Kentucky in Orlando in New Year’s Day.

Veteran head coach Kirk Ferentz leads the Hawkeyes and is in his 23rd season in Iowa City. Ferentz likes his offense simple and his defense complex, something that the Cats have discovered on film.

The Hawkeyes have run the ball 477 times this season while passing on just 374 occasions. Those numbers tell the UK defense that Iowa will be running the ball, something that senior Marquan McCall seems to favor.

“We are really excited because it’s an old-school offense and that’s what we like,” McCall said. “We like for teams to run the ball and to give us some more challenges. We’re prepared and ready to go.”

McCall’s job against Iowa will be especially tough as he squares off with Tyler Linderbaum, who is widely regarded as the best center in the country and a likely first-round pick in next year’s NFL Draft. McCall plans to be up for the challenge.

“I’m really excited. I always like competition,” McCall said. “It’s just exciting to get to go against him and show him what I got and for him to show me what he’s got.”

On the other side of the ball, the Hawkeyes have one of the nation’s best defenses. That’s because they do a lot of things very well, according to UK All-American tackle Darian Kinnard.

“Their defense is very technical,” Kinnard said. “They are pretty big, they’re very stout when they play. They don’t miss a lot of tackles. Their linebackers have over 100 tackles, one of their (defensive) lineman has like 50. They’re very technical guys and they’re going to play throughout the whole game.”

As the Cats continue to prepare for Iowa, as well as preparing for a trip to Florida, Kinnard is enjoying one last ride with his teammates. And he has advice for the younger players.

“Throughout this whole break before bowl game, I would say enjoy the time,” Kinnard said. “It is a daily grind but I would say have fun with it. Have fun, don’t burn yourself out and enjoy the process.”

That process includes learning more about Iowa each and every day, something UK will continue to do right up until game time.

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