IOWA CITY, Ia. - The story line for this weekend's Iowa game at Arizona could have been written when it originally appeared on the schedule. A late-night September game in the desert, the scenario of the biggest beat down of a Kirk Ferentz team.
Arizona State pummeled the Hawkeyes into submission, 44-7, in 2004. The embarrassing setback was branded into the minds of Iowa fans and coaches. After it, Ferentz told equipment manager Greg Morris to shelve the staff's attire for good.
It makes sense that pundits recall the disaster in the desert with the Hawkeyes heading back there on Saturday (9:30 p.m. Central, ESPN). Really, it's insignificant.
If Iowa loses to the Wildcats, it likely will be because the hosts outplayed them. As Ferentz is prone to say, you usually get what you deserve.
Let's break down this bad boy:
Up Close through Two Weeks -
Arizona (No. 24 AP, No. 18 Coaches) represents the Hawkeyes biggest challenge to date. The Wildcats (2-0) are coming off a 52-6 win against the Citadel last week which followed a 41-2 blowout at Toledo in Week 1.
The Hawkeyes rolled past FCS opponent Eastern Illinois, 37-7, in the opener. They demolished Iowa State, 35-7, in Week 2.
Judging these teams through two games is difficult. It's a pair of blowout wins for each of them against inferior competition. How inferior? We don't know that either. We can analyze it a little closer, however.
Toledo responded from its spanking against Arizona by knocking off Ohio, 20-13. Ohio beat Wofford, 33-10, to kick off the season. The Terriers then beat Charleston Southern, 34-23.
Prior to getting stomped by Arizona, the Citadel beat somebody named Chowan, 56-14. Chowan fell to Lenior-Rhyne, 59-10, in its first game. That's as far as we need to go in that chain.
Eastern Illinois followed up its loss to the Hawkeyes with a 37-7 drubbing at the hands of Central Arkansas. The Bears defeated Elizabeth City State in Week 1.
Iowa State defeated Northern Illinois, 27-10, in Ames before coming to Iowa City. The Huskies knocked off North Dakota, 23-17, last week in Dekalb. The Fighting Sioux fell 47-0 at Idaho in their opening contest.
Sifting through this rubble tells us very little. There's not a quality win within any of the chains.
The Line - Iowa sits as a 1½-point favorite as of Wednesday night. For those folks unfamiliar with the rules, that means if you wager money on the Hawkeyes, they need to win by at least a two points for you to cash.
My gambling days become a more distant memory as the years pass. But if you've partaken in the tradition, your mind continues to work based on the point spread when analyzing a game.
Linesmakers are incredible at their jobs. Rarely to you see a number move drastically in either direction. The object for them is to get equal money on both sides so the casinos and bookies can keep the commission (juice, vig, etc.)
I saw the line on this game at 2 points and 1½ since it opened. The lines makers nailed it.
While players are tutored rigorously to stay away from any type of gambling, they often know who is favored. That has to be motivation for Arizona in this game.
I also think that the majority of the public will be on Iowa's side of the bet by close. I'm one who likes to go against that opinion.
The wise guys do their homework. A lot of other bettors look at the game and say, "Shoot, I get a Top 10 team coming off a BCS win and two blowouts and only need them to win by two? Give me the Hawkeyes."
That bothers me here. But then again, I don't gamble anymore, which gives insight into my success rate when I did.
The Intangibles - The biggest one is home field, if you consider that advantage an intangible. The Wildcats are 13-3 in their last 16 games at Arizona Stadium (57,400). The loss came at the hands of No. 6 USC and No. 22 Oregon State in ‘08 and No. 11 Oregon in double OT last year.
This sets up as a revenge game for Arizona, who lost 27-17 in Iowa City a year ago. They're planning a "red out" for the game. To counter that, Iowa alumni and fans represent well in the Valley of the Sun.
Iowa will travel into enemy territory for the first time in 2010. The Hawkeyes can take comfort in knowing they won three night games away from Kinnick last season - Penn State, Michigan State, Georgia Tech.
It's a big game for Arizona Coach Mike Stoops, who has rebuilt the program in his seven seasons on Tucson. The former Hawkeye player and coach and his Wildcats can take another huge step with a win against a Top 10 team.
Key Match-Ups -
-Arizona End, Brooks Reed vs. Iowa Right Tackle, Markus Zusevics: The athletic and experienced Reed will challenge Iowa's relatively raw right tackle more than he has been through two weeks. The Wildcat senior plays fast at 6-3, 262 pounds.
While Zusevics is built better for this type of player than he is a bull, Reed presents a nice array of moves that will keep Iowa's new starter on his toes. Zusevics is improving by the week. He'll need to take a big step forward this week.
Grant weighs in at 325 pounds on his 6-6 frame. Size won't be enough for him, however. Clayborn's too strong and will demand Grant moves his feet to have any success.
-Iowa MLB, Jeff Tarpinian vs. Arizona RB, Nic Grigsby: The Hawkeyes bottled up Arizona's electric back last season. Pat Angerer went on to receive all-Big Ten recognition for his play up the middle for Iowa and this game's performance against Grigsby and then running Wildcat QB Matt Scott really set the tone for the season.
Tarpinian looked great last week against Iowa State. He's become a great mix of power and speed and he'll need the latter to contain. Grigsby has averaged 8.2 yards per carry during the first two weeks and also has caught five passes.
McNutt has been relatively quiet the first two weeks with Stanzi looking at Colin Sandeman in Week 1 and Johnson-Koulianos against ISU. The junior from St. Louis has only caught four passes but he's second on the team with 93 yards (23.2 per reception).
Schematically Speaking - It seems like years since we've heard Iowa fans dreading the spread. Receivers running past the Hawkeye linebackers are a distant (bad) memory.
While the Wildcats might not be the stereotypical spread with four and five wide all the time, they run concepts of that offense. Grigsby and his backup, Keola Antolin, also have 14 receptions between them this season.
With Norm Parker away from the team again this week, I'll be interested to see if the Hawkeye defensive coaches employ more nickel and dime packages. I think it could be effective as Iowa probably boasts its deepest group of cover men.
It also will be key for Iowa to rotate effectively on the line. It needs to maintain pressure on Nick Foles even if the sacks don't come. If the quarterback gets comfortable, it could be a long day for the Hawkeye linebackers and secondary.
Who knows? Maybe we'll see Iowa blitz. But I doubt it.
Arizona runs a multiple 4-3 on defense. They return only four starters from last year. The tackles and linebackers are new.
Reed and Ricky Elmore are experienced, talented ends. Wade will rank among the best corners Iowa sees this season.
The Wildcats have experienced inexperience in the second level with junior college transfers Derek Earls and Paul Vassallo at linebacker. They're big, athletic players that can run with the tight ends.
Iowa likely will see a few different looks then it did a year ago with Tim Kish and Greg Brown taking over the defense from Mark Stoops, who landed at Florida State. But Mike Stoops came up the coaching ladder as a defensive mind and will put a lot of input into this game plan.
Iowa can expect blitzes. The Wildcats will challenge an inexperienced front making its first road start. Expect the pressure to come up the middle at James Ferentz and to the right side with Zusevics and Nolan MacMillan or Adam Gettis.
Keep an Eye on…:
Murray has missed the first two weeks with a hip injury. Mossbrucker has moved past him on the depth chart and likely will get the opportunity this week if it presents itself.
Mossbrucker's inability to keep his emotions in checked cost him his job as a true freshman. He said he dealt with that during his red shirt season. Time will tell if he can handle a pressure situation.
Did You Know?
-Arizona center Colin Baxter is expected to make his 40th consecutive start.
-The Wildcats reached six conferences wins last season for only the third time in their history and for the first time since 1998.
-Wade has intercepted nine passes in 15 career starts. He recorded a pick-6 for 38 yards against the Hawkeyes last year.
-Stoops and Iowa DB coach Phil Parker earned first-team all-Big Ten honors in ‘83 and ‘84.
-This game is the only one this Saturday that pits AP Top 25 teams facing off. Yet, College Game Day is in Auburn. Makes sense.
-Iowa won all four of its night games a year ago (Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State, Georgia Tech).
-This contest represents the 40th against a Top 25 team for a Kirk Ferentz Iowa team. The Hawkeyes are 16-23 in the previous 39.
The Prediction - This is a game I had Iowa losing when a predicted a 9-3 finish at the start of the season. I've decided to stick with it.
I think too many things work against the Hawkeyes in this game - home field, revenge, the betting line. I hope I'm wrong.
I think Iowa is the better team. But the best squad doesn't win every week. We need look no further than the Hawkeye games against Northwestern the last two seasons for evidence.
I see it being a low-scoring, defensive battle. The teams boast good punters and will play field position game.
Arizona 23, Iowa 20
Statistical Comparison -