When evaluating the matchups in the Iowa-Arizona game late last week, my thought was that the Hawks and Wildcats were pretty even on offense, but Iowa was much better defensively.
It was because of the Hawks’ defense that I felt like Iowa should win the game and move to 3-0 on the season.
However, an inspired Arizona club came ready to play in Tuscon on Saturday night, got out to a big lead and then held on late against the No. 9 Hawks 34-27.
The loss drops Iowa to 2-1 and out of the national championship picture for now. The Hawks are still ranked but dropped all the way down to No. 18 in most polls.
While Arizona quarterback Nick Foles threw for 300-plus yards, the Iowa defense was not that bad in the game. The unit did not have much of a chance early as the first three touchdowns in the game were dictated by special teams and the Arizona defense.
Iowa punter Ryan Donahue got his punt blocked after Iowa went three and out on its opening possession. The Wildcats then punched in the short drive to go up 7-0 and then minutes later when up 14-0 after a Ricky Stanzi pass went off Marvin McNutt’s hands. The Wildcats intercepted the pass and went the other way for the score.
The Hawks managed to get within 14-7 later in the first quarter, but then Arizona pushed the lead back to 14 following a 100-yard kick return touchdown.
The WIldcats had all the momentum and eventually ballooned the lead to 27-7 at halftime. Iowa managed to get things figured out in the second half and even came all the way back to tie it at 27, However, Foles and the Wildcats scored the game-winning touchdown late in the game to win by seven at home.
Stanzi threw for 300-plus yards in the game. He also had three touchdown passes — one to Derrell Johnston-Koulianos and two to McNutt — but he also was sacked six times, three of which came on the final drive of the game.
It is hard to blame the offensive line for the sacks though. The Hawks had to go away from the run after the early miscues that led to a large deficit. That meant an awful lot of passing and predictable play calls.
It is much easier to sack the quarterback when you know the team is going to pass the ball.
Iowa has got to fix its special team mistakes, continue to get better on the offensive line and be smarter on defense.
One loss can kill a season. But Iowa can look at it that way. The Hawks need to regroup, figure out how to get back to the win column and concentrate on conquering the Big Ten Conference.
There is no shame in ending up in the Rose Bowl at season’s end.