Arizona Wildcats keys vs. Iowa: Time of possession, early lead, run defenseby Javier Morales on Sep. 17, 2010, under Sports
Too much has been made about Iowa kicking off at what will be 9:30 p.m. Iowa City time when the Hawkeyes face the Wildcats at Arizona Stadium. These guys are young and usually wide awake for a night’s festivities at that hour, if you know what I mean.
The heat will not be as much of a factor with the game starting at night. Again, we’re talking about young, well-trained and developed athletes who have likely played in hotter temperatures with the sun beating down on them.
True, the last time Arizona beat a top 10 non-conference team happened before many of the current Wildcats were born — in 1989, a 6-3 thriller over No. 6 Oklahoma at Arizona Stadium on Doug Pfaff‘s last-second field goal. But then again, Arizona has played only one top 10 since then — in 1991 when the Cats lost 36-9 to No. 2 Miami, Fla., in Tucson.
Let’s cut to the chase of what really is important to the Wildcats on Saturday night (some of this information was provided to the media this week by the Arizona media relations department):
Time of possession: Arizona is 21-7 since the start of the 2006 season when it has a positive margin in time of possession and struggles to just a 8-16 mark when its opponents keep the ball longer. When the opponent controls the ball four or more minutes longer than the Cats, the UA is only 3-13. When the tables are turned, the Cats are 16-6. Iowa’s time of possession in last year’s 27-17 win over the UA in Iowa City was 37:56, almost 16 minutes more than Arizona.
What must happen vs. Iowa: Arizona must literally throw together some extended drives and try to wear down Iowa’s dangerous defense, which includes a very physical front (led by Orange Bowl MVP Adrian Clayborn). The Wildcats have averaged 503.5 total yards with a majority a result of quick reads by quarterback Nick Foles. The Wildcats are 10th in the nation in passing (344.0 yards per game), with Foles completing 83.1 percent of his attempts. If that completion rate is even a respectable 50 percent rate Saturday night, that should mean the Cats are in trouble. Foles must be on target and keep the UA offense in rhythm. How he connects with Juron Criner and Co. will determine how much Nic Grigsby will be freed for some rushing yardage.
Fast start: The good news is Arizona has started fast in the last couple of years. In 2009, the Wildcats outscored their opponents 105-58 in the first quarter. Even more impressive: Arizona has outscored opponents 211-120 in the first quarter of its last 29 games. Immediately after the half, the Cats have been potent as well, outscoring opponents 233-113 in the third quarter of those last 29 games.
What must happen vs. Iowa: Control the line of scrimmage from the start. If Arizona wins the coin toss, does it defer? Most likely yes because most college coaches like the thought of having possession after halftime. The UA’s defense is hungry to control Iowa’s pro-style offense better than it did last year. The Hawkeyes converted 10 of 19 third-down situations. If the UA wins the toss, defers and holds Iowa to a four-and-out sequence, that can be significant in a game like this. Every bit will help.
On the other hand, sustained drives and capitalizing on opportunities early will be critical in keeping Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi behind the eight ball. With an early Arizona lead, Iowa will not be as comfortable trying to establish their potent running attack and will have to open it up more with the pass. Stanzi can handle the pressure as a senior, but to what degree?
Rushing defense: Adam Robinson has averaged 134.5 yards per game (against the suspect defenses of Eastern Illinois and Iowa State). He is complemented by Jewel Hampton. Some argue — especially in the state of Iowa — that Robinson and Hampton are the best rushing duo in the nation behind Trent Richardson and Mark Ingram at Alabama.
Hampton rushed for 84 yards on 20 carries and scored a touchdown in Iowa’s 35-7 win against Iowa State last week. It was his first action since the 2008 season after sitting out last season with a torn ACL. He also missed the Hawkeyes’ first game against Eastern Illinois because of an alcohol-related arrest during the summer.
What must happen vs. Iowa: Physical play from Arizona’s defensive front, sparked by senior ends Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore. The Arizona defense limited Toledo to 183 total offense yards in the season opener and followed that up by shutting down the triple-option attack of The Citadel (171 total yards), marking the sixth and seventh times in the last 28 games the Wildcats have kept an opponent under 200 yards.
The mentality of the defense after the first two games brings back memories of the Desert Swarm and the units under Larry Smith that included Ricky Hunley and Randy Robbins.
“We have to stop the run first before we start worrying about their pass,” Elmore said bluntly. “I think our team is confident that they can play at the highest level. With the competition of playing a better team you have a lot more motivation to step up and make bigger plays.”
Big plays for Arizona’s defense will be limiting big plays for Iowa’s running game. If combined Hampton and Robinson rush for less than 100 to 150 yards, it will be difficult to imagine Iowa leaving Tucson with a victory.