The attention of college football fans throughout the nation turned to the No. 9 Iowa Hawkeyes on Saturday night for a prime-time battle with the No. 24 Arizona Wildcats in Tucson- the only week 3 game between two ranked teams. Both organizations circled this game on their calendar as their first true test of the season and a spring-board to national championship contention.
Many questions were left to be answered by Iowa- a team that primarily plays during Saturday afternoons in the much cooler temperatures of the mid-west, and how they would perform during a game that would start at 10:30PM Eastern time in the scorching climate of the Arizona desert. Junior defensive back Tyler Sash, when asked about traveling west, told ESPN "its just the opposite of traveling east" and played down the significance of the time-zone change. Hawkeye faithful proved they felt the same as twelve-thousand fans from Iowa City made the trip to the desert.
The first quarter of the pivotal match-up proved otherwise as Iowa's punt was blocked deep in their own territory during their first possession and recovered by Arizona- leading to a quick touchdown shortly after. During the Hawkeyes' next possession, quarterback Ricky Stanzi's pass was intercepted and ran in for a touchdown. Midway through the first quarter, Iowa trailed by 14 points but with 94 yards of total offense to their credit.
Momentum switched to the favor of Iowa eleven minutes into the first quarter, when Iowa linebacker Jeremiha Hunter recovered a fumble at their own eight yard line. Ricky Stanzi was able to move the ball down the field through the air with help from his favorite targets Marvin McNutt and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos. After two pass interference penalties called on Arizona, the Hawkeyes quickly found themselves at their opponent's four-yard-line and with the help of Jewel Hampton on the ground, Iowa was able to score their first touchdown of the night.
Just as quickly as the momentum turned to Iowa, it immediately went back to Arizona who returned the preceding kickoff for a touchdown. The remainder of the second quarter was filled with struggles on offense for Iowa who were unable to produce a drive and found themselves having to punt the ball repeatedly. Arizona however, kicked two successful field goals in the second quarter and grew their lead to 27-7 at halftime.
When asked about his team's performance in the first half before heading to the locker room, Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said: "We (Iowa) didn't give ourselves much of a chance...Special teams has been awful and we need to play better on both sides of the ball."
Arizona received the ball to start the third quarter- a possession marked with two incomplete passes and their quarterback Nick Foles being sacked by Iowa's defensive-end Broderick Binns. Both teams were unable to produce a scoring drive and found themselves having to punt the ball on fourth down.
Mid-way through the third quarter, Iowa took over possession of the ball at Arizona's own 48 yard line after the Wildcats were called for a personal foul penalty. After an eleven yard pass to Johnson-Koulianos, Stanzi connected with his favorite receiver again- for a 40-yard touchdown pass and closing the gap to 27-14.
Iowa's defense quickly added to the momentum change after a false start penalty on Arizona and linebacker Jeff Tarpinian sacking Nick Foles for a loss of twelve yards. Arizona continued to implode after punting the ball to Iowa and being called for two pass interference penalties in a row, but eventually stopping Iowa from capitalizing late in the third quarter.
Iowa secured all the momentum on both sides of the ball heading into the fourth quarter, scoring a touchdown and not allowing their opponent to find the end-zone. With a small glimpse of hope, Iowa fans kept their fingers crossed that their beloved "cardiac kids" could pull another fourth-quarter comeback from their bag of tricks.
The fourth quarter was littered with penalties for both teams who struggled to secure the win. Iowa eventually capitalized on their opponents mistakes six minutes into the fourth when defensive-back Shaun Prater recovered an Arizona fumble on a punt return at the 18 yard line. Iowa quickly scored when Stanzi found receiver Marvin McNutt in the end-zone which was ruled a touchdown after an official's review- pulling Iowa within six points of the lead.
The Hawkeyes quickly found the end-zone 47 seconds later when deep in their own territory, Foles' pass was intercepted by Iowa defensive end Broderick Binns who ran the ball in for a touchdown. Iowa was unable to take the lead when kicker Daniel Murray missed the extra point.
With a sign of life, the Hawkeyes had to rely on their defense to continue their fourth quarter performance by stopping their opponents from scoring. Arizona received the ball with eight minutes left to play and meticulously made their way down the field chewing up precious time on the clock. With less than four minutes left, Arizona quarterback Nick Foles connected with receiver William Wright for a four-yard touchdown pass to take the lead 34-27 and forcing Iowa to come up with a quick score.
Iowa's offense took the field and made it known that they would be looking to the air game to move down the field and find a quick score by having no running-back behind Stanzi. Arizona had their number and sacked Stanzi 4 times in a row causing Iowa to turn the ball over deep in their own territory and coming up short of the win.
With this loss, Iowa's hopes of a National Championship have been laid to rest unless the very tough teams of Alabama and Ohio State fall to an upset. The Hawkeyes now look forward to next Saturday's game at home against Ball State and putting a win to their credit before starting Big Ten Conference play in two weeks.