3. Iowa (2-0, No. 9) vs. Arizona (2-0, No. 24)
Sept. 18, 2010
The Wildcats came into 2010 having played in two straight bowl games, and though they had been entirely dismantled by Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl at the end of 2009, it was widely believed that Mike Stoops had perhaps his best lineup returning, and a marquee showdown with top-10 Iowa was an early test to prove it.
It was a game that was hyped in Tucson as one that could catapult Arizona football toward an historic season, after the Cats finished 2009 a second-place team in the Pac-10. Nick Foles returned as the starter at quarterback, with a deadly arsenal of talented receivers, highlighted by Juron Criner. Defensively, the UA was experienced and tough, led by the best defensive end duo in the conference, seniors Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore.
After the Cats coasted to two early victories over Toledo and the Citadel, the Old Pueblo was full of hype, and new athletic director Greg Byrne fueled the excitement by declaring a “red out” of Arizona Stadium. Tickets sold out early that week, though an impressive throng of Iowa supporters contributed to the boost in tickets sales. In all, there were probably 5,000 black-and-yellow-clad fans in the stadium that night, and it added to the magnitude both programs felt the game possessed.
It was a big-time meeting; Pac-10 vs. Big Ten in prime time, and the battle that unfolded would not disappoint. In fact, that warm September night may have witnessed more big plays than any other game in UA football history.
The Wildcats shut down the Hawkeyes on the game’s first three plays, forcing an Iowa punt from deep in their own territory. Hawkeye punter Ryan Donahue caught the ball at the eight-yard line, but it never left his foot. Wildcat wide receiver David Roberts ran untouched through the Iowa line, blocking the punt attempt, which Arizona quickly recovered.
Three plays later, Foles found roommate David Douglas for a score, and the game was off to a perfect start for Arizona. It only got better as the first half wore on.
Iowa rebounded quickly, as quarterback Ricky Stanzi drove the Hawkeyes 59 yards on five plays to the Arizona 21. But his next pass was high and behind his target, and the tipped throw fell straight into the hands of UA cornerback Trevin Wade, who sprinted down the right sideline for an 85-yard touchdown and a 14-0 Wildcat lead. Arizona was out of the gate with two huge plays, setting the tone for the remainder of the evening.
The Hawkeyes remained resilient though, and started the second quarter with a nine-play, 93-yard drive to narrow the gap to 14-7. It appeared Arizona had been knocked on its heels a little, but the perfect remedy came with – what else? – another huge play, this time on the ensuing kickoff.
Senior wideout and kick returner Travis Cobb caught the kick on the goal line and sped straight through all 11 Iowa defenders on his way to paydirt, quickly reestablishing Arizona’s 14-point advantage. The Wildcat defense stepped up for the remainder of the half, and Alex Zendejas added a pair of field goals, sending the Cats into the locker room with a 27-7 lead.
However, the game was far from over.
An otherwise uneventful third quarter saw just one score – a 37-yard toss from Stanzi to Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, to make it 27-14. Things got even tighter in the fourth quarter, when Bug Wright fumbled an Iowa punt off his facemask, giving the Hawkeyes the ball on the Arizona 18. Stanzi hit Marvin McNutt for a score on the next play to cut the lead to six with eight minutes still to go.
What happened next was almost unbelievable.
The greatest truth about Arizona Football during Foles’ career was that the Wildcats were at their best on offense, with the ball in No. 8’s trusted hands. So when he dropped back on the second play of Arizona’s ensuing drive, players, coaches, and fans breathed easy, knowing their star would be able to protect the lead. But Iowa defensive end Broderick Binns read the play from the get-go, leaping to grab the Foles throw and scampering 20 yards to tie the game. The world turned upside down in an instant, and the Wildcats were a PAT away from trailing in a game they looked assured to win just a handful of minutes earlier.
Yet in another strange twist of fate, Arizona blocked the extra point, securing an iota of confidence by not falling behind after all. Foles and Wright then both took advantage of their chances at redemption, connecting four minutes later at the conclusion of a 72-yard drive, putting the Cats back up by seven.
Iowa’s last chance came to a crushing end, as Stanzi was sacked on three consecutive plays, once by Elmore and twice by Justin Washington. Arizona Stadium has seldom rocked like it did that night, and the jubilation was genuine, as the Cats looked poised for one of their best seasons in school history. Eventually, things didn’t pan out, as Arizona dropped its final five games, spoiling a 7-1 start and finishing 7-6, but the spectacular performances and electrifying plays of that evening won’t soon be forgotten.