Here comes the week so many University of Iowa football fans have awaited with at least a shred of dread.
To hear some in these parts tell it, this is as challenging as a trip to one of the nation’s traditional superpowers. It’s a visit to the region that has brought little but heartaches and headaches to the Hawkeyes’ program.
Iowa hasn’t won a game in its last six trips west of the Rockies, dating to 1987. That includes losses in California, Oregon, Hawaii, and two in the state to which the Hawkeyes head this week.
The average margin of Iowa’s losses in its last three games at Pac-10 schools was 28 points.
But that’s just a statistic. Most of the fans’ emotional scar tissue is the result of Iowa’s last venture westward, to Arizona State in 2004. It began a mini-bowl trip for a lot of Hawkeye followers. It turned into a lost weekend that burns in Iowa minds six years later.
Hawkeyes Coach Kirk Ferentz has referenced it often over the years because his guys simply didn’t show up. Coaches can’t let go of games like that.
Iowa, ranked 16th, did nothing right. Unranked ASU did nothing wrong. The Sun Devils plastered their guests in Tempe, 44-7.
That same Hawkeyes squad was good enough to win its last eight games including the Capital One Bowl, and shared the Big Ten title.
Worried, worried, worried about this Arizona game, I’ve heard from fans all summer. The climate. The time-change. The time of game, which is 9:36 p.m., Iowa time.
Oh, and the opponent isn’t bad, either.
Arizona began the year by going to Toledo and throttling the Rockets, 41-2. It then hosted FCS team The Citadel, and crushed the Cadets, 52-6.
Now it moves up in class, as they say in horse racing. And so does Iowa.
The Hawkeyes outplayed the Wildcats in Iowa City last year, 27-17. Iowa had the ball for almost 38 minutes, and allowed just 253 yards. In a season of white-knucklers, that win wasn’t among them.
After that game, UA Coach Mike Stoops switched starting quarterbacks and went with Michigan State transfer Nick Foles. Good move.
Foles completed 63 percent of his passes and threw for 19 touchdowns. He directed road wins over Oregon State and USC, and a home victory over Stanford. Good teams, one and all.
This season, Foles has hit on 49 of 59 passes for 574 yards. Arizona has a new quarterbacks coach in Frank Scelfo, who trained three QBs at Tulane who became NFL draft picks.
Scelfo told the Arizona Daily Star’s Greg Hansen what he saw in Foles when Scelfo got to Tucson last winter.
“He was just kinda raw. He looked like a big old pony, rarely in balance, arms and legs everywhere.”
Scelfo worked with Foles to change his footwork, mechanics and timing. If you saw the Arizona-Toledo game on ESPN, you saw a quarterback who uses precious little time between taking a snap and firing a pass.
Now Foles meets a big-time defense, one of the two best he’s faced.
The other was Nebraska’s in last year’s Holiday Bowl. The Cornhuskers either had no fear of playing out West, or had Ndamukong Suh and other talents on defense.
It was mostly that second part. Nebraska won, 33-0.
But Iowa-Arizona is in the Wildcats’ lair. Their time zone, their late starting time, their weather, their everything.
Sports Illustrated college football writer Stewart Mandel said Sunday that it’s the game he’s most looking forward to this week.
Mandel has no dread about it. He wasn’t in Tempe six years ago. Then again, neither were the 2010 Hawkeyes.
The following video is of Arizona Coach Mike Stoops following his team’s win over Citadel on Saturday night.