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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


The showdown in Iowa

Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Wildcat

The Wildcats downed the Lumberjacks 34-17 Saturday night at Arizona Stadium.
Mike Christy
Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Wildcat The Wildcats downed the Lumberjacks 34-17 Saturday night at Arizona Stadium.

Early season games typically serve as a litmus test for college football teams. The first few games are akin to warm-ups — see Arizona’s game against NAU last weekend — so teams aren’t rusty for the tougher portions of the schedule. When the Arizona football team takes on Iowa Saturday afternoon in Iowa City, Iowa will officially mark the end of the Wildcats’ easier portion of the season.

Iowa (2-0) started the 2009 season as the No. 22 team in The Associated Press top-25 poll, but a lackluster 17-16 home win against Northern Iowa — formerly a Division I-AA team — dropped the Hawkeyes out of the national rankings. Last week’s 35-3 beat down against Iowa State — on the road — should be the type of effort the Wildcats will see at 2:35 p.m. central time (12:35 p.m. Arizona time) on Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.

“”We know what we’ve got to do, and our kids are excited about the opportunity,”” said UA head coach Mike Stoops. “”We know it’s a big challenge, but this team has been built for this and I feel good about their preparation throughout the week.””

But the Wildcats were dealt a blow Wednesday afternoon when Stoops announced that tight end Rob Gronkowski wouldn’t play against Iowa as he continues to nurse a nagging back injury. In a game that UA coaches expect to be a physical and closely contested affair, the loss of a big-play threat like Gronkowski could hamper Arizona’s offense. Luckily for Arizona, however, redshirt junior A.J. Simmons has been a pleasant surprise during Gronkowski’s time away from the practice field — a hiatus that started in early August.

“”A.J. has done a great job for us. He got a million reps in camp,”” said UA offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes. “”We’ve worked him into the ground, but I think that’s been beneficial for him. He’s gotten better and improved.””

Simmons likely won’t be the focal point of Arizona’s offensive attack. That burden will fall on the Wildcat’s running game, led by junior Nic Grigsby. Grigsby is currently second in the nation in rushing yards per game (162.5 yards per game) according to The play from the Wildcats’ tailback has given sophomore quarterback Matt Scott some relief during his first two collegiate starts, and another heavy dose of Grigsby could be the key to helping Arizona get three wins before the calendar flips to October for the first time since the 2002 season.

“”I feel pretty comfortable. (Grigsby) and Keola (Antolin) both run the ball very well and it takes a lot of stress off of me,”” Scott said. “”We’re going have to pick up the pass game a little bit and we’ll do that on Saturday.””

Arizona will also need to pick up the intensity on defense. The group admittedly lacked focus during the team’s 34-17 win against NAU last weekend at Arizona Stadium, but anything less than the Wildcats’ best effort likely won’t be good enough to earn a road win against a gritty Hawkeye team.

“”They’ve got some big hogmollies up front so I think they’re going to try and overpower us,”” said senior safety Cam Nelson. “”I think we’ve just got to try and use our speed … They have some good athletes, but I think overall we have more team speed. I think that’s what’s going to get us through the game.””

And while the Big Ten Conference might have a reputation for being slow and not having many quality players, Arizona players and coaches said that couldn’t be further from the truth.

If the Wildcats want to be a program that regularly competes for a berth in bowl games, the best way to prove they’re ready to take that step is by winning Saturday in Iowa City.

And they know it.

“”Pac-10 versus the Big Ten, you know it’s going to be a good game. We’ve got to show people that we can do a lot more than what we did last year,”” Scott said. “”We need to get above that, and beating (Iowa) would be a great accomplishment for this team.””

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