Wildcats face long road to Iowa City
Every college football team in the country plays road games during the course of the season, but few teams travel nearly 1,700 miles for a big-time non-conference game.
That's exactly what Arizona (2-0) will do this weekend when it kicks off against the University of Iowa (2-0) on Saturday afternoon at Kinnick Stadium in the Wildcats' final game outside of conference play.
A handful of players were around for the 2006 road trip to Baton Rouge, La., but few saw any game action during the 45-3 loss to then-No. 8 LSU. And while Pacific 10 Conference games at Oregon's Autzen Stadium and USC's Coliseum are no walk in the park, this weekend's game in Iowa City will pose some unique challenges.
Former Iowa head coach Hayden Fry was a psychology major and thought the color pink made people more relaxed and passive. To try and gain an edge, he had the visitors' locker room painted pink with the hope of distracting the other team. But the Wildcats don't anticipate that being a problem.
""It's just a color,"" sophomore quarterback Matt Scott said with a laugh. ""It won't really affect me any.""
Aside from mind games, the Wildcats will have a taller task to tackle once play begins, as 70,585 fans — the vast majority decked out in black and gold — will be on their feet and screaming their heads off. The passion of the crowd and the physical reputation of the Iowa program should provide a stern test for an Arizona team trying to start the season 3-0 for the first time with Mike Stoops as head coach.
To try and help his squad cope with the expected noise, Stoops blasted crowd noise and the Iowa fight song on the speakers during Wednesday night's practice.
""That's their alma mater so they're going to pump it up and make it like an NFL team or an NFL atmosphere,"" said senior safety Cam Nelson, ""but we're still going to go out there and play as good as we can.""
The Wildcats will need to approach Saturday's game with that level of focus as they walk into a hostile atmosphere and hope to return to Tucson with a win. And although Iowa wasn't impressive in a 17-16 win against FCS Northern Iowa on Sept. 5, the Hawkeyes' 35-3 demolition of rival Iowa State the following week showed that Iowa likely knocked off all of its rust in the first two games of the year.
""I think I just need to be prepared just like any other (game). It's not that much different,"" said Scott, who will start as quarterback this weekend. ""You kind of have to block out the fans when you get there and worry about what's on the field and what you have to do to execute.""
Another part of the Wildcats' travel plans that is working against them is the change in time zones. Since Arizona will still be on Pacific Time while Iowa City is on Central Time, Arizona players have to deal with a two-hour time change and hope their bodies can adjust quickly enough to avoid it affecting their game. With a 2:30 p.m. kickoff (CMT), the Wildcats' bodies could still be adjusting to playing in the daytime.
""It may take us a minute to get adjusted to it,"" Nelson said, ""but I think we should go out there and play pretty well.""
So does Arizona offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes. He said the squad had practiced ""at every conceivable time, and we've probably had some of our best practices early"" in the day. In fact, the earlier start to the game might benefit the Wildcats, Dykes said.
""I don't know if it's really going to be that big a deal. I think if there was an 11 o'clock start central time then it might be a little bit more of an issue,"" Dykes said. ""I think our guys are going to enjoy not having to wait until midnight to play a game.""
Pink locker rooms, 70,000-plus screaming fans, a physical team, mid-afternoon kickoff: all potential stumbling blocks for the Wildcats. But Stoops said he was pleased with the team's preparation throughout the week. And with an admittedly uninspired performance in a 34-17 win against NAU last week, the Wildcats know they need to focus and play with emotion in order to win in unfriendly territory.
""They have a big crowd up there and it's a good Big Ten team, but we're going to come out ready,"" said UA senior cornerback Devin Ross. ""We're going to come out fired up because it's our first away game, and we're really excited and we'll play with our hair on fire.""