Iowa has found the perfect offensive balance in its first two wins, while Arizona’s Nick Foles has helped his resurgent program excel through the air.
Moving the ball might get a lot more difficult this week.
Each team’s defense has thrived in the early going, a pattern they’ll hope to continue when the ninth-ranked Hawkeyes visit No. 24 Arizona on Saturday night in the week’s lone game between Top 25 opponents.
Iowa (2-0) rode the nation’s 11th-ranked defense to an 11-win season in 2009 that it capped with an Orange Bowl victory, swarming Georgia Tech’s previously unstoppable triple option.
Eight defensive starters, including Orange Bowl MVP Adrian Clayborn, returned, and the Hawkeyes have held their first two opponents to 216.0 yards per game and 14 total points.
But it’s been Iowa’s offense that’s surprised. Ninety-second in the nation a year ago with 330.8 ypg, the Hawkeyes have averaged 457.0 yards in two blowout victories.
“The offensive dream is to score every possession, regardless of how it happens,” said quarterback Ricky Stanzi, who’s thrown three TDs without an interception. “We just want to execute every play that is called.”
Iowa gained 275 yards on the ground - 156 from Adam Robinson - in last Saturday’s 35-7 win over rival Iowa State. The Hawkeyes have averaged 227.0 rushing yards and 230.0 passing through two weeks.
“They’re a tremendous team in virtually every facet you look at,” Arizona coach Mike Stoops said of Iowa, where he was an All-American safety in 1984. “They have so many (strengths), but their offensive and defensive lines are a great place to start, and that gives you a chance to do a lot of different things on both sides of the ball.”
Arizona (2-0) has the offense to challenge Clayborn and the Hawkeyes, though. The Wildcats have averaged 503.5 total yards and are 10th in the nation in passing (344.0 ypg), with Foles completing 83.1 percent of his attempts.
Foles, who permanently took over the starting job from Matt Scott midway through last season’s 27-17 loss in Iowa City, was already looking ahead after last Saturday’s 52-6 rout of The Citadel.
“I’ve definitely started thinking about that right now,” said Foles, who was 6 for 11 for 55 yards and a TD against the Hawkeyes in 2009. “We’ve got to start thinking about it right now. It’s a big showdown in Tucson.”
While Iowa’s defense gets more attention, Arizona’s was 21st in the nation during the 2009 season (315.8 ypg) before being gashed by Nebraska in a 33-0 Holiday Bowl loss.
The Wildcats seem to have taken that performance personally. They haven’t allowed a touchdown through two weeks, the first time they’ve kept teams out of the end zone in back-to-back games since 2000.
“I’m really pleased with that,” Stoops said. “Obviously we’re going to be playing a lot different teams in the next couple of weeks, so our stress level is going to get a lot higher. But we’re just proud of the way our kids have played and handled it up to this point.”
Any chance the Wildcats have of beating their first top 10 opponent since a 34-24 win over then-No. 2 Oregon in 2007 likely rest on their ability to stop the run. Arizona is 15-1 since 2008 when holding opponents under 120 rushing yards, and 3-9 otherwise.
Robinson had 18 carries for 101 yards and two scores against the Wildcats last season, but this time there’s a second threat lurking in the Hawkeyes’ backfield. Sophomore Jewel Hampton, who missed all of 2009 with a torn ACL and the opener after being suspended for public intoxication, had 20 carries for 84 yards and a touchdown against Iowa State.
Arizona tailback Nic Grigsby has five touchdowns through two weeks, but holes against Iowa’s stout defensive front should be easier to come by if Juron Criner can play. The junior receiver, who tied for the Pac-10 lead with nine TD receptions last season, left the victory over The Citadel with a shoulder stinger but is expected to start Saturday.
The Wildcats won the series’ last meeting in Tucson, 35-11, in 1998.