By Craig Sanders
Arizona Daily Wildcat September 6, 1996
Arizona's game against Texas-El Paso was supposed to teach head coach Dick Tomey what kind of team he had this season.
Consider that kindergarten. This week, the Wildcats make the jump to higher education.
When Arizona (1-0 overall, 0-0 in the Pacific 10 Conference) heads to Iowa City, Iowa, for its game against the 22nd-ranked Hawkeyes (0-0 overall, 0-0 in the Big Ten Conference) Saturday, school will finally be in session.
"Their team is talented and doesn't appear to have many weaknesses," Tomey said. "For us, we have a lot of guys who are still learning, who are still trying to gain experience. We are still finding out about ourselves. This should be a good week for us."
The Wildcats face the Hawkeyes tomorrow morning at 9:35 at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City. The game will be televised by ESPN and broadcast by KNST radio (AM 790).
For the Wildcats, it is a chance to prove themselves.
After a tune-up against undermanned UTEP, Arizona is looking to test a new offensive scheme and a young defense against a nationally ranked opponent.
Iowa is perfect for that. It is a big-name school with big-name players and is expected to challenge for the Big Ten title.
The Hawkeyes have legendary coach Hayden Fry, a stingy defense led by junior defensive back Plez Atkins and a Heisman Trophy hopeful in running back Sedrick Shaw. They finished last season with an 8-4 record and thrashed Arizona Pac-10 foe Washington 38-18 in the Sun Bowl. They not only come into the game packed with talent, but may bring a crowd of more than 70,000 as well.
"They have a great atmosphere and they don't appear to me to have any problems because they have veterans at all positions, key positions," Tomey said. "They have an outstanding defense. I'm excited about this chance."
That chance is something the Wildcats will try to make the most of. They failed to impress the pollsters with their win against UTEP, and new offensive coordinator Homer Smith's game plan will likely have to be light years better if they hope to do so against Iowa.
"We want to gain back some of the respect we lost after that first game," Tomey said.
Arizona did have some success. In the game, the Wildcats ran for 195 yards, but failed to be effective in the passing game (109 yards). This was against an opponent that allowed an average of 40.5 points per game last season. Arizona, however, may not have displayed its whole offensive scheme, and that has Fry worried.
"We're playing a ball club that didn't have to do a whole lot offensively to win their first game, but still looked extremely good in their win against Texas-El Paso," Fry said.
The Wildcat offense should be a little more stable this week in both the play calling and personnel. Quarterback Brady Batten will get almost all of the snaps after he and Keith Smith split time behind the center in the first game. Arizona is also not likely to use the parade of wide receivers and running backs it used in the first game.
That means it will come down to veterans. Senior tailback Gary Taylor and junior tailback Kevin Schmidtke will have a big load to carry if the Wildcats hope to be successful. Iowa's rushing defense ranked 26th in the nation last season, allowing only 71 yards rushing in the final three games. If the Wildcats can't get a running game going, it may be a long morning for them. A lot of that will have to do with how the offensive line performs.
"Our offensive line needs to make plays, but then again so does everyone," Tomey said. "But we really need to settle down on the line."
The Wildcats' own defense will also be tested. They did a good job holding UTEP, allowing 50 yards, but that was against a second-string tailback and an inferior offensive line. Iowa's Shaw is coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. He has run for 3,040 yards in his three seasons with Iowa, including 1,477 last season.
The Wildcats will need senior defensive lineman Joe Salave'a to step up. Salave'a only had one tackle in the UTEP game, but anchors a solid lineup. Saturday's game should show if the Desert Swarm tradition lives on, or if UA will be in for a long season.
The Hawkeyes are also returning junior quarterback Matt Sherman, who had a solid sophomore season and is 10-4 as Iowa's quarterback. Sherman has shown he has the ability for big games with his 334 yards passing against Ohio State last season. He threw for 2,546 yards a year ago.
One advantage for Arizona is that it has already played a game. Tomey downplays the advantage, saying Iowa has had all summer to prepare for his team. But Fry disagrees.
"I think all coaches would rather have a game under their belt," Fry said. "Everyone always says the most improvement comes between the first and second games. We have a great challenge ahead facing Arizona in the first game."