The UA D sealed it with a sack parade.
Photo by Matthew Holst/Press-Citizen

And the potential grows.

It’s too early to call Arizona’s 34-27 win over #9 Iowa a “signature” win or a “program-defining” victory. Nobody’s program gets defined by non-conference wins. And as far as a signature goes, the 2010 college football season is still in the salutation portion of the letter. But if the Wildcats were in fact penning a note to their fans it might start something like this:

Dear Cat Fans,

See? Go ahead and dream big.

It was an incredible night at Arizona Stadium. A full house, a large contingent of opposing fans making a lot of noise, and a game full of big plays that went down to the wire. It was definitely one of those “I was there!” games that will be remembered for years to come.

But nothing has changed.

During fall camp the Wildcats didn’t end practice by shouting, “Iowa!” The team motto wasn’t “3-0 or bust!” There is but one goal this year and this non-conference win – while tremendous for rankings, ticket sales and team confidence – doesn’t even take the first official step toward that goal.

What it does is confirm the team chose the correct goal.

Doesn’t it seem like a long time ago that there was talk of the UA defense being dreadful? The reshuffled secondary still needs work but the front seven did an incredible job against Iowa’s heralded run game. Adam Robinson led the Hawkeyes with 834 yards rushing last year. He had 265 yards in two games to start this year. He produced five whole yards on ten carries against the Cats.

Then you had the sack parade to finish the game.

There is nothing better than hearing the stadium go from really loud to deafening. It usually happens on defense and special teams when the crowd is going nuts and then the home team makes a big play. The blocked punt and interception return were good examples but each successive sack at the end went to a new level. You’re screaming at the top of your lungs and can’t even hear yourself as you high-five the strangers you call friends.

Even though Arizona won with a touchdown don’t underestimate the impact of the blocked extra point after Iowa had tied the score. There’s a huge difference in tension (both on the field and in the stands) when playing in a tie game vs. playing from behind. The stress level goes way up when you’re going to lose if nothing changes.

The UA special teams had a direct hand in 21 net points: the blocked punt, the kickoff return, the two field goals (Uncle Max probably shed a tear on the younger Zendejas’ booming 47-yarder) and the rejected PAT.

What is the top skill needed to return a kickoff for a touchdown? Speed. In the three Big Ten/Pac-10 games on Saturday all three Pac teams had a kick return TD, and ASU came within one yard of having two. None of the Big Ten teams had one. And that, my friends, is where stereotypes come from.

(One last high-five and….turn the page.)

I wish this could be nothing but feel-good stuff from the Iowa game, but that’s not how it works. There’s no bye next week. There’s not even a bonus day like after the Toledo win. As soon as the Iowa game ended, the Cal game week began.

Do not fall into the trap of thinking the Golden Bear team that waved the white flag against Nevada will be the same team that shows up in Tucson. More importantly, we won’t be seeing the exact same Wildcat team that beat Iowa.

It’s almost impossible for there not to be some sort of UA letdown with this game. Iowa was in the top 10; Cal isn’t ranked. Iowa came in undefeated; Cal gave up about three games’ worth of points on national TV Friday night. The Iowa game was on ESPN; the Cal game is on KWBA.

There will not be 12,000 Cal fans in the stadium. There will not be that huge-game buzz in the crowd.

Yet this game is decidedly more important and packed with infinitely more pressure. The Iowa game was free. This one is not. If the goal is to win the conference a 7-2 Pac-10 record gives you a chance via tiebreakers, and 8-1 wins it. You can’t afford to coast at home even though every bit of human nature is tempting you to take your foot off the gas.

Jake Locker, Andrew Luck, Matt Barkley and Nick Foles went on the preseason East Coast media tour. Which returning Pac-10 quarterback threw for the most yards last year?

Cal’s Kevin Riley.

Yes, Riley has a track record of self-destructing, but you have to provide the matches. Contain Shane Vareen and make the Bears beat you through the air.

You remember Vareen. 159 yards against the Cats last year. 198 yards and three TDs against Nevada. Start the Cal game like the 3rd quarter of the Iowa game and you’ll be watching the back of Vareen’s jersey flying down the field.

There’s also the simple fact that Cal beat Arizona last year. The Bears won’t be intimidated in the least. They’ll be ready to repeat last year’s victory even if they have to convince somebody to break the basic rules of football.

The Wildcats’ record is 0-0 once again.