TUCSON, Ariz. -- Signature wins require signature performances from signature players, and Arizona's top nominee for the post had just fed Iowa a pick-6 that put the final touches on a wasted 20-point lead. Quarterback Nick Foles was positioned to be one of a handful of goats for the Wildcats after they blew a great opportunity to send a message of the program's arrival on the national scene.
The air had been sucked out of Arizona Stadium. Anxiety had taken over everyone dressed in red.
Everybody other than Foles. Anxiety? He joked with his teammates on the sidelines. And when the Wildcats got the ball back on their 28-yard line with 8:07 left, with the game tied and the momentum hugging the team in white and gold, Foles just had a quick comment for his teammates.
"I love y'all and let's do it," he said. "I don't need to go out there and give them a speech."
Nope. Instead, he gave them a signature performance, leading the Wildcats on a nine-play, 72-yard touchdown drive that provided the winning margin in a 34-27 win over No. 9 Iowa.
He was 5 for 6 for 76 yards on the drive, including a seeing-eye dish to Bug Wright for the TD on third-and-goal from the 4-yard line. The one incompletion came on the previous play, a beautiful throw that Wright dropped.
"He does what special players do," coach Mike Stoops said.
Foles completed 28-of-39 for 303 yards, with two touchdowns and an interception. But it was his cool when everything seemed to be crumbling around him that was most remarkable.
"Nothing rattles him," offensive tackle Adam Grant said. "I've seen guys with fear in their eyes on the field. He was completely calm."
Of course, Foles wasn't the only one who kept his cool on this hot night. Take Grant. His task was to handle perhaps the best defensive end in the nation: Adrian Clayborn. Clayborn finished with three tackles, none coming for a loss.
And what about the Wildcats' defense. It looked like the dominant unit on the field, rolling up six sacks. Iowa got the ball back after Arizona went ahead with 3:50 remaining. That was plenty of time to put together a tying drive. Only the Arizona defense forced an incompletion and the recorded three consecutive sacks (it was actually four, but one was killed by an Iowa false start penalty).
Stoops and the Arizona players didn't shy away from calling the win transformative for the program. Transformative from what? Iowa beat Arizona 27-17 in 2009. And Arizona blew a big game here last year against Oregon. Its fans, in fact, prematurely stormed the field and then watched in horror as Jeremiah Masoli led the Ducks to a dramatic comeback and then overtime win.
And then there's the Holiday Bowl. That 33-0 defeat made the Wildcats an object of national ridicule. And don't think they didn't hear that.
"[This victory] just shows Arizona can play football," Foles said. "There was a lot of talk about Arizona, especially after the bowl game."
You wouldn't think that team that looked so awful in a bowl game just a few months ago could maintain its composure while watching a 27-7 lead disappear amid a flurry of mistakes. But when Foles convened the huddle, everybody shared a wavelength of positive expectation.
"Just keep cool. Know what you've got to do. Do your job," Grant said. "When I saw [David Roberts] catch that ball [for38 yards to the Iowa 34], there was no doubt in my mind we'd win this game. I screamed like a little girl. Clayborn looked at me like I was an idiot. But I was pretty excited."
Foles seemed excited, too. Just not that excited. It was a signature win and a signature performance by a signature player, but there are nine games left in the regular season.
"This isn't the end," Foles said. "It just shows how much we've grown up as a team."