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IOWA CITY — Believe it or not, Anthony Nelson’s first day on the job could’ve been a little more productive. There was that one sack he should’ve had, but didn’t get.
"He got kind of robbed on that one on the delay of game penalty," sophomore defensive end Matt Nelson said. "That would’ve made it a little bit better."
Now, it’s not like anyone Hawkeyes is tapping their foot saying ‘C’mon, Anthony Nelson, what else do you have?” No, that’s not the case at all.
The 6-7, 252-pound redshirt freshman from Waukee was named Big Ten freshman of the week after his performance in the No. 15 Hawkeyes’ 45-21 victory over Miami (Ohio) last Saturday.
Nelson recorded 2.5 sacks and forced Miami fumbles on two of those sacks, with both setting up Iowa touchdowns. Nelson was credited with two solo tackles, four assists and one pass breakup. It would’ve been 3.5 sacks if it weren’t for the delay of game penalty.
“I didn’t really envision a day like this,” said Nelson, who follows up teammate and fellow defensive end Parker Hesse’s B1G freshman of the week performance in Iowa’s 2015 season finale at Nebraska. “I just tried to focus more on doing my job and being disciplined out there and this is a result of that.”
Nelson’s first sack/fumble was a big deal. The Hawkeyes bolted to a 14-0 lead, but the RedHawks hit a 67-yard pass on the first play of the next drive. On first-and-goal from the 8, Nelson slashed past Miami left tackle Jordan Rigg, blindsided quarterback Billy Bahl and jarred the ball loose. Matt Nelson recovered. Iowa made it 21-0 two plays later.
“You like to think a guy’s going to improve as he gets older and keeps going, but what he did today is really what he does in practice,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “He’s not near at the physical maturity that he will be before he graduates, but he’s a good football player and I thought he made a real nice account of himself today.”
Iowa coaches liked Anthony Nelson’s performance so much that he’s listed as a co-starter at both defensive end spots. Wait, it’s not that. Hesse left the game with an apparent hamstring injury after returning a fumble 28 yards. The sophomore from Waukon went to the sidelines and had ice wrapped around the back of his left leg. He saw just nine plays and didn’t return. Pro Football Focus credited Hesse with one of Iowa’s five QB hurries.
Iowa is light on bodies at defensive end. Anthony and Matt Nelson participated in a combined 95 plays. Sophomore walk-on Sam Brincks saw the most significant action of his career with 30 snaps and a fumble recovery.
“Hopefully good,” Ferentz said when asked about Hesse’s status for this week’s game against Iowa State (0-1). He had a strain out there, that’s why we took him out of the game. Hopefully, it’s nothing that’s going to last too long.”
Sophomore wide receiver Jay Scheel missed Miami. He had been nursing a sore hamstring late in fall camp, but that wasn’t confirmed as the reason he was out last week.
“He’s got some health issues,” Ferentz said. “We thought he might have a chance to go today and at the end of the week we just made the decision not to play him. There were two other guys (who were unnamed) in that boat who did play and we were watching them a little bit to make sure things were OK. Fortunately, they came out fine. Hopefully, Jay will be ready here next Monday, but it’s just kind of a touch-and-go thing.”
This opened the door for sophomore Jerminic Smith to make the start. The Garland, Texas, native made the most of the opportunity. He made an acrobatic grab for a 38-yard gain on a flea flicker, went into traffic and dug out a 12-yard TD pass on a fourth down and finished with three catches for 51 yards. Smith caught three of his four targets with one drop, which he bounced back from quickly.
“I think one of the better things I saw today was one ball he couldn’t come up with, but then he came back and made a really tough catch (the 12-yard TD) and I complemented him on that after the game here,” Ferentz said. “To me, that’s a really positive sign.”
One player Iowa certainly will have for Iowa State is linebacker Josey Jewell. Jewell was hit with a targeting penalty and ejected in the first quarter of last week’s game. That disqualified him for the second half. He will be eligible for the entire game Saturday night, per NCAA rules.
When a player is ejected in the second half, he has to sit out the first half of the next game.
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