IOWA CITY — Through Iowa's first five games, the defense held opponents’ snap counts down. You didn’t see big, long drives and the defensive line could afford to play the majority of game.
So, defensive ends A.J. Epenesa and Chauncey Golston could play all 54 snaps against Iowa State on Sept. 14 and still be fresh for the next week. This changed with Penn State, which held the ball for 77 snaps.
In the first five games, Iowa (7-3, 4-3 Big Ten) controlled time of possession and snaps were 265 total and 53 per game. In the last five, snaps have climbed to 352 and 70.4.
Iowa is asking a lot out of Epenesa and Golston. They’re still delivering.
Epenesa got a pressure and a near sack on his 64th snap in the No. 20 Hawkeyes’ 23-19 victory over No. 8 Minnesota last Saturday at Kinnick Stadium. On snap No. 65, Epenesa collected his seventh sack this season and Iowa’s sixth of the game vs. the Gophers, essentially sealing Iowa’s best win for 2019.
“Every team is going to have something for him,” senior linebacker Kristian Welch said. “They’re going to have multiple protections and they’re going to know where he’s at and they’re going to do their best, if they can, to keep him away from the quarterback.
“He’s one of those relentless guys you see on the tape.”
Epenesa finished with 2.5 sacks, four tackles and a forced fumble in the Hawkeyes’ victory. He also had five QB hurries and a QB hit.
The 6-6, 280-pound junior from Edwardsville, Ill., was named Big Ten defensive player of the week for the third time in his career (Iowa State and Illinois in 2018).
The six sacks Iowa recorded were the most in a game since 6.0 against Northwestern in 2013.
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“I was telling the D-line before we went out on the field (for the last drive), it’s on us,” Epenesa said. “It’s on the defense and this is what we want. We want it on our shoulders and we’re confident in our ability.”
The 19 points were a season-low for the Gophers.
Epenesa has 26 tackles in 10 games (16 solo, 10 assists). He leads the Hawkeyes with seven sacks, while ranking second in tackles for loss (7.0). He shares the team lead with two forced fumbles.
Two games left. No one is counting snaps now.
— Senior cornerback Michael Ojemudia suffered an undisclosed injury at Wisconsin and missed last week’s game. Sophomore Riley Moss stepped in and came up with an interception that sealed the game for the Hawkeyes.
Ojemudia wasn’t listed on the depth chart the UI released Monday, so he’s doubtful for this week. Moss, who now has two picks this year, played a clean game against an offense that threw 39 times and couldn’t run the ball.
— Obviously, one of the bigger stories coming out of the weekend was true freshman running back Tyler Goodson’s start. He finished with a career-high 94 yards on 13 carries, including a 10-yard TD.
Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz covered all of his bases in the postgame on this topic. He sent the message to juniors Mekhi Sargent and Toren Young (who didn’t get a single carry for the first time since the Pinstripe Bowl in 2017) that they’re still in this. Ferentz said he thought the game plan vs. Minnesota needed what Goodson has.
For maybe the first time this season, Iowa ran successful outside zone runs that moved the sticks. That stood out.
“I just said on the radio, maybe as impressive as anything, blitz pickup off a play-action in the second half,” Ferentz said. “For a freshman to make that protection, then execute it, was really impressive.
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“It’s even more impressive because he didn’t execute it during the week, the end of the week last week. I think that kind of shows you the kind of young guy he is. He learned from a mistake, carried it out there to the game field.”
Goodson is listed as the starter for the Illinois (6-4, 4-3) game Saturday at 11:01 a.m. (BTN).
— There could be a wave of secondary players who are able to play now.
Sophomore cornerback Julius Brents is on the depth chart this week. He’s missed most of the season with an undisclosed injury. He’s played in just one game, so if he sees action in the next two and the bowl game, he’ll still be able to redshirt for 2019. Sophomore safety Kaevon Merriweather is in the same boat except he’s played two games.
Brents and Merriweather are listed on this week’s two deeps.
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