Iowa football notebook: defensive line, injury update, and preparing for the 3-4

The defensive line acts as mentors, and Ivory-Kelly Martin is back, while the offense prepares for Wisconsin’s 3-4 defense.

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Iowa football notebook: defensive line, injury update, and preparing for the 3-4

Iowa running back Ivory Kelly-Martin runs with the ball during the Iowa/Northern Iowa football game at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018. The Hawkeyes defeated the Huskies, 33-7.

Iowa running back Ivory Kelly-Martin runs with the ball during the Iowa/Northern Iowa football game at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018. The Hawkeyes defeated the Huskies, 33-7.

Lily Smith

Iowa running back Ivory Kelly-Martin runs with the ball during the Iowa/Northern Iowa football game at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018. The Hawkeyes defeated the Huskies, 33-7.

Lily Smith

Lily Smith

Iowa running back Ivory Kelly-Martin runs with the ball during the Iowa/Northern Iowa football game at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018. The Hawkeyes defeated the Huskies, 33-7.

Pete Ruden, Sports Editor

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Iowa’s defensive line has been the biggest strength of a stellar Hawkeye defense through three weeks.

The group ranks second in the Big Ten and third in the country with 12 sacks, setting a tone on the defensive side of the ball and allowing the previously inexperienced players behind it to ease into things.

Sophomore defensive end A.J. Epenesa has been among the best despite not being listed as a starter.

The Glen Carbon, Illinois, native has racked up 12 tackles, 4 sacks, 4 tackles for loss, 2 forced fumbles, and a pass defended this season. He has been such a menace to opposing quarterbacks that Iowa’s Sept. 15 win over Northern Iowa was his first game of the season in which he didn’t force a fumble.

Luckily for Epenesa, he has a solid group of players leading him. Anthony Nelson, Parker Hesse, Matt Nelson, Sam Brincks, Chauncey Golston, Cedrick Lattimore, and Brady Reiff are some who make up the Hawkeyes’ deepest position group.

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Arriving in Iowa City as a 5-star recruit, having proven players with experience in front of him has been a critical part in helping Epenesa — and the other young defensive linemen — develop.

“I think we had some good guys to look up to, and we’re trying to pass it down,” Brincks said. “I think looking after the younger guys and developing relationships with the younger guys is really important, because I think if it helps make them a little better of a player, that’s a huge difference.”

Kelly-Martin’s Return

Toren Young and Mekhi Sargent have picked up the slack at running back in Ivory Kelly-Martin’s absence, but they won’t have to this week.

After missing the previous two games, Kelly-Martin is expected to play against Wisconsin on Saturday.

“We’re getting another guy in there with some explosive ability and playmaking, so getting him back helps the backfield a lot,” Young said.

Young ran for 150 yards and a touchdown on 35 carries over the past two games, and Sargent carried the ball 26 times for 97 yards and 3 touchdowns. He also had a 48-yard reception in the win over Northern Iowa.

Wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette and offensive lineman Cole Banwart are expected to play against the Badgers as well.

Preparing for the 3-4

Iowa and Wisconsin have played 91 times before this year’s battle.

Each team knows what to expect from the other. Both programs have histories and don’t really deviate from their identities.

Still, Wisconsin’s 3-4 defense adds another wrinkle the Hawkeyes haven’t had to face yet this season.

With two linebackers flanking the line, tight ends and tackles will be blocking linebackers as opposed to defensive ends.

It’s something the Hawkeyes must overcome to win the Heartland Trophy for the first time since 2015. Iowa, though, has been through this before.

“It’s the same fundamentals, it’s the same scheme, we’re going to block the same people,” tight end T.J. Hockenson said. “We’re just harping on the same.

“It’s Wisconsin. They know what we’re going to do, and we know what they’re going to do. It’s a historic team. They’ve played this 3-4 for a long time now, and we have a lot of tape on that. We’ve done the same stuff for a while now, and they have a lot of tape on it … We’re just trying to hold ourselves to a championship level.”

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