Takeaways from Kids’ Day at Kinnick

The Hawkeye defense and special teams stepped up in Saturday’s open practice at Kinnick.

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Takeaways from Kids’ Day at Kinnick

Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley talks to fans at Kids' Day at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, August 10, 2019.

Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley talks to fans at Kids' Day at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, August 10, 2019.

Pete Mills

Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley talks to fans at Kids' Day at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, August 10, 2019.

Pete Mills

Pete Mills

Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley talks to fans at Kids' Day at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, August 10, 2019.

Pete Mills, Assistant Sports Editor

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Fans got their first peeks of Hawkeye football on Saturday, as the team scrimmaged in front of families at 2019’s Kids’ Day at Kinnick Stadium.

Varying units of players went up against each other for the first time in public this fall. There are still many question marks about the team and surrounding the season, but some of them began to be answered on Saturday. But priorities were elsewhere; in an emotional moment ahead of the event, the 2019 Kid Captains took the field out of the tunnel with players.

Otherwise, there was serious business at the event, with Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta and head coach Kirk Ferentz responding to unanswered questions surrounding the season.

Barta comments on unannounced game start times

Barta spoke to the media ahead of the event, responding to some speculation surrounding the schedule. Several of Iowa’s games this fall have not had their start times announced. More specifically, its home games that still have unscheduled start times are Middle Tennessee, Penn State, Minnesota, and Illinois.

Of these matchups, the game against Penn State is clearly drawing the most interest. Barta spoke on the concerted effort Iowa is making to make it a primetime game.

“Everybody’s trying to figure out what the best time slot is,” Barta said. “At the end of the day, as Kirk always says, just tell me where and when and I’ll be there. I don’t think I have to pitch [that game].”

The Penn State game falls in the middle of a tough stretch for Iowa. The week ahead of that matchup in Kinnick Stadium, Iowa takes on Michigan in Ann Arbor. If Iowa can have a strong stretch at the beginning of the season and perform well against the Wolverines, the Penn State matchup at home has potential to be one of national interest.

Punting and field-goal kicking strengthening

Iowa’s kickers and punters had their highs and lows in 2018, but both positions looked to be particularly strong during the Kids’ Day scrimmages.

Two kickers – Keith Duncan and Caleb Shudak – took all of the reps during special teams practice plays. Both kickers were perfect on the day, a fact that Ferentz was pleased about.

“That might have been the most impressive thing today,” he said. “I don’t think they missed one, no matter what we did and where we did it from. That’s probably indicative of the way they’ve been practicing so far. They had their ups and downs in the spring, but they’ve been really focused, concentrating. It’ll be interesting to see how it goes.”

The punting units also looked promising. Senior veteran Colten Rastetter returns and looked strong during scrimmaging. But the program also added Michael Sleep-Dalton – a freshman punter from Geelong, Australia. He showed fans a big leg and decent control, pinning the opposing squad within the 15 yard-line a few times.

Defense living up to hype

Perhaps the most anticipated unit of 2019’s squad, the defense, appeared to be living up to expectations in the early season.

The entire starting defensive line graduated a year ago, but A.J. Epenesa did not appear concerned in Saturday’s scrimmages. The junior – who is one of the most highly-rated defensive players in college football – unofficially recorded 3 no-contact sacks and nearly grabbed an interception in the action.

“He rushes that passer well, and there’s still a lot he can work on, too,” Ferentz said.

Other players who’ve been identified as potential leaders also stepped up in the scrimmages. Defensive back Michael Ojemudia intercepted a pass from backup quarterback Peyton Mansell in the preseason contest. The go-to defensive back position is a very important one for Iowa to fill early, as the departures of Jake Gervase and Amani Hooker left some big gaps in the secondary.

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