O-line set to be a strength for Iowa football

After an impressive 2018-19 season from the offensive line, the players should only be better this year, led by tackles Alaric Jackson and Tristan Wirfs.


Nick Rohlman

Iowa offensive line coach Tim Polasek speaks with players before Iowa’s game against Penn State at Beaver Stadium on Saturday, October 27, 2018. The Nittany Lions defeated the Hawkeyes 30-24.

Robert Read, Assistant Sports Editor

The success of a football team can often be traced to controlling the line of scrimmage. If that’s the case, the Iowa offense should pose a challenge for opponents this season.

Iowa returns a veteran offensive line headlined by the two such tackles: Alaric Jackson and Tristan Wirfs.

Both stalwarts have have been forces in their time in the Black and Gold. Jackson and Wirfs have been starters for the past two seasons and are both on the Outland Trophy Watch List to begin the 2019 season. The award goes to the best interior lineman in college football.

Someone who has more than noticed the challenges going up against Jackson and Wirfs present is A.J. Epenesa, the conference’s leading sack man in 2018.

“Tristan Wirfs and Alaric Jackson are the two best offensive tackles in the Big Ten, in my opinion,” Epenesa said. “Those guys are good, and they are difficult to go up against every single day. They are able to get their hands inside, and hold on, and stay in front of you. The two of them together are like a dynamic duo.”

The duo are technically sound as Iowa offensive linemen usually are, and they are physically gifted as well.

Jackson stands 6-6, and Wirfs measures 6-5. Both clock in on the Iowa depth chart at 320 pounds. Wirfs became an online sensation over the summer after a video of him cleaning 450 pounds four times with apparent ease went viral.

“You don’t see guys who are Tristan’s weight who are built like Tristan,” Epenesa said as he pointed at Wirfs. “He’s built like a truck.”

Having two very capable tackles on the offensive line is a quarterback’s dream, and Nate Stanley much appreciates having Wirfs and Jackson protecting him on the edges.

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“I’m extremely happy that they are there,” Stanley said. “They allow us to have some more time if we need it, allow us to hang in the pocket in certain situations.”

Joining Wirfs and Jackson on the line are a pair of experienced guards, twins Landon and Levi Paulsen. Both are redshirt seniors.

Redshirt freshman Tyler Linderbaum rounds out the offensive line, although 2018 starter at right guard Cole Banwart is likely to see playing time somewhere along the line.

The experience up front makes execution on the gridiron run much more smoothly.

“I’ve been playing next to Cole Banwart for two years now, and we don’t even really have to say anything to each other,” Wirfs said. “Like on a twist, we both just kind of stick our hand out, and we will touch each other, and we will know how to pass it off.”

The bonds go beyond the football field. Wirfs describes the position group as a tightly knit unit that spends a lot of time with each other — and food is usually involved.

“The Paulsens will have cookouts at their house,” Wirfs said. “They will smoke meat and everything for us. We’ve done that a couple times.”

The Hawkeye offensive line gave up only 16 sacks a season ago, tied for the fewest in the conference. Another stellar season from the unit is expected, and Epenesa expects the two tackles to lead the way.

“Tristan and AJ are great guys; they are great football players,” Epenesa said. “They work extremely hard. Whatever they get in life, they are going to deserve it, because they put in the work for it.”