Iowa defense steps up to shut out Rutgers

The Hawkeye defense put up one of the best statistical performances of the Ferentz era, and communication was key.


Shivansh Ahuja

Iowa defensive end AJ Epenesa jumps after Rutgers quarterback McLane Carter during a football game between Iowa and Rutgers at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, September 7, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Scarlet Knights, 30-0.

Robert Read, Assistant Sports Editor

The Iowa passing game seemed to be hitting on all cylinders in the Hawkeyes’ 30-0 victory over Rutgers on Saturday. As far as the Scarlet Knight offense, well, that’s a different story.

Rutgers lit up the scoreboard in its season-opening victory against Massachusetts, racking up 348 yards passing and 206 on the ground for 48 points and a win to start the season.

The offensive prowess Rutgers showed to open the season did not transfer over to the team’s Week 2 performance.

Iowa shut the Rutgers offense down. It was the third time the Hawkeyes have shut out an opposing Big Ten team in the last two seasons.

The Rutgers offense gained a mere 125 yards against a stout Iowa defense.

McLane Carter started at quarterback for Rutgers after throwing for 340 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions last week. His time on the field against Iowa was short-lived. Carter left with an undisclosed injury after going 5-of-15 for 22 yards and an interception against the Hawkeyes.

Defensive end A.J. Epenesa and linebacker Djimon Colbert tag-teamed for the interception off Carter. Epenesa put the pressure on the quarterback, allowing for an easy interception to fall into the hands of Colbert.

“I was able to come around and find a gap and get through and hit his arm as he threw,” Epenesa said. “Then, it just kind of lollipopped up and Djimon was able to catch it.”

Epenesa also recorded a sack against the Scarlet Knights, but it almost didn’t happen. The Hawkeye pass rusher jumped as Carter pump-faked and nearly missed out on getting his first sack of the year.

“You’re not supposed to jump, ever,” Epenesa said. “The quarterback pump-faked and I thought he was going to throw it, just going to launch it and I’m like, ‘No, I tried to stop them.’ But he ended up keeping it and ducking down, and I just kind of went over him.”

As far as Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz is concerned, if Epenesa finishes the play with a sack, a slight mental error can be forgiven.

“I guess if you make the sack, it’s OK,” Ferentz said. “Like anything else, like taking a shot you shouldn’t take in basketball.”

Carter’s replacement — Artur Sitkowski — did not fare much better in terms of moving the ball. Sitkowski completed only four passes for 19 yards and threw an interception right into the hands of Hawkeye cornerback Michael Ojemudia.

An interception on Sitkowski’s part is not a new sight for Scarlet Knight fans; he threw 18 of them as the starting quarterback for Rutgers last season.

Between the two quarterbacks, Iowa allowed only 41 passing yards — the second-fewest in the Ferentz era.

An inability to find success through the air is nothing new for Rutgers. In Chris Ash’s 38 games as head coach for the Scarlet Knights, the team has failed to throw for 50 yards eight times. In the same time span, it has gone 14 games without passing for 100 yards.

Iowa’s defense showed improvement against Rutgers after having some communication problems in the season-opening win against Miami (Ohio) on Aug. 31.

Improved communication in this week’s matchup was key, according to Colbert, and posting a shutout against a Big Ten team this early in the season is an indicator of where this defense wants to be.

“It’s good to just go out there and play like that,” Colbert said. “Everybody on point, there were not too many miscommunications out there. We went out there and did what we practiced all week to do. And this is the byproduct of it — a shutout.”