Epenesa, D-line continue to make impact

A.J. Epenesa and the defensive line haven’t put up crazy numbers, but it’s still making an impact.

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Epenesa, D-line continue to make impact

Iowa defensive end AJ Epenesa pursues the quarterback during a football game between Iowa and Michigan in Ann Arbor on Saturday, October 5, 2019. The Wolverines celebrated homecoming and defeated the Hawkeyes, 10-3.

Iowa defensive end AJ Epenesa pursues the quarterback during a football game between Iowa and Michigan in Ann Arbor on Saturday, October 5, 2019. The Wolverines celebrated homecoming and defeated the Hawkeyes, 10-3.

Shivansh Ahuja

Iowa defensive end AJ Epenesa pursues the quarterback during a football game between Iowa and Michigan in Ann Arbor on Saturday, October 5, 2019. The Wolverines celebrated homecoming and defeated the Hawkeyes, 10-3.

Shivansh Ahuja

Shivansh Ahuja

Iowa defensive end AJ Epenesa pursues the quarterback during a football game between Iowa and Michigan in Ann Arbor on Saturday, October 5, 2019. The Wolverines celebrated homecoming and defeated the Hawkeyes, 10-3.

Pete Ruden, Pregame Editor

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Now that it’s 2019, A.J. Epenesa can be found at the edge of Iowa’s defensive line on almost every play. 

That’s a big improvement from last year when he was only guaranteed to be on the field on passing downs. 

While he hasn’t put up the gaudy numbers he did in 2018 when tied for the Big Ten lead with 11 sacks, he’s made an impact on opposing quarterbacks throughout the season. 

On Oct. 5, he made an impact with his pressure and racked up a sack, taking Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson to the turf for his second sack of the season. 

“Getting a sack — especially in away stadiums, obviously in Kinnick, it’s a great time — it’s just the product of hard work and getting after it,” Epenesa said. “I was given the opportunity with some one-on-ones today, and I thought I had a bit more success than usual. Whenever someone gives me one-on-ones, my goal is obviously [to] make them pay for giving a one-on-one to me.”

The Big Ten is certainly aware of what Epenesa can do when he gets free, and the protections opposing teams utilize shows that. 

He’s been constantly double-teamed for the majority of the season, which should take a toll on the defensive line as a whole. 

The stats aren’t eye-popping by any means, but the Hawkeye D-line has put pressure on quarterbacks across the line of scrimmage, and it shows in their performances. 

Iowa has held opposing quarterbacks under 200 yards in four of its five games this season, including a season-best 47 against Rutgers and 147 against Michigan. 

The secondary — with help from the defensive line’s pressure — has recorded 4 interceptions. 

Iowa’s performance against the Wolverines in one of its toughest matchups of the season proved to be a sign of how good the group can be. 

“We’re built differently than [Michigan] stylistically,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “…For us, our guys have to play blocks. That’s what we do up front. I think our guys did a pretty good job of that.”

The defensive line has played an important part in the Hawkeyes’ defensive performances this season. 

Iowa ranks third in the Big Ten in scoring defense, giving up 8.8 points per game and trailing only Wisconsin and Penn State. 

It also gives up 254.2 yards a game, good for fourth in the conference. 

That’s the defense that showed up against the Wolverines. If the Hawkeyes can continue to produce like they have through their first five games and build on what they accomplished in Ann Arbor, they’ll be a force to be reckoned with for the rest of the season. 

That includes all position groups of the defense, from the front seven to the secondary. 

“I feel like we just did our daily disciplines stopping the run and limiting them through the air throwing the ball,” Iowa safety Geno Stone said. “We only gave up one big play. Besides that, we stopped the run really well. We played our Iowa defense getting three-and-outs.”

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