Iowa defensive line steps up in passing game despite loss

Despite losing for the second week in a row, the Hawkeye defensive line posted a solid outing against Penn State on Saturday.

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Iowa defensive line steps up in passing game despite loss

Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa defends against Penn State offensive lineman Rasheed Walker during the Iowa football game against Penn State in Iowa City on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019. The Nittany Lions defeated the Hawkeyes 17-12. (Katina Zentz/The Daily Iowan)

Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa defends against Penn State offensive lineman Rasheed Walker during the Iowa football game against Penn State in Iowa City on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019. The Nittany Lions defeated the Hawkeyes 17-12. (Katina Zentz/The Daily Iowan)

Katina Zentz

Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa defends against Penn State offensive lineman Rasheed Walker during the Iowa football game against Penn State in Iowa City on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019. The Nittany Lions defeated the Hawkeyes 17-12. (Katina Zentz/The Daily Iowan)

Katina Zentz

Katina Zentz

Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa defends against Penn State offensive lineman Rasheed Walker during the Iowa football game against Penn State in Iowa City on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019. The Nittany Lions defeated the Hawkeyes 17-12. (Katina Zentz/The Daily Iowan)

Pete Ruden, Pregame Editor

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Black and gold stripes painted Kinnick Stadium, four F-35 jets raced over the illuminated green turf before the game, and Hawkeyes swarmed wearing new gold uniforms.

The hype level surrounding Iowa’s matchup with Penn State on Saturday was high, and the Hawkeye defensive line matched it.

Despite a 17-12 loss to the Nittany Lions, Iowa’s defensive front stepped up and harassed Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford and Company to the tune of three sacks, four quarterback hits, and six tackles for loss.

“Someone has to bring the energy, and every week, we try to be the guys that create the energy, create the spark,” defensive end Chauncey Golston said. “Because once you get the spark going, then you have a big flame and things just get rolling for you.”

While other parts of Iowa’s game weren’t working — namely, the offense being unable to finish drives — the defensive line kept its foot on the gas from start to finish.

When Penn State started its first drive with prime field position at Iowa’s 41, the unit stepped up.

After Nittany Lion quarterback Sean Clifford threw an incomplete pass, Brady Reiff and Cedrick Lattimore got free to take Clifford down. One play later, Golston did the same thing, knocking Penn State out of field-goal range to keep the game tied.

Then, in the third quarter, Penn State gained possession inside the red zone following a Hawkeye fumble. After making it made its way to Iowa’s 1-yard line, the Hawkeye defense stuffed a run before two penalties pushed the Nittany Lions back to the 21. Penn State settled for a field goal.

A.J. Epenesa also got in on the action, recording his second sack in two weeks.

“I’m just trying to get to the quarterback at all times [and] know who you’re rushing,” Epenesa said. “[Clifford] had one of the shortest launch points we’ve gone against. He was really big on taking his drop and stepping up, so working counters back was something that we really emphasized this week.”

The energy of the defensive line translated to the rest of the defense.

The Hawkeyes weren’t successful in stopping the run, giving up 177 yards on the ground, but it limited big passing plays. Penn State gained only 117 yards through the air, as Iowa held its opponent to less than 150 passing yards for the third game in a row.

The Iowa defense has given up an average of 10 points per game in its last three contests.

The only thing the Hawkeyes failed to do against the Nittany Lions that it did against Michigan on Oct. 5 was force a turnover.

Still, the Hawkeyes had a chance to win until late in the fourth quarter. The defense seemingly completed each task and put out each fire that appeared, and it started with the D-line.

“After they make a sack, we all get hyped up,” cornerback Matt Hankins said. “The third down come on, you hear the crowd getting louder, they play the one song. You just feel it, so it makes you want to lock in even more.”

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