Iowa defense saves day against Minnesota

With Minnesota within one touchdown of the Hawkeyes, Iowa’s defense played a big part in saving the game.

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Iowa defense saves day against Minnesota

Iowa football players carry the Floyd of Rosedale trophy off the field after a football game between Iowa and Minnesota at Kinnick Stadium on Nov.16. The Hawkeyes defeated the Gophers, 23-19.

Iowa football players carry the Floyd of Rosedale trophy off the field after a football game between Iowa and Minnesota at Kinnick Stadium on Nov.16. The Hawkeyes defeated the Gophers, 23-19.

Ryan Adams

Iowa football players carry the Floyd of Rosedale trophy off the field after a football game between Iowa and Minnesota at Kinnick Stadium on Nov.16. The Hawkeyes defeated the Gophers, 23-19.

Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams

Iowa football players carry the Floyd of Rosedale trophy off the field after a football game between Iowa and Minnesota at Kinnick Stadium on Nov.16. The Hawkeyes defeated the Gophers, 23-19.

Anna Kayser, Sports Editor

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A.J. Epenesa is a name that offenses fear, double-teaming him — even triple-teaming him at times — to keep him from wrecking too many quarterbacks this season.

Minnesota was no different, as it contained the junior pretty well in the first half on Nov. 16. The second half was a different story, and his dominance helped complete Iowa’s 23-19 win over the No. 7 Gophers.

With 1:52 left to go in the game, Minnesota was backed against its own 20-yard line. Iowa had handed over the ball after a three-and-out, and the Gophers had four downs to try and keep their undefeated season alive.

“We practice for moments like this,” Epenesa said. “I was telling the D-Line before we hit the field, ‘It’s on us. It’s on the defense, and this is what we want. We want it on our shoulders. We’re confident in our abilities. We prepared for this. This is what we do.’”

On first-and-10, Joe Evans got in for his first individual sack on the game — a three-yard loss — to give the defense a boost before the next three downs.

On second-and-13, Epenesa came in almost immediately with an eight-yard sack, moving Minnesota back to its own nine-yard line. It was his second solo sack of the half, and he shared one with Evans earlier that quarter.

“We knew the center would point and tell us where he was going, and we were able to take advantage of that,” Epenesa said. “And then me and Chauncey [Golston] inside, I think we’re a pretty good, solid duo in there when it comes to running games or just rushing the passer and just kind of creating some confusion.”

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The moves that Iowa showed with Epenesa and Golston worked out in its favor, especially to hold Minnesota on its last drive.

“Having a four-point lead, it was pivotal,” head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “It exposes [Minnesota’s] line. No knock on their guys, but it just gives you a chance to have a little bit more wiggle room inside, or even on the edges.”

On third down, quarterback Cole Kramer — who entered for an injured Tanner Morgan — tossed a pass that was broken up by Djimon Colbert.

Facing a fourth-and-21, Kramer heaved a pass 39-yards upfield into the hands of Hawkeye cornerback Riley Moss, who came down with Iowa’s first interception in three clear chances for the secondary during the game.

“In the weight room [in the] offseason, it’s always that last drive. You’ve got to finish, and it’s for those moments out there where it’s the last play of the game, you have to finish,” Moss said.

Iowa’s linebacker corps got a key face back against Minnesota, with senior Kristian Welch returning from injury.

He got in on the sacking action, as well, tallying one for a loss of eight yards.

“We kind of made a point as linebackers to read your key, and then if you can, add in… It’s basically like a post-sample, in some sense, and that’s what I kind of did,” Welch said. “I read my key, came off the edge, and the tight end didn’t even see me, and neither did the quarterback.”

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