You know who I think is really good at football? A.J. Epenesa, Iowa's second-string defensive end/rapidly improving terrormonster. It turns out the Big Ten agrees with me, too, because they named him Co-Defensive Player of the Week after his efforts in reducing the left side of Iowa State's offensive line to smoking rubble.
— Big Ten Football (@B1Gfootball) September 10, 2018
Epenesa is sharing the honor this week with Minnesota defensive back Antoine Winfield, Jr., who capped off another very good game with one of the best interceptions you'll probably see all year that saved the win for the Gophers. Pat wrote about it over here and you should go watch the highlight again because it really is excellent.
But anyway: Epenesa! His line on Saturday was excellent: five tackles, two sacks, one pass break-up, and another quarterback hurry. He also had a forced fumble on the second sack, which (just like last week) was recovered by Chauncey Golston; I am loving the double play combination those two have going on right now. Those numbers don't include the two called holding penalties that he also drew (to say nothing of a few uncalled holding penalties) from ISU blockers desperate to prevent him from getting to the quarterback. Nor do they account for all the nightmares that he'll be featuring in for Iowa State's offensive linemen this week. In case you've forgotten how awesome Epenesa was on Saturday, here's a refresher:
He tallied two sacks, including the game-sealing strip-sack.
He was part of a @HawkeyeFootball D that shut down 2017 first-team All-America RB David Montgomery.
— Iowa On BTN (@IowaOnBTN) September 10, 2018
For the season Epenesa has nine tackles (four solo), three tackles for loss, a team-high three sacks, two forced fumbles, two credited quarterback hurries, and a pass break-up. He's tied for second nationally with three sacks, just 0.5 sacks behind the national leader, Utah State's Tipa Galeai. Not too shabby for a "back-up," right?
Epenesa still has things to work on -- setting the edge, maintaining contain, and other aspects of run defense -- but as a pure pass-rusher he's frighteningly good already and absolutely living up to the sky-high hype and expectations that came along with being Iowa's first 5* recruit in over a decade. A.J. is the freaking truth and he's only getting better. I'm going to go out on a limb and say this won't be the only Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week award that he earns during his time in Iowa City.
Congratulations on the honor this week, big fella -- we can't wait to see what you do for an encore against *checks notes* UNI? Oh dear. Pray for the Panther offensive linemen, folks.