The Good: Defensive End
We were high on defensive end heading into the season as the Hawkeyes returned two starters and the reincarnation of Dr. Frankenstein’s monster in A.J. Epenesa. But as the Hawkeyes were down two defensive tackles due to suspension, there was some concern about how the line would perform, as the guys replacing Brady Reiff and Cedrick Lattimore were basically defensive ends themselves. Apparently, there was no need for concern.
The replacements at tackle did their job and allowed Anthony Nelson, Parker Hesse and A.J. Epenesa to terrorize NIU quarterback Marcus Childers to the tune of four sacks, two QB hurries and a forced fumble. Nelson was particularly impressive, simply powering through a multi-year starter and making his way to Childers:
There was also Epenesa running around all-MAC tackle Max Scharping and strip-sacking Childers:
On the day, Childers only went 14/25 for 105 yards, one TD, one INT, five sacks and was hurried three times. Not the best stats, considering he has one of the most experienced lines in the MAC. And that’s credit to Iowa’s ends.
There are a lot of questions at linebacker so it’s a luxury having such talent and depth at defensive end, a position that could very well win Iowa a game or two this season.
Honorable Mention: Colton Rastetter’s rugby punts, Kyle Groenewg’s punt returns, Nick Niemann, Toren Young, and the offensive line.
The Bad: Middle Linebacker
Amani Jones did not have as bad a game as a lot of people think but overall, he was not good. Exhibit A (he's #52 in the middle):
Even though this wasn’t the play that got him benched (that was a couple plays later), it was an appropriate summary of how he performed on Saturday. Jones was frequently out of position, allowing multiple first downs for NIU on the ground and through the air. Jack Hockaday ultimately replaced him and was…better…but not by much. Jones finally got back in the game with the second team and played a million miles per hour, probably showing the type of skill and athleticism that won him the starting job in the first place.
Now, he’ll have to earn that spot back back as Hockaday is listed as the starter at middle linebacker against Iowa State. While I understand the coaching staff’s thought process, I wonder why they made the call so early. We already know what we’re getting with Hockaday and the fact that he didn’t win the position in the spring or the fall is tells me they recognize Jones’s potential. Don’t be surprised if things are in flux for the next few weeks but regardless of who plays, the position as a whole needs to be better.
The Ugly: First Half Offensive Execution
“We just didn’t execute out there in the first half.”
Kirk Ferentz didn’t say that but if Kirk Ferentz did say that I would wholeheartedly agree with him. There were officially only three dropped passes in the game. I would say there were unofficially five or six. Brandon Smith dropped a pass out of the gate. Noah Fant dropped what could’ve been a touchdown on the same drive. Easley and ISM dropped a couple of passes on third down in the first and second quarter. It was slop.
It’s somewhat humorous how we were so worried about how the offensive tackles would perform against Sutton Smith. They performed admirably. Stanley, on the other hand, took too long in the pocket and wasn’t showing off his awareness on a couple of different plays.
Oh, and the penalties? 8 for 66 yards on the Hawkeyes. Multiple penalties on the offensive line got lengthy runs called back. Clean it up.
Finally, how about you block for Rastetter, special teams? It’s bad enough that he has to endure criticism for his punting and you’re blowing assignments out there? Be better.