Iowa’s defensive line
I’ll admit, I was initially going to call out just AJ Epenesa, but the entire defensive line played absolutely outstanding and was a huge reason why the defense was able to get as many stops as they did. Mississippi State’s defense isn’t a juggernaut but turnovers and consistently bad punting put the defense in terrible positions time and time again.
And time and time again, the defensive line bailed out the Iowa football team.
Let’s start with AJ Epenesa though, who had one of the biggest plays of the day, strip-sacking Nick Fitzgerald at the Mississippi State 19-yard line. This set up an Ihmir Smith-Marsette touchdown reception moments later to make the score 17-6 late in the second quarter. He finished the day with two tackles, one sack, and one pass defensed.
Unfortunately, there aren’t any solid stats for how many holding penalties Epenesa forced on the Mississippi State offensive line because there would be a few. It’s easy to see why I think he will be an All-American next year.
Anthony Nelson, Epenesa’s pass rushing counterpart also had quite a day, racking up 2.5 tackles for loss and tipping the ball that Chauncey Golston would ultimately intercept late in the third quarter. The Hawks would go on to score six players later to make the game 24-19.
Senior’s Parker Hesse and Matt Nelson rounded out the unit with 10 tackles (Hesse – 6, Nelson – 4) and 1 tackle for loss (each had .5). Both Hesse and Epenesa also managed to grade out as two of the five top players from the day according to Pro Football Focus.