Nate Stanley and the 2019 Iowa football squad will need to account for some solid defense ends this season. Who are the top 3 the Hawkeyes will see?
The 2019 Iowa football team might have the best defensive end in the country in A.J. Epenesa. The five-star recruit from Edwardsville has been everything Kirk Ferentz could have asked for when he signed his letter of intent back in spring 2017. Epenesa has been a part-time player in his first two seasons and has wreaked havoc. Now imagine him as a full-time starter this season. Yikes.
On the flip side, Nate Stanley was much more susceptible to sacks and accuracy issues in 2018 when he felt pressure which is partly on him and partly on the defensive ends applying said pressure. Stanley will be in his third year as the starting quarterback for the Iowa Hawkeyes and he’ll need to do a much better job of stepping up into the pocket to allow for a little bit of extra time to find his intended target. Here are the top three defensive ends that Kirk Ferentz and Stanley will need to prepare for.
(I have to preface this with a shoutout to Bobby Roundtree from Illinois who suffered a spinal injury back in May. Roundtree was going to be on my top three defensive ends but it looks like his football career might be done. I hope nothing but a speedy recovery for you, Bobby.)
3. Joe Gaziano, Northwestern
Pat Fitzgerald has done a nice job of getting talent to come to Evanston despite its small school nature. Joe Gaziano could have likely gone pro last season but he’s back for his senior season. He’s a big man at 6-4, 275 pounds and started all 14 games for the Wildcats in 2018. Gaziano earned All-Big Ten honors and lead the team with 7.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss.
Gaziano had one of his best games against the Iowa football team last season. In the Big Ten West clincher, he recorded 6 total tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 0.5 sack, and 1 forced fumble. His forced fumble occurred with 1:38 left in the game and the Hawkeyes driving downfield. He’s a force to be reckoned with and Iowa will need to account for him in 2019.
2. Yetur Gross-Matos, Penn State
The junior from Spotsylvania, Virginia was the 11th Nittany Lion to record 20 tackles for loss in a single season a year ago. Gross-Matos recorded 54 total tackles with 8 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and 1 fumble recovery. For his efforts, he was voted All-Big Ten by the media but just recently returned to the team after a two-month suspension for violation of team rules. While the exact violation has been kept quiet, Gross-Matos looks ready for the 2019 season.
He had his best game against the Iowa football team in 2018, recording 9 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, and 2 sacks. Kirk Ferentz and the Iowa offense will have to do a much better job of limiting his damage in the matchup at Kinnick Stadium this season.
1. Carter Coughlin, Minnesota
Coughlin is a senior from Eden Prairie, Minnesota and started all 13 games in his junior season. He tallied 48 total tackles with 15 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks and 4 forced fumbles. All of his stats (with exception to tackles) led the Gopher defense and was named Carl Eller Outstanding Defensive Player of the Year.
He had a pretty solid game against Iowa in 2018, recording 4 tackles with 1 tackle for loss, 1 sack, and 1 forced fumble. Coughlin is without a doubt the best defensive end the Hawkeyes will see in 2019, and I would expect that he seems some double teams from the Iowa offensive line.
However, this opens the door for other guys along that defensive line like Micah Dew-Treadway who transferred in from Notre Dame. Minnesota is looking more and more like a contender in the Big Ten West this season.