The Iowa football team’s star player AJ Epenesa has been relatively quiet from a statistical perspective this season, but he’s still making a huge impact.
There’s been a lot of chatter through three games from Iowa football fans wondering where star player AJ Epenesa in games. They haven’t seen him destroy 1 on 1 matchup against tackles or ruin a quarterbacks life as much as they had hoped when the 2019 season started. And with one sack through three games, Epenesa is on pace to record just four sacks this season, far below his Big Ten-leading 10.5 sacks last year.
But sacks don’t always tell the full story, and with AJ Epenesa that couldn’t be truer.
Teams are game-planning specifically around Epenesa. Take the Iowa State game for example where the Cyclones either double-teamed Epenesa, would run the play the opposite direction of Epenesa, or get quick passes out.
Despite the concerted effort by teams to stop the Iowa football player from making a difference each game, he’s still doing his part. Unfortunately for the box-score analysts, those efforts aren’t exactly showing up there.
But that’s why we can thank our friends at Pro Football Focus who can oftentimes provide metrics that might be a bit more meaningful or outside of the box-score that show the true impact a player has on a team sport.
So although Epenesa only has 1 sack for the Iowa football team this year, which is 4 less than Ohio State’s Chase Young whom Epenesa is most often compared against, he is crushing it another metric: quarterback pressures.
Yes, a quarterback pressure is not directly as good as a sack, but pressures have a big impact on the game nonetheless. Take Rutgers for example where Epenesa was in McClane Carter’s face so much that Carter started airmailing passes as he was getting antsy in the pocket due to the amount of pressure he was receiving.
Versus Iowa State, when AJ Epenesa finally broke through Iowa State’s very deliberate approach to avoiding him, he made Brock Purdy chuck the ball aimlessly into the sky.
It’s something Iowa football defensive coordinator Phil Parker is also aware of but not necessarily worried about. Here’s what he had to say at his press conference yesterday.
"Maybe they don’t have the sacks, but they are making the quarterback throw before he wants to throw the ball. And that’s kind of a little bit what that RPO stuff is, protects a lot of those guys to, hey, get rid of the ball fast. It’s going to be hard to get pressure."
So yes, would it be nice to see Epenesa racking up the sacks? Absolutely.
But consider this the Adrian Clayborne effect.
If Chauncey Golston could get going, however, we may start seeing Epenesa back to making some of those highlight plays we’ve become accustomed to seeing.