I’d like to present a statistic to the BHGP readership.
That is the number of sacks Iowa recorded in the 2009 and 2015 seasons. Thirty remains the high-water mark for Iowa in that category dating back to ... 2002, when that grisly squad got to the quarterback 39 times.
It might seem overly-simplistic, but when Iowa gets to the quarterback a lot, the team does well.
The Hawkeyes had 29 sacks last year, and just 8 wins to show for it. That doesn’t really help the point I was trying to prove above, but so be it.
I’m not saying Iowa would have won two more games a year ago if it had reached 30 sacks, but I mean the facts are there.
Three of Iowa’s five sack leaders return this year, and one of those guys is preseason all-conference selection Anthony Nelson; roughly 90 percent of the reason I’m looking so forward to watching Iowa this season.
Anthony Nelson, 6-7, 271 lbs Jr.
Consider Anthony Nelson is just a junior. He has 13.5 sacks in two years, including a team-high 7.5 last season. A season where he was able to do things like this.
And block a GD field goal.
He’s the first preseason all-conference selection Iowa has had at the position since Adrian Clayborn and there’s good reason. He’s one of the biggest and toughest defensive ends in the conference and no one talks about him, not even Iowa fans.
Parker Hesse gets praise because of his seniority and small stature and pick sixes. AJ Epenesa gets ink because of his hype. Anthony shows up and does his job and gets rewarded with preseason watch lists.
Parker Hesse, 6-3, 261 lbs, Sr.
The fact Iowa last year was more willing to move all 6-8 and 295 lbs of Matt Nelson from defensive end to tackle told me all we need to know about Hesse, who certainly has more of a DT frame than the other Nelson.
Hesse has 33 career starts under his belt, his past season nothing short of great. The Waukon native had 10.5 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks. And an interception against Iowa State. It wasn’t quite as magical as his pick-six against the Huskers in 2015, but it was still plenty neat.
While there may have been a little luck (read: Tommy Armstrong) in that play, Hesse’s experience is allowing him to make the following play look routine.
The fact Iowa is trotting out a massive defensive end on the strong side and starting an undersized bulldog of a man opposite him makes my mind flutter with the stunts and schemes and swims Phil Parker and Reese Morgan can install for this season.
The Other Nelson
Matt Nelson, 6-8, 295 lbs. Sr.
Matt Nelson saw significant playing time at defensive end in 2015, started all 13 games at the position in ‘16 and then moved to the interior last year to make room for incoming freshman AJ Epenesa. If there was a learning curve as he moved inside, we didn’t pick up on it much.
Nelson eventually beat out Cedrick Lattimore for a starting role on the interior last year and I don’t expect him to give it up. His length on the inside is invaluable (he batted down three balls last year) and if he can stay healthy he’ll be instrumental in keeping opposing guards off Iowa’s new linebacking corps.
Cedrick Lattimore, 6-3, 295 lbs. Jr.
Cedrick Lattimore started the first seven games of 2017 on the interior but eventually lost his spot to the aforementioned Nelson. Now, with Brady Reiff missing the NIU game, Lattimore has a little more breathing room as he attempts to cement himself on the two-deeps.
Lattimore has the most stereotypical nose tackle frame on the roster despite his coming to Iowa as a defensive end project, but here we are.
There’s room to improve on his 15 tackles and 1.5 sacks from a year ago, and I suspect he will.
AJ Epenesa, 6-5, 277 lbs, So.
Epenesa came in as the best recruit of the Ferentz era and didn’t disappoint as a true freshman. In 13 games last season (no starts) he logged 4.5 sacks, 5.5 TFL and forced a fumble. There’s been plenty of calls for him to start over Hesse, but this is a good problem for Iowa to have.
Epenesa wowed last year by just manhandling the man in front of. I expect him to add stunting and swim moves and some coverage to his repertoire this season. Therefore I expect him to be Jabrill Peppers, but better.
I had to make this joke, let me have this
Brady Reiff was sort of the odd man out as Nathan Bazata, Nelson and Lattimore enjoyed extended playing time on the interior, and after doing a dumb thing recently (not unlike his older brother did while he was on campus) Reiff will miss playing time and currently has a bed being made for him in Kirk’s Dog House.
Now that he’s a junior at 272 lbs after a couple offseasons of Doyle, he’s ready to make his own name within the football complex. We’re gonna have to wait a week longer to see Brady Reiff, but I’m OK with that.
Sam Brincks is the other name to know at defensive end. He’s a very solid player who can play both end positions and has good size at 6-5, 275 lbs. He’s a senior so Brincks has been around the block. He’s probably the best No. 4 defensive end in the country.
Chauncey Golston played at defensive end last season, but was listed behind Lattimore on the two-deeps released last week. He saw action mostly on special teams last year but could breakthrough on the interior. Or maybe he won’t.
The only other name to know at defensive end perhaps is Jack Kallenberger. The younger brother of offensive tackle Mark, Jack spent the past two seasons playing for Iowa Central Community College, where he had 8 sacks and 57 tackles a year ago. He walked on this spring to an incredibly crowded defensive end room.
It was a little surprising to not see Garret Jansen on the two-deeps after Jansen played extensively on special teams over the past two years, but so it goes. He’s just a junior and could earn some valuable snaps against NIU while Brady Reiff watches from the sidelines.
Iowa has some pretty heralded recruits on the D-line, namely Daviyon Nixon on the interior and John Waggoner on the outside. Waggoner was the No. 1 recruit in the state a year ago, and Alabama tried to pry Nixon from Iowa. We’ll have to wait on Nixon as he gets his academics cleared up (though he could play up to four games this season with that new redshirt rule I believe) while Waggoner won’t likely see time until next year at the earliest due to depth at the position.
Tyler Linderbaum is another name to know on the interior as he was an Army all-American last year out of Solon, though again, it’ll be tough for a true freshman to break through this year.