As much rightful complaining surrounds Iowa’s offense, it could be worse.
And by worse, I mean something like Northwestern’s offense.
The Wildcat offense is atrocious this season. Granted, injuries play a part in this, but this offense is just as bad as you’d expect from a 1-5 group. Northwestern averages 12.5 points (128th in the country), 277 total yards per game (127th).
In other words, Iowa’s defense should have itself a game, starting with the line.
The matchup I’m looking forward to the most is defensive end A.J. Epenesa vs. the entire Northwestern offensive line.
Epenesa has had a (relatively) quiet 2019, at least compared to last season. He’s got three sacks this year, and while that’s still a great mark, he had four sacks in Iowa's first three games last season.
Against Michigan and Penn State - the two best team’s so far on Iowa’s schedule - Epenesa had nine tackles and a pair of sacks.
AJ Epenesa just manhandles Runyan with a little push-pull and picks up the sack. pic.twitter.com/Z0N28ewmzN— Rob Paul (@RobPaulNFL) October 5, 2019
It’s been a bit of a slow start to the season for AJ Epenesa, but good to see him get a sack here. He has the hand power of a heavyweight boxer. pic.twitter.com/53AHBuCRp5— Jordan Reid (@JReidNFL) October 13, 2019
However, it’s worth nothing Epenesa didn’t register a single tackle against Purdue on Oct. 19. It was as quiet of a day for him as he’s had in a Hawkeye uniform. The chances of a repeat performance like that are slim.
Northwestern’s offense is bad, and it might look even worse on Saturday when it faces Epenesa. The Wildcats have given up 13 sacks in six games, ranking 79th in the country. That’s not a great number (for comparison, Iowa’s allowed 17). Their run blocking isn’t spectacular, either, as they average roughly 3.5 yards per carry.
Strip-sack de DB Eric Burrell sur QB Hunter Johnson et DL Matt Henningsen réussit son 2ème TD défensif de la saison.— TBP College Football (@thebluepennant) September 28, 2019
La défense encore à la rescousse pour les Badgers.
WIsconsin 14, Northwestern 3pic.twitter.com/Lj24bpvDpf
If the Wildcats wants to silence Epenesa and the rest of the Hawkeye defensive line, the key lies in the quick passing game. But don’t expect that to work as well as it has for other teams, because quarterback play has been less-than-ideal for Pat Fitzgerald’s squad. The Wildcats have thrown 10 interceptions, eight more picks than they have touchdown passes.
Northwestern’s passing game can be summed up in one statistic: it’s 77.8 pass efficiency rating. That mark ranks dead-last in the Big Ten, which means it’s worse than Rutgers’ passing efficiency of 99.0.
Even if he’s not getting sacks, this is a game where Epenesa’s pressure could easily disrupt the conference’s most vulnerable offenses. Think bull in a China shop. Epenesa is due for a signature game in 2019, and Saturday’s contest against Northwestern might just be that game.