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Stock Watch: Iowa football post-Minnesota

AJ Epenesa did AJ Epenesa things, Tyler Goodson balled out, and the first-quarter offense was... incredibly efficient?

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Fresh off a 23-19 win over Minnesota, there’s not much to complain about for Hawkeye football fans.

There’s not a whole lot worth nit-picking, either.

Stock Watch is back, and – spoiler – things are looking up for a Hawkeye program shooting for nine regular-season wins.

Let’s get to it.

Stock up: Iowa’s first-quarter offense

Man, Iowa’s first-quarter production was a dumpster fire before this game.

Only once this season had Iowa scored more than seven points in the opening quarter, and that came against Middle Tennessee State (17) on Sept. 28.

The Hawkeyes boomed out of the gates, driving 75 yards in eight plays and scoring a touchdown on their opening possession. It was Iowa’s first touchdown on an opening drive since that game against Middle Tennessee State.

Throw in a second touchdown in the first quarter, and all of a sudden Iowa’s offense was in seemingly uncharted waters.

The Hawkeye first-quarter offense against Minnesota was arguably its best production in the opening quarter all year up until this point: 17 plays, 143 yards, 8.4 yards/play, 13 points, 9:01 time of possession. Like clockwork.

Iowa’s yards, yards per play, and points rank second in their respective categories compared to all first quarters this season.

Before we move on, let’s go back to Iowa’s first drive of the game.

Before facing Minnesota, Iowa’s offense on opening drives was… not ideal? Disgusting? Inept? Yes, yes, and yes. But, against the Gophers, the Hawkeyes showed concrete signs of improvement.

Prior to facing Minnesota, Iowa’s past five opening drives looked like this:

  • One play, three yards, fumble, 7 seconds
  • Three plays, five yards, punt, 1:27
  • 15 plays, 63 yards, field goal, 7:15
  • Three plays, four yards, punt, 57 seconds
  • Four plays, 15 yards, punt, 2:45

Not only did Iowa have more points on its opening drive against Minnesota than it did in the five opening drives listed, but it came 15 yards from matching the yardage total, too.

The first-quarter offense against Minnesota was a huge step in the right direction. Creative play-calling (like this pitch to Tyler Goodson off a fake to Brady Ross – a thing of beauty) combined with offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz flooring the gas resulted to as hot a start the Hawkeyes have seen all year.

Stock up: Defensive end A.J. Epenesa

It’s not like anyone sold their figurative stock on A.J. Epenesa. He’s gotten better as the season progressed – like fine wine, if you will.

Epenesa played out of his mind against Minnesota, putting together a vintage hellraising performance. The junior tallied 2.5 sacks and forced a fumble – his best performance of the 2019 season.

Here’s Epenesa’s production in the past two games against Wisconsin and Minnesota:

Five tackles, 3.5 sacks, two forced fumbles

One of his best qualities is his versatility – Iowa lined Epenesa up inside on this play, and he bullied his way in for a sack toward the end of the game.

In 10 games this season, Epenesa has 26 tackles, seven sacks, three passes defended, and two forced fumbles. Going up against Illinois and Nebraska programs that allow 3.1 and 2.5 sacks per game, respectively, it’s not out of this world to assume Epenesa will continue to be a problem.

Stock down: Pass defense… sort of?

Okay, I said it’s hard to get picky here, but for the good portion of the game, Minnesota was able to move the ball on Iowa through the air.

Granted, starting cornerback Michael Ojemudia didn’t play – so factor that in as you will – but Iowa’s secondary more or less proved once again to be its bend-but-don’t-break self.

Gopher quarterback Tanner Morgan picked up right where he left off against Penn State the week prior, completing 25 of his 36 attempts (69.4 percent) for 368 yards and a touchdown.

Iowa’s defense has done a solid job containing opposing quarterbacks this season, holding them to an average passer efficiency rating of 117.4 – fifth-best in the conference.

Morgan finished the game with a rating of 164.5 against the Hawkeyes.

Iowa’s Riley Moss did snag an interception (the only pick of the game for either team), but it came off the arm of backup quarterback Cole Kramer on a desperation heave at the end of the game.

Gopher wideout Tyler Johnson torched the Hawkeye secondary, hauling in nine receptions for 170 yards and a touchdown. Fellow receiver Rashod Bateman nearly totaled 100 yards receiving, too.

Between the pair, Iowa’s defense gave up 268 receiving yards. Not great.

However, it is worth noting that Minnesota’s receivers might just be the best Iowa faces all year long. Basically, Iowa’s pass defense did just enough to beat Minnesota, but I’d be surprised to see a repeat performance the rest of this season. That being said, it wasn’t great on Saturday.

If I have to get super picky in this week’s Stock Watch, this is it.

Stock up: running back Tyler Goodson

The moment we’ve all been waiting for has arrived! On Monday, Iowa listed Tyler Goodson as its starting running back. Granted, he started against Minnesota, but he was not listed as the top tailback heading into that game. For aesthetic purposes, this is pleasing.

I’ve been a Goodson advocate this season and will continue to be such. He’s Iowa’s most talented running back and fans got to see flashes of his potential against the Gophers.

The freshman tallied a career-high 13 carries en route to a 94-yard, one-touchdown performance – the best outing from Goodson in conference play.

Expect a heavy dose of him on both the ground and through the air in Iowa’s final two regular-season games.

Stock down: Wide receiver Oliver Martin

Again, until he catches his first pass since Sept. 28, he’s on this list.