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Iowa Football 2019 Position Previews: Defensive Line

There’s some bad mama jama’s up in here baby!

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 06 Iowa at Minnesota Photo by David Berding/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

A little over a week ago — after feeling rather nostalgic after watching Stone Cold Steve Austin drunkenly address WWE-Nation at the Raw Reunion — I woke up early one morning and decided to watch the Main Event from Wrestlemania X7. For those that don’t remember (or don’t watch wrestling), Wrestlemania X7 featured one of the greatest one-on-one (kind of) WWF Championship matches in the history of the sport between two Hall-of-Fame, one of a kind performers.

Why bring this up? I’m so glad you asked.

For thirty straight minutes Stone Cold and The Rock — who were so unbelievably over at the time that both superstars received unprecedented heat — pushed the limits of what a wrestling match could be. With every big moment, there were seemingly 37 others that immediately followed that were somehow better than the last. Last millisecond kick outs, crimson masks, no-disqualification, Vince McMahon, sharp shooters, The People’e Elbow, soooo many Stunners. It’s one of those rare things that no matter when you watch it, it still delivers over and over again.

But it’s not the match that strikes me. It’s that both The Rock and Stone Cold raised the bar on what a main event could be. Together, they shot for the moon, whizzed right past it and ended up among the stars. While they may have gone into that squared circle as storyline enemies, in reality they were one cohesive unit that together — and only together — delivered earth shattering greatness and entertainment.

That brand of connected greatness, that level of perfection is the lens with which I will be watching the Iowa defensive line throughout the 2019 season. I truly believe that given the pieces involved, the players up front have the athletic prowess to push this defense over the top. Together, they will take this entire unit to higher and higher levels until they eventually become one of the greatest defenses we’ve seen don a Hawkeyes (banana peel) uniform.

It’s all right there in front of them.

And that’s the bottom line...BECAUSE J-ROME SAID SO!

Maui, the Demigod

Speaking of bananas, do you all realize that AJ Epenesa finished last season tied for the most sacks in the Big Ten with 10.5 (15 in two seasons) and he played 200 fewer snaps than the starters? If my horrible math is correct, that’s 15 plays a game in which Iowa’s most talented pass rusher was on the sidelines watching Parker Hesse and Anthony Nelson get to the quarterback.

Isn’t that wild?



Call it what you want, but for some reason the Iowa defensive coaching staff decided it was best to keep the training wheels on Maui last year and have him learn behind two Hawkeye greats. But this year? This year, he’s riding down a steep hill with no hands while standing on top of the seat and every expectation thrust upon him. Where this defense goes will be in part because of his level of play. Whether he’s delivering when opposing teams make the mistake of leaving him alone one-on-one, or eating two or three blockers at a clip, the defense starts and ends with him.

Regardless, there is little doubt around college football that Epenesa will deliver. He’s preseason All-Everything and has the opportunity to claim every major accolade college football has to offer. If he simply stays on last years pace alone, he should finish the season with 15.5 sacks, six forced fumbles and 24.5 tackles for a loss.

But what if... what if he turns it up a couple more notches. Isn’t 20 sacks, eight forced fumbles and 27 tackles for a loss feasible?


Mr. Big Shot

There is two things that have stuck out to me throughout the spring/preseason in regards to RS Junior Chauncey Golston. The first from Mark Emmert from the open spring practice:

In Friday’s open practice, junior defensive end Chauncey Golston was the star of the unit, even outshining Epenesa. Golston was disruptive from start to finish.

And the second from Doc:

Golston has gained nearly 50 pounds of muscle during his career.

Oh, word?

Just like Eppy, Golston spent all of last year learning from Hesse and Nelson while being next man in on the line rotation. As the season went along, Golston started showing up more and more on Saturdays. We saw him crush offensive lineman and wreak havoc of his own against one-on-one matchups. On top of that, he was always in the right place at the right time when Maui forced a fumble. Dude is just a playmaker in every sense of the word.

If you take all of the Doyle-weight, experience he gained last season, the level of coaching we know he’s getting, the talent and the opportunity to be playing with a guy like Epenesa on the other side of him and add it all together, it’s not hard to see him taking a big, big leap in 2019 and becoming yet another member of Iowa’s 2016 recruiting class that is going to be a starter at the NFL level.

Bottom line: if Golston doesn’t put up 2009 Broderick Binns type numbers, I’ll buy you all a Coke.

Bottom, bottom line: This is one of the best sets of collegiate defensive ends on the planet.

The People Eaters

We all know what the expectations are in the middle for Iowa. Eat up as many blockers as humanly possible and allow your linebackers to make plays behind you. Thankfully, Iowa has a few more big bodies ready to fill in behind their NFL hopeful predecessors in Matt Nelson and Sam Brincks.

Lets start off with the hopeful starters in seniors Brady Reiff and Cedric Lattimore . Both of these guys have been rotational pieces on the line ever since coming to Iowa City. After flashing the talent and size during their first two seasons, both of them were slotted to become experienced starters in 2018 until they were also both suspended for the first game of the season because of team infractions.

Suddenly, Reiff and Lattirmore found themselves stuck in a “next man up” situation for the remainder of the year. Some lessons are tough to swallow and I’m sure both guys realized they should’ve played more last season if it wasn’t for some mental mistakes off the field.

That’s not going to be the case going into 2019. The Hawkeyes need Lattimore and Reiff to be a constant disruption up front. Lattimore will probably be the guy that gets a lot of bodies thrown his way, which should allow the smaller, more agile Reiff to go to work with his hands and footwork.

And then there is sophomore Daviyon Nixon who is 6’3” and over 300 pounds. There’s an old adage that was drilled into my head back in my Varsity Basketball days... you can’t teach size, son, and Nixon has it in spades. While he’s had a tumultuous history thus far in Iowa City (he was threatening to transfer out of the program after last season), he’s back and eligible to play. Iowa needs a big time player in the middle, and while the other two in front of him are solid as hell, don’t be surprised if Nixon becomes so much of a physical threat that he works his way into getting equal (or more) snaps as his senior leaders.

Want to know the two best things about this defensive line that I haven’t even mentioned yet?

  1. They are going up against NFL talent on the offensive line day in and day out that they get to trade notes with them after every practice. Don’t under estimate this.
  2. They also have an NFL caliber secondary behind them filled with ball hawks that are going to be champing at the bit for Maui and Chauncey and Latti and Reiff to hit home on opposing quarterbacks.

If 2019 is going to be a special season — just like so many others in Iowa history — it’s going to start and end with how well the Hawkeyes play in the trenches.