Let me introduce myself
The Iowa Hawkeyes will be without A.J. Epenesa and his 26.5 career sacks next season, but that doesn’t mean the pass rush has to disappear with him. Iowa may need to be more creative in their pass rush concepts, and having multiple moveable pieces is a big part of that. The player I see picking up some of those big plays is redshirt sophomore Joe Evans.
Evans walked-on in 2018 following his prep career at Ames High School where he was a 3 year starter at quarterback. He left the program as the career leader in touchdowns and all-purpose yards. He obviously has some smarts as well in choosing to leave Ames for Iowa City when he had the chance (but no scholarship offer).
Evans name surfaced in fall of 2019 out of camp, where he was earning a reputation as an outstanding pass rusher. Instead of a quick start to the season, he was slowed by injuries and many Hawkeye fans quickly forgot about the former walk-on. Over the final 6 games of the season, Evans showed off some of those pass rushing skills earning four quarterback sacks. The 6’2” 240 pound Evans was especially effective in Iowa’s Raider package.
While Evans is significantly smaller than other defensive ends on Iowa’s roster, his speed and agility allows him to gain advantages against much larger lineman. He has also demonstrated outstanding play strength when necessary.
Playmaker vs Minnesota
Lined up at left defensive end position, Evans is set to run a stunt or twist with Chauncey Golston. Evans crashes hard to the inside cleaning out Golston for a 1-on-1 matchup with the tackle. Evans crashes hard enough to take on both the right guard and center. While he isn’t able to get to the quarterback, both lineman hold his jersey long enough to allow Morgan to make the throw. I’m still impressed with his ability to crash inside, engage multiple blockers, and still be able to change direction and work his way back toward the quarterback.
With Minnesota in a must pass scenario late in the game, Evans takes a wide split to give him room to utilize his speed before engaging the right tackle. He uses a little stutter move and swipes the lineman’s hands off his body. The running back sees his tackle in trouble and comes across to provide help. In doing so, this leaves a clear path to the quarterback for Epenesa who has beat the guard. Epenesa misses, but Evans shows off his agility and chases down Morgan from behind for the sack. He looks like a rocket taking off once he sees Morgan attempting to climb the pocket.
With more teams featuring running quarterbacks and RPO actions, the ability to change direction and pursue the quarterback are magnified. Minnesota is able to convert on this fourth down, but Evans keeps it from possibly being a much bigger play. Once again he shows off his speed and also great effort to pursue Morgan from behind. Another thing to point out is that Evans, despite his size, is able to keep the tackle from locking on and taking him out of the play.
As previously mentioned, versatility will be key for this defense going forward. On this 3rd and 9 play, Evans is lined up inside at defensive tackle in a four-point stance. He begins by rushing forward and making contact with the guard before bouncing back into a spy position. Golston’s pressure from the outside forces Morgan to step up on the pocket where Evans is spying and waiting. Once he recognizes the scramble, he quickly steps up and combines with Epenesa on the sack. This is a great use of both positional flexibility, but also skillset flexibility. Evans has the speed and agility to effectively spy a mobile quarterback like you would traditionally see from a linebacker or safety. This allows those players to remain in coverage during this pass situation.
Iowa was able to close out the game and end Minnesota’s perfect season with an interception by Riley Moss on 4th down. Evans did not create pressure on this play, but once again was able to swat the lineman’s hands and force the running back to help. If he is able to force help from blockers during this season, that will leave more 1-on-1 matchups for guys like Golston and Nixon to create pressure plays of their own.