The Iowa junior defensive tackle liked what he saw from Parker Hesse.
Whether or not Iowa defensive end Drew Ott can go against Pittsburgh, redshirt freshman Parker Hesse has acquitted himself well as Next Man In.
Hesse drew positive reviews in his first two college games at a position he wasn't assigned to until December. Illinois State coach Brock Spack singled out Hesse as a difference-maker following Iowa's Sept. 5 opener, and against Iowa State, Hesse got thrown into the Cy-Hawk rivalry in the first quarter after Ott suffered a left arm injury and didn't return.
"Talk about big shoes to fill. But we made up for it collectively as a defense," Hesse said after helping the Hawkeyes pitch a second-half shutout in a 31-17 win over the Cyclones. "It's not all on one guy. I'm just a piece of the puzzle. Every guy on defense is a piece to the puzzle. As a defense, it's up to us to make up for what Drew brings."
Ott's status for Saturday's 7:12 p.m. nonconference game at Kinnick Stadium is uncertain. The Hawkeyes' best defensive player was listed in his usual first-team spot on Monday's depth chart, and head coach Kirk Ferentz said during a Big Ten Network interview that Ott and starting running back LeShun Daniels (right ankle) weren't being ruled out to play this week.
"Got decent news (Sunday) and we've got five days to get ready, plus a couple extra hours with it being a night game," Ferentz said. "So we've got our fingers crossed."
Teammates are confident that Hesse, a 6-foot-3, 240-pound Waukon native, will be ready — even though it was slow going at first against Iowa State.
On the first play of the first possession after Ott got hurt, Iowa State quarterback Sam Richardson ran past Hesse for a 19-yard gain. (He grinned when asked if he was being held on the play by Iowa State tackle Jake Campos.)
"It took a little bit," Hesse said, "but after that I think I was in the flow the rest of the way."
At one point, Hesse planted Richardson into the Jack Trice Stadium grass after a pass. He finished with three tackles in the relief role.
"Drew was telling him what to do when he came back to the sidelines," defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson said. "He had confidence in himself."
Hesse is accustomed to playing all over the field. He played quarterback, running back, wide receiver and defensive end in leading Waukon to the 2013 Class 2-A state title game. He began his career at Iowa, which gave him his only FBS scholarship offer, as a linebacker.
During Iowa's TaxSlayer Bowl preparation in December, Hesse was moved to defensive end. Though he's added 35 pounds since high school, he's still listed 32 below Ott. So Hesse for now is more of a big linebacker playing defensive end — compared with Ott's overpowering style.
"It's a little bit different, but they don't ask me to do anything different," Hesse said. "I've got to play my role on the defense. It's really about taking care of your job, so I just focus on that. It doesn't really matter what I weigh."
Iowa sophomore middle linebacker Josey Jewell, a Decorah native, played against Hesse in northeast Iowa.
Jewell offered this final, encouraging thought Saturday night: "Drew could come back, which I think is a high possibility still, but yeah, I trust (Hesse) a lot. Growing up around him watching him play other sports … his attitude and focus is amazing."
IOWA (2-0) VS. PITTSBURGH (2-0)
Time, TV: 7:12 p.m., Big Ten Network (alternate feed; those outside Iowa should check your provider's listings for availability)
Announcers: Joe Beninati and Chuck Long
The line: Iowa is favored by 5.5 points
Pitt news: Panthers coach Pat Narduzzi was non-committal Monday on who his starting quarterback would be against the Hawkeyes. In a 24-7 win over Akron, Nate Peterman (a graduate transfer from Tennessee) played the entire second half after taking over for Chad Voytik, who has started 15 consecutive games (including Pitt's 24-20 loss to Iowa last season).