Rookie Report: James Butler, A.J. Epenesa make strong Iowa Hawkeye debuts

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa football fans got a first look at a handful of new contributors this season in Saturday’s 24-3 victory over Wyoming.

A look at how those players — most of whom didn’t arrive on campus until this summer — fared:

New Iowa tailback James Butler prepares to join his teammates in "swarming" onto the Kinnick Field turf for the first time Saturday before playing Wyoming.


  • Tailback James Butler was in on the first snap, although the handoff went to Akrum Wadley on an end-around. Butler, a graduate transfer from Nevada, gained 35 yards on seven carries through three quarters, emerging as a red-zone option and showing impressive power. His 10-yard run with four minutes left in the first half produced Iowa’s initial first down of the season. Butler and Wadley split all the time as Iowa’s featured back, so look for much more out of him as the season progresses.
  • True freshman defensive end A.J. Epenesa came on early in pass-rushing situations and appeared sporadically after that. The five-star recruit showed terrific hustle on a five-yard sack of Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen, producing the initial burst on the right side of the line and then tracking him all the way to the middle of the field to get in on the tackle. He later brought Allen down for no gain on a quarterback keeper.
  • On the flip side, true freshman wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette appeared for only one play, and it did not go as planned. The speedster out of New Jersey took a handoff on a third-down end-around in Wyoming territory and promptly fumbled it away after taking a hit. None of Iowa’s other true freshman wide receivers played.
  • True freshman Matt Hankins was Iowa’s third cornerback Saturday — a result of Manny Rugamba’s one-game suspension — but only appeared for one first-half play as the Hawkeyes stuck with their base defense throughout the game. That play resulted in a sack.
  • Freshmen Ivory Kelly-Martin, Geno Stone and Noah Clayberg saw action on the punt and kick-return units.