A.J. Epenesa earns Big Ten honor after dominant performance vs. Cyclones

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central
Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa recorded a pair of sacks and forced the game's only turnover in a 13-3 win against Iowa State on Saturday.

The most decorated Iowa football recruit of the past decade is living up to the hype.

A.J. Epenesa, a sophomore defensive end, was named the Big Ten Conference’s co-defensive player of the week Monday after his sensational and dominant performance in Iowa’s 13-3 win against Iowa State.

Epenesa, 6-foot-5 and 277 pounds, came off the bench to register five tackles, including two sacks, a forced fumble (that teammate Chauncey Golston recovered for the game’s only turnover) and a pass breakup Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.

Epenesa shared the Big Ten award with Minnesota cornerback Antoine Winfield Jr.

While noting afterward that “nobody has had more hype” in his 19-plus years as Iowa’s head coach, Kirk Ferentz was pleased to see that things seem to really be clicking for Epenesa — whose father, Eppy, played at Iowa under Hayden Fry.

“You've got good attributes; you don't have to be the smartest guy — just go,” Ferentz said of Epenesa, whose three sacks in two games this season are tied for second in the country. “But he was trying to do too much last year. And the last two weeks — especially today — it looked like he had a little more purpose and was a little more efficient.”

Epenesa, a product of Edwardsville, Illinois, in 2017 became the first five-star prospect to sign with Iowa since 2005. He spoke humbly after Saturday’s game about how thrilled he was to be playing at Iowa.

“I’m a Hawkeye,” Epenesa said. “I bleed black and gold until I die. That’s just how it goes.”

Leistikow's DVR Monday:Tracking Epenesa's monster day and is Iowa's offense near a breakout?

Depth-chart updates

Ivory Kelly-Martin, who opened the season as Iowa's No. 1 running back, was not listed on the depth chart released Monday by the university. Kelly-Martin did not suit up for Saturday's game against Iowa State; he has been dealing with a left ankle injury.

"We'll see what he looks like this week," Ferentz said Saturday on Kelly-Martin. "But we're hoping sooner than later."

There was some encouraging news, though: Ihmir Smith-Marsette, who left the Iowa State game with a left shoulder injury and did not return, was still listed as a No. 2 wide receiver entering Saturday's 6:30 p.m. game against Northern Iowa. 

Iowa also listed Jack Hockaday and Djimon Colbert as starters at linebacker after their strong performances in their first career starts against Iowa State. Kristian Welch, who started the opener at weak-side linebacker but was injured, is listed on the No. 2 line at weak-side linebacker.

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