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Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson says the offense doesn't focus on the opponent as much as it does just trying to be better than the week before Mark Emmert, memmert@gannett.com

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IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa being referred to as “Tight End U” got even more credibility Monday, as sophomore T.J. Hockenson was named one of three finalists for the John Mackey Award.

The award for college football’s top tight end will be announced Dec. 5.

The Hawkeyes had two of the eight Mackey semifinalists, with junior Noah Fant also on that list.

Although statistics often don’t tell the whole story with tight ends, who typically carry a significant blocking role, Hockenson has some good ones. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound product of Chariton has 41 receptions for 663 yards (15.8 per catch) and has scored seven touchdowns (one rushing).

Hockenson also is an every-down tight end with an impressive highlight reel of physical pancake blocks.

His chances of winning would seem reasonable. The award’s other two finalists have similar statistics.

Missouri's Albert Okwuegbunam has 43 receptions for 466 yards (10.8 per catch) and six touchdowns in nine games played for the 7-4 Tigers.

Stanford’s Kaden Smith has 47 receptions for 635 yards (13.5 per catch) and two touchdowns in his nine games played for the 6-4 Cardinal.

Hockenson and the Hawkeyes (7-4, 4-4 Big Ten Conference) close their regular season at 11 a.m. Friday against Nebraska. Dallas Clark (in 2002) was the last Hawkeye to win the Mackey Award.

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Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa had 8 tackles, including 3.5 for losses, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, a touchdown, a blocked punt and a sack. Chad Leistikow, Hawk Central

A.J. Epenesa couldn't be stopped by Big Ten, either.

A.J. Epenesa was so dominant against Illinois that he shared co-defensive player of the week honors with a player who became the first Big Ten player since 2013 to record 20 tackles in a regulation game.

The Iowa sophomore defensive end was everywhere in the Hawkeyes' 63-0 win at Illinois, with eight tackles, including 3½ for losses (with 1½ sacks), a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, a touchdown, a blocked punt, a quarterback hurry and a pass breakup.

Epenesa, who doesn't start, has now twice been awarded the Big Ten's weekly defensive honor. He also got the nod after his game against Iowa State.

“I think every day, I’ve probably improved on one tiny thing," Epenesa said after the game. "That counts for something, even something very small … I think I’ve improved a good amount of steps, but you’re never really there.”

Minnesota's Blake Cashman (20 tackles, 2½ for losses against Northwestern) shared this week's award with Epenesa.

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