IOWA CITY — After arriving at Iowa with plenty of hype a year ago, A.J. Epenesa is now backing it up with performance.
The sophomore defensive end was named Monday as the co-defensive player of the week in the Big Ten after dominating during the second half of the Hawkeyes’ 13-3 win over Iowa State on Saturday.
Epenesa recorded two sacks among his career-high five tackles in the game.
He also broke up one pass, forced a fumble and had a quarterback hurry as part of a defensive effort that limited the Cyclones to 19 yards rushing, the fifth-lowest total an Iowa defense has allowed during coach Kirk Ferentz’s 20 seasons.
Ferentz said following the win that he see growth in the game of the 6-foot-5, 277-pound Glen Carbon, Illinois, native.
“What I saw was a guy playing fast. He had some purpose, wasn’t overthinking stuff ...’’ Ferentz said. “He was trying to do too much last year and the last two weeks, especially (Saturday), it looked like he had a little more purpose and was a little more efficient with his intent and the way he was playing.’’
As much as anything, that encourages Ferentz about the progress Epenesa is making.
“Nobody has had more hype in the last 19-plus years than A.J. coming in here and I get that, he’s a really good player, good prospect, great kid,’’ Ferentz said. “But last year, he was learning how to play. He’s thinking about six things at once and you can’t do that.’’
Epenesa said following Saturday’s game he feels more comfortable on the field two games into his second season.
He currently is tied for the Big Ten lead ranks second in the NCAA with three sacks for losses totaling 22 yards and leads the country with two forced fumbles through two games. Splitting time with Parker Hesse, Epenesa has nine tackles this season.