The kickoff for Iowa-Penn State is under 24 hours away and the tension is slowly rising and the ‘liquid courage’ is starting to flow. There are a lot of things to watch out for, but these are three players that could make the most difference during Saturday’s matchup.
Unleash the beast! Epenesa’s combination of size, strength, speed, and quickness needs to be on full display against the Nittany Lions. Epenesa has been stellar in his limited snaps. He’s already surpassed last year’s total in tackles, tackles for loss, sacks, and forced fumbles. He’s been the player that all Hawkeye fans thought he would be. The best/worst part is that he’s not even starting.
Epenesa is Iowa’s best pure pass rusher. Anthony Nelson has been good, but Epenesa does the most on a per-snap basis. In seven games this year, he has 19 tackles, seven tackles for loss, six sacks, two forced fumbles, and a pass deflection.
Penn State’s tackles haven’t held their own against some of the better defensive ends. It’s time to unleash the beast that is Epenesa and let him wreak havoc in Penn State’s backfield.
This is a game that ‘Big game Nate’ needs to show up in. Stanley has had some of his best games against some of Iowa’s most important games. Iowa State and Ohio State last year he combined to throw 10 touchdowns. One of Stanley’s biggest problems last year was not being consistent enough. He combined for 10 touchdowns in that game, but only had 16 total touchdowns in the other 11 games.
The first two games of this season, many called for Stanley to be benched. People went from worrying about him going to the NFL early to being benched in a span of two games. Head coach Kirk Ferentz mentioned that he thought Stanley was ‘pressing’ too much. Stanley has learned to relax and have fun again and he’s shown out. He only threw for 86 yards and one touchdown against Maryland, but that was due to high wind speeds. In the previous four games, he combined for 1,199 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Stanley has 16 passing touchdowns, which is the second highest in the Big Ten. Iowa will need him at his best tomorrow if they want to turn this season into something special.
If the MVP for this defense isn’t Parker Hesse, it has to be Amani Hooker. Hooker has had to play safety and outside linebacker this season and he’s excelled in both. He’s taken on a leadership role for a young secondary and has been one of Iowa’s best players this season. Hooker has 33 tackles, one tackle for loss, seven pass breakups, and two interceptions this season.
Hooker is going to be heavily leaned on the next two games. Iowa wants to find a way to get safety Geno Stone in more games, so Hooker will have to be versatile and play some linebacker. The Hawkeyes are playing against two good quarterbacks the next two weeks, so Hooker will have to be that same tough, intense, vocal leader that he has been for them this season.