Player to Watch: Iowa Defensive Lineman Zach VanValkenburg

By John Morgan on November 20, 2020 at 10:25 am
Nov 13, 2020; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes defensive lineman Zach VanValkenburg (97) sakes Minnesota Golden Gophers quarterback Tanner Morgan (2) in the second half for a loss at TCF Bank Stadium.
Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Seriously, does Kirk Ferentz grow players in a lab? The Penn State offense faces a big test this weekend in search of that elusive first 2020 win against a tough Iowa defense. Despite losing All Big-Ten defensive end A.J. Esperanza to the NFL, the Hawkeyes defense has been wreaking havoc on opposing Big Ten quarterbacks. Iowa's defensive line is once again a strong point and defensive lineman Zach VanValkenburg has picked up where Esperanza left off.

Through four games, the Iowa defense has 11 sacks, which ranks second in the Big Ten and one behind Indiana. Alongside of VanValkenburg is defensive end Daviyon Nixon who is also having an impressive season. It's VanValkenburg who has turned heads and after his game against Minnesota where he made five tackles (four solo), which included a career-high three sacks. For his efforts, he was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week. This is only VanValkenburg's second season with the Hawkeyes when he transferred in from Division II Hillsdale College. In 2018 at Hillsdae, he was named defensive lineman of the year in their conference. 

Penn State's offense has had their fair share of struggles so far this season. Though the Nittany Lions have been able to amass plenty of yards, the inability to score in the red zone has made the yardage moot for the most part. Head coach James Franklin did not name a starting quarterback yet and though it seems Will Levis is the logical choice, we will not know for sure until Saturday. Whoever is at the helm will have their hands full with a defense that fits the standard Iowa mould. VanValkenburg is just another tough player in a long line of disciplined, athletic defensive lineman that Kirk Ferentz and company seemingly churn out every year.