Iowa football: A win over Nebraska would mean so much for humble star linebacker Jack Campbell
Ask any Iowa fan who the leader of their beloved team is, and the answer will be the same.
The starting middle linebacker with one play-speed. Stand in his way and find out just how soon you become the enemy.
Senior Jack Campbell made sure Minnesota running back Mohamed Ibrahim felt the wrath Saturday in Minneapolis at Huntington Bank Stadium with 6 minutes left on the clock. Ibrahim, who totaled 14 carries on a 16-play, 88-yard drive for the Golden Gophers, chipped away at the Hawkeyes’ front 7 for 9 consecutive plays to move the sticks into the red zone.
But the 10th? Bad call, Minnesota coaching staff. You went to the well one too many times.
Campbell went nuclear to jar the ball loose from Ibrahim and into the arm of Deontae Craig. Campbell explodes like a cannonball; that’s his M.O. It’s how he’s wired. One play is never enough; the next must be better.
Oh, it was.
On the Gophers’ next offensive series, on a 3rd-and-7 at Iowa’s 33, Riley Moss tipped a pass from quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis that landed in the arms of Campbell. His 30-yard return plus a quick strike from Spencer Petras to Luke Lachey set up a field goal, and Iowa was up by 3 with 46 seconds left in the game.
“You need your best guys playing their best, and Jack shows up every week and does that,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Obviously, we all know (Jack) intimately in our program and I can’t say enough about him, just the way he plays. His resilience, his positive nature, everything about him is just first-class.”
Campbell is the epitome of Iowa football. He’s forged by family. He plays with honor. As for ideal teammates, there are few like him. Even when playing the role of hero, Campbell never takes internal credit, instead speaking of the value of being part of a special unit.
“You never know when that play’s going to happen,” Campbell said postgame. “But it’s always a teammate that creates that opportunity for you, and you’ve got to go take advantage of it.”
Campbell has been “the guy” for Iowa in 2022. He’s been part of the folklore of Kinnick Stadium since strapping on a helmet back in 2019. And with 1 game standing in the way of a B1G title game berth, the Hawkeyes need to return the favor for Campbell against Nebraska.
One more game. One last ride.
An easy guy to root for
No, Iowa wouldn’t be here without Campbell. Some teams have an ace in the hole. The x-factor. The reason to believe.
Alabama has Bryce Young. Michigan has Blake Corum. Ohio State has CJ Stroud. Countless others exist in the modern day as well.
Iowa? It has Campbell; a born-and-bred native of the state who wanted to call Kinnick Stadium home from the start. He’s the pride of Cedar Rapids. At 6-5 and 246 pouns, he’s the difference-maker up the middle.
And yes, he’s been everything Ferentz has wanted in a linebacker and then some this season. Strike that. It’s been that way nearly every season, and certainly has expanded since last fall.
What else is there for Campbell to prove in his illustrious Hawkeyes career? He’s a 2-time 100+ single-season tackler, who could be on pace for record-setting numbers depending on the next 3 games. He’s a 2nd-team All-American with a 1st-team All-America attitude.
This week he was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week and a Butkus Award finalist, just the program’s 3rd since the inception of the LB honor in 1985. He’s expected to go somewhere in the top 3 rounds of the NFL Draft, assuming he doesn’t use his bonus year of NCAA eligibility.
It’s been quite the climb for the 2019 3-star recruit, who had just 5 tackles in 11 appearances as a true freshman. He made 29 stops in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, then burst to prominence with a B1G-high 143 tackles last year.
Without him commanding the middle of the field, would Iowa be where it is today defensively? When the offense has faltered, the defense has bowed up. Entering Week 13, the Hawkeyes are among the nation’s elite on defense, ranking top 6 in yards per play allowed (4.01, 1st), scoring defense (13.5 ppg, 5th), total defense (273.3 ypg, 6th) and pass defense (164.4 ypg, 6th).
In every game, Campbell seems to be the leading man. Take for instance his team-leading 11-tackle performance against FCS South Dakota State. Or how about his 13-tackle outing against Illinois in a 9-6 loss? Then, of course, there’s Saturday, arguably a game that will etch Campbell’s name in the Hawkeyes’ history books.
A forced fumble here. An interception there. A win in the end? All that from No. 31 on the field and No. 1 on the roster in terms of importance.
“I can’t say enough about him, just the way he plays, his resiliency, just his positive nature,” Ferentz said of Campbell. “Everything about him just is first class. And he comes up with big plays, which is just great to see.”
Win one for Jack
What will a win Friday over the Huskers mean? Sure, it sends Iowa back to the B1G title game for a 2nd consecutive season. Yes, it’ll give the Hawkeyes another season of 8+ wins. And of course, it would keep the hopes of pulling off the upset of the season alive, too.
But the impact would be much more than just a “W” on the record sheet. It’d be a testament to those who battled through hell and high water in a fraught season. A season that at one point featured the defense scoring more points than the offense. A season that seemed D.O.A. following an outing to forget in Columbus against Ohio State that preceded the current 4-game winning streak.
Players like Campbell steered the ship in the darkest moments. He spoke early in the year on the offensive struggles and how the defense must step up until points were made available. He refused to let his teammates quit after a 3-4 start. He defended fellow players and the coaches alike against an onslaught of outside criticism.
There’s coaching on the sidelines and then there’s coaching on the field. Campbell is one-third linebacker, one-third player-coach, one-third All-American. And all-around Iowan. When the Hawkeyes have needed him most, he’s delivered and then some.
Now, it’s time for Iowa to return the favor for Campbell in the form of a win. One more game. One more shot for a chance at redemption.
One last shot for Campbell to go out a champion.