A win over Nebraska would mean so much to humble star linebacker Jack Campbell

Ask any Iowa fan who is the leader of their beloved team and the answer will be the same.

The starting middle linebacker with a play speed. Stand in his way and find out how quickly you become an enemy.

Senior Jack Campbell made Minnesota running back Mohamed Ibrahim feel the wrath on Saturday in Minneapolis at Huntington Bank Stadium with 6 minutes on the clock. Ibrahim, who hit 14 total carries on a 16-play, 88-yard drive for the Golden Gophers, chipped away 9 straight plays on the Hawkeyes’ front 7 to put the sticks in the red zone.

But the 10th? Bad decision, Minnesota coaching staff. You’ve gone to the well too many times.

Campbell went nuclear to dislodge the ball from Ibrahim and shot it in Deontae Craig’s arm. Campbell explodes like a cannonball; this is his MO. That’s how it’s wired. One piece is never enough; the next one has to be better.

Ah, that was it.

On the Gophers’ next offensive run, on a 3rd and 7th at Iowa’s 33, Riley Moss flipped a pass from quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis that landed in Campbell’s arms. His 30-yard return plus a quick hit from Spencer Petras to Luke Lachey set up a field goal and Iowa was 3 points ahead with 46 seconds left.

“You need your best guys doing their best, and Jack shows up every week and does that,” said Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz. “Obviously we all know (Jack) very well in our program and I can’t say enough about him just how he plays. His resilience, his positivity, everything about him is just top notch.”

Campbell is the epitome of soccer in Iowa. It is forged by the family. He plays with honor. When it comes to ideal teammates, there are few like him. Even when playing the role of hero, Campbell never takes internal credit, instead speaking about the value of being part of a special forces unit.

“You never know when this game is going to happen,” Campbell said after the game. “But it’s always a teammate who gives you that opportunity and you have to take it.”

Campbell was “the guy” for Iowa in 2022. He’s been part of Kinnick Stadium folklore since he donned a helmet in 2019. And with 1 game standing in the way of a B1G title game berth, the Hawkeyes need to return Campbell’s favor against Nebraska.

Another game. One last ride.

A simple guy to cheer for

No, Iowa wouldn’t be here without Campbell. Some teams have an ace up their sleeve. The x factor. The reason to believe.

Alabama has Bryce Young. Michigan has Blake Corum. Ohio State has CJ Stroud. Countless others exist even today.

Iowa? It has Campbell; a 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 pounds, he’s the differentiator in the middle.

And yes, he was everything Ferentz wanted in a linebacker and then some this season. slam that. This has been the case almost every season and has certainly expanded since last autumn.

What else does Campbell have to prove in his illustrious Hawkeyes career? He’s a two-time 100+ tackler in a season who could be on his way to record-breaking numbers depending on the next 3 games. He is a 2nd-team All-American with a 1st-team All-America record.

This week he was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week and a finalist for the Butkus Award, just the program’s third since the LB honor was introduced in 1985. He is expected to finish somewhere in the top 3 rounds of the NFL Draft coming provided he doesn’t use his bonus year of NCAA eligibility.

It’s been quite a climb for the 3-star 2019 recruit who, as a true freshman, only had 5 tackles in 11 appearances. He made 29 stops in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season and then came to prominence with a B1G high of 143 tackles last year.

Without him, would Iowa be in the center of the field where it is defensively today? When the offensive has faltered, the defense has flexed. Entering Week 13, the Hawkeyes are among the nation’s elite on defense, ranking in the top 6 in yards per game allowed (4.01, 1st), goal 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 his team-leading performance in 11 tackles against FCS South Dakota State, for example. Or how about his 13-tack game against Illinois in a 9-6 loss? Then, of course, there’s Saturday, arguably a game that will put Campbell’s name in the Hawkeye history books.

A forced fumble here. There an interception. In the end a win? All that from 31st on the field and 1st on the squad in terms of importance.

“I can’t say enough about him, just his play, his resilience, just his positivity,” Ferentz said of Campbell. “Everything about him is just first class. And he comes with big pieces, which is just great to see.”

Win one for Jack

What does a win against the Huskers on Friday mean? Sure, it sends Iowa back into the B1G title game for a second straight season. Yes, it will bring the Hawkeyes another 8+ win season. And of course, it would also keep hopes alive of ending the surprise of the season.

But the impact would be much more than just a “W” on the record sheet. It would be a testament to those who fought their way through hell and high water in a tense season. A season in which the defense at times scored more points than the offensive. A season that seemed DOA, after a foray into forgetfulness in Columbus vs. Ohio State, which preceded the current 4-game winning streak.

Players like Campbell steered the ship through its darkest moments. He spoke earlier in the year about the offensive struggles and how the defense will need to beef up until points are available. He refused to let his teammates retire after a 3-4 start. He defended teammates and coaches alike against an onslaught of outside criticism.

There’s coaching on the sidelines and then there’s coaching on the field. Campbell is a one-third linebacker, one-third player-coach, and one-third All-American. And around Iowan. When the Hawkeyes needed it most, it will be delivered and then some.

Now it’s time for Iowa to retaliate with a win for Campbell. Another game. One more shot for a chance at redemption.

One last shot for Campbell to go out as champion.