late in the 4thth quarter of Iowa’s game against Minnesota, the Hawkeyes’ hopes for a Big Ten championship berth appeared to be circling the drain. Iowa’s offense had fizzled after a hot start thanks to an injury to star tight end Sam LaPorta, and the vaunted Hawkeye defense was unexpectedly knocked to the ground, giving a shocking 312 thanks to an otherworldly performance from Gopher running back Mohamed Ibrahim rushing yards on . With Minnesota in the red zone and the Hawkeye defense seemingly exhausted and hot on their heels, Iowa’s chances of escaping Minneapolis with a win seemed slim at best.
It was at that moment that defensive captain and accomplished superstar Jack Campbell decided to take over the game. On a crucial third-down play, Campbell collided with Ibrahim in front of the first-down marker, stopping the Gopher running back in his tracks and releasing the football. Iowa defensive end Deontae Craig, a rising star himself, pounced on football, completing a nearly nine-minute drive and preventing Minnesota from taking the lead with five minutes left.
After another three and being knocked out by the Hawkeye offensive, Minnesota seemed poised to take the lead again. The Gophers were on the edge of field goal range when Minnesota offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca drew a Pete Carroll in third and seventh and decided to try his luck with the pass rather than keep feeding Ibrahim on the ground. Quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis aimed for a well-marked receiver, cornerback Riley Moss made an excellent play to force a deflection, and Jack Campbell grabbed the ball out of the air. While Campbell was wrongly denied a touchdown thanks to a botched call by the official, his second forced turnover was the 4thth The quarter gave the Hawkeye offense prime field position and led to the go-ahead scoring drive.
It was fitting that two of the most important plays in Iowa’s defense came from Campbell, who was Iowa’s most valuable player this season and appears destined to end the year as an All-American. Campbell’s physicality helped set the tone for the Hawkeye defense, and his strong play against both run and pass turned what was potentially a good unit into a historically great unit. Campbell is one of college football’s most accomplished tacklers; His 110 tackles make him the second most among power five players after leading the country in 2021 with a whopping 143 stops. He is rarely out of position and is almost always able to make a play given the opportunity. Surprisingly quick given his bulky 6-5, 246-pound frame, Campbell uses his superb player recognition, wide wingspan and impressive physicality to impose his will on opposing offenses.
Iowa had an awkward position at the center linebacker position during the Kirk Ferentz era, with exceptional players like Josey Jewell, Pat Angerer, Abdul Hodge and Fred Barr anchoring the Hawkeye defense. Campbell has proven just as effective as these other standouts, and it could certainly be argued that he is the most talented middle linebacker to wear the black and gold during the current coaching regime. But the strength of Campbell’s game is not only related to his physical ability, but also to the way he embodies the ethos of defensive coordinator Phil Parker and serves as the defensive guru’s extended arm on the field. After the Minnesota game, Campbell spoke about the defense’s ability to remain positive and fundamentally healthy in the face of adversity, stating, “If you commit to consistently doing just the little things, it’s going to add up. You might not see it on day one. You might not see it on day 43. But you might see it on day 122. And that’s when I feel like that breakthrough happened.” Parker deserves immense credit for building and training a defense that was in the Lage is able to react so decisively when her back is against the wall, but Campbell deserves the same credit for transferring his coach’s principles to the pitch and making sure his teammates adhered to them, too. Fellow linebacker Seth Benson relayed the message of Campbell’s late-game speech to his teammates, which perfectly sums up the role the senior middle linebacker’s leadership has played in bolstering Hawkeye’s defense:
“You dream of those moments when you’re a kid… tie ball game. Big Ten Football in November and us against them. … Remember your roots. Remember your why. Why you go out there and do what we do and remember all the times you spend with your teammates. Remember why we are here!”
Iowa is now on the brink of a second straight Big Ten West championship thanks to the outstanding play of its defense, and the unit, its coaches, and Campbell in particular, are justifiably showered with widespread acclaim and a plethora of postseason accolades in the coming weeks. Yet no trophy can capture the full extent of the impact Captain Jack has had on defense and the team as a whole, an impact even greater than his impressive stats can capture. Iowa appears destined to play more significant football games by the end of the season. No matter how big the stage gets or how big the hole the defense is in, Iowa will always have a chance as long as Jack Campbell occupies center defense.