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EVANSTON, Ill., — It’s OK to admit that when you learned Josey Jewell would miss Saturday’s game, your knees buckled and maybe you ended up in the fetal position wherever you were.
Jewell is Iowa’s senior linebacker and defensive big toe. The news broke early Saturday morning that he would sit out the Hawkeyes’ game at Northwestern with residue from the shoulder injury he suffered two weeks ago against Illinois. In the postgame, Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said Jewell couldn’t get medical clearance to get into the game.
And then, oh yeah, safety Brandon Snyder also missed the game after suffering a knee sprain.
And, no, Northwestern didn’t go off on Iowa’s defense. In fact, the Hawkeyes played inspired and held the Wildcats scoreless for 2 1/2 quarters and just 107 yards in a first half that had Iowa with a 7-0 lead.
“I thought the defense gave a great effort through the whole game,” said Kevin Ward, who moved into Ben Niemann’s outside linebacker spot because Niemann took the middle for Jewell. “The overtime play, we had a little bit of a miscommunication. We still had a chance to come up and make the tackle and we didn’t.”
You kept looking and maybe waiting for the play where Iowa would miss Jewell. It finally happened in overtime.
On a third-and-9, Niemann lined up outside over a receiver. Just before the snap, safety Amani Hooker tapped Niemann on the hip and moved him inside. Northwestern running back Justin Jackson might’ve been Niemann’s guy, but Niemann was barely set before the snap. A pair of Wildcat receivers in the slot picked the middle of Iowa’s defense and Jackson leaked free in the right flat. Quarterback Clayton Thorson found him wide open.
Niemann missed Jackson. Safety Jake Gervase, who replaced Snyder, also missed and Jackson’s 23-yard gain set up the Cats first-and-goal at the 1. Thorson scored on a sneak two plays later.
Niemann usually plays in that area outside of the box.
“Seeing guards, pulls and path of the back, stuff like that, was new,” Niemann said. “We just were put in different positions. At the end of the day, you’ve got to go wherever to help the team win. That’s what the coaches thought was the best option. Kevin and I played as hard as we could.”
The play was Northwestern’s when Jackson cleared the middle.
“Oh man, it was awesome,” Thorson said. “I saw two guys in the open field and I’m like, ‘They’ve got no chance.’ So, at that point, I knew we had the first down. And then, when he kept pushing forward, I’m like, ‘Holy cow, we’re going to score.’”
Iowa’s coverage on the right side of the field went with the slot receivers who slanted inside. Jackson had a head of steam in the open field. He is NU’s all-time leading rusher because he knows what to do in the open field.
“What a great play,” Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “He got the ball in space, and was just being Justin. It looked like a pure attitude play. He made some great players miss. To see the way that he did that was really very Justin Jackson.”
Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz sounded optimistic about a quick return for Jewell. If not, well, 5:30 p.m. next Saturday for Minnesota is when your next panic attack will hit.
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