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IOWA CITY — The pig game was maddening in how close it was, but in the end, the game was Iowa’s.
At this point, you’d probably hire Iowa’s defense to shingle your house. They might need to watch a YouTube video on it, but it’ll get done. It got it done in a big way during the Hawkeyes’ 17-10 victory over Minnesota on Saturday night at Kinnick Stadium.
The Hawkeyes (5-3, 2-3 Big Ten) held Minnesota (4-4, 1-4) to 281 total yards, its lowest output of the season. Cornerback Josh Jackson put on a show with four pass breakups, including one that safety Jake Gervase snagged out of midair at Iowa’s goal line. Defensive end Anthony Nelson sealed the deal when he sacked UM quarterback Demry Croft on fourth-and-5 at Minnesota’s 20, it was Iowa’s fourth sack of the night and put the Hawkeyes in kneel mode to run it out.
Yes, Jackson ended up on one of ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper’s lists this week. Chalk one up for Mel. Jackson lived up to that and more.
And, yes, Jackson has been that sticky in coverage since fall camp. Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley can testify.
“Yeah, for sure,” Stanley said when asked if Jackson was indeed that big of a pain in the butt for him, too. “He’s super long and athletic. He made a bunch of plays in camp and all the way up to this point, just like he did tonight.”
Jackson is unofficially an NFL prospect.
“That play is all Josh Jackson,” Gervase said of his interception. “I’m just running to the football once I see the ball thrown. Josh had a heck of a game, I think he had five or six pass breakups. That play is all him. I’m just in the right place at the right time.”
Jackson went into Saturday night tied for the nation’s lead with 13 pass breakups. He added four more to go along with three tackles. His goal line tip to Gervase halted the Gophers on a first-and-10 from Iowa’s 14 and preserved a 7-0 Iowa lead in the first quarter.
“We were in man coverage and I was just trying to stay on top,” Jackson said. “I saw the ball come out and just tried to undercut it. I couldn’t get my hand around fast enough, so the best thing to do was just knock the ball down and it ended up in Jake’s hands, so I think that was a good.”
What’s been the key for Jackson? He started 2016 as the No. 3 corner and then lost that job to then-true freshman Manny Rugamba.
Now? He’s trending all-Big Ten and has teammates fielding questions comparing him to former all-American Desmond King.
“It starts in practice every day,” Jackson said. “I come out and try to work hard and study the opponent hard. When it comes to games, you see the formations and know what they’re going to do out of them.”
Linebacker Josey Jewell was back in the lineup after missing the Northwestern game with a shoulder injury. There was one play in the second half where you could tell he was hurting. Still, he led the Hawkeyes with 11 tackles and recorded two QB hurries.
And, yes, he lobbied to the bitter end to play last week.
“I wanted to play and I told them I wanted to play and I kept on telling them that even through Saturday morning,” Jewell said. “It was tough. You want to play every game, you want to be a part of it. If there’s a little pain, play through it and try to give your team the best chance to win. It sucked to sit out, but they did whatever was best for my interest.”
It’s sort of a miracle that Northwestern game finished without Jewell sneaking on the field.
“There were a couple of fourth downs I wanted really bad there,” Jewell said. “I had to listen.”
Offensively? You saw it. The Hawkeyes are a work in progress. When it breaks through, it’s such a tremendous release for the players. Last week, sophomore tight end Noah Fant dropped the pass that sealed Iowa’s defeat at Northwestern.
This week? Fant couldn’t stop smiling. He kind of taunted the Gophers with a “row the boat” action after gathering in a 45-yard TD that gave Iowa the points it needed with 11 minutes left in the third quarter.
Stanley scraped the sun he put so much air under that pass. He’s had trouble hooking up on the long ball this year. Fant was so wide open that Stanley just wanted to give him a chance to catch it.
“I think we got a call from the FAA on that one,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “We didn’t have clearance.”
That’s a good way to sign off from Kinnick on Saturday night. No. 6 Ohio State (7-1, 5-0) is coming and everything that comes with it.
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