116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
MINNEAPOLIS — Jack Campbell gave a fourth-quarter pep talk to his defensive teammates about the “why,” then proceeded to be the who, what, where and when.
The All-America-to-be senior linebacker’s five ‘W’s carried the Iowa football team to a big ‘W,’ a 13-10 win at Minnesota that set up the Hawkeyes for a second-straight Big Ten West title if they beat Nebraska at home Friday.
It was in the fourth quarter during one of many interminable TV timeouts, and the Hawkeye defense was on the field and not feeling good about itself in a 10-10 game. Another All-America-in-waiting, senior running back Mohamed Ibrahim, was gouging Iowa like few have done during Phil Parker’s tenure as defensive coordinator.
Ibrahim had 36 carries for 239 rushing yards when the Gophers had a third-and-4 at the Iowa 13. During a Minnesota timeout on that drive that began at the Gophers 3, Campbell started talking to his fellow defenders.
“He broke us down and he said you dream of these moments when you’re a kid,” Iowa linebacker Seth Benson said. “That’s really true. Tie ballgame, Big Ten football in November. It’s us versus them.
“(Campbell said) you’ve got to remember your roots, remember your ‘why.’ Why you go out there and do what we do. You’ve just got to remember why we’re here.”
So, back to that third-and-4 red zone play. Ibrahim had carried 13 times for 65 yards on that drive alone. He got the ball again. Campbell hit him, hit the ball, and knocked it out of Ibrahim’s grasp. Iowa’s Deontae Craig covered it up at the Iowa 9.
That was with 5:07 left. The Hawkeyes went three-and-out without gaining a yard, and punted to the Minnesota 45. Ibrahim ran for 19 yards. But the next two plays totaled just 3 yards, and Minnesota passed on third-and-7 from the Iowa 33.
The tipped throw found its way into Campbell’s hands, maybe because he was in the precise right place as is his habit. He returned it 30 yards. He and his teammates insisted it should have been a pick-6, claiming he never stepped out of bounds.
It didn’t matter. From the Minnesota 45 with 2:06 left, Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras hooked up with tight end Luke Lachey for 33 yards down the middle in one of the best clutch plays of Petras’ career. Iowa drove to the 3 before Drew Stevens kicked a short field goal with 28 seconds left, and the Hawkeyes won.
An offense with a player who rushed for 263 yards scored only 10 points and lost. You never see that. Never. It’s the darnedest thing in Iowa’s season of darnedest things, like totaling just 146 yards the week before against Wisconsin and winning by two touchdowns.
On the fumble he caused, Campbell said “I just tried to hit him as hard as I could. Obviously, I might have got the ball a little bit. Just go to the ball, the ball’s not going to find you. You have to want to get to the ball. When you get to the ball and put your hat on the ball … good things will happen.”
That was Good Thing I. The pick was Good Thing II. Iowa cornerback Riley Moss broke up a pass intended for Gopher receiver Le’Meke Brockington at the Iowa 25, and it took a short carom into Campbell’s hands.
“It’s always a teammate that creates that opportunity for you,” Campbell said, “and you’ve just got to go take advantage of it.”
Iowa has had a sky-full of defensive stars over the Kirk Ferentz era, truly superb players. But when has anyone made two such vital plays late in a game, a tied and critical road game? That, on a day the defense had taken an old-fashioned pounding from an opposing offense.
“Talented running back, talented offensive line,” Campbell said. “We’re not going to give up ever. So we just kept going. And then opportunity presented myself.”
He meant “itself.” But “myself” was just as accurate.
“His resiliency, just his positive nature, everything about him is just first-class,” Ferentz said. “Then he comes up with big plays.”
And this defense? Eight times it’s held opponents to 10 or fewer points in 11 games. Eight times! On most of those days, that defense dominated. On this one, it took the punches but never went down.
“That’s no fun out there when you can’t stop the run,” Ferentz said. “Boy, get in a game like that, it’s just painful. And nobody feels worse than the guys on the field. They’re playing hard and doing everything they can.
“You think you’ve got them shut off and then the next thing you know, (Ibrahim) is knifing it back for either a 3-yard gain or a 13-yard gain, and it makes it hard.
“But the guys kept playing.”
Now they’re one win from playing in Indianapolis, a preposterous scenario less than a month ago. It’s a team that is the darnedest thing.
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