116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Jack Campbell is trying to prove a point.
He stands at the podium, peering at reporters through the screen, trying to tell them that, yes, Iowa is THAT team. The team that just kicked off its season taking down two AP Top 25 opponents for the first time since 1960, which has put it as the No. 5 team in the nation in its latest poll, its highest ranking since 2015.
But to him, it’s not that unbelievable. Despite what the outside world thinks, the once born-and-bred Cedar Falls three-star linebacker says Iowa knew it could hang with the best of them, even though no one else expected it.
“Iowa gets a lot of guys who might not run the best 40, jump the highest, and we talk about it in the linebacker room: we’re kind of mutts upon all the other recruits in the nation,” Campbell said. “We played hard for the full 60 and that’s always going to trump talent.”
There’s an understood trust in knowing where each other is at all times, and that’s why the defense is one that still has yet to forfeit 25 points in 24 straight games, the most of any Power Five team.
That’s built from the ground up. Sophomore outside linebacker Jestin Jacobs said that older linebackers like Kristian Welch, Dijmon Colbert and Barrington Wade took him under their wings, teaching him how to watch film and get the most out of practice. Now, he’s trying to do the same for others.
“I feel like what makes us different is we’re all close,” Jacobs said. “We all have a standard for each other and trust each other. So when we're running out in the field, we know all 10 other players have each other's backs. You start thinking a lot less and you can just fly around and do your job.”
On the flip side, in preparation to face one of the top running backs in the nation in Iowa State’s Breece Hall, Jacobs said that came down to the scout team’s running backs “having fun,” in practice, giving it their all, taking the hard hits, then popping up and laughing before they ran the play again.
In a way, all three linebackers also got their hands on the ball on back-to-back ISU drives. Jacobs knocked a ball free from Hall’s grasp, Campbell recovered it for a touchdown, then Seth Benson intercepted the ball on the Cyclones’ following drive.
“I'm teasing those guys because our linebackers a lot of times are working the jugs after practice,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “I said: ‘You guys never get your hands on balls, you’re wasting your time.’ But they proved me wrong today, all three of them."
The next-man-up mentality can span position roles, too. Following Benson’s interception, Iowa’s offense struggled. Quarterback Spencer Petras overthrew wide receiver Charlie Jones in the end zone and was sacked on the following play for a 9-yard loss. It was kicker Caleb Shudak who came through to make the turnover count with a 51-yard field goal to bring the score to 24-10.
“I didn’t know football-wise how good we were coming out of spring ball,” Ferentz said. “But they act in a way that demonstrates they care about each other.”
That care and trust is from across the line of scrimmage in practice, too. Last week, Petras laughed when he said that despite his roommate, cornerback Riley Moss’ dominant double pick-6 performance against Indiana, Moss has only intercepted him once in practice. And he’ll tease him for that.
Campbell added a comment about how Petras played a role in helping the defense eliminate Iowa State senior and 2020 Davey O’Brien Award semifinalist Brock Purdy’s pass game.
“In your guys' eyes, it might have been a tough day for him,” Campbell said. “Spencer is a heck of a quarterback.”
Hankins’ second interception at the end of the third quarter marked the third straight offensive series for Iowa State that ended in a turnover, and Iowa’s subsequent offensive series ended with more points on the board: 27-10.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Hunter Dekkers stepped into the game for Iowa State with just over 12 minutes left in the fourth quarter and after that, Iowa held on strong for a 27-17 victory.
Hankins said that while he was pleased with his own performance, which not only included two interceptions, but a pass break-up and four solo tackles, there’s still room for improvement. After his first interception, he stood up, and jogged nonchalantly to the sideline with a swarm of teammates patting him on the back.
He wasn’t surprised at himself, and by extension, isn’t surprised the defense he’s on took down the No. 9 team in the country.
“You’ve got to act like you’ve been here before,” Hankins said. “It just comes down to the film work, preparation and reading the keys. So it's not luck.”
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