Iowa Football

Iowa's inexperienced linebacking corps survives and thrives in first test

3 new starters not too big of a deal in 33-7 win

Iowa Hawkeyes linebacker Jack Hockaday (48) jumps in the air as he celebrates after linebacker Nick Niemann (49) stopped Northern Illinois Huskies wide receiver D.J. Brown (10) short of a first down on a fourth down play during the first quarter of their NCAA football game at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Sep. 1, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Iowa Hawkeyes linebacker Jack Hockaday (48) jumps in the air as he celebrates after linebacker Nick Niemann (49) stopped Northern Illinois Huskies wide receiver D.J. Brown (10) short of a first down on a fourth down play during the first quarter of their NCAA football game at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Sep. 1, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — So linebacker could be a problem area for the Iowa football team? Not Saturday.

That group did just fine in the Hawkeyes’ 33-7 win over Northern Illinois at Kinnick Stadium.

This was the first time in Coach Kirk Ferentz’s 20 seasons as head coach that Iowa did not have a backer with a single career start. Nick Niemann, Amani Jones and Kristian Welch got theirs here and acquitted themselves nicely.

“I think we played well,” Welch said. “We did some adjustments kind of down the line that allowed us to play faster. There are, obviously, improvements that need to be made. We’ve got some stuff we need to clean up.”

“I think today we definitely took a step forward,” Niemann said. “Just getting our foot in the door, guys getting their first starts and everything. Like Coach (Seth) Wallace tells us, during the season there are going to be a lot of guys coming in and out as needed, filling roles and taking opportunities.”

Sophomore Niemann played most of the way on the outside, coming up with a huge tackle of NIU’s D.J. Brown for a loss of 6 yards on a 4th-and-2 jet sweep in a scoreless game late in the first quarter.

“Just saw a seam, hit it and hit the ballcarrier in the backfield.”

Junior Welch played weakside backer and led Iowa with 11 tackles, including a sack and a tackle for loss. When he left briefly with cramps, redshirt freshman Djimon Colbert spelled him.

Jones, a junior, was the guy in the middle, though he was replaced in the second quarter by senior Jack Hockaday, who got a long look in this one. Jones finished with six tackles, Hockaday with five, including one for loss.

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“Really, as a backup, you’ve just got to be ready for whatever situation,” Hockaday said. “You never know when your number is going to be called, and when it is, you’ve just got to be ready. Going into this game, that was my thinking. Be ready. Go in there and do what you need to do to help the team.”

“I think I said the other day that game action is always different than practice,” Ferentz said. “And we’ll be evaluating the team all year long ... I thought Jack stepped in, did a nice job, (and) that was great to see. Amani, we think is a really good football player, and he’ll be back at it. I thought the outside guys did a pretty good job from what I could tell. Nothing major that hurt us at all.”

Welch was asked if he felt he and his cohorts answered a lot of the questions surrounding them.

“I’m just worried about us doing our job,” he said. “If we can do that, the rest will take care of itself. I’m not necessarily worried about the pressure put on by the fans and the rest of the team. We’re just focused on improving each and every day. I think that’s something we did this past week. Everything kind of came together. We meshed well. I get banged up, Amani comes out, whatever the case may be, and we had guys step up. We’re going to have that depth.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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