By Tyler Devine
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Josey Jewell and Josh Jackson have traveled different paths to stardom as Iowa football players.
And now their paths have crossed with both being named semifinalists for the Chuck Bednarik Award, which is given to college football’s defensive player of the year.
Jewell doesn't pay attention to individual honors and would prefer to discuss individual accolades after the season.
“I mean, yeah it’s nice, but you can’t look at it right now,” said Jewell, who has started at middle linebacker since he was a sophomore. “Maybe you can look at it at the end of the year. Right now, you just look at it as it’s cool, but you try to get back to work and you try to have it actually mean something at the end of the year.”
Jewell and Jackson don't have time to focus on individual awards with third-ranked Ohio State coming to Kinnick Stadium on Saturday.
“I haven’t really been paying much attention to it,” said Jackson, who is in his first season as a starting cornerback. “I’m just trying to focus on Ohio State and a team win would be more important right now.
“I just try to come out each and every day and just compete with myself and prove to myself that I can play. It’s not really trying to please other people it’s just about doing what I have to do to help my team out and being the best I can be each and every day.”
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Jewell and Jackson both arrived at Iowa under similar circumstances as lightly recruited prospects from Decorah and Corinth, Texas, respectively.
Jewell’s only scholarship offer was from Iowa and he also had a partial offer from Northern Iowa, while Jackson had offers from Iowa, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico State.
Jewell exploded on the scene and has been a key contributor for the Hawkeyes since his freshman season, whereas Jackson’s rise has been more of a slow build.
The 6-foot-2, 236-pound pound Jewell has started every game but one at middle linebacker since the Illinois game of his freshman year. He also leads the Big Ten with 81 tackles in eight games and has twice made second-team all-Big Ten.
Jackson, on the other hand, had only started one game in his career before this season, but he now leads the nation with 17 passes defended and 15 passes broken up.
“It’s definitely been just a slow build from camp because you’re a new guy coming in,” said the 6-1, 192-pound Jackson. “Each and every day you have to prove yourself and you’ve got to come out with a great attitude. You’ve got to come to work every day and expect to make plays and just keep doing it.
“It’s really been gradual and you have to earn it. I think it’s just more earned than anything.”
Playing behind current NFL players Desmond King and Greg Mabin has certainly helped Jackson make the transition to a starter. But Jackson’s focus on repetition and earning his spot are what he says have made the biggest difference.
“I think each and every game I’m able to recognize things and get a little better,” Jackson said. “I gain a little more knowledge, a little more wisdom and a little more comfort. It’s about the reps. The more reps you get, the more comfortable you’re going to feel. It’s just about utilizing those reps and improving every day.”
Unlike Jewell and Jackson, senior linebacker Ben Niemann didn't downplay their many accomplishments on the field.
“It’s great,” Niemann said. “I’m more alongside Josey I guess because Josh is at a different position. Both of those guys are talented players and obviously they make our defense better. They’re guys that work hard, come to practice every day ready to go and make the people around them better so it’s definitely beneficial to have those guys.”
Injury report: Barring any unforeseen setbacks, Iowa will enter Saturday's game against Ohio State in the same physical condition as last week against Minnesota.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said on Tuesday that junior free safety Brandon Snyder would not play against Ohio State because his surgically-repaired knee isn't ready.
The 6-1, 214-pound Snyder suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in spring practice in April and has missed all but one game this season.
After weeks of speculation, Ferentz confirmed on Tuesday that Snyder re-injured the same knee during his return to the lineup against Illinois.
Ferentz didn't say whether Snyder would play again this season.
Same team, new look: Iowa will feature alternate uniforms against Ohio State.
Iowa has not dressed in alternate uniforms since the Minnesota game in 2015.
For senior running back James Butler, certain features of the alternate uniforms are better than the traditional uniforms.
Butler also thinks the alternate uniforms could give Iowa a morale boost against a talented Ohio State team.
“They’re nice, they’re real nice,” Butler said. “They’re blackout uniforms and we got to practice in the helmets. They’re more comfortable than our normal helmets so it’s fun.
“If you feel good, you play good. I know a lot of guys are going to be feeling themselves so hopefully we play up to it. (We found out) probably 20 minutes before the world did so we’re excited.”
Kirk Ferentz has a different thought process when it comes to alternate uniforms.
He has never been a huge fan of alternate uniforms, but he had some fun with media while discussing them on Tuesday.
“I couldn’t sleep Saturday night I was so excited,” Ferentz said jokingly. “And it was even better to see the helmets. We wore the helmets in practice today. I was trying to concentrate on what we were doing but I kept looking at those helmets. Those are awesome. Awesome.
“I know everybody is going to like them. I said, really, what I hope, after the game, people say: They really played well in those uniforms. Those awesome uniforms.
“I haven't seen it yet actually in person, so I don't know. I'll reserve judgment until I see them in person.”
Big Ben comparison: Sophomore quarterback Nate Stanley has performed well enough this season that some of his teammates have compared him to two-time Super Bowl champion Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The 6-foot-5, 235-pound Stanley certainly has comparable size to the 6-foot-5, 241-pound Roethlisberger.
Stanley also would like to see a bit of Roethlisberger’s style of play become part of his game.
“I think some of my teammates mess around with me about being a pretty big guy,” Stanley said. “I think from that standpoint people are just throwing that out there. I haven’t really heard anybody, especially television announcers or anything, compare myself to other quarterbacks.
“But I think it’s something I try to emulate in the quarterbacks game, especially guys like Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger and incorporate things from them into my game.”
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Stanley also said Iowa quarterbacks coach Ken O’Keefe has mentioned former Hawkeye quarterback Nate Chandler’s size around him, but has not directly compared Stanley to Chandler.
Chandler was listed at 6-foot-7 and 250 pounds at Iowa.
“No one has ever compared me to him but coach O’Keefe has talked about him sometimes and said that he was like 260 (pounds) or something like that,” Stanley said. “Sparingly we’ve talked about him but no comparisons between me and him.”
The Butler Does It: The return of James Butler could be a sight for sore eyes for the struggling Iowa offense.
Butler suffered an elbow injury against North Texas and missed four consecutive games before making his return against Minnesota last Saturday.
Butler only rushed for just 28 yards on 11 attempts and had a key fumble just before halftime. But Kirk Ferentz is glad to have another senior leader back on the field.
“I think it was a confidence builder for all of us, because you're never sure of a guy coming off an injury and in his case, it was a little bit unique, too,” Ferentz said. “You know, the turnover that did take place, I don't think was related to his injury at all.
“So it's just one of those things. He's such a quality young man and he's a guy that I think gives us some energy and his leadership; we don't have a lot of seniors in that huddle. So you get another senior with good eyes stepping in that huddle. That's a really, really, positive thing for us.”
Butler said he considered not playing for the rest of the season in order to recover and apply for a medical redshirt, but he ultimately decided that he could still contribute this season.
“It was definitely a thought,” Butler said. “In practice on Wednesday or Thursday (before Minnesota) where I was getting hit was where my decision-making came in. I knew if I couldn’t go then I would shut it down but if I felt like I could still play at a high level I’d want to play again.”
Quick hitters: Iowa ranks third and is tied for 12th nationally in scoring defense, allowing an average of 17.4 points per game. Ohio State leads the Big Ten and ranks second nationally in scoring offense, averaging 46.3 points per game. Iowa has held seven of its eight opponents this season below their scoring average by an average of 11.1 points per game…Iowa has won three of its last four games against top five teams at home…Stanley’s 17 touchdown passes ranks second in the Big Ten and 19th nationally. He has a 156.3 passing efficiency in the fourth quarter and overtime…Sophomore defensive end Anthony Nelson is tied for second in the Big Ten with six sacks…Senior receiver Matt VandeBerg has 125 career receptions. He is two receptions away from passing Marv Cook and moving into the top 10 in school history…Senior running back Akrum Wadley has 30 career touchdowns. He is two touchdowns from moving into the top five and tying Tim Dwight and Ronnie Harmon.