IOWA CITY – Ben Niemann and Bo Bower know what it’s like for Iowa opponents to try to deal with what Josey Jewell is dishing out.
The other two senior linebackers in the Hawkeyes’ starting lineup are doing everything they can to try to keep up with Iowa’s middle linebacker every day.
“Just to compete with him every day and try to play to the standard that he has, that’s definitely a good thing,’’ Niemann said.
And matching that level of performance.
“Easier said than done,’’ Bower said. “But, it moves you forward trying to get it done and that’s the most important thing. He’s always on top of his game and that raises the bar for all of us.’’
That certainly was the case last Saturday against Penn State.
Jewell had one of “those games’’ as he joined the rest of the Hawkeyes in trying to slow down Heisman Trophy candidate Saquon Barkley.
With a national television audience looking on, Jewell matched his career high with 16 tackles, including 11 solo stops and a career-high three tackles for a loss.
He recorded the fifth interception of his career and returned it 33 yards to set up Iowa’s first touchdown of the game, broke up two more passes and recovered a fumble.
The effort didn’t go unnoticed.
Jewell was named Monday as the Big Ten co-defensive player of the week, the second time in four games the preseason all-American has received the award.
A day later he was named by the committees which had out the Bronco Nagurski and Bednarik awards to the nation’s top collegiate defender as their weekly national defensive player of the week selections.
Also Tuesday, Jewell said that while the recognition was nice, he’d trade them all for a win over the Nittany Lions.
That’s how he’s wired and that’s how those who line up on either side of him are wired, in part because of the way Jewell approaches the game.
“It’s pretty unusual to have three senior linebackers, but we have three good ones that we feel good about,’’ Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker said at Iowa’s media day last month.
“Josey, what can I say, he’s one of the best out there and he’s become that with the way he has worked. It’s all a result of what he’s put into his game.’’
Niemann has seen it since he arrived on the Iowa campus four years ago.
“He’s one of the top linebackers in the country,’’ Niemann said. “Just getting the chance to compete with him every day and try to play to the standard that he has, that’s definitely a good thing.’’
That’s why as the accolades poured in earlier this week, Jewell was back at work, getting ready for this Saturday’s 3 p.m. test at Michigan State.
“That’s all cool stuff, but I’d rather just win the game,’’ Jewell said. “That stuff is kind of secondary to me.’’
Instead, he’ll focus on the challenges the Spartans will present the Hawkeye defense.
That begins with the dual-threat skills of sophomore quarterback Brian Lewerke who leads the Big Ten in total offense. He averages 319 yards per game and in addition to passing for just over 250 yards per game, he also leads Michigan State in rushing with an average of 68 yards.
Lewerke’s abilities complement a deep group of physical running backs. LJ Scott, Gerald Holmes and Madre London combine to average just over 125 yards on the ground while sharing duties in the Spartans’ backfield.
Jewell’s work in dealing with them begins in studying tape.
He said linebackers who preceded him at Iowa helped him develop the ability to pick it apart, understanding what he needs to know to prepare for an opponent and how to use what he sees to his advantage.
Jewell said James Morris, Anthony Hitchens and Christian Kirksey gave him a base understanding of that during his freshman season.
He said former Hawkeye linebackers Travis Perry and Cole Fisher and his position coaches, current Boston College defensive coordinator Jim Reid and current linebackers coach Seth Wallace, helped him grow his game.
Hawkeyes helping Hawkeyes, talking with each other and working together to prepare and comprehend what they are seeing has helped the collective unit thrive.
“You have to understand what kind of plays teams will run in different situations, different formations and you have to watch quite a bit of film to not think that much,’’ Jewell said. “If you don’t watch a lot of film, you might be thinking a little bit more and you might be slower on your reads.’’
Niemann said that dedication to studying tape has helped Jewell craft the consistent performances he delivers.
“He’s really just thinking of any possibility he can get out there on the field,’’ Niemann said. “The leadership he has, the work in the weight room, the whole offseason, all of that goes into it and it all shows up on game day. He does a lot of extra things.’’