IOWA CITY, Iowa — Josh Jackson’s opening-day assignment was to defend against one of the nation’s best quarterbacks in Wyoming’s Josh Allen.
This week, the Iowa junior cornerback moves on to perhaps an even more difficult assignment. Jackson must defend the best receiver he’ll see this season in Iowa State senior Allen Lazard. At 6 feet, 5 inches and 222 pounds, Lazard already has set the Cyclones’ all-time receiving record with 178 career catches.
That’s why Jackson and fellow cornerback Manny Rugamba might be the most important players on the field for Iowa on Saturday. Jackson, who stands 6-1 and weighs 192 pounds, will see either Lazard or 6-6 Hakeem Butler on practically every snap. It’s a challenge in which he’s prepared.
“I think they’re all really aggressive,” Jackson said. “They’re fast. They have their different athleticisms that they bring to the game. We have to play fundamentals in our technique, and I think we’ll be fine.”
Jackson made his second career start in the opener against Wyoming. He picked off one pass and knocked down another in the end zone. He displayed a perfect form tackle on the game’s second play and didn’t let any of the Cowboys’ receivers get away from him during the game.
With 5 tackles, Jackson helped solidify the perimeter while Iowa’s box linebackers cleaned up inside. It was Jackson’s sure tackling — and that of his teammates — which surprised many, especially for the season opener.
“In training camp we really didn’t have that many live practices, but every day we had to thud up and make sure that we put a body on a guy,” Jackson said. “I think that’s truly what led to a great tackling performance by us. Just running to the ball and making sure we wrapped up.
“Ever since fall camp and the spring, we made sure that we ran to the ball, even if it’s a long ball. We had to make sure we got to the ball carrier and make sure we put a body on him. I think we just carried that over to the game and made sure that we put a body on whoever has the ball.”
Jackson needs to carry that mindset over this week against the Cyclones. Lazard can run any type of route and uses his size effectively against smaller defenders. Lazard has enough speed to separate and good enough hands to catch the ball in traffic, whether that’s one-handed or in back-shoulder routes.
Butler, a sophomore, doesn’t have Lazard’s resume but he’s a dangerous threat as well.
“Their experience is on the perimeter where our inexperience is prominent,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “ And then other thing they have, they have great size, unusual size. Those two guys you just mentioned would be a good start to a basketball team, intramural basketball team if you’re going to do that. So matching up size-wise is going to be a challenge, and they use their size well.”
Jackson’s background includes a solid prep career at Lake Dallas (Texas) High School, where he played both wide receiver and defensive back. He came to Iowa with options at either position and played both as a redshirt. In 2015, he focused at cornerback and saw action as a dime back and on special teams. Last fall, he performed the same tasks until the season finale against Nebraska when he played most of the game at left cornerback. He started at that position in the Outback Bowl and recorded 3 solo tackles.
Previously, Jackson showed flashes in both in practice and games but he was inconsistent. This offseason he grew in both his knowledge and his technique. With an open competition at both cornerback positions, Jackson secured a starting role early and held on through camp.
“He’s always worked hard, and he’s got a great attitude,” Ferentz said. “He likes football; there’s no question about that. That was really evident. Just wasn’t a real detailed guy at the start, some of the things that are really critical; and if you’re going to be a defensive back, it’s important to know you have some certain responsibilities.
“I think it’s overall maturation, which you see with a lot of players. Attitude was never a question with him. His work ethic was always good. It’s kind of keeping things between the lines a little bit better. It just seems like last year, he really started to blossom a little bit.”
Jackson learned enough to bait his own quarterbacks in training camp.
“Obviously he’s super athletic,” quarterback Nate Stanley said. “He disguises the coverages that he’s playing real well. He’ll come up and start up on the line like he’s going to press. So I mean he definitely poses some problems with the reads that our receivers have to get and the reads that I have to get. Playing against a guy like him definitely helps me prepare for other guys that can play like that, too.”
Jackson likely will need all of those skills on Saturday. But he’s ready for the challenge that Iowa State’s receivers present.
“You still have to play physical, get in their face, try to get your hands on them, and really I’m going to try to use my size, too,” Jackson said. “I’m 6-2 and I try to make that a little bit of an edge.”
The post Why Iowa cornerback Josh Jackson is crucial to Hawkeyes’ chances at Iowa State appeared first on Land of 10.
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