IOWA CITY — Josey Jewell expects to have his hands full this weekend.
The Iowa linebacker is preparing to face Wisconsin and a power-based ground game that collected 236 yards last weekend against Ohio State, a mirror image of the strength and toughness that are longstanding cornerstones of the Hawkeye program.
A handful of Iowa players said Tuesday they are preparing for a fistfight in Saturday’s 11 a.m. match-up at Kinnick Stadium, the same type of backyard brawl dominated by physical play that was the name of the game when the Hawkeyes earned a hard-fought 10-6 win over the Badgers a year ago.
Iowa forced four turnovers when it opened last season’s 8-0 run through the Big Ten with the win at Camp Randall Stadium, recovering a fumble on the 1-yard line midway through the fourth quarter and needing a fourth-down stop at the 16-yard line with 38 seconds remaining to preserve the victory.
Jewell expects more of the same.
“It’s never easy against those guys. That’s not how they’re built. That’s not how we’re built,’’ Jewell said. “It’s going to be a tough, tough football game.’’
That doesn’t bother Jewell.
From his spot at middle linebacker, the junior leads the Hawkeyes with 61 tackles despite being on the field for only six snaps in Iowa’s season opener before being a targeting call on special teams forced him off the field for the rest of the game.
Jewell brings that level of intensity, that type of fight to a Hawkeye defense which has shown growth in recent weeks.
After struggling against the run during the initial weeks of the season, surrendering an average of 182.8 yards on the ground in its first five games, Iowa gave up 102 yards in a 14-7 win at Minnesota two weeks ago and followed that by allowing 46 rushing yards last week at Purdue.
“We’re getting back to playing the way we expect to play and way we need to play,’’ Jewell said. “We’re not giving an inch.’’
That’s always been the name of the game for Jewell, one of the recruiting gems uncovered by Reese Morgan who midway through his junior year finds himself sixth in the Big Ten in tackles at 8.7 stops per game.
One of the last players to join the Hawkeyes’ 2013 recruiting class, Jewell had been offered a partial scholarship by Northern Iowa and was close to following in his brother Robby’s footsteps and continuing his career at Luther College in his hometown of Decorah, Iowa.
“Watching him in high school, you could see an intensity in the way he played the game that fit with what we like to do,’’ Morgan said. “I recall his coaches talking a lot about his competitive nature, about how he was one of those guys who really liked to take on a challenge. He seemed like a great fit, and he hasn’t disappointed us at all.’’
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Jewell grew up on a farm just outside of town, a family operation on the banks of the Upper Iowa River. The Jewells grow corn in addition to raising thousands of turkeys and around 200 cattle at any given point in time.
It was there where Jewell developed the work ethic and approach that has allowed him to excel in the fistfights he finds himself in on the football fields of the Big Ten, winning those one-on-one battles that collectively lead to defensive success.
“When you grow up on a farm, you work hard because you have to. You learn how to work, you learn responsibility. You get up early in the morning to chore because there is a responsibility there. If you don’t feed the cattle, they die,’’ Jewell said.
“Those things — the way you have to work and the responsibility you have to yourself and those around you — they do carry over to football. A lot of who I am on the field is because of how I was raised, what I learned from my family.’’
Those lessons create a competitive edge that Jewell brings to the football field each day, lessons that that will be helpful against the 10th-ranked Badgers.
“You better bring your best against them,’’ he said. “It’s two really good teams going at it and we know that anything less won’t get it done.’’