IOWA CITY — When Wisconsin runs onto the field Saturday at Kinnick Stadium, the Big Ten’s most powerful rushing attack will challenge Iowa.
As usual, James Morris expects to be ready.
The steady play of the senior who anchors the Hawkeye defense from his spot at middle linebacker has been a constant as Iowa has built its 5-3 record. His work is not going unnoticed.
After being named Monday as the Big Ten defensive player of the week for the second time in Iowa’s last four games, Morris was named Tuesday as the national Lott IMPACT player of the week.
The award recognizes both performance and character and comes at a time when the Solon, Iowa, native believes he is playing some of the best football of his career.
“I’m a senior, I’m pretty experienced and I’m playing with some good players around me,’’ Morris said Tuesday. “That opens up some opportunities in some aspects of the game. I’m very comfortable with the schemes we try to do and I feel like I can lean on my experiences as a data bank of what other teams are trying to do.’’
A starter since his freshman season, Morris is the only player in the Big Ten to record at least 60 tackles, four sacks and three interceptions and he has averaged 10 tackles per game in conference play this season.
Teammates talk about Morris’ leadership, his preparation on a weekly basis and his willingness to help the players around him improve.
“He’s not in this game for himself. He’s in it for the team aspect of it and if he sees something that will help us all, he’ll bring it up and do what he can to make the entire defense better,’’ linebacker Christian Kirksey said. “He’s played a lot of football here and those experiences help us all prepare for what we expect to see.’’
Morris is the first Iowa player to earn defensive player of the week recognition twice in the same season since Jonathan Babineaux in 2004.
Appreciative of the recognition, he calls the attention humbling and prefers just to go about things with a business-like approach.
Coach Kirk Ferentz said Morris has worked his way into that exclusive company in part because of how he uses his past experiences to prepare for the present.
“There’s nothing like experience for the guys who use it,’’ Ferentz said. “Anything he has, he’ll use, and experience is a part of that. Some guys just kind of float through life, so experience isn’t that big of a deal, but that’s not the case with him. He’s one of those guys who goes back and reflects on everything and studies and improves from it.’’
This week, that reflection includes preparing for a Wisconsin team Morris last faced as a freshman. The Badgers average 513.6 yards of offense per game in an attack built around two of the top three rushers in the Big Ten, Melvin Gordon and James White.
The pair combine to rush for an average 240.6 yards per game, complementing a passing attack which averages 216.7 yards.
Morris will prepare as usual.
“It seems Wisconsin always has a huge offensive line and a strong running game,’’ Morris said. “This year is no different and they’ll challenge us with size and speed, but it is still football. I’ve always found it best to keep it all on an even keel, prepare the best you can and go out on Saturday ready to make plays.’’