Iowa's Josh Jackson is Outback Bowl outlier at cornerback
TAMPA, Fla. — Let's run down the four starting cornerbacks for Monday’s Outback Bowl:
Iowa’s Desmond King needs no introduction. The two-time all-American has 13 career interceptions, won the 2015 Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back and is about to make his school-record 51st career start.
Meet Florida’s Jalen “Teez” Tabor. You’ve probably heard him mentioned as a possible top-10 NFL Draft pick, if he turns pro. Tabor is a first-team all-Southeastern Conference pick with eight interceptions over the past two seasons.
Tabor’s wingman is Quincy Wilson, another junior who might join him as a first-round draft pick if he declares for the draft. Wilson has three interceptions, including one for a 78-yard touchdown, and was an all-SEC second-teamer.
The fourth starter? A sophomore who spent the spring of 2015 at wide receiver and has zero career interceptions, zero career starts. That’d be Iowa’s Joshua Jackson.
“Next Man In,” Jackson said, “is always what we talk about.”
In a showcase game for cornerbacks, Jackson is the unknown quantity.
A season-ending foot injury in November to 35-game starter Greg Mabin was the first domino to fall in Iowa’s secondary. Then came a shoulder/collarbone fracture for Mabin's replacement, freshman Manny Rugamba, in the season finale against Nebraska.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said Wednesday that Rugamba had been ruled out for Monday's game.
That means it's action for Jackson.
“He’s ready to learn, willing to go out there and play his heart out,” King said. “That’s one thing we’re getting Josh ready to do.”
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Opponents have barely looked King’s way, let alone throw at the corner with such a rich reputation. So look for Florida quarterback Austin Appleby to identify where Jackson is lined up and throw that way to test him.
Don’t be surprised, either, if the Lake Dallas (Texas) High School product does just fine.
He was solid in a relief role to Rugamba against Nebraska. And while contributing in Iowa’s nickel and dime packages over the past two years, he’s matched up against some quality receivers — such as Iowa State’s Allen Lazard and Purdue’s DeAngelo Yancey — and accounted for himself well.
Jackson has talent and an impressive 6-foot-1, 185-pound physique. He just lacks experience, with King and Mabin holding down the cornerback roles the past three years.
Now, he’ll get it.
Back on media day in August, Jackson said this: “For some reason, I don’t really get nervous before games. It’s more of an exciting feeling for me.”
Jackson won’t be the only fresh face out there Monday. Iowa’s third (and final) available cornerback is Michael Ojemudia, a seldom-used freshman whose brightest moment to date was a pick-six of Tyler Wiegers in Iowa’s spring scrimmage.
“They’ve been getting … reps all year, so I’m not really concerned with that. I think they’re all ready to go,” defensive coordinator Phil Parker said. “I’m excited to see what they can do. The way the guys prepared, I’m really happy with.”
A little more about Ojemudia, in case you see him on the field quite a bit Monday: The Farmington Hills, Mich., native isn’t totally raw. With Mabin out in the spring and Jackson dinged and operating in a red no-contact jersey, Ojemudia got time with the first-team defense.
Oh, and he’s a mechanical engineering major. Translation: He’s probably really smart. How does it apply to football?
“You’ve got to kind of learn all the angles,” Ojemudia said on media day. “There’s more to football than just the routes.”
So get ready Monday to peek into the defensive backfield of Iowa’s future.
And if you don’t notice them that much on the noon broadcast on ABC, that’s probably a good sign for the Hawkeyes.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a challenge. We have guys like me playing,” King said. “It’s just about going out there and playing your heart out, and sticking together as a defense.”