Donnell Kirkwood had finally found space. With his team down 21-10
early in the second quarter, the Minnesota running back darted between
the tackles and crossed the first down marker— before he met Ibraheim Campbell.
The safety made a memorable tackle, knocking the ‘M’ decal off of
Kirkwood’s helmet. Only a sophomore, Campbell has managed to play with
a physicality befitting the most experienced member of the
Campbell posted his second consecutive double-digit tackle performance
against the Gophers, making 10 stops on the afternoon in a 21-13
“Ibraheim Campbell played very well,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “… It
seemed like when the ball got to ’24,’ the ball went to the ground.”
After a series of strong but quiet performances during a four-game
span, Campbell reemerged as a defensive playmaker two weekends ago at
Penn State. He had 14 tackles and aided in shutting down the long
passing game, which forced quarterback Matt McGloin to check down on
Following week one, a great deal of concern surrounded the secondary,
and for good reason. The unit labored through a difficult matchup at
Syracuse, as NU barely held on to win 42-41.
After the game, Fitzgerald chose to start senior Jared Carpenter, who
replaced junior Davion Fleming opposite Campbell. With steady
performances – especially from Carpenter and freshman corner Nick VanHoose – the defensive backs have improved ever since.
On Saturday, Max Shortell and MarQueis Gray combined to throw for just
169 yards. What Carpenter lacks in experience on the field, he appears
to make up for with solid rapport alongside Campbell.
“It’s been good playing with Jared,” Campbell said. “He’s had a lot of
experience as well, so it’s definitely helped me. We’ve been able to
mesh well back there and communicate well. I think we’ve done a good
job so far.”
NU has also benefited from strong linebacker performances. In 2011,
Campbell led the team with 100 tackles. This season, however, the
three starting linebackers sit atop the tackle leaderboard.
This, to Campbell, is reflective of the unit’s improved performance in
the run game.
“It definitely means that they’re playing better because it’s rare
that I’m up at the line of scrimmage,” he said. “It means the (running
plays) are getting taken care of before they get to the second level.”
While other defensive players – especially the linebackers – have
risen to prominence this season, Campbell is still a major asset. It
was no coincidence that the NU defense struggled against Indiana after
he left with a minor injury.
Just two years ago, Campbell watched from the sidelines as a redshirt
freshman. Almost immediately after he saw his first action last
season, Campbell left an impact. He intercepted Denard Robinson twice
in NU’s failed upset bid against Michigan, serving notice that the
Wildcats had a new defensive presence. One thing that remained
steadfast: his confidence.
“I expect to do well no matter what situation I’m in,” he said. “I
think I prepare for that.”
Campbell’s transition to the starter’s role was hardly seamless. The
secondary performed poorly down the stretch in 2011, contributing to
several blown leads. The Football Writers Association of America still
took notice of his individual play, naming him a Freshman
A year later, with several starts under his belt, Campbell can focus
on the fundamentals.
“He’s been through a bunch of battles,” Fitzgerald said. “(On
Saturday) he tackled very well and that’s a hallmark of every great
The upcoming home game against Nebraska figures to challenge the Cats
defense. Good thing for NU that one of its finest players has regained