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IOWA CITY, Iowa — As one challenge at linebacker begins to cease, a new challenge looms.
Redshirt freshman Bo Bower, sophomore Reggie Spearman, and senior Quinton Alston are no longer the new kids in town trying to replace three NFL linebackers. It is five games into 2014, nearly halfway through the season, and the Hawkeye trio is growing up. It had no choice — inexperience lasts only so long — and a new challenge is getting closer by the minute.
Indiana visits Kinnick Stadium on Saturday and the Hoosiers are bringing a lot of offense with them. Indiana ranks eighth nationally with 300.0 rushing yards per game, and 18th nationally with 513.2 yards of offense per game.
“They have an explosive offense,” said linebackers coach LeVar Woods. “They’re near the top of the country in rushing and they do well passing. It’s a great offense and we’re going to try to stop them.”
Woods is going to battle with a group of linebackers that combined for one career start prior to this year. Alston, Bower, and Spearman have since started each of Iowa’s five games, raising their combined career starts to 16. They are a long way from being labeled seasoned veterans, but they have grown up quickly.
“I like this group,” said Woods. “They’re young, but they’re gaining experience. It’s been a lot of fun to work with them and they are improving every day.”
Alston is the exception to the “new kid” tag. He is a senior, but one without a lot of significant snaps under his belt. Entering this season he had 24 career tackles and one career start — 2012 at Michigan. Through five games, the old man on campus shares the team lead with 36 tackles.
“Quinton has been doing this a long time,” said Woods. “He’s a veteran guy, knows what we expect, and knows what he wants to do. He has his own agenda and goals. He wants to lead this team to a Big Ten title and he’s doing an excellent job of that so far.”
Spearman showed last season in limited time that he can be a special player. As a true freshman, playing mostly on special teams and third-down packages, he made 10 stops in 10 games. In 2014, he has 22 tackles through the first five weeks.
“I think all that experience helped him prepare for his next year as a sophomore,” said Woods. “Right now he is in it, he is starting, and he is doing well.”
Bower redshirted his freshman year, but impressed so much in preseason camp he earned scholarship and a starting job. He has rewarded Iowa with 16 tackles, one sack, and one interception.
“A week before the first game Bo was a walk-on kid trying to earn a scholarship and find a spot on special teams,” said Woods. “One week later he was starting and made a big play in a game and hasn’t looked back since.”
Iowa’s defense, ranked No. 4 in the Big Ten, and Indiana’s offense, the third-best in the conference, meet Saturday at 11:01 a.m. (CT). It is Iowa’s annual Homecoming game, and Woods, a Hawkeye letterman from 1998-2000, expects an exciting reunion.
“Any time you have Homecoming and former players here it is special. Playing at the University of Iowa is a special thing. It’s something not everyone gets to do, and there is a tight bond between former players. It will be fun to see.”