Confident Campbell leading NU secondary

Ibraheim Campbell is just a sophomore, playing in his second full season with Northwestern. Despite his youth, Campbell has emerged as a leader in the secondary.

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 Northwestern secondary.

Campbell posted his second consecutive double-digit tackle performance against the Gophers, making 10 stops on the afternoon in a 21-13 victory.

"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 several occasions.

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 All-American.

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 safety."

The upcoming home game against Nebraska figures to challenge the Cats defense. Good thing for NU that one of its finest players has regained his stride.

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