Senior linebacker Jack Gibbens leading defense in first season with Gophers football

Abilene Christian graduate transfer Jack Gibbens continues to shine in his first season donning the maroon & gold.

Linebacker+Jack+Gibbens+levels+a+hit+on+a+Bowling+Green+University+player+during+the+2021+Homecoming+Game+on+Saturday%2C+Sept.+25%2C+2021+at+Huntington+Bank+Stadium+in+Minneapolis%2C+Minn.

Ethan Fine

Linebacker Jack Gibbens levels a hit on a Bowling Green University player during the 2021 Homecoming Game on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021 at Huntington Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn.

by Tony Liebert

Teams have struggled to run the ball against the Gophers defense this season. They are allowing the sixth-fewest rushing yards per game this season at 86.8.

As a transfer from FCS program Abilene Christian, many didn’t know what to expect from Jack Gibbens in his first season playing Big Ten football.

“Everybody on an FCS school wants to prove they can play at this level,” Gibbens said.

After recording 258 tackles, seven sacks and five interceptions in his four year career with the Wildcats, his production hasn’t dropped with the Gophers.

“He fits perfectly with us — the program, the culture, the system,” Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck said. “He’s a really, really, really good football player.”

Gibbens currently leads the entire Gophers’ defense with 38 total tackles this season, while his three pass deflections and one forced fumble are also tied for best on the team.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NCAA granted every college football player an additional year of eligibility, and Gibbens took advantage. Jumping from the FCS at a school with an enrollment of just under 5,000 people into the Big Ten can be intimidating for some, but Gibbens has fit right in.

“Especially coming from the level I was playing at, we weren’t playing guys that were 350 pounds,” Gibbens said. “That was something that definitely helped, I think, all spring and fall camp just to kind of get ready for this season, was going against those guys every day. They’re big and physical and they get after it, for sure.”

It was a smooth transition for the 6-foot-4-inch linebacker as he started for the Gophers in week one against Ohio State. After playing most of his career in a stadium that holds 12,000 people, a primetime game under the lights in front of a sold out crowd of 50,000 people didn’t faze Gibbens.

“I feel like I’ve been here a long time, and it’s been like nine months,” Gibbens said earlier this season. “These guys kind of accepted me and the other guys that came in with open arms. We just kind of hit the ground running. I think the connectivity of this team made that transition super easy. It’s just a bunch of guys who really care about each other and want to win and want to work.”

Playing at inside linebacker, a dominant defensive line can often make players like Gibbens’ job of bringing down ball carriers that come through the line easier. The Gophers’ group up front has been just that — dominant.

“It’s super fun to play behind those guys,” Gibbens said. “We get to just run over top and try to make tackles because those guys are getting double teamed and holding the line of scrimmage so [opposing offensive linemen] don’t get to the second level.”

After tying his season-high of eight tackles against Nebraska, Gibbens and the Gophers’ run defense held Nebraska’s versatile quarterback Adrian Martinez to a season-low -17 rushing yards.

As a team, the Gophers’ defense entered the 2021 season with a lot of questions. The addition of Gibbens has quickly answered most of them, while creating a group that has begun to dominate football games.