In honor of Justin Jackson nearing the all-time program rushing record, we have made this week “Jackson Week” at Inside NU. All week, we’re running pieces honoring Northwestern’s star running back. To start, we have a simple top five list of his best single-game performances. There were too many to choose from, but we did our best.
5. 2015 vs. Penn State
Against a tough Penn State defense, Justin Jackson rushed for 186 yards on 28 carries in a 23-21 Northwestern win. After starting quarterback Clayton Thorson got injured early in the game, the team needed to lean on Jackson to secure the victory. Jackson’s 48-yard run in the second quarter set up Northwestern’s second touchdown of the day. He also had 15 key yards and a first down in Northwestern’s final game-winning drive.
4. 2016 @ Michigan State
Northwestern’s offense was ridiculous for this entire contest, but Jackson stood out with 188 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns. The key Jackson play in this game came with Northwestern down 14-0 after just 6 minutes. Then, with Northwestern desperately needing a big play, Jackson delivered.
Jackson added another long touchdown run to put Northwestern up 47-31 and ice the game. It was a tremendous performance for Northwestern’s offense, which won the game 54-40.
3. 2014 vs. Notre Dame
Let’s just watch this again. We need some happy moments to reflect on, given recent losses. This “One Hour Football” channel is one of the best Youtube accounts you’ll ever find.
Anyway, Jackson played a huge role in this game, rushing for 149 yards on 23 carries and a touchdown. Jackson made an impact on Northwestern’s very first series of the game, scampering for a 44-yard run that set up a Matt Alviti rushing touchdown. Northwestern ran well all day against Notre Dame, but Jackson’s ability to secure first downs and run through the Irish proved key to the memorable victory.
2. 2014 vs. Wisconsin
It’s hard to imagine anyone not named Justin Jackson as Northwestern’s starting back. But in his true freshman year, Jackson was merely a backup to Treyvon Green. That changed irrevocably in Northwestern’s 20-14 upset over No. 17 Wisconsin at Ryan Field. In Jackson’s second Big Ten game, he rushed for 162 yards against Wisconsin’s vaunted run defense. Although he didn’t get into the end zone, his workmanlike performance was one of the main reasons Northwestern pulled the upset. This was the moment everyone realized Jackson would be a special player for Northwestern.
1. 2016 Pinstripe Bowl vs. Pittsburgh
Let’s start with his stats. Jackson had 226 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns, 2 catches for 9 yards, and, apparently, 3 tackles. This was one of the great Northwestern individual performances of all-time, let alone Jackson’s career. Against a ranked Pitt team that overmatched the Wildcats on paper, Jackson made the Panthers’ defense look like paper. He was absolutely unstoppable. The fans sitting in Yankee Stadium roared with every cut and spin move.
The whole game was vintage Justin Jackson. He appeared to glide past every defender. His explosive burst at the start of runs was in full effect, as he broke off big run after big run. As long as the offensive line did just enough to get Jackson a lane, he took off and slashed Pitt’s defense. On a day in which Thorson was merely okay, Jackson almost singlehandedly won the bowl game for the Wildcats. It’s his best performance statistically, on tape, and in our memories.
Honorable Mentions (There are too many): @ Iowa 2016 (171 yards and a TD), Western Michigan 2016 (123 yards, 3 TDs), Illinois 2016 (173 yards, 3 TDs), @ Wisconsin (139 yards, 1 TD), @ Purdue 2014 (147 yards, 2 TDs)