Ihmir Smith-Marsette's finest game helps Iowa beat his home-state school Rutgers
IOWA CITY, Ia. — The first time Ihmir Smith-Marsette touched the football Saturday, he was so deep in his own end zone that it wasn’t prudent to return the kickoff.
He bided his time.
The next time Smith-Marsette had it, just 2 minutes and 42 seconds later, he was racing 58 yards into Rutgers’ end zone, where he did a little high-stepping that was three years in the making.
Smith-Marsette’s first of two touchdowns sparked a 30-0 rout for No. 19 Iowa (2-0, 1-0 Big Ten Conference) before an announced crowd of 61,808 at Kinnick Stadium.
The junior wide receiver is from Newark, New Jersey. He once intended to attend nearby Rutgers (1-1, 0-1). He gave that up to come to Iowa, knowing that he’d get only one chance in his career to face the Scarlet Knights.
Smith-Marsette played it cool after the game, saying he merely wanted to help his Hawkeyes win the earliest Big Ten opener in program history.
His teammate and close friend Brandon Smith knew better.
“He kept it mellow,” Smith said of Smith-Marsette’s demeanor leading up to the game. “But I knew on the inside he was ready to rock as soon as the ball got kicked off.”
Smith-Marsette responded with the best game of his career, catching four Nate Stanley passes for 113 yards. Each reception was vital to a Hawkeye passing attack that generated 244 yards.
The long touchdown was followed by a second-quarter Smith-Marsette grab that went for 25 yards and brought Iowa away from its goal line. That led to a Stanley touchdown pass to Tyrone Tracy Jr. and a 14-0 lead.
Next, Smith-Marsette took a third-and-11 screen pass for 7 yards, which was enough to set up Keith Duncan’s 46-yard field goal and a 17-0 lead.
Finally, Smith-Marsette veered across the middle and hauled in a pass that was a little behind him, taking it 23 yards for the third-quarter touchdown that broke Rutgers’ back and produced a 27-0 edge.
“It felt real good,” Smith-Marsette said. “I just wanted to go out there and do what I can do, show my skills and be able to put the team up.”
The first touchdown came with Smith-Marsette motioning into the right slot, where he had single coverage. He said the motion was a way to test what his defender would do, and when he saw soft coverage he knew he had room to the inside of the field.
Stanley saw it, too.
“You’re always looking for the biggest profit you can get,” Stanley said after delivering a perfect pass. “So when those present themselves, we’re trying to take advantage of them.”
Smith-Marsette is Iowa’s fastest receiver, and he showed it on that play, running untouched into the south end zone for a couple of quick high-steps that were reminiscent of former Iowa running back and fellow Newark native Akrum Wadley.
Smith-Marsette was asked if he had showed off his top-end speed.
“I think I was moving pretty quick,” he said. “I’ll have to go back and look and see if I could have been going faster. I broke away from him, so that’s all that mattered.”
Tracy’s touchdown, the first of his career, showed the faith Iowa coaches and Stanley have in the redshirt freshman. The first pass directed Tracy's way Saturday, with Iowa at its 3-yard line, bounded off of his chest and into the air, where it could have been intercepted. It wasn’t. But Tracy was banished to the sideline and spent the rest of the first quarter there.
“I just knew I needed to move on. One play at a time mentality,” Tracy said. “I tried to make sure after that play, I seized every opportunity I had.”
In the second quarter, Tracy got his chance. On first-and-goal from the Rutgers 7-yard line, Stanley faked a handoff and sat back in the pocket. And sat some more. Tracy ran behind the Scarlet Knight defenders and crossed the back of the end zone from left to right, not knowing for sure if he would be the target. He said Smith-Marsette was also open.
Stanley chose Tracy, who happily hauled in the football and then had to withstand a raucous celebration that included the entire offense.
“Slow motion you could say. I felt like (the football) was never coming down,” said Tracy, who did not get to keep the souvenir of his first college touchdown.
“I get to keep the memories. That’s all that matters.”
Tracy caught two more passes, including a dogged effort to pick up 33 yards just ahead of Smith-Marsette’s second score.
Tracy said the Iowa receivers were asked to pick one word to describe themselves this season. He chose “explosive.”
“That was just basically a little snapshot of some of my skill-set,” he said of Saturday’s game.
Tracy could have been speaking about Smith-Marsette as well.
“We have a lot of talented receivers. We are trying to make plays,” Smith-Marsette said after punishing his home-state university.
“When the ball is being spread around the way it is, it gives you confidence knowing your chance could be next. Whenever your number is called, you have to take a shot.”
Iowa next plays at Iowa State at 3 p.m. Saturday.
Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.
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