Leistikow's First Word: Satisfying finale for Iowa season that'll be remembered for positives
LINCOLN, Neb. — If one player sums up the 2017 Iowa football season perfectly, it’s Ihmir Smith-Marsette.
He’s young. He makes mistakes. And he shows flashes of game-changing brilliance.
That was the true freshman wide receiver’s story Friday — and Iowa’s — in a 56-14 victory against beaten-down Nebraska before an announced crowd of 90,046 at Memorial Stadium.
Smith-Marsette’s day started with head-scratching uncertainty, him catching a kickoff and stepping out of bounds at his own 1-yard line.
His day continued with a heady fumble recovery that kept an Iowa touchdown drive alive, then his 74-yard kickoff return to open the second half gave Iowa a charge of momentum in a 14-14 deadlock.
What followed that winding, electric kick return that lasted 15 seconds was four third-quarter Hawkeye touchdowns (two from Akrum Wadley, one from James Butler, one from Noah Fant) to cement the Hawkeyes’ win and their recent strangle-hold on the Black Friday rivalry for the Heroes Trophy.
A third straight win against Nebraska and fourth in five years (including 3-for-3 at Memorial Stadium) gives Iowa some season-ending satisfaction and momentum going into whatever bowl game awaits.
The Hawkeyes’ 7-5 season was a combination of frustrating inconsistency and exhilarating moments.
I think, long-term, it’ll be remembered more for the latter.
There was the comeback, rivalry win at Iowa State — which is having one of its best seasons in history.
There was the historic stomping of Ohio State — which might yet make the College Football Playoff.
And now there’s this beatdown of a Big Ten West rival — which feels good no matter how badly it’s going in Lincoln.
Give credit to the Hawkeye players, who admitted this week that they were “flat” in a jarring home loss to Purdue a week after looking helpless at Wisconsin.
They stuck with the plan after some early adversity that could've had them thinking, "Here we go again." And it couldn’t have started much worse, with punter Colten Rastetter fumbling a snap and gift-wrapping a 7-0 Nebraska lead.
Smith-Marsette followed by stepping out of bounds as he received the kickoff.
But the Hawkeyes played with pride, and they pushed the Huskers around during a 15-play, 99-yard drive that gobbled up more than 7 minutes and might have changed the course of how fans feel this offseason.
Compare that to what's going on in Lincoln: A 4-8 season complete, a program in disarray with Mike Riley likely being shown the door.
The Hawkeyes were far from perfect this season. But Friday showed why they've got a lot of hope for the future in Iowa City.
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 23 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.