New Jersey native Smith-Marsette leads deep corps of Iowa receivers against Rutgers
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Ihmir Smith-Marsette was in the stands the last time Iowa played Rutgers in football.
The New Jersey native was a Scarlet Knights recruit then, and he arrived at High Points Solution Stadium at halftime after taking his SAT exam. Smith-Marsette saw Hawkeye wide receivers catch exactly one pass, and that was a Matt VandeBerg reception that resulted in a 1-yard loss.
Iowa won that Sept. 24, 2016, game 14-7. It was not pretty.
Smith-Marsette said this week he’ll never forget that score. Nor could he have imagined the turn his life was about to take.
The Hawkeyes came calling the next spring, and Smith-Marsette was eager to listen. He wanted to attend school away from his home in Newark, New Jersey. That’s why he’ll be in black and gold at 11 a.m. Saturday when Rutgers (1-0) and No. 19 Iowa (1-0) meet for a second time, this time in Kinnick Stadium and on FS1.
“I low-key wish I could play them at Rutgers, just to be back home,” said Smith-Marsette, a junior wide receiver who has plenty of friends playing for the Scarlet Knights. “Shoot, we get a chance to play them, period, so no matter where it’s at, I’m going to show up and it’s going to be a dogfight.”
Three years after that Hawkeye slog in Piscataway, Smith-Marsette is part of a wide receiver group that has the potential to be Iowa's most dynamic in recent memory. He caught four passes for 35 yards and a touchdown in last Saturday’s 38-14 win over Miami (Ohio). Wide receivers Brandon Smith, Oliver Martin, Nico Ragaini and Tyrone Tracy Jr. combined for another seven receptions and two scores.
In all, Iowa senior quarterback Nate Stanley found 10 different receivers en route to 252 passing yards.
Smith-Marsette said that’s going to be the pattern this season.
“The ball’s going to move around. We’ve got a lot of playmakers,” he said. “I’m not satisfied with how I pIayed. I felt like I let a couple of plays go, a couple of plays slip up. I plan on having bigger and better games.”
Stanley’s first six completions last Saturday went to six different Hawkeyes. He, too, said the offense is more prepared to take advantage of weak spots in opposing defenses. This week, the challenge will be a Scarlet Knights unit that typically lines up in a 3-4 formation, but tries to confuse opponents with myriad variations.
“You don’t want to put too much on anyone’s plate,” Stanley said of shuttling receivers in and out of the lineup. “We rotated enough guys, I think, to make sure that everyone felt comfortable out there on the field. And all of those guys made plays when their name was called.”
Stanley looked calm throughout the game, and coach Kirk Ferentz said his quarterback was in “total control.” Ferentz has urged Stanley to loosen up a little this season and have more fun. He hopes the quarterback’s senior year is both productive and enjoyable.
“I’ve always tried to have the same demeanor out on the field,” Stanley said. “I wouldn’t say that I am calmer. Maybe it appears that way.”
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Stanley said he’s processing information faster as a senior. Having more options in the passing game certainly makes his job easier.
“That’ll keep all those guys from getting run ragged and hopefully bring the best out of all of them,” Ferentz said of the wide receivers.
Smith-Marsette, who entered the season with 41 career catches, the most of any Hawkeye, said he’s enjoying the competition for playing time.
His niche is as an outside receiver who can pose a deep threat.
“I can get to the edge faster than other people,” Smith-Marsette said. “We’ve got a lot of quick receivers. My speed is on another level.”
But he knows he needs to take better advantage of that asset. He had one dropped pass last week, and even his longest gain — a 17-yarder on the Hawkeyes’ first possession — could have gone for much more. Smith-Marsette shouldn't have let himself be run out of bounds. He realized as much after looking at the film.
“I should have cut back inside. I could have made a big play bigger. As we go along, I’m going to make those plays,” he said. “With my speed, I could have possibly broken the second tackle.”
The 6-yard touchdown pass Smith-Marsette snared with 3:03 left — the sixth of his career — helped him feel better about things. So did the Hawkeyes’ convincing victory.
“It definitely did feel good to get a touchdown late, just to get my feet wet, feel what the end zone’s like,” Smith-Marsette said.
“Get used to that feeling.”
RUTGERS (1-0) AT NO. 19 IOWA (1-0)
When: 11:05 a.m. Saturday
Where: Kinnick Stadium
TV: FS1 (Justin Kutcher, Petros Papadakis, Shane Vereen)
Line: Hawkeyes by 19.5
Weather: Partly cloudy and 73 degrees; 15 percent chance of rain. Winds from the west at 5 mph.
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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