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IOWA CITY, Ia. — Ihmir Smith-Marsette commands attention on the football field.

Heck, he even has his coach’s eyes on him while he’s on the Iowa sideline.

That’s what Hawkeyes wide receivers coach Kelton Copeland told reporters this season. When Copeland wants to judge the mood of his team while watching games from the press box, he focuses on Smith-Marsette’s body language.

“He is the heartbeat of our offense,” Copeland said of the junior.

Smith-Marsette said last week he was not aware of this.

“I’m the person that tries to keep it high, even when I’m low. I just try to tell everybody to keep going, keep pushing. It’s that simple,” the excitable native of New Jersey said. “On game days, if that’s what he looks for, I hope I give it to him.”

He has been.

Smith-Marsette is Iowa’s leading receiver with 676 yards heading into a Holiday Bowl matchup with USC on Dec. 27 in San Diego. He is coming off a game in which he had a 45-yard touchdown run and a 95-yard kickoff return for another score. Plus, there was one tough 22-yard reception in that 27-24 win at Nebraska.

It showed off the totality of Smith-Marsette’s game. He never lacked confidence, or speed. But now he brings reliability with that big-play potential. And he maintains a little East Coast brashness.

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Smith-Marsette had promised a kick return for a touchdown before the season. He waited until the last regular-season game to get it for the No. 19 Hawkeyes (9-3).

“Good thing I came through. I’m a man of my word,” Smith-Marsette said with a twinkle in his eye after Iowa learned its bowl destination Dec. 8.

Then he added: “That’s Nebraska’s fault. They shouldn’t have kicked it to me.”

No. 23 USC (8-4) has the star power at wide receiver in this matchup. Senior Michael Pittman Jr. was the runner-up for the Biletnikoff Award this week after catching 95 passes for 1,222 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Smith-Marsette acknowledged that he knows who Pittman is. He can’t wait to be in the same SDCCU Stadium as the Trojan standout.

“A lot of eyes are going to be on him,” Smith-Marsette said. “So if I ball, a lot of eyes are going to be on me. I’m hyped.”

Pittman offers prototypical size for a star wideout — 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds.

Smith-Marsette does not. He is listed at 6-1, 183.

Smith-Marsette has an answer for that. He has an answer for everything.

“Heart over height,” he said. “If size mattered, elephants would be king of the jungle.”

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It has been impressive to see Smith-Marsette go into traffic and emerge with the football this season. That was not something he showed in his first two years here.

It started in Iowa’s Outback Bowl win over a punishing Mississippi State defense a year ago. That was Smith-Marsette’s first postseason game, since he missed the Hawkeyes’ Pinstripe Bowl victory two years ago because of injury.

Against Mississippi State, Smith-Marsette grabbed four passes for 29 yards and a touchdown. He drew another pair of penalties that netted 30 crucial yards, showing the toughness that was coming. He also fumbled a kickoff return, showing the inconsistencies that needed to be erased.

“I’m just going out there and playing ball. That’s a big thing I always tell people: When you get in that little funk, just remember that this is the sport you play every day,” Smith-Marsette said. “That’s what I had to preach to myself. Because I was letting it get in my head.”

Smith-Marsette caught 42 passes from quarterback Nate Stanley this season. That production was particularly vital after fellow junior wide receiver Brandon Smith was lost with an ankle injury suffered in an October win over Purdue.

Copeland has praised Smith-Marsette’s maturity, focus and leadership. This will be on display in two weeks against USC. But also again next season for the Hawkeyes.

Smith-Marsette, after talking about all that he has done on the field this fall, ultimately made it clear how much more there is left for him. He is not even thinking about entering the NFL Draft a year early, he said.

“A whole lot of unfinished business,” Smith-Marsette said.

“I ain’t really done nothing so far. No front-runner for nothing. So it’s only right I come back.”

Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at memmert@registermedia.com or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.

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