Iowa Football

Nice, unadventurous consistency would be good for Iowa's Ihmir Smith-Marsette

Iowa believes it has a playmaker and it would like him to put down his phone

Iowa Hawkeyes wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette, shown here warming up for Iowa’s game last season at Northwestern in Evanston, Ill. As a true freshman last year, Smith-Marsette caught 18 passes for 187 yards and two TDs. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Iowa Hawkeyes wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette, shown here warming up for Iowa’s game last season at Northwestern in Evanston, Ill. As a true freshman last year, Smith-Marsette caught 18 passes for 187 yards and two TDs. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Ihmir Smith-Marsette had the nuttiest freshman season. Highest of highs and gut-punch lows. So yeah, Kirk Ferentz wants to see what he can do next.

Of course, the Iowa head football coach votes for more highs, but he would take some nice, unadventurous consistency.

“You’ve got to love his attitude,” Ferentz said. “He’s fearless out there and he’s going to go for it. He’s that type of player, and that’s good. He’s got a good energy to him. I think the challenge for him right now, which is true for most guys, is better focus.”

Let’s take the ride with Smith-Marsette 2017.

Low — On the first touch in his first game as a Hawkeye, against Wyoming last fall, Smith-Marsette took a jet sweep handoff and subsequently fumbled.

High — The Iowa State game. This is when Smith-Marsette showed everyone he belonged. You never know. Smith-Marsette came to Iowa from Weequahic (N.J.) High School, the same school that produced Iowa running back Akrum Wadley.

Smith-Marsette was a skinny high school kid coming halfway across the country to attend Iowa. He fumbled on his first touch and then ...

Quarterback Nate Stanley dropped a perfect pass over an ISU defender and into Smith-Marsette’s arms for a 15-yard TD in the fourth quarter, pulling Iowa to within three points. The pass was beautiful. Smith-Marsette’s play on the ball, corralling and controlling the ball before sliding out of bounds, deserves a mural in downtown Iowa City.

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“Jersey, man,” Wadley said in the postgame of Iowa’s 44-41 win at Ames. “He’s really resilient. He’s a tough guy, has a lot of heart. How he bounced back from last week, he kind of hated himself, but he’s a strong-minded guy.”

True freshmen are off limits to the media, even when they catch the game-winner. Smith-Marsette snagged the clincher, a 5-yard TD in overtime. Iowa gathered a quote and gave it to the media.

“It shows that they believe in me,” Smith-Marsette said. “Last week I had a minor setback, but this week I came back and they showed they believed in me and I took advantage of it.”

Low — Smith-Marsette had what would’ve been a 20-yard plus play bounce off his face mask for an interception against the Gophers. The replay was sketchy, but the call went the Gophers’ way.

Low — Smith-Marsette dropped a 20-yard pass attempt at Wisconsin. Iowa ended that game with 66 yards of total offense.

Low — Smith-Marsette dropped a pass on a third-and-2 against Purdue. It was perhaps Iowa’s most frustrating loss of 2017, a 25-14 deflator at Kinnick.

Low — Smith-Marsette went out of bounds with a kickoff return at the Iowa 1-yard line in the second quarter of the Nebraska game. Instead of shooting the true freshman wide receiver into space, Iowa’s coaches let him play on the subsequent possession.

High — Smith-Marsette caught three passes on that next drive, which went the 99 yards for a TD, Iowa’s longest drive of the season.

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High — His second kickoff return vs. the Huskers was a 74-yarder to start the second half. It was the first pebble in what ended up being a Hawkeyes avalanche, 56-14 over the Huskers.

“It really goes back to the first time we met him,” Ferentz said. “There is something about Ihmir, a little spirit that we like ... he has a little spunk to him, a little spunk, a little personality, seemed like the kind of guy who could shake that (fumbling the first touch of his career) off.”

And ... that certainly played out in 2017. Now, on to 2018 and the quest for some nice, unadventurous consistency.

It’s probably not a good thing when the head coach talks about how much you’re on your phone. This was a purpose pitch from Ferentz, answering a question on what his expectations might be for Smith-Marsette next season.

“Whether it’s when he’s in the player lounge, maybe getting off the phone a little bit more and, you know, maybe walk across the hall and watch film, those types of things,” Ferentz said. “That’s just part of maturity, learning to budget your time, having a plan. I’m all for recreation and all that stuff, that’s good. But just learning how to really be a better player, more mature player, those types of things.”

Iowa needs Smith-Marsette, probably especially in 2018. The offensive line is in a little bit of flux with center James Daniels’ early departure to the NFL. Iowa has four scholarship running backs in spring practice. In his second season as starter, Stanley will be leaned on. Same goes for Smith-Marsette and a young, developing group of wide receivers.

“The physical development, too. He’s not the biggest guy in the world,” Ferentz said. “So, if he works hard in the weight room, all those types of things, that will make him a better player. Just being a little more detailed, a little more disciplined. I could probably say that about every first-year player we had out there playing last year.”

The consistency lacked, but Smith-Marsette caught 18 passes for 187 yards and the two TDs. That’s the most productive season for an Iowa true freshman wideout since Dominique Douglas caught 49 passes for 654 yards and a pair of TDs in 2006.

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Smith-Marsette touched the ball just 29 times in 2017. He logged four explosive plays (74-yard kick return, 53-yard kick return, 31-yard reception and 29-yard reception).

“It’s kind of like (Akrum), not that they’re the same players but from the same school,” Ferentz said. “Both those guys on film showed that they’re pretty dynamic as players. Ihmir is a real football junkie. He’s a football guy. He likes football. That’s a good thing. Maybe it will suck him in the way we want.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8256; marc.morehouse@thegazette.com

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