IOWA CITY — This Iowa football season has been a flip.
They went from an 0-2 start after a summer of offseason turmoil and a year of pandemic-caused trepidation to a 6-2 finish and players doing snow angels on the Kinnick Stadium field.
The Hawkeyes’ 28-7 victory over Wisconsin Saturday was a flip.
The first half was the slog of slogs, a festival of punts, with Iowa happy to take a 6-0 lead to intermission knowing 30 more hard minutes awaited with no flinching allowed. But then the Hawkeyes had a 22-point second half with two long touchdown drives and an 80-yard TD dash by Tyler Goodson.
The play of the game was capped by a flip.
Ihmir Smith-Marsette, who had already scored once from 19 yards out, caught a bomb from Spencer Petras from the Iowa 47.
“It was a beat-your-man route,” Smith-Marsette said, “so I beat him.”
It was nothing but him and the end zone in front of him after his catch. When he got a step from the goal line he did a flip into the end zone.
That definitely wasn’t a conventional Iowa move. It wasn’t even something the player had thought about doing until he got a head of steam.
It also wasn’t as precise as the route he ran to get open. Smith-Marsette didn’t stick the landing, rolled his left ankle, and had to go to the locker room to get a walking boot on the leg.
Was Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz furious at him, both for injuring himself and being too flamboyant?
Nah. He put his arm around Smith-Marsette in a friendly way when they were on the sideline after Smith-Marsette returned with his new footwear. Heck, there wasn’t even a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.
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The flip wasn’t premeditated, he said. He had planned to make bull horns with his fingers in tribute to the trophy Iowa was about to wrest from Wisconsin for the first time in five years.
“But as I got closer to the end zone,” said Smith-Marsette, “I’m like ‘I’m by myself.’ It was just instant. It happened. So I’m cool, I’m happy.
“Do I regret the flip? No. Would I do it again? Probably.”
Why the heck not? This stuff is supposed to be fun. It’s been a hard year for everyone, everywhere. This team ditched its hard times of October and made this season something good.
“It’s football and it’s fun,” Hawkeye safety Dane Belton said. “It was just balling in whatever weather with my brothers. Just a great time.”
It’s six straight wins, and the sixth may mean more to the Hawkeyes than the other five combined. Beating Minnesota and Nebraska — again — brought out a little snark and disdain. Wisconsin brings out the Hawkeyes’ respect. These two teams play like bulls when they meet, and this game was all grunting and snorting until things loosened up in the second half.
“This one’s big,” said Iowa offensive tackle Mark Kallenberger.
“Everyone has been doing the right things. We haven’t had COVID issues. We haven’t had really big problems on our team.”
Iowa’s defense, so good this year, held up again. The offense, not a bit easy on the eyes in the first half, found its way after halftime. And a bull that had become a stranger here settled in for the winter.
Seniors Chauncey Golston and Brandon Smith and Nick Niemann and Mekhi Sargent and Shaun Beyer and Keith Duncan, they’d never gotten to see the bull in their locker room after a game. Neither had senior Smith-Marsette.
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He learned to flip as a young boy in Newark, N.J., doing it on mattresses at his aunt and uncle’s house. Then, he said, he did it on grass, and then in the streets.
“Just being able to take it out there and put it on the field.” he said, “was like a little kid and having fun.”
He said he feels fine and the boot is “just precautionary.” He also said he hadn’t been afraid he’d incur Ferentz’s wrath.
“I doubt he’d have been mad about us being up 21-7,” Smith-Marsette said. “It was stupid, but we scored and no flags. So we good.”
It was all good Saturday. Ballers and fun. A flip and a bull.
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