Iowa Football

Iowa football Quick Slants: Ihmir Smith-Marsette is one of nation's elite kickoff returners

Iowa wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette in action against Maryland at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Iowa wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette in action against Maryland at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Ihmir Smith-Marsette jumps up and down on the goal line, nods his head up and down, and psychs himself up as the opposing team’s kicker places the football on the tee and gets ready to boot it. This is his time.

“What I think about is it could potentially go to the house,” the Iowa sophomore said Tuesday. “I always thank everybody that blocks. Before we go out there, I tell them ‘Hey, listen. This one could go to the house. Let’s go attack it. Let’s go get it.’”

Smith-Marsette has done everything but take it to the house this season. He averages 31.9 yards on 15 returns, which ranks second nationally behind Savon Scarver of Utah State.

Scarver averages 35.5 yards a return.

Against Northwestern last Saturday, Smith-Marsette returned three kicks for an even 100 yards, including a long of 43. Of course, Iowa didn’t do much with those yards, scoring 10 points in a 14-10 loss.

But Smith-Marsette was doing his special teams job well ... again.

“It’s just an opportunity for the offense to have good field position,” he said. “Go out there and attack each and every drive. Once I cross the 30, I’m confident the offense is going to do what they have to do to put the ball in the end zone.”

At this rate, you’d have to bet Smith-Marsette eventually will “house” one. It’s just a matter of time.

The kicker has gotten him more than once this season. If he could just get past him.

“I never want to get tackled by the kicker, but it happens,” Smith-Marsette said with a smile. “I just know it’s good because I’m on him.”

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Nate Stanley self evaluates

Not all of the results are in, but Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley was asked Tuesday how he’d rate his 2018 season.

“Still, obviously, a lot of improvement (to make),” Stanley said. “There are always ups and downs, all of these things you’d like to fix. There are definitely things that you can get better at. But as far as making sure the offense is playing well and playing together, I think we’ve done a good job of that.”

The junior has a higher completion percentage than in 2017 (58.4 to 55.8) and is averaging more yards per game (230.8 to 192.2). But he already has more interceptions in 10 games this season (8) than he did in 13 last season (6).

He threw 26 touchdown passes last season and has 18 so far this season.

“You can always improve on the speed of your progressions, and always ball placement, too,” Stanley said, when asked for specifics on things he’d like to improve. “Those are two big things. So just getting through my reads faster and allowing the receivers to run with the ball when they catch it.”

What a rush

Iowa’s offense has got to hope this will be a good week in the running department. Illinois goes into Saturday’s game ranked dead last in the Big Ten in rushing defense, giving up a whopping 247.9 yards per game.

Iowa got gashed last week by Northwestern but still allows less than 100 (96, to be exact). The running back trio of Ivory Kelly-Martin, Mekhi Sargent and Toren Young has had good games but not consistently.

The Hawkeyes still don’t have a 100-yard rusher this season. For a program that has running the football in its DNA, that’s not a good thing.

“It’s there,” insisted Iowa guard Ross Reynolds. “It’s just little things that we have to detail on and execute better to make it excel. There is always room to improve. Obviously, we haven’t been to where we want it to be. Keep working at it, keep getting better.”

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Injury update

Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said wide receiver Max Cooper was injured late in the Northwestern game and is out for the remainder of the season. Wide receiver Brandon Smith missed the Northwestern game with an apparent concussion, but Ferentz said he has returned to practice and will play against Illinois if he continues to progress the rest of the week.

Ferentz also said Stanley is “doing better than he has the last two weeks.” He dinged his thumb against a teammate’s helmet on a throw in the Penn State game Oct. 27.

Redshirt, no redshirt

Ferentz said the coaching staff will continue to intersperse freshmen into the mix who have not hit that four-game redshirt threshold. For instance, wide receiver Tyrone Tracy Jr. got multiple snaps last week against Northwestern.

He left open the possibility that sophomore Ryan Gersonde could see some time at punter moving forward. He kicked last year as a true freshman but has not gotten playing time this season.

Colton Rastetter has struggled of late, averaging 34.9 yards on seven punts last week.

l Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

 

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