Iowa Football

Iowa's wide receivers aren't celebrating after one fun game

Nick Easley, Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Brandon Smith know your love is fleeting, so guard is up against success trap

Iowa wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette is congratulated by tight end T.J. Hockenson after Smith-Marsette's touchdown against Minnesota at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn., on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Iowa wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette is congratulated by tight end T.J. Hockenson after Smith-Marsette's touchdown against Minnesota at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn., on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — “Success trap” is an actual thing in business. You sell the products, make money and don’t think about anything else.

At some point, the neglect starts to catch up and the company doesn’t stick or move.

Ihmir Smith-Marsette is all over the success trap this week. He wants nothing to do with it.

“We can’t fall into the success trap,” the Iowa wide receiver said. “A lot of people are saying now we’re improved over last year. To me, I don’t feel like we’re where we need to be. We have to keep improving, we have to do that week-to-week, day-to-day, so falling into the success trap isn’t fun.”

The Hawkeyes wide receiver group didn’t go into meetings Sunday wanting to celebrate their efforts last week at Minnesota.

They could’ve. And the fact that they could’ve is a bit of pretty big news for this team.

Smith-Marsette, Nick Easley and Brandon Smith combined for 14 receptions for 198 yards and two TDs. It was an Iowa wide receiver game. There haven’t been a lot of those in recent years.

2017 Iowa State was certainly a “wide receiver” game. Easley and Smith-Marsette burst on the scene with their first contributions as Hawkeyes, combining for 11 catches, 84 yards and three TDs, including two by Smith-Marsette that were minor miracles, including the game-winner in overtime.

Pitt 2015 was a wide receiver game, with Matt VandeBerg (seven catches, 45 yards), Tevaun Smith (three for 73) and Jacob Hillyer (two for 52) putting up yards. Wisconsin 2014 was a WR game. Smith had four for 78, Kevonte Martin-Manley had four for 33 and VandeBerg had three for 67 yards.

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Of course, the Kung Fu master of wide receiver games in recent years is Pitt 2011. Marvin McNutt, Keenan Davis and Martin-Manley combined for 22 catches, 317 yards and three TDs.

For the 2018 Iowa wide receivers, Minnesota was one. The Hawkeyes (4-1, 1-1 Big Ten) try for No. 2 Saturday at Indiana (4-2, 1-2).

 

Back to the Sunday film session.

“We still had our critiques. We didn’t go into film thinking, ‘Oh yeah, we had a day,’” Smith-Marsette said. “There’s still a lot we can improve on. We didn’t look at the positives, we went to the bad stuff, where we could’ve been better.

“The success trap, we’re not falling into it, you feel me?”

There were football things that the receivers made work for them against Minnesota.

On Smith-Marsette’s 60-yard TD pass from quarterback Nate Stanley, the Gophers busted a coverage, Smith-Marsette noticed and just sat in a hole in the zone along the Iowa sideline. Running back Mekhi Sargent did a wonderful job picking up a blitz and Stanley made a tremendous play to duck the blitz, step up in the pocket and laser the ball to Smith-Marsette, across the field, so maybe 30 yards, before stepping over the line of scrimmage.

“The resilience that Ihmir has shown, that was to me the biggest positive I saw Saturday,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said.

Speaking of something Ferentz said, going into the Iowa State game, he was asked about the state of wide receiver and about the plays Smith didn’t make in the opener.

Easley’s name just doesn’t come up enough.

“Last year we had two guys out of high school playing receiver (Smith-Marsette and Smith), and thank God Nick Easley was here,” Ferentz said going into Iowa State.

Iowa wide receivers in 2018

GameReceptionsYardsTouchdowns
Northern Illinois4330
Iowa State5950
Northern Iowa151631
Wisconsin6960
Minnesota141982

You know the Easley story. He was an all-American at Iowa Western (Iowa’s best junior college football program and it’s not close). Picked walking on at Iowa after initially taking an opportunity to go to Iowa State.

Then, he led the Hawkeyes last season with 51 receptions. He’s second on the team with 18 this season, trailing tight end Noah Fant’s 19.

All Easley has heard in his time at Iowa is what’s wrong with the wide receivers. He totally understands why, and he knows that switch could flip again pretty quickly.

“I would say as a whole, we all played well,” said Easley, who has 18 catches for 184 yards and two TDs, including a 21-yarder last week that was a gorgeous pitch and catch. “That was the first time that we all had good games together, kind of. We have to focus as a group and take that and move it forward.

“We feel like we can take another step and be even better.”

Speaking of taking steps and getting even better, Smith seems poised for a big jump in just about everything.

In the season opener against Northern Illinois, Smith got pushed around and some of that tentative play hurt Iowa, specifically on a sideline interception off a deep ball.

Smith’s turnaround started with a 30-yard reception against Iowa State that set up a TD to help Iowa put the game away. Last week, Smith not only raised the bar, he showed he’s coachable.

On Iowa’s first drive of the second half, Stanley underthrew a pass to Smith, who used his 6-foot-3, 220-pound body to reach over cornerback Terell Smith and make the catch. Smith used only his hands to catch the ball and held it through hitting the turf. Smith also was called for pass interference.

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The catch was fourth on ESPN SportsCenter’s top 10 plays last Saturday night. It was a galvanizing moment for this trio.

Smith-Marsette and Easley wanted to know if he caught it and then they couldn’t get over to Smith fast enough to celebrate.

“I definitely think our passing game is getting a lot better,” said Smith, who also converted a third down with a 12-yard reception vs. Minnesota. “We completed a lot of passes on the first drive and we completed a lot of passes during the whole game. First year, I had a lot of jitters, a lot of expectations. This year, I just shut it all out and go out and play football.

“It’s just a game. You can’t really think too much about it. You’ve got to go out there and play.”

The book on Smith so far in 2018 is that he had a great camp. After Minnesota, you wonder if he is ready to arrive and have a big second half of the season.

“Anytime there’s a 50/50 ball, he comes down with it or makes a really good play on the ball,” Stanley said. “He’s always got a shot to make those plays.”

Wide receiver has become the continual question mark for Iowa’s offense. Last Saturday in Minneapolis, this trio stuck a cleat in the ground and made a move.

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That was one week. They know that. No one is advertising that they’re going to climb Mount Everest this week.

Still, it was kind of fun, wasn’t it?

“It feels good,” Easley said with a laugh. “We’ve been working hard. It’s exciting for me to see these guys making plays. I’ve known they’ve had the potential. I’ve seen them do these things in practice. The first few weeks it felt like we were going out there and not quite hitting.

“To see us come around and hitting those plays I know we can make and I know we can make on a consistent basis, that feels really good.”

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

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