IOWA CITY — Brandon Smith’s leg injury started out as a bone bruise. And then Tuesday, Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said the injury would take a couple of weeks. And then even later Tuesday, Ferentz said Smith will be out three to five weeks.
Injury news often comes this way. In postgame, no one knows because tests are needed. Ferentz did say Smith, a junior, had undergone a fluoroscopy, but time and probably an MRI had other ideas. Don’t look for Smith until mid-November at the earliest, maybe Minnesota or Illinois.
“It looked like it might be a contusion and then it just went south on us,” Ferentz said.
The junior wide receiver was having his best season as a Hawkeye. He set career bests with nine catches for 106 yards before suffering the injury last week against Purdue. He was leading the No. 20 Hawkeyes (5-2, 2-2 Big Ten) in receptions with 33, two more than he had in his previous two seasons at Iowa.
Redshirt freshman Tyrone Tracy, Iowa’s most elusive receiver inducing 10 missed tackles, will move from the slot and Z receiver spots to the X, which is split end, where Smith did his thing. Junior Ihmir Smith-Marsette might also see some time there.
“He’ll (Tracy) start the game at that position, Ihmir will probably be the next man in at that position,” Ferentz said. “Obviously, we’ll juggle a little bit. Opens up some opportunity on the other side, other positions.”
The Hawkeyes, who travel to Northwestern (1-5, 0-4) this week, were heavily invested in Smith and the top four receivers, Smith-Marsette, Tracy and Nico Ragaini. Smith had been in on 70 percent of Iowa’s snaps. He also led the Hawkeyes with 49 targets, just ahead of Ragaini (45).
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“His growth has really been fun to watch,” Ferentz said of Smith. “He’s just developed every time out there. It’s taken one of our better threats off the field.
“They (Northwestern) kind of experienced the same thing, lost one of their receivers a couple weeks back. That’s part of football. We’ve gone through it already this season in a couple spots. You just make adjustments and keep playing. That’s the way it goes.”
After Tracy’s 273 snaps — of course, Smith had the most (367) — sophomore Oliver Martin is fifth with 57. Martin, the Iowa City West grad who transferred from Michigan this summer, has five catches for 28 yards and a TD on seven targets.
Probably because he’s a local and transferred from Michigan, fans have a high interest in Martin, who’s seen less than 10 snaps in the last three games.
“Just do the math,” Ferentz said. “He’s certainly been in the mix, is in the mix. Subtract one good player out of the mix, there’s more snaps available for everybody. He’s working right now, certainly in the mix for competition this week.”
When offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz addressed the media on Sept. 18, he put lead in the clay pigeon that was the Martin question.
“I will tell you right now, I’m not going through that this year,” he said. “This guy plays, that guy doesn’t play — if guys are out there producing, that’s the way it is.”
Right here, right now, there’s opportunity for someone. Martin is the best, logical guess.
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Smith’s success at the “X” receiver position has given Iowa’s offense an outside dimension that it hasn’t had in a while. Suddenly this year, you’re seeing more fade routes. You’re seeing the Hawkeyes draw a few more pass interference penalties. You didn’t see that last year with defensive backs hanging all over future NFL tight ends T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant.
“We felt good all year,” quarterback Nate Stanley said of Smith. “We felt like we had that connection all year. Unfortunately, things happen in football. Can’t do anything about it.”
The Hawkeyes now will have to try to find that with Tracy. Or Martin. Or Max Cooper, who recently returned to the field after an ACL injury in 2018, and Desmond Hutson, the only other two wide receivers to record any snaps this year. Redshirt freshman Calvin Lockett found his way to the depth chart this week. The 6-2, 186-pounder from Largo, Fla., has yet to play a snap in his career.
“From his body type, he’s been working 'X' more in practice,” Stanley said. “It really comes down to the coaches and who they want to put in there. I feel comfortable with all of them. I feel comfortable they’ll make plays for us.”
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