We’re under a week until Hawkeye football is back in our lives. Today, we head to Jersey. World class airports* and speedy receivers, that’s what Newark does.
* I’ve never been to Newark, but this is what I’ve been told.
Ihmir Smith-Marsette- JR
Newark, New Jersey (Weequahic)
6’1”, 183 lbs
2019 Projection: Starting Wide Receiver
While Newark may do airports and receivers, Iowa does not. Linemen and defensive backs and tight ends, that’s what Iowa football does.
But receivers? It’s been a desert wasteland save for some sweet gulps of water in the form of Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, Marvin McNutt and Tevaun Smith over the last decade. There have been others, but when you look at the areas of success and concern, receiver is certainly in the latter category over the Kirk Ferentz era.
Heading into 2019, that has a chance to change. That’s in no small part due to the upward trajectory of the speedster from Newark, Ihmir Smith-Marsette.
After committing to both rutger and Minnesota, ISM was a late addition to the class of 2017 out of Weequahic High School. He wasted little time becoming a Hawkeye fan favorite when he burst onto the scene against Iowa State that fall.
He finished with only 4 catches for 36 yards, but two of them went for touchdowns. The first was an incredible catch to keep Iowa in the game.
Go get that ball, Ihmir Smith-Marsette!!!! pic.twitter.com/qK3xTVreze— Jack McGuire (@JackMacCFB) September 9, 2017
But it was the second of the two which made ISM a household name for Iowa fans. On what would be the final play of the game in OT, Smith-Marsette came up with a huge catch to give Iowa the 44-41 win.
As great as those memories are for Hawkeye fans, neither really show the quality that sets ISM apart from so many Iowa receivers before him. His combination of speed and agility is something we don’t often see in Iowa City.
Those attributes were known, but not necessarily exploited early in his career. ISM finished his freshman year with only 187 receiving yards and the two touchdowns from the ISU game on 18 catches. 2018 was a better year, but not without its ups and downs.
In the spring between his freshman and sophomore year, ISM caught some criticism from the head man, calling for him to put the phone down and focus on football. While he seemed to take the words to heart and improved greatly as a sophomore, it’s safe to say the best for ISM is still ahead of him.
Coming off a year where he averaged 15.7 yards per catch for 361 total yards and 3 touchdowns, Hawkeye fans now dream of offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz finding ways to get him the ball in space any way he can. We know he has the ability to beat teams deep, but he’s also one of the few players Iowa has who can take a quick slant 80 yards to the house if he gets one block.
Heading into 2019, Iowa will need to see more consistency from ISM if they want to be able to utilize him more frequently. Coming out of fall camp and entering our first game week, it sounds like things are trending in the right direction.
According to the Des Moines Register’s HawkCentral, ISM has been highly impressive thus far:
“He’s been as impressive a guy as we have on our roster right now,” Ferentz said when asked about Smith-Marsette. “Developing that attitude of playing the next play and trying to build on things and taking care of the football and making the smart plays.”
He’s also said to have taken on a leadership role with the younger receivers and has even bought into the strength and conditioning program, adding 12 pounds of muscle to get to 183 pounds. Those are signs of guy who has had the proverbial lightbulb go on.
For Iowa fans looking for a way to replace a pair of first round draft picks at tight end, that’s exactly what the doctor ordered. The offense in 2019 is going to rely much more heavily on the receiver group. That’s in part by necessity, but in part because of the talent the group possesses.
If ISM has added some bulk to break tackles in addition to his already high level speed and can gain some level of consistency, he’ll play a key role in the Iowa offense this year. Having a talented guy opposite him in Brandon Smith and a couple of slot guys who will demand coverage should ensure ISM gets plenty of clean looks.
That would be a huge contribution to this team given the boost they already receive from him in the return game. Despite not having a return TD to his name, ISM has averaged 30 yards per return for his career and racked up 707 return yards on 24 returns a year ago. That was good enough to earn him Big Ten Specialist of the Year in 2018 and preseason First Team All-America by Athlon.
The return game is where the playmaking ability of Smith-Marsette really shines through. It’s a virtual certainty he breaks at least one for a TD this year. But it should also provide a blueprint to the Iowa offense on how to beat use the speedster.
ISM is at his best when he can make one or two cuts and kick it into high gear. He has struggled getting separation against press coverage and while the added strength should help there, BF would be wise to move him around the formation or put him in motion to create space. From there, getting him the ball in the open field should be a priority.
Smith-Marsette doesn’t have the same ability to make defenders miss that Akrum Wadley brought to the field, but he is nearly as dynamic with his raw speed. The staff should do as they often did with Wadley and try to get ISM the ball on shallow routes coming across the field to allow him to showcase his ability after the catch. Then when defenses have crept up, burn them with that same speed on a double move.
It’s going to be an exciting season for the Iowa passing game and Hawkeye fans should be salivating at the playmaking ability of #6 in the black and gold.