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Matchup to Watch: Manny Rugamba vs. Iowa’s Wide Receivers

The former heir apparent gets to strut his stuff in Kinnick one last time

NCAA Football: Michigan at Iowa Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

After an already wild game week in which saw one Hawkeye granted eligibility and another seeing his way out, it has overshadowed my favorite random offseason storyline: Manny Rugamba’s return to Iowa City.

The former Iowa Hawkeye left after the 2017 which saw a very, very up and very, very down career with the Hawks. Iowa does not win the 2016 thriller against Michigan without his fourth quarter interception:

Just a true freshman at the time, there was a potential bit of symbolism in that play with Desmond King guiding him post-interception. Hawk Central anointed him as the “next great Iowa corner,” or at least in line to be. The parallels were there: playmaker in high school, modest offer sheet despite it, then thrown into action as a true freshman, and succeeding.

That is where the storyline began to shift. He was suspended for the home opener against Wyoming in 2017 and never regained his footing as he battled inconsistency and injury throughout his sophomore season. The writing was on the wall when he was benched against Purdue after struggling against Anthony Mahoungou - a name I’m happy to forget - and getting benched after this pass:

(it was the fourth of six straight pass plays to Mahoungou coming out of halftime, that Brohm sure does know how to scratch where it itches but I digress)

So with Matt Hankins and Michael Ojemudia set to man the corner spots heading into 2018, Rugamba opted to leave the Hawkeyes. It’s difficult to fault anyone for leaving under such circumstances. Yet, Max’s fatalism came to pass in his So Long, Farewell on Rugamba: “Now, it looks like the starting cornerback positions will be manned by Hankins and Ojemudia, meaning that the nickel (and god forbid those two suffer injuries) will likely be a revolving door of kids without any experience at the collegiate level.” Further, Iowa transitioned to a five defensive back defense.

Funny how those things happen.

From the sound of it, though, Rugamba has made the most of his “fresh start.” In catching up with Mark Emmert, he shared that he “was able to rest his body and mind” and watched more football than ever, including rooting for the Hawkeyes. He did have this slight shade to share: “It’s not much to scout. They’re a tough football team. They’re going to do what they do, and they’re going to do it well. It’s just a matter of stopping it.”


If I’m wide receivers coach Kelton Copeland, I have that plaster on the door in and out of the wide receivers meeting room. After all, when Rugamba was last on the roster, Brandon Smith and Ihmir Smith-Marsette were the only receivers of note on the roster. That season, they combined for 21 receptions and 197 yards.

Of course, Rugamba is just one man who can defend just one receiver at a time, but there’s not been a time in recent memory where so much potential has lined up at receiver for the Hawkeyes. And yet, it’s just that. Smith and ISM added 51 receptions last year but they are still more potential than production. Tyrone Tracy and Nico Ragaini have zero. Oliver Martin for all his plaudits, had just 11 last year. His best performance is against rutger.

And yet, there is reason for optimism regarding Iowa’s receivers. Smith has the size, Smith-Marsette has the need (the need for speed), Ragaini and Tracy have the fleet feet, and Martin was the highest rated of them all. How can you not love these guys?

So what better time to turn potential into asset? Under the lights. At Kinnick. Against a former teammate.

*”where’s the lie, though” - jaded Hawkeye fan