To start, let’s do a quick comparison between two junior seasons.
- 11 games, 45 receptions, 646 yards, 4 TDs
- 9 carries, 68 yards, 3 TDs
- 19.0 yards per punt return, 2 TDs, 18.9 yards per kick return
- 13 games, 44 receptions, 722 yards, 5 TDs
- 11 carries, 108 yards, 3 TDs
- 29.6 yards per kick return, 2 TDs
I’m sure you are able to figure out one of those is current senior Ihmir Smith-Marsette. The other, Hawkeye legend Tim Dwight. Dwight went on to become a Consensus All-American as a senior and finished 7th in the Heisman Trophy voting (receiving 3 first place votes). Smith-Marsette is the type of player who could have a similar ascension during his senior campaign. Very few players nationwide can impact the game in multiple fashions like Smith-Marsette.
Smith-Marsette concluded his junior season with a dominate performance in the Holiday Bowl scoring a receiving, rushing, and kick return touchdown. He nearly had a touchdown pass as well. This collectively earned him Offensive MVP of the Holiday Bowl.
What stands out the most when rewatching his film, is that Smith-Marsette seems to make the biggest plays in the biggest moments.
Special Player on Special Teams
Iowa’s offense gets a big boost from Smith-Marsette and the kick return team. His ability to score on any kick forces teams to worry following every time they score. Following a defensive score by Nebraska to close the gap, when their offense was looking dead, Smith-Marsette takes the ensuing kick back for a matching score. He continually runs away from players showing his elite top end speed. Guys think they have an angle, and he cruises right past them.
Just against the “slow” Big Ten? Nope! Smith-Marsette does the same thing to USC in the Holiday Bowl.
His ability to immediately change the momentum and score is unique to only a few players in all of college football.
Smith-Marsette’s isn’t just a special teams weapon. His speed translates in short spaces as well. When you have a player with that type of advantage, you need to be creative in finding ways to get him the ball. Once again, Nebraska and USC watch Smith-Marsette outrun defenders and pursuit angles. This time, it’s on run plays with jet sweep motion and a reverse.
Smith-Marsette is not just a track guy playing football. He’s a football player with track speed. One area that stands out is watching Smith-Marsette make more and more contested receptions. He isn’t just running by guys on fly routes, but he’s making plays between defenders in big moments. One play that will always stand out is:
And who could forget this clutch 3rd and 10 catch to set up the winning score against Nebraska. (And yes, I enjoy showing clips against Nebraska)
These are big plays, ON THE ROAD, when his team needed them the most.
Making it look routine
As I said, these plays stand out over and over in a variety of games. In this sample, you will see one-handed catches, tipped-ball catches, grabs between multiple defenders, and contested vertical receptions.
You might want to watch this multiple times
Have we mentioned speed?
Sometimes it is before the catch. Other times it is after the catch. Either way, Smith-Marsette uses his speed to create space between himself and defenders the way few to wear the Tigerhawk have before.
Each year, Smith-Marsette’s numbers have improved, but more importantly, so has his consistency. He is now a threat to not only make a big play, but to also make the most important play.
I meantioned earlier that Tim Dwight used his speed and versatility to earn All-American honors and votes for the Heisman Trophy. Are those expectations we can put on another number six? I sure hope we get the chance to find out.