Iowa Football Notebook: Smith-Marsette Not Leaning on History

September 10, 2019

Written by Rob Howe

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Ihmir Smith-Marsette entered the consciousness of Hawkeye fans everywhere two years ago in Ames. The then true freshman receiver caught two touchdown passes, including the game-winner in overtime.

The New Jersey native returns to the location of one of his finest hours Saturday (3 p.m. CT, FS1) when the Hawkeyes face Iowa State for 67th meeting in this rivalry. Smith-Marsette isn’t resting on his laurels.

“That was two years ago. None of that is going to get us the win this weekend,” he said Tuesday here at the football performance center. “Going into this game with a fresh mindset, you control everything that you do out there and take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself. What I did two years ago isn’t going to make me play any better or any worse on Saturday. I’m just going to go out and compete like I do every week.”

Smith-Marsette is coming off one of his best days as a Hawkeye from a statistical standpoint. During last week’s 30-0 win against Rutgers, he caught four passes for a career-high 113 yards and two scores. He started the rout with a 58-yard touchdown sprint.

The junior would like nothing more than to repeat his performance this week at Jack Trice Stadium. After not following this rivalry growing up in the Garden State, he understands for what he is playing.

“It’s important to the people of Iowa. It means a lot more to the people of Iowa. You always wants to keep it a Hawkeye State. So, going in, preparation is big, details are big, making sure we bring that trophy back to Iowa City is the most important thing,” he said.

INJURY REPORT: After starting at free safety in Week 1, Kaevon Merriweather missed the Rutgers game with a leg injury. He was expected to be out this game as well, meaning Jack Koerner will get his second start in a row at the spot.

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said offensive lineman Cole Banwart, the projected starter at right guard who missed the first two games, is practicing and will rotate in this week. Strong safety Geno Stone also expects to play after leaving the Rutgers game early with an injury.

The coach was elusive when asked directly Tuesday about starting cornerback Matt Hankins, who excited Saturday’s game with a health issue.

“Yeah, we’ve got a couple of guys that are hurt right now, like every week. We’ll just ride it out and see where it goes,” Ferentz said.

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The Hawkeyes are thin in the secondary with Merriweather sidelined along with backup cornerbacks Julius Brents and Riley Moss. D.J. Johnson or Terry Roberts likely would be pressed into duty should Hankins sit out against Iowa State.

KEEPING HIS COOL: Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley joined Smith-Marsette in enjoying a big day the last time he played in Ames. He completed 27 of 41 passes for 333 yards and five touchdowns without an interception in the 44-41 overtime win.

The senior from Wisconsin has experienced some tough times on the road since that contest, however. He struggled at Michigan State and Wisconsin during that ’17 season and fell apart at times during last year’s loss at Penn State.

Stanley talked this preseason about keeping his emotions in check during his final campaign. That will be tested on Saturday in his 29th consecutive start.

“Part of it is having the experience in the past. I definitely feel more confident in a wider variety of situations,” he said. “Just knowing the best way for this team to be successful is for me to not push, not step out of what I’m capable of doing and not try to do something that would hinder our team. I just need to go out and play, do what I can do to help my teammates do their best.”

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ACE OF BASE: After all the discussion of Iowa continuing on with its 4-2-5 defensive alignment popularized with Amani Hooker at the Cash position last season, the Hawkeyes have employed their base 4-3 setup more often than not in ’19.

Nick Niemann has performed well as the LEO linebacker that left the field in ’18 when Hooker, now with the NFL’s Tennessee Titans, lined up as the hybrid safety/linebacker.

“I’m not really sure why they put is in it, but having that extra linebacker in there helps stopping the run and Nick has done a great job in the pass game, too,” outside backer Djimon Colbert said.

Against Rutgers, Iowa allowed 41 yards passing, the second fewest in the Ferentz era (Georgia Tech, Jan. 5, 2010).

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Iowa’s decision to play 4-3 also is affected by injuries in its secondary and its first two opponents playing with tight ends.

“As much as anything, we’re just getting a little thin right now in the back end. I mentioned their two deep, how veteran their two deep is. There’s some names in our two deep right now that you’d have to get out your program to figure out who’s who. So we’re a little thin back there,” Ferentz said.

NO BIG DEAL: While this is the first time ESPN’s College GameDay pregame show will visit Ames, Iowa has been a part of it on seven occasions. The Hawkeyes have dropped six of those contests.

Ferentz, the dean of college coaches in his 21st season, doesn’t see it having any impact on this week’s game.

“There’s always been a lot of hype, if you will, or interest in this game for obvious reasons. The nice thing about it is I don’t think a lot of people outside our state bounds necessarily understand the intensity of the rivalry and just what a great thing it is. So maybe that will add to the spotlight a little bit,” he said.

“But one thing’s for sure, it’s been consistent. The game on the field is important to everybody involved, and it’s always been challenging. At least internally, there’s been a lot of interest and coverage for sure.”

EXTRA-POINTS: Iowa holds an all-time record of 59-34 (.634) against current members of the Big 12
Conference, having met all but Baylor and West Virginia at least once. Iowa State is the
only Big 12 opponent on the Hawkeye schedule this season…Iowa’s defense ranks second in the Big Ten in scoring defense (7.0), total defense (185.0), and passing defense (116.5)…ISU had 10.0 TFL in its season-opening win against UNI, the sixth time since ’17 the Cyclones had double-digits in TFL in a game…With just 34 yards rushing allowed, the Cyclones rank fifth nationally in rushing defense. ISU allowed just 1.1 YPR vs. UNI, the lowest total since 2005.

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