Point/Counterpoint: Who will step up on the Iowa offense?
Iowa football lost its three most productive pass catchers in 2018. Two DI sports staffers debate who will make the biggest impact next season?
May 1, 2019
Picture a poised Nate Stanley in this coming autumn, stepping up in the pocket in the friendly confines of Kinnick Stadium, his every move being followed on a massive Jumbotron in the north end zone. Now, imagine him being sacked because he doesn’t have anyone to throw to.
That can’t happen if Iowa wants to have a successful campaign.
With T.J. Hockenson, Noah Fant, and Nick Easley — Iowa’s three leading pass-catchers last season — headed to the NFL, the Hawkeyes need someone to step up in a big way.
That leaves Ihmir Smith-Marsette with a perfect opportunity.
Smith-Marsette has long been known as a playmaker in Hawkeye Nation, dating back to his second-career college game in which he caught the game-winning touchdown against archrival Iowa State.
In his two seasons as a Hawkeye, Smith-Marsette has continued to show his game as a speedy receiver with game-changing ability.
He hauled in 18 passes for 187 yards and 2 scores in 2017 before raising those marks to 23 receptions for 361 yards and 3 touchdowns in 2018. Now with a need for pass-catchers, he figures to increase those numbers for the third season in a row.
He also ran the ball nine times for 71 yards last season — an average of 7.9 yards per carry — which shows that the Iowa offensive coordinator wants to get the ball in his playmaker’s hands.
If Brandon Smith continues to grow and makes his circus catches a staple in the Hawkeye offense, the duo could complement each other very well, although the big chunk plays might belong to Smith-Marsette.
The departures of Noah Fant, T. J. Hockenson, and Nick Easley will certainly leave giant holes in the Hawkeye passing game as Iowa heads into the summer.
Fortunately for the Hawkeyes, they have a few receivers that are brimming with potential to become Nate Stanley’s No. 1 target next season.
First among the receivers most likely to see a boost in production next season is Brandon Smith.
Smith will be a junior, and he is coming off back-to-back seasons in which he has seen action in at least 10 games.
Last year was his best season — he grabbed 28 receptions for 361 yards and 2 touchdowns.
The Stanley to Smith connection seemed to get stronger as the season went on. By the end of the season, Smith was getting more opportunities to make big plays.
He showed off his ability to make those plays in the second game of the season against Iowa State, where, in a game Iowa struggled to find any offense, he hauled in a huge 30-yard reception late that helped Iowa push past its archrival.
Kirk Ferentz knows he has a special player in Smith; several times last season, Ferentz praised him and said with a little more time, he can become a great receiver.
Well, now Smith has two years under his belt and is primed to become one of Stanley’s leading targets. Both of those things should play heavily in his favor this upcoming season, in which he should figure to be one of the most productive players on the offense.