Smith-Marsette changes game with special teams

A kick-return had eluded Ihmir Smith-Marsette for more than a year, but that changed when Iowa beat Nebraska.

Iowa+wide+receiver+Ihmir+Smith-Marsette+carries+the+ball+into+the+end+zone+during+the+game+against+Nebraska+on+Friday%2C+November+29%2C+2019.+Smith-Marsette+received+one+pass+for+a+total+of+twenty-two+yards.+The+Hawkeyes+defeated+the+Corn+Huskers+27-24.+
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Smith-Marsette changes game with special teams

Iowa wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette carries the ball into the end zone during the game against Nebraska on Friday, November 29, 2019. Smith-Marsette received one pass for a total of twenty-two yards. The Hawkeyes defeated the Corn Huskers 27-24.

Iowa wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette carries the ball into the end zone during the game against Nebraska on Friday, November 29, 2019. Smith-Marsette received one pass for a total of twenty-two yards. The Hawkeyes defeated the Corn Huskers 27-24.

Wyatt Dlouhy

Iowa wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette carries the ball into the end zone during the game against Nebraska on Friday, November 29, 2019. Smith-Marsette received one pass for a total of twenty-two yards. The Hawkeyes defeated the Corn Huskers 27-24.

Wyatt Dlouhy

Wyatt Dlouhy

Iowa wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette carries the ball into the end zone during the game against Nebraska on Friday, November 29, 2019. Smith-Marsette received one pass for a total of twenty-two yards. The Hawkeyes defeated the Corn Huskers 27-24.

Pete Ruden, Pregame Editor

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Ihmir Smith-Marsette knew it had been a long time coming.

Despite taking home the Big Ten’s Return Specialist of the Year honor after the 2018 season, a kick-return touchdown always eluded the Newark, New Jersey, native.

But in Iowa’s 27-24 win over Nebraska on Nov. 29, it happened.

Smith-Marsette took a kick designed to be returned to the right side of the field to the left. With one blocker on his side, he made one Husker miss before using his jets to leave the rest of Nebraska’s kickoff team in the dust for a 95-yard score.

“I had guaranteed one back in the summertime, so I had to make sure I came through,” Smith-Marsette said. “…Most importantly, credit to all my blocking. I watched them all down. All I had to do was get outside.”

The timing of Smith-Marsette’s big play couldn’t have come at a better time.

When Iowa had the chance to put the Huskers away by taking a 24-3 lead, Nebraska’s Cam Taylor-Britt intercepted a pass from Nate Stanley and took it back 38 yards for a touchdown. Instead of 24-3, the turnover made it 17-10.

That’s when Smith-Marsette made his move.

After already scoring on a 45-yard reverse on Iowa’s second play of the game, Smith-Marsette double-downed on big plays with a game-changing special teams play that put the Husker deficit at 14 after Nebraska felt a comeback coming.

“[The timing was] killer,” Nebraska head coach Scott Frost said. “The same thing with the Wisconsin game — we had momentum and everything rolling our way, and we gave it right back. Exactly the same thing happened [Nov. 29]. They got good special teams; ours have to get better.

“You see when teams have good special teams, it can change games.”

Smith-Marsette certainly changed the game against the Huskers, and he’s been doing so all season.

Smith-Marsette leads the Hawkeyes with 676 receiving yards and four touchdowns on 42 receptions, and he became even more prominent piece of the offense when fellow receiver Brandon Smith went down with an ankle injury against Purdue on Oct. 19.

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He’s showed that in the past two weeks especially. Smith-Marsette caught four passes for 121 yards against Illinois before racking up 166 all-purpose yards and two scores against the Huskers.

“He’s grown up so much in two years’ time,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “He’s always been a guy that likes football. He’s got a great football mentality; he’s got a great personality. He’s grown physically, but more so mentally. He’s putting those good skills to use. The kick return part hasn’t been as prominent this year, but, boy, it was a great time for that to surface.”

So, was the win the Smith-Marsette game that will be associated with him for the remainder of his career and beyond?

Smith-Marsette doesn’t think so.

“It was the Iowa Hawkeyes game,” he said. “We did it as a team. There wasn’t nothing special for me. Went out there, played within myself. I just so happened to make some plays.”

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