Talented Hawkeye receiving corps focused on living up to the hype

From Ihmir Smith-Marsette to Brandon Smith, the Iowa football team has a lot of talent at the wide receiver position. Going into the 2020 season, the group is focused on exceeding its expectations.


Katina Zentz

Iowa wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette jumps over Miami (Ohio) defensive back Sterling Weatherford during the Iowa football game against Miami (Ohio) at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, August 31, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Redhawks 38-14.

Robert Read, Pregame Editor

Iowa wide receivers coach Kelton Copeland knows his position group is strong this season, but he’s tired of reading about it.

“What I tell those guys is don’t believe your own hype,” Copeland said of media attention. “Because as soon as you start believing your own hype, that’s when you settle. That’s when you stop being hungry and say, ‘I’ve made it.’ And we haven’t made it by any stretch of the imagination.”

The Hawkeye receiving corps is perhaps as deep as it has ever been, and the squad has been a talking point throughout the offseason.

Iowa’s top four wide receivers from 2019 — Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Brandon Smith, Tyrone Tracy, and Nico Ragaini — are all returning for the 2020 season, and each of them will bring something to the Hawkeyes’ passing attack.

“I wouldn’t put a ceiling on this offense, only because there’s so many key factors that can go out there and contribute,” said Smith-Marsette, who led Iowa with 722 receiving yards last season. “A lot of explosive guys, a lot of talent all around, a lot of playmakers — we’ve still got to go out there and prove it.”

Smith-Marsette and Smith, both seniors, lead the group. Meanwhile, Tracy and Ragaini, Iowa’s 2019 leader in receptions with 46, both emerged as valuable assets to the passing game as freshmen last season.

Smith was injured and missed four games last year. With him sidelined, Tracy stepped into his role in the starting lineup.

The then-freshman moved around the field, learning how to play both Iowa’s “X” and “Z” receiver position, and will revise that wide-ranging role again in 2020.

“I’ll play all the way around,” Tracy said. “And I’m fine with that because we have so many playmakers in the wide receiver room. And we have so many playmakers on the offense in general. I feel with me learning all the positions it will give [Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz] the leeway to really just do almost anything out there on the field.”

Quarterback Spencer Petras will take over as Iowa’s new signal caller after the graduation of last year’s starter Nate Stanley.

RELATED: Iowa’s new starting quarterback Spencer Petras confident heading into 2020 season

Just from his top four wide receivers alone, Petras has plenty of targets. But he may do more than moving the ball through the air.

Smith-Marsette and Tracy both scored rushing touchdowns in Iowa’s victory over USC in the Holiday Bowl. With the dynamic skills Iowa has at wideout, receivers could be a larger part of the Hawkeye ground game this year.

“I think that we have very capable ball handlers that can make plays in space like that,” Ferentz said. “Most importantly, it was putting them in those positions. I do think that needs to be a bigger part of our offense moving forward. The ability to stretch the field very quickly on the snap.”

Smith-Marsette, Smith, and the rest of the position group should provide problems for Big Ten secondaries this season.

But as Copeland made clear, the 2020 season hasn’t started yet for the Hawkeyes. The hype around Iowa’s wide receivers is — until the team’s Oct. 24 opener — just that: hype. His players are echoing that message.

“We haven’t seen what we can do on Saturdays yet,” Tracy said. “Right now, we’re just trying to be the best we can be on Tuesdays and Wednesdays in practice. If we can be the best we can be out there on the practice field, then it will reflect on Saturdays. And if that is the case, we’ll be a very, very good and explosive offense.”

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