The Day After: Smith-Marsette Is All About Big-Play Promises

Iowa's Ihmir Smith-Marsette (6) had a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in Friday's win at Nebraska. (Bruce Thorson/USA Today Sports)
John Bohnenkamp

Ihmir Smith-Marsette guaranteed over the summer that he would take a kickoff back for a touchdown this season.

He did it in Iowa’s final regular-season game.

His 95-yard return midway through the second quarter was a key play in the Hawkeyes’ 27-24 win over Nebraska on Friday.

It was Smith-Marsette’s big-play day for the Hawkeyes. He had a 45-yard touchdown return on a reverse for Iowa’s first points of the day. His kickoff return came after Nebraska had just scored on an interception return.

Then, on the final drive of the game, Smith-Marsette had a 22-yard reception on third-and-10 to keep the possession going, leading to Keith Duncan’s game-winning field goal with one second left.

Smith-Marsette is one of the more engaging Hawkeyes to speak with during media sessions, but there is a maturity to his game this season.

He admitted he lost his cool on a third-quarter penalty on a day when there was plenty of chippiness between the two rivals. His unsportsmanlike conduct penalty took Iowa from a third-and-short play to a second-and-long.

“That was on me,” Smith-Marsette said.

But all of that wasn’t a problem on his sliding catch in the closing moments.

“I got my head back right,” Smith-Marsette said.

Smith-Marsette’s first touchdown came on Iowa’s second possession of the day.

Running back Tyler Goodson ran to the right. Smith-Marsette, the wideout on that side of the field, ran left and caught the toss from Goodson.

Smith-Marsette had blocking help from quarterback Nate Stanley for longer than expected.

“All I had to do was receive the toss from the running back clean, and I did that,” Smith-Marsette said. “Nate was out in front of me blocking, I thought he was going to stop. That’s what we usually do to protect him, you know, QB reasons. He kept running, and I thought somebody was coming. I looked past (Stanley) and saw there was only one person ahead of him, so I was like, ‘I’ve got to get past you, Nate.’”

Smith-Marsette accelerated down the left sideline for the score.

Someone pointed out that Stanley kept pace with him.

“For a little bit,” Smith-Marsette quipped. “For a little bit.”

His second score came after Nebraska’s Cam Taylor-Britt intercepted a tipped pass in front of Smith-Marsette, and returned it 38 yards for a touchdown.

The first two kickoffs from the Huskers had gone to Devonte Young.

“For some odd reason, I thought they were going to kick it to me,” Smith-Marsette said. “They just got the pick-six, they had momentum. They probably think I’m going to do something wild — I’ve got some past history doing that.”

The plan was to take the return up the right side.

“I saw that was literally closed,” Smith-Marsette said.

He glanced left, and saw two Huskers and one blocker.

“I looked at the right, looked at the left, weighed the options in my head for a split second,” Smith-Marsette said. “I took my talents to the left, and let my speed do the work after that.”

Two Huskers lunged at him, and were left with nothing.

“Ninety-five, no touch, to the house,” Smith-Marsette said.

A promise fulfilled.

“I had guaranteed one in the summertime,” Smith-Marsette said. “I had to follow through.”

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