Ihmir Smith-Marsette, meet the wider college football world. World, meet Ihmir Smith-Marsette.
The Iowa wide receiver almost single-handedly beat No. 22 USC on Friday night, as his No. 16 Hawkeyes did pretty much what they wanted in all three phases of the game to lock up a convincing 49-24 win in the Holiday Bowl.
Smith-Marsette had his hand in just about everything, attempting a pass, returning a kickoff return for a 98 yard touchdown, rushing for a score and hauling in two catches for 46 yards and another touchdown. It was as an impressive performance as you’ll find so far this bowl season and just more of the same for the budding star plenty capable of reminding folks about a thing called B1G speed.
Not to be overshadowed, signal-caller Nate Stanley was fantastic as well in closing out his career with 213 yards and two touchdowns. Perhaps more memorable for Iowa fans however were his big QB sneaks in the second half (including three straight in the red zone for a total of 10 yards) that later setup Tyler Goodson’s short plunge across the goal line. All those numbers would have been even more impressive had the team not had several short fields or had the game in hand well before the fourth quarter.
As good as things went for the Midwest visitors though, things went equally bad for the nominal home team from Southern California. Clay Helton ensured he’ll have the hottest seat of anybody once again in 2020 with a complete nosedive of a performance after what was initially a solid first quarter.
QB Kedon Slovis threw for 260 yards and a pair of touchdowns but was knocked out with a shoulder/elbow injury in the second half while backup Matt Fink was far from the player who led the upset of Utah in relief, contributing a key fumble tossing a pick-six late. The Trojans defense failed to stop much of anything either with their undisciplined play either way as they forced just four punts and looked out place throughout.
If there was any silver lining at all for the cardinal and gold, at least they were able to take part in Iowa’s great tradition of waving at children from local hospitals (in both San Diego and Iowa City via video) prior to the start of the second quarter. Other than that though, USC fans that were hoping for a coaching change earlier this month were only reinforced in their belief about the state of the program not being what it historically has been up in Los Angeles.
The flip side was that the outing was a perfect way for Iowa to close out a 2019 campaign with 10 wins and celebrate their late, legendary head coach Hayden Fry with a performance befitting of his status in the game’s lore.
The 2019 Holiday Bowl was widely expected to be one of the more intriguing non-New Year’s Six Bowl games and so far it’s lived up to the early billing. In a sharp — but quite fun — contrast of styles, Iowa’s ball control offense was every bit of a match for USC’s quick-strike Air Raid setup as the visitors from the midwest took a 28-17 lead into the halftime break from San Diego.
Hawkeyes QB Nate Stanley was an ever efficient 11-of-12 for 130 yards (1 TD) passing but was far from the center of the team’s offensive output. As has been the case for several games in the past few months for the team, wideout Ihmir Smith-Marsette was all over the field and disabusing plenty of people about preconceived notions of Big Ten speed. He attempted a pass off a trick play, had 15 yards rushing and a trip to the end zone off a reverse plus breezed past a host of white shirts with a thrilling 98 yard kick return for a score. Oh, he also caught a 12 yard touchdown as well to complete the trifecta.
For good measure, Tyrone Tracy also chipped in with a 23 yard rushing touchdown as Smith-Marsette’s theatrics were complimented nicely by a team that held the ball for 18 minutes in the first half.
USC had their own moments moving the ball even if it wasn’t enough to keep pace with Iowa. Freshman QB Kedon Slovis tossed a pair of touchdown throws despite facing a constant stream of pressure in his face, netting 144 yards as well through two quarters. Amon-Ra St. Brown didn’t score but did have six catches for 72 yards in a game where the opposing defense took a bit of time to adjust to his ability to find the open space.
As fun as the early action was from SDCCU Stadium though, perhaps the highlight of the night was the Hawkeyes bringing their fantastic tradition of ‘The Wave’ out West. At the end of first quarter, fans and players all stopped to wave at kids from local hospitals in the stands as well as to kids in Iowa City via the scoreboard.
It will be hard to top that moment in this year’s Holiday Bowl but Smith-Marsette and USC’s skill position players will surely try in the second half.
After becoming a trendy pick to win the Big Ten West this season, Nebraska instead finds themselves right back where they were in Year 1 of Scott Frost’s continuing rebuild of his alma mater.
The Cornhuskers had a chance late in the second half but couldn’t close the deal on an elusive sixth win, falling to Iowa 27-24 on Black Friday thanks to a Keith Duncan game-winning field goal with just one tick left on the clock.
The final three points, which were drilled right down the middle from 48 yards out, came thanks to an impressive drive to get into position for it by QB Nate Stanley. Though the signal-caller was just mediocre passing the ball (11/24, 99 yards, 1 INT) for the most part, he delivered some huge throws down the field in showing off some impressive arm strength and overcoming a few questionable calls down the stretch from officials.
Ihmir Smith-Marsette was the real star of the show for the Hawkeyes either way, netting a 45 yard touchdown run off a sweep and returning a kickoff to the house in the first half alone. Add in Tyler Goodson’s 116 yards rushing and a touchdown and the team did just enough to avoid blowing a two-score lead at the start of the third quarter.
Nebraska did seem like a very different squad during that second half comeback but never did find the kind of consistency their head coach has preached in recent months. Starting quarterback Adrian Martinez threw for 50 yards (one pick) and rushed for 44 more but was replaced for several series by backup Luke McCaffrey, who threw a strike for a 39 yard touchdown pass and appeared to have the team in position to go to overtime before the Blackshirt defense let them down.
As a result, Iowa notched their fifth straight win over the Huskers and ended their season at 5-7 to deny a bowl trip for the third straight year. Big Red has been one of the more disappointing teams in the country in 2019 and the Hawkeyes really twisted the knife in that statement by confirming it on a real Black Friday in Lincoln.
If Nebraska is to keep their hopes for a bowl game alive, they’re going to have to mount a significant turnaround in the second half against a team that really haven’t been able to stop.
That’s as much an indictment on the once-famed Blackshirt defense as much as it was Iowa’s terrific rushing attack as the Hawkeyes notched a 24-10 lead going into the break in Lincoln.
Hawkeyes QB Nate Stanley recorded 39 yards passing with an interception but he didn’t need to drop back much, turning in his highlight through the first two quarters not with his arm, but with his legs as he was running down the field as a blocker on a reverse that led to a 45 yard score by Ihmir Smith-Marsette (who also had a 95 yard kick return for a TD). Tailback Tyler Goodson added 109 yards and a scoring run of his own as Iowa was approaching two bills on the ground thanks to a robust 9.2 yards per carry.
The offensive output was not matched by the Cornhuskers. Adrian Martinez was ineffective as the only player capable of advancing the ball much, netting 31 yards rushing and 32 passing while also tossing an interception just before the end of the half to take away another opportunity for points. Scott Frost’s offense averaged just 3.2 yards per play overall and gave up double that on the defensive side as this lopsided series of late was more of the same at Memorial Stadium.
Nebraska does get the ball to start the second half but signs aren’t looking great at getting to the postseason in Year 2 of this rebuild for Big Red thanks to the way that Iowa is rolling right along in this one.
We could have another Kinnick Stadium upset on our hands. No. 8 Minnesota is trailing No. 20 Iowa 20-6 at halftime as they try to keep a two-game advantage in the Big Ten West standings.
Nate Stanley has completed eight of his 10 passes with two touchdowns to give the Hawkeyes their lead. Iowa wasted little time getting in front by scoring a touchdown on the game’s opening drive. Stanley completed the first of his two touchdown passes to Nico Ragaini from 21 yards out for the early 6-0 lead. For some reason, Iowa then imploded on the extra point attempt and was unable to scramble for a two-point try. Iowa scored a second touchdown on their next possession, immediately after Minnesota missed on a field goal attempt. Tyler Goodson ran 10 yards for a 13-0 lead.
After Minnesota got on the board with a field goal, Iowa was ready for a response with a 69-yard touchdown drive. Stanley ended the drive with a touchdown pass to Ihmir Smith-Marsette from five yards. Minnesota had a 1st & Goal in the final minute of the half but had to settle for a field goal.
With Wisconsin winning earlier today, Minnesota needs to leave Iowa with a win to own a two-game lead in the division and have a chance to wrap up the division next week before having to face the Badgers in the last game of the regular season.