Iowa football notebook: Brandon Smith looking to build on big play against Iowa State

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Brandon Smith prepares for a play against Northern Illinois. Photo by Jeff Yoder.

By Tyler Devine

IOWA CITY, Iowa – The longest reception of Brandon Smith’s young Hawkeye career probably couldn’t have come at a better time.

With Iowa driving in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s 13-3 victory over Iowa State, junior quarterback Nate Stanley connected with Smith on a 30-yard pass that would ultimately set up Iowa’s only touchdown in the game. 

However, if Stanley hadn't changed the play at the line of scrimmage, Smith still might be searching for his first catch of the season.

“It was a run play but he checked out of it,” Smith said. “I knew it was single coverage and it was probably coming to me but I still ran my route hard just in case it did.”

The 6-foot-3, 219-pound Smith will try to build on his key reception when Iowa faces Northern Iowa at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday at Kinnick Stadium. He will forever cherish his big moment against Iowa State, but Smith is now focused on the next challenge. 

“It’s a 24 hour rule,” Smith said. “You can’t just stay in that moment because you know you have a game the following week. I mean yeah, I made a good play but at the end of the day you’ve just got to go back out and do it again.”

For an Iowa offense that has just 274 yards passing and one touchdown through two games, a consistent contribution from Smith is essential going forward.

“I think he poses a lot of problems for defenses,” Stanley said pf his sophomore teammate from Mississippi. “He’s a big, strong guy at the X receiver and obviously he can take advantage of one-on-one matchups. I think if he continues to progress like I know that he can and did through the spring and summer I think it’s a great weapon for us.”

Easley does it: Nick Easley led the Iowa football team with 51 catches and 530 receiving yards last season after transferring into the program from junior college.

He was expected to make a similar contribution this season, but so far it hasn’t happened.

Easley only has one catch for 15 yards in two games. His catch came on the only touchdown-scoring drive in last Saturday’s 13-3 victory over Iowa State.  

“We just got to get clicking,” Easley said Tuesday. “There are some things we’re really close on maybe. We just have to get into a rhythm. “I know we have the guys to do kit.”

“We’re cleaning some things up, but really it’s just a matter of clicking. We’ll be alright. It’s of one of those things I feel like if we keep playing, it’ll work itself out. I know we have guys that are perfectly capable of doing those things.”

Easley stuck to that narrative throughout Tuesday’s press gathering.

If Easley is concerned about the offense, which has produced just one passing touchdown in two games, he isn’t showing it.

The Newton native also doesn’t seem too worried about his lack of productivity or if defenses are focusing more on him this season.

“I’m not sure,” Easley said. “But I’m not really focused on that. I don’t really care too much about the numbers, to be honest with you.

“We just want to go out there and we want to be productive and we want to win games. Whether that means in the run game or getting someone else open, whatever it is, we just want to do what we need to do to be productive as an offense and win games.”

Lesson learned: The year 1898 is significant because it marks the only time that Northern Iowa has defeated Iowa in football.

The Panthers prevailed 11-5 in the first matchup between the two instate schools.

Iowa has since won 16 games in a row against Northern Iowa and is favored by 21 points heading into Saturday’s game at Kinnick Stadium.

The circumstances might seem ripe for a letdown, but steps are being taken to avoid another situation like Iowa’s 23-21 upset loss to FCS power North Dakota State in 2016 at Kinnick Stadium.

Iowa was also a heavy favorite in that game, but it was hard to tell after kick off.

“We addressed that earlier in the week, understand that it doesn’t matter what kind team we’re playing, we’re going come out and play Iowa football,” said Iowa junior defensive back Amani Hooker. “I guess you saw that in my freshman year when North Dakota State came in here. I guess some guys might not have been ready, and I guess that’s why we lost the game.

“So this we’re going out there and just focusing on Iowa football and make sure we know our responsibilities and keys and just going out and playing our football.”

Unlike college basketball where teams play at least 30 games and college baseball where teams play up to 50 games, football is different.

“You’ve got to cherish each moment, each practice, each game, you’ve got to cherish it because you only get 12 games a year,” Hooker said. “So it’s done shortly.”

Noise pollution: The renovated north end zone at Kinnick Stadium has eliminated some seating, but that hasn't impacted the noise level on the field.

In fact, according to senior safety Jake Gervase, the stadium may be even louder than it was before.

“It was a lot of fun, it was a big win and our fans definitely helped us out,” Gervase said. “I think the remodeling of the end zone down here made it a little louder when the fans get going on third down. It was something I noticed and something we’re going to be look forward to and try to make an edge the rest of the season.”

Kinnick Stadium is already known as a tough place to play, but the 6-foot-1, 212-pound Gervase thinks that the new end zone gives Iowa more of an advantage.

“I would just say you just notice it more,” Gervase said. “Usually when you’re on the field you’re in your zone and kind of block everything out. But this last week there was a couple third downs where I’m sitting there reading my keys getting ready to go but at the same time I hear everybody going nuts.

“I think it can be an edge for us if we make it an edge because the louder it is the harder it is for the opposing offense and it helps us out as a defense.”

Injury report: Iowa running back Ivory Kelly-Martin is questionable for Saturday's game against Northern Iowa because of an ankle injury that caused him to miss the Iowa State game.

"He's gaining ground, and we haven't ruled him out yet for this week," Ferentz said. " But he's gaining ground, and we'll see day by day."

Praise for Colbert: Redshirt freshman linebacker Djimon Colbert made his first career start as a Hawkeye against Iowa State last Saturday, and his performance drew praise from Kirk Ferentz.

Colbert finished with five tackles and was part of an Iowa defense that held Iowa State to just 19 rushing yards.

"I thought he did a lot of good things," Ferentz said. "He looked confident, first of all, which is not always the case for a guy. He hasn't played at all, so for him to be out there doing that, that was really good.

"It goes back to the game exposure thing. You're just never quite sure how a guy is going to react, and that's a big game for us. I don't know about anybody else; that's a big game we were in last Saturday. So he could have shrunk, but I didn't see him do that. He was running around making some plays and looked confident and looked comfortable for a guy who's never really played a significant amount of snaps, so it's a real good starting point for him certainly."

Colbert started in place of the injured Kristian Welch, who had started in the season opener against Northern Illinois.

Pat Harty contributed to this story.