By Pete Ruden
There were plenty of questions about Iowa’s pass catchers coming into the season, but so far, things have worked out for the most part. As the season began, there was only one wide receiver on the roster who had caught a pass in a Hawkeye uniform: Matt VandeBerg.
Earning a role as one of C.J. Beathard’s favorite targets over the past two years, VandeBerg had made a huge impact in the passing game.Before getting injured and being granted a medical redshirt after four games in 2016, the Brandon, South Dakota, native had racked up 19 receptions for 284 yards and 3 touchdowns.
However, he has only managed 186 yards and 2 touchdowns through six games this season, but the newcomers and tight ends have picked up the production.
Nick Easley has been a huge find for the Hawkeyes since he transferred from Iowa Western.The preferred walk-on leads the team in all major receiving categories, racking up 27 catches for 281 yards and 4 touchdowns.He has been instrumental in the passing attack’s success, stepping up when Iowa really needed someone to replace the production of Riley McCarron and Jerminic Smith from last season.
In addition to Easley’s knack for finding the end zone, tight end Noah Fant has been important in that regard, scoring three times on 13 receptions.
Along with Fant at tight end, T.J. Hockenson has seen a big increase in playing time recently, which has led to a lot of production for the redshirt freshman. While some of the younger players have made impacts, there have been some mistakes along the way.
Ihmir Smith-Marsette became a hero for Hawkeye fans in the game against Iowa State, catching 2 touchdowns on 4 receptions. However, that has really been his only big game. Fellow true freshman Brandon Smith has also found his way onto the field, though he has only recorded 2 catches. He also fumbled in one of his chances. Throw in defensive end A.J. Epenesa’s 15-yard reception on a fake field goal, and that (almost) adds another threat in the receiving game.
Still, with all of the players who have stepped up in place of those who are no longer with the program, the receiving corps can be looked at as mostly a success.
It could have been way worse, which is what fans feared coming into the season, but it has instead been solid through six games.
“These are guys that since the day they showed up, they didn’t worry about how old they were or how much experience they had or didn’t have,” offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz said. “They come to work every day, and they do their job. And it’s amazing; if you just come do that, you get a little bit better each day.”
The cause for concern in future years has gone down as well because of the young playmakers Iowa has on its roster.
Before the season began, Adrian Falconer and Devonte Young were expected to get quite a bit of playing time. However, they have been passed on the depth chart by some newcomers.
Mistakes have been made, but Iowa fans have to like where they are right now.
“The great thing about having a young room is all these guys are living like sponges,” wide receiver coach Kelton Copeland said at the team’s media day. “They take it all in, they’re taking notes, they’re doing a great job in the meeting room, they ask great questions … That’s so refreshing.”