Third downs are for Martin-Manley


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Iowa receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley is two weeks into what’s becoming a pretty special senior season.

Entering 2014, Martin-Manley was just 52 catches away from becoming Iowa’s all-time receptions leader. At his current rate — 8 grabs a game — Martin-Manley will become Iowa’s all-time receptions leader by in mid-October, when the team plays Maryland.

But perhaps more importantly, he has become Iowa’s most reliable and productive receiver, especially in third-down situations, and it would be wise for quarterback Jake Rudock to get him the ball more in those crucial moments to help move the chains.

“I think Kevonte probably played as well as he’s played maybe outside of the Pittsburgh game [in 2011],” head coach Kirk Ferentz said after Iowa beat Northern Iowa. “He really made some big third-down catches, which we’re going to need from him.”

Iowa’s converted 53 first downs so far this season — an impressive number, by the way — it tops the Big Ten and ranks 20th in the country. What’s more, 18 first downs have come via the ground, seven by penalty, and 28 through the air.

Of Martin-Manley’s team-leading 16 receptions — which, as of this writing, is the second-most in the Big Ten and ranks 12th in the country — 7 have been for enough yards for a fresh set of downs.

That means Martin-Manley is responsible for a quarter of the Hawkeyes’ aerial first downs. (The next closest: junior Tevaun Smith, who’s caught 4 passes that moved the chains.)

More impressively, five of Martin-Manley’s first-down catches have come on third down.

The number of yards to gain hasn’t mattered all that much, either. Martin-Manley has converted as short as third and 2 and as long as third and 14. Even more, just once has he been targeted on third down and failed to haul in the ball.

Third down hasn’t always been kind to the Iowa football team so far this season. Between the games against Northern Iowa and Ball State, the Hawkeyes have converted just 17 third downs in 33 chances.

That 51.5 percent rate ranks 26th in the country and fourth in the Big Ten — and though two games is a small sample size, it’s an increase from the collective 43.8 percent rate at which Iowa converted third downs a year ago.

Of the 33 third-down chances, Iowa has opted to throw the ball 24 times. Of those 24 throws, Iowa’s moved the chains 15 times — and five have been because of Martin-Manley.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as third down has recently been Martin-Manley’s best. Last season, he averaged 11.7 yards per catch on third downs. It’s also where he caught the majority of his yards (175, compared with 213 between first and second downs).

Martin-Manley is on pace with those same numbers again this season. After just two games, he’s averaging 11.6 yards per catch on third downs, where he also has 58 receiving yards compared to a combined 74 on both first and second down catches.

The season’s first two games have been bumpy in their own separate ways. But if anything’s been established, it is that Rudock will likely drop back to pass on third down, and when he does, he’s much better off throwing the ball to Martin-Manley.

Follow @codygoodwin on Twitter for updates, news, and analysis about the Iowa football team.

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