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Receiving trio finding groove

BY JACOB SHEYKO | OCTOBER 14, 2014 5:00 AM

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Halfway through Iowa’s season, three receivers have separated themselves from the pack.

A pass-catching corps once thought to be receiver-by-committee now has more half of its production coming from Kevonte Martin-Manley, Tevaun Smith, and Damond Powell. 

And while all three are proven producers, it’s more how they’ve produced, collectively, giving opposing defenses fits.

Without trying to pigeonhole them into specific categories, the three receivers have developed roles for themselves. It’s probably not on purpose but a result of the play calling and their respective skills.

Of all the Iowa receivers, Martin-Manley has been targeted the most, by far — 45 times. By comparison, Smith’s been targeted 28 times, and Powell has 15 targets.

Now a senior, Martin-Manley is just 22 catches away from being Iowa’s all-time receptions leader.
He has the ability to make big plays. His 23-yard tiptoe touchdown at Purdue two weeks ago was sufficient proof of that. But his biggest asset to the team is his hands — or, more specifically, his lack of drops.

Those sure-hands are the reason there’s a good chance the Hawkeyes will throw the ball his way on third down. Nine of his 29 catches have occurred on third down, and all of them resulted in first downs.

This season, Martin-Manley’s partner in crime has been Smith, who has many similarities to Martin-Manley. Their body types are similar, and like Martin-Manley, Smith is sure-handed.

If there is one difference between the two, it’s that Smith has somewhat established himself as Iowa’s mid-level threat. He averages 11.6 yards per catch while Martin-Manley averages 8.4. But that doesn’t tell the whole story.

Martin-Manley has seven more touches than Smith this season, yet Smith has produced the same number of plays ranging from 10 to 19 yards. The plays vary, too, as it could be through the air or Smith carrying the ball on an end-around.

Even more, Smith has three plays of 20-plus yards; Martin-Manley has one.

Conversely, Martin-Manley has dominated the short yardage passing game. Of his 29 touches, 20 of them resulted in a play of 0 to 9 yards.

Both of these skill sets are needed, of course. Martin-Manley has been more of a security blanket for Iowa’s quarterbacks, and Smith has the ability to change the complexion of a game with one play. Look no further than Iowa’s opening win against Northern Iowa for proof of that.

During a single drive in the third quarter, Smith took an end-around for 35 yards — which, until this past week, was Iowa’s longest rushing play this season. He followed that with a one-handed catch in the end zone a couple of plays later.

The wildcard of this bunch is Powell, who sporadically saw the field prior to this season. Powell’s been targeted just 15 times this season — he has only 9 catches — yet the senior is 3 yards away from leading the team in receiving yards.

Where a lot of Martin-Manley’s catches occur on short throws, and Smith’s on a variation of lengths, Powell’s yardage comes from, mostly, two plays: a deep throw over the top of the defense or a wide receiver bubble screen.

After being pretty uninvolved the first three games — a combined 3 catches for 42 yards — Powell has been thrown to 10 times the last three games, reeling in 6 for 200 yards. In each of those three games, Powell has caught a pass of 45 yards or more. 

Whether consciously or unconsciously, the Hawkeyes have gone to these three targets more recently. Against Indiana, quarterbacks Jake Rudock and C.J. Beathard threw a combined 32 times, and 21 of those throws went Martin-Manley’s, Smith’s, and Powell’s way.

It’s probably not a coincidence, then, that it happened to be Iowa’s best offensive performance of the season.

If the quarterbacks continue to throw their way, expect the offensive performances such as the one against Indiana to make more appearances.

Follow @JacobSheyko on Twitter for updates, news, and analysis of the Iowa football team.


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