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By RICK BROWN
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Brandon Smith answered each question with a smile Saturday night.
His 30-yard catch of a precise Nate Stanley pass in the fourth quarter was his first of the season. It was also the pivotal play in an 83-yard touchdown drive that clinched the Hawkeyes’ fourth consecutive Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk Series victory over Iowa State inside a sold out Kinnick Stadium.
“They came and loaded the box on a run play we had called,” Stanley said. “Running the ball against an eight-man box really isn’t the greatest thing. Brandon did a great job of getting open, and he made that play for us.”
Stanley attempted 28 passes in the game. The one to Smith, he said, was his best.
“It was an amazing throw, a great throw,” Smith said. “Right on the money. Right in the bread basket.”
Smith, who beat D’Andre Payne on the play, has been waiting for his moment to arrive.
“We see him do that in practice,” center Keegan Render said. “He has a big body. He’s going to make plays.”
Practice is one thing, a game is another. Saturday night, Smith showed what Iowa assistant coach Kelvin Bell saw in him to recruit him out of Lake Cormorant, Mississippi.
“Everybody was saying, ‘Finally, we’ve been waiting for that moment for so long,'” Smith said of his teammates. “It finally happened in a game. You can’t take the smile off my face.”
When Smith checked his phone in the locker room after the game, it was full of congratulatory text messages from his friends, coaches, and family members, who had watched the nationally-televised game back in Mississippi.
Witnessing Brandon’s first big college catch in person were his mother, Tyjauna, his father, Roy, an aunt and uncle, and some cousins.
Smith had a hunch that Stanley would look his way on the play.
“We do the same thing on those possessions in practice,” Smith said. “I kind of figured it was coming my way. So I went out there and made a play.”
Smith played last season as a true freshman, making three catches for 15 yards. He doubled his career yardage with one catch Saturday. A catch that could be a confidence boost for him going forward.
“I feel like I have opportunities now to reach my potential,” Smith said.
Tjjauna ran track at Mississippi, Roy ran track at Mississippi State. Athleticism runs in the family. Smith has the frame for success at wide receiver, too, standing 6-foot-3 and weighing 219 pounds.
“It’s great to see him out go out and make a play, because we count on him, and he knows that,” Render said. “We know he’s a good football player. To see him make the play that set up a touchdown was awesome, for him and his confidence level going forward.”
The clinching 83-yard drive came on a day when offense was hard to come by. But 13 plays got the ball in the end zone. The 12th was Smith’s big catch.
“Brandon’s a young player who looks like an old player,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “He’s still a young guy learning how to play.”
Smith has made his share of plays in practice, plays that have gotten in on the field.
“I don’t know about every day (in practice),” Ferentz said. “It’s a little like (sophomore offensive tackle) Tristan Wirfs. He looks like an NFL guy, but he’s still learning to play. Brandon’s the same way. He looks like an NFL guy, but he’s not playing at that level.”
But plays like the one Smith made Saturday are a positive step forward. Now it’s a matter of stepping up and doing it on a consistent basis.
“The bad thing about getting hyped up is you have to live up to it,” Smith said. “But you just have to go out there and do your best. Even if you’re not getting the ball, you have to go hard. Because you never know when you might.”