IOWA CITY, Ia. – The critics had their say. And now, Kevonte Martin-Manley is offering a rebuttal.
When the Iowa football team sputtered last season, the receiving corps became a target for second-guessers.
“We took it as extra fuel to our fire,” Martin-Manley said. “We don’t really listen to the noise, but we hear the noise.
“We took that into account and really felt like we can prove people wrong.”
Nobody can argue with this season’s success.
With Jacob Hillyer’s tenacity, Damond Powell’s speed and Martin-Manley’s penchant for moving the chains, the Hawkeyes have made undeniable strides.
Each member of the trio possesses specific skills, which has contributed to a statistical spike.
Iowa (4-1) is averaging 203 receiving yards per game (up from 187.4 a year ago) with six touchdowns (after scoring seven through the air all of 2012).
“We all have different abilities,” Martin-Manley said. “We have different sizes and different speeds.
“And we can be used in different places on the field.”
Numbers don’t lie, but the receivers will be tested Saturday when Michigan State visits Kinnick Stadium.
The Spartans rank No. 1 in total defense with 188.8 yards allowed, including 153.8 receiving.
“We just need to work our techniques, get open and be aggressive,” Martin-Manley said. “Bottome line; we just need to make plays.”
THE RELIABLE ONE
Martin-Manley, a 6-foot, 205-pound junior from Pontiac, Mich., leads the Hawkeyes with 26 receptions.
Of those catches, 15 resulted in a first down and one was a touchdown.
“He’s a sure-handed guy,” said Danan Hughes, a former Iowa receiver and current Big Ten Network analyst. “If there was one shortcoming to the receivers, it was that they weren’t very sure-handed. They had a lot of drops last year … but Kevonte was a guy who it seemed like he got it.
“He understood how to find those open windows, how to catch the ball and get yards after the catch,” Hughes added. “I’m not surprised he was able to put up big numbers.”
Martin Manley averages 8.7 yards per catch, but is also contributing an average of 25.8 yards on nine punt returns, with two touchdowns.
“I feel like I’ve been doing a pretty good job of leading us,” Martin-Manley said. “I’m not sure what my numbers are, exactly, but I’m not really worried about that.”
THE BIG-PLAY THREAT
Powell, a 5-11, 180-pound junior from Toledo, Ohio, is a field-stretcher.
The transfer from Snow (Utah) Community College is averaging 51.5 yards on four receptions, scoring a touchdown in each of the last two games.
“They expect me to make a play when they call my number,” Powell said, “and that’s what I have to do. … I want to make a big play when they call my number.”
After joining the Hawkeyes in August, Powell worked to acclimate himself to offensive coordinator Greg Davis’ system.
Rarely has Iowa boasted such a flashy target. Maurice Brown averaged 20.1 yards on 48 catches in 2002. Andy Brodell contributed18.6 yards on 39 catches in 2006.
It’s way too early to make comparisons, but should Powell be given more opportunities in coming weeks?
“Probably haven’t given him enough based on the statistics,” Ferentz said, “but it’s a process.
“We all knew he was fast, that’s one thing we all feel good about. I think he’s gaining confidence with every week and learning.”
THE PHYSICAL PRESENCE
Hillyer brings a blunt approach.
After catching just one pass last year, the 6-foot-4, 205-pound sophomore is flexing his muscle.
“He’s a little bit bigger and physical,” Hughes said of Hillyer. “He kind of reminds me of me as a freshmen or sophomore, because I was a bigger guy and prided myself on being physical, pushing defensive backs around a little bit.”
Hillyer has six catches for 80 yards and two touchdowns.
“He has that fire in him,” quarterback Jake Rudock said, “that he just wants to make plays.”
Hillyer, Powell and Martin-Manley may have silenced the critics, but they still have an agenda.
“I’m really proud of those guys, with the plays they’ve been able to make,” Martin-Manley said of his fellow receivers. “But I expect more out of them, just like they expect more out of themselves.
“We can always do better.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football