Next man up: Iowa WR Tyrone Tracy Jr. is thriving in Brandon Smith's absence
Phenomenal. Magnetic. Dynamic.
Those are just three words Iowa wide receivers coach Kelton Copeland used to describe Tyrone Tracy Jr. during spring practice. If a dictionary or thesaurus was within arm’s reach, Copeland could’ve probably thumbed through the pages and found at least a dozen more words that would characterize the redshirt freshman receiver.
“This kid is phenomenal. I use that word with guard, I don’t use that word a lot,” Copeland said this spring. “His skill set, going back to when I evaluated him out of high school, I just saw certain things out of Tyrone Tracy that were magnetic. This young man has a magnetic ability. Anytime he’s got the ball in his hands or he’s around the ball or he’s on the field, he has the ability to make plays.”
Fast forward six months, and not only is Tracy making plays, he’s become the most productive receiver in Iowa’s offense. The redshirt freshman has risen to stardom over the last four weeks, showcasing some of that magnetic and dynamic playmaking ability Copeland talked about during spring ball.
Tracy got his big opportunity at the end of October, filling in for the injured Brandon Smith heading into a B1G West matchup against Northwestern. Up until that Saturday, the freshman had been utilized as an option in the Hawkeyes’ passing attack, but was still behind Smith and Ihmir Smith-Marsette on Nate Stanley’s “favorite targets” list.
It didn’t take long for that to change.
On a 3rd-and-10 play during Iowa’s third possession against Northwestern, Stanley delivered a perfect ball to Tracy on a comeback route, gaining enough yardage to move the chains. But Tracy turned a basic first down pass into a scoring play, spinning out of a tackle and outracing six Northwestern defenders to the end zone for the first touchdown of the game.
Tracy had his breakout moment. On that play, it was pretty clear that, even without Smith on the field, the Hawkeyes were just fine at the receiver position. That 50-yard touchdown catch provided the spark Iowa’s offense needed against Northwestern, helping the Hawkeyes to post a 20-0 win on the road.
But Tracy’s big play didn’t just provide a spark for Iowa in Evanston, it trickled over into the next two games.
A week later, with Iowa trailing Wisconsin 24-16 on the road with under 3:30 left in the fourth quarter, Tracy was able to beat a Badger defender on post route, hauled in a pass from Stanley in stride and bolted 75 yards to the end zone, giving the Hawkeyes a chance to tie the game with a two-point conversion. Despite the Hawkeyes falling short in the game, it was a clutch moment for the freshman.
Tracy finished the day with the best performance of his career, totaling five receptions for 130 yards and a score against the Badgers.
Last weekend against Minnesota, Tracy didn’t produce the big scoring play like he did against Northwestern or Wisconsin, but he proved to be a reliable target for Stanley once again. He hauled in a career-high six catches for 77 yards and also took one carry for 11 yards.
Three of Tracy’s catches came on a scoring drive near the end of the first half to give Iowa a 20-3 advantage over the Gophers. Along with the 11-yard carry, Tracy accounted for 62 of the Hawkeyes’ 69 yards on the drive that ended up being such a critical possession.
Phenomenal. Magnetic. Dynamic. Tracy has lived up to those words Copeland used last April. And after a third-straight game with Tracy making a significant contribution to Iowa’s passing attack, head coach Kirk Ferentz was relatively unsurprised.
“It’s because he’s worked hard, has a great attitude,” Ferentz said of Tracy.
Over the last three games, Tracy has essentially doubled his production totals for the year. And now, with two games left on the schedule, he’s Iowa’s second-leading receiver for the season, sitting just 20 yards behind Smith-Marsette.
|Tyrone Tracy Jr.||Catches||Yards||TDs||YPG|
|First 7 games||15||218||1||31.1|
|Last 3 games||13||295||2||98.3|
And, in the last three games, there’s not been another Iowa receiver that’s even close to matching Tracy’s production level. Smith-Marsette has 90 yards and a touchdown on 10 catches. Fellow freshman Nico Ragaini has nine receptions for 66 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Tracy has embraced a bigger role in the Iowa offense, and it’s a big reason why the Hawkeyes are 2-1 in their last three games, and a failed two-point conversion away from being in the division race even without Smith on the field.
It all goes back to what Copeland said in the spring — not only does Tracy possess the physical skills necessary to be successful, he’s not satisfied with being a good player. The redshirt freshman wants to be remembered as a great one.
“When you talk about his ability, he’s dynamic, he can do a lot of things for us. But I think what sets a guy like Tyrone apart is that — yes, he has ability — this kid wants to be great. He doesn’t want to be just good. He wants to be great.”
Tracy has shown flashes of greatness over the last three weeks. As his role in Iowa’s continues to increase, we’re going to see more of that phenomenal, magnetic and dynamic playmaking ability that Copeland raved about in the spring.