Samori Touré has been around. He’s played a lot of football in his career. Good football, too—he was an All-American at FCS Montana before coming to Lincoln and becoming a transfer portal success story.
While Touré specializes in catching footballs rather than throwing them, he still knows a thing or two about quarterbacks. So when he says he’s impressed with what second-year freshman Logan Smothers was able to do Friday against Iowa in his first career start, that carries weight.
“I think he played really well. He surprised me with his confidence,” Touré said. “Most freshmen quarterbacks, they won’t come in with confidence. They’ll be nervous, especially in a big game like this. But he handled the whole week of preparation really well and he came out today with confidence.
“I’m proud of the kid.”
In his first collegiate start, Smothers—who found out he was starting against Iowa last Sunday—felt the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.
The Alabama native completed 16-of-22 passes for 199 yards and rushed for 64 yards and two touchdowns. He used his speed to run away from defenses for 11 and 24 yards. He led the offense on 12- and 13-play 75-yard touchdown drives. His third and last scoring drive, which spanned 94 yards on nine plays—included completions of 27 yards to tight Austin Allen and a 40-yarder to wideout Omar Manning.
“You take the good and bad from this game and work on those things,” Smothers said. “Just move forward and get better each and every day.”
But while the highs in the first half looked great, the lows in the second looked like a snowball of bad quarterback decisions that got bigger and bigger as it rolled down a hill.
Smothers fumbled twice and recovered only one of them. The one he didn’t cover up looked like a mistake at the mesh point on one of the many option runs that were called. Then he was flagged for intentional grounding in his own end zone, which resulted in a safety. Same thing happened to the guy he replaced, Adrian Martinez, in Minnesota.
And there was the interception to end the game.
Receiver Levi Falck was running an option route. Falck could run a post, or sit down if he was uncovered and look for the ball. Falck sat, but Smothers threw the post. The ball was easily picked off by a Hawkeye defense that came into the game with a nation-leading 21 interceptions.
“That’s a play we run all the time. Th receiver has the option to run the post or shut it down, and I bet we have 3,000 reps of that,” Frost said. “Made the wrong throw at the wrong time.”
Smothers looked like a smooth veteran in the first half. He had his team humming with a 21-6 lead with around five minutes left in the third. But for most of the second half, he looked like what he is: a second-year freshman making his first start against one of the toughest defenses in the Big Ten and country. Mistakes were bound to happen in pressure situations like Friday presented.
“My message to him was simple: go out and make plays and don’t turn the ball over,” Nebraska head coach Scott Frost said. “We played a really clean first half. That’s a good team across from us and there’s a lot of games they’ve won because they created turnovers, and other teams have made the mistakes and they haven’t. We didn’t make very many, if any, in the first half. And we made some critical ones in the second half.”
That’s going to be a crucial part of Nebraska’s football program going forward. Finding a quarterback who doesn’t make those critical mistakes when things get tight.
“I thought Logan managed the game pretty well. Did enough for us to win,” Frost said after the game.
Adrian Martinez has one more year left of eligibility, and it’s still unclear whether or not he’s returning for the 2022 season. He went through the Senior Day walk and received a nice round of applause prior to kickoff. Love him or hate him, no one can deny that Martinez cared about this team, program and winning games.
Smothers said Martinez helped him out a ton with preparation Sunday through Thursday.
“He was in my ear all week, so I love that,” Smothers said. “He’s a great role model to look up to. I really appreciate him.”
What Smothers showed against Iowa should give fans a sliver of hope. Hope that says, “Maybe we have something here.” It’s just one game, of course. But there were good things there. Things to build on. More reps and more games under his belt will help Smothers become more of a finished product.
That leads back to Touré, someone who knows about building yourself into something better than it once was. What’s his advice to the young kid from Muscle Shoals?
“Keep being you. The confidence that he showed surprised me, and it showed a lot about his character,” Touré said of what he’d tell Smothers. “The moment wasn’t too big for him, and I want him to continue to be confident and continue to take charge, and I think he can do that.”