Three cool things:
1. We’re going to stick to the script on this one. It was too good.
Let’s begin this with the end.
After 63 yards, 1 minute, 35 seconds and a whole lot of lost consciousness and cartilage, Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi drilled a 7-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Marvin McNutt on the game’s final play to lift the then-No. 6 Iowa Hawkeyes past Michigan State.
That was the end. The beginning was 70 yards and 1:37 ago. Let’s start at the end.
“To be honest, I didn’t even know I was going to catch the ball,” McNutt said. “It felt like the slowest play ever.
“Once I got open, I didn’t know if he was going to throw it. Then I saw the ball, and I thought, ‘OK, just catch it.’ And once I caught it, I just thanked God for helping me catch the ball.”
The quick slant hadn’t shown up on an Iowa game film in a while, Stanzi said. This was player telling coach what was going down on the field and coach listening.
McNutt told offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe that cornerback Chris L. Rucker lined up on his outside shoulder, giving McNutt, with the steps and technique, an open release to the inside, the quick slant. McNutt told O’Keefe he could win with the fade, but that Rucker was on the outside.
“If you have a bad release, you’ve got to go to the other side,” said McNutt, who played just two plays against Wisconsin the week before because of a jammed thumb. “I came off him. I think they put another DB on me. The last couple times I ran a fade. I told Coach that he was playing off me and on the outside.
“I told him I could win on the slant. He trusted me enough to call the play where I was isolated on the slant. And we won.”
That was the end.
It began at Iowa’s 30 and with the Hawkeyes’ passing game in shambles.
Going into the final drive, Stanzi was just 7 of 17 for 78 yards. He had a 32-yard completion to wide receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos to set up a field goal. That was about it. McNutt went into the final drive with zero catches.
It all started with a 16-yarder to McNutt on first down.
“We knew we had to execute that first play and then just take it play-by-play and don’t worry too far down the road,” said Stanzi, who finished 11 of 27 for 138 yards and the TD. “If you can get that first play and keep the chains moving, that was the key.”
On a third-and-8 from Iowa’s 48, Stanzi hit wide receiver Trey Stross on a crossing route. He bolted for 21 yards to the 31, giving Iowa first down with 34 seconds left. Then, Stanzi hit Johnson-Koulianos for 16 yards to MSU’s 15 with 28 seconds left.
Rucker was called for defensive holding on a play where he appeared to intercept Stanzi. But no, Iowa had first down at MSU’s 7-yard line after being penalized half-the-distance to the goal. Stanzi tried tight end Tony Moeaki. He tried Trey Stross on second (a quick decision and what looked to be a miscommunication) and third down (a well-covered slant). Then, McNutt’s release, slant and victory. Iowa got off four plays with 15 seconds left, something that MSU coach Mark Dantonio took notice of.
“I know they had three plays in 15 seconds, which is amazing,” Dantonio said.
Two seconds were left on the clock when Iowa went to the slant. O’Keefe conducted the final huddle. Iowa’s receivers did a lot of the talking.
Moeaki went in motion to the right, taking linebacker Greg Jones to the left and clearing it out for McNutt, giving him one-on-one with Rucker.
“They did what we wanted them to do in that situation for that play,” Stanzi said.
The release was everything. If Rucker jams McNutt, he doesn’t get off the line of scrimmage and Stanzi has to run for his life.
“Marvin with his big body (6-foot-4, 215 pounds) and the skill set that he has, he’s got defenders thinking fade and his quickness is something people underestimate,” Stanzi said. “He was able to break inside and that was really the key.”
Some irony here.
During the run-up, Thursday’s rainy practice in Iowa City forced the Hawkeyes to blow off the two-minute drill. Coach Kirk Ferentz thought they’d make it up on Friday. Blew it off again.
“The next two-minute drill we do might be next spring,” Ferentz joked. “That’s the best two-minute drill we’ve had.”
It was. And no way hindsight can poke holes in it.
2. The physical toll in this one for the Hawkeyes was dramatic. I have no gauge for “physical” other than the obvious injuries that happen on the field.
There were a lot of those.
Running back Adam Robinson sprained his left foot or did something to it.
“I’m not concerned at all, something minor,” said Robinson, who had career highs of 27 carries and 109 yards in this.
It didn’t look good when MSU defensive end Colin Neely caught Robinson from behind near the MSU goal line and landed with his full weight on his left ankle. It appeared to bend outward.
But it didn’t stop Robinson from celebrating when Stanzi hit McNutt as time expired.
“I actually threw down my crutches and hobbled out there on the field with my teammates,” Robinson said. “I celebrated quite a bit.”
Robinson admitted the game was the most physical of the season, which explains the amount of injuries.
“This one by far was the most physical,” he said.
Safety Brett Greenwood left the game on a cart in the third quarter after a helmet-to-helmet collision with teammate Tyler Sash.
“I talked to him on the field for a second and he said, go get ‘em, just like he would normally,” Sash said. “Then, I saw him on the sidelines and that was a good sign.”
Wide receiver Colin Sandeman suffered a concussion in the fourth quarter, drawing a personal foul penalty on MSU’s Jeremy Ware.
On Iowa’s first series, offensive lineman Dace Richardson suffered a break somewhere on his lower-left leg. That was a rough one. Richardson might still be playing football if it wasn’t for a mountain of injuries during his career. He missed the two previous seasons leading into 2009 and eventually underwent knee realignment surgery.
It’s time to put serious, intelligent thought into preserving the game.
3. Credit where credit is due, the Spartans’ decision to pop the hook-and-ladder was stony.
Even the Hawkeyes dug it.
“That hook and ladder, gosh dang, that was a (gutsy) call. That worked,” Iowa tackle Bryan Bulaga said. “That was an awesome play. I was never even thinking that, and they go and pulled it out. That was awesome. It wasn’t awesome for us, but it was just awesome.”
“That was a great play on their part,” Iowa defensive tackle Christian Ballard said. “It was a great play call by their coaches. We were playing a little loose on third and 18.”
You say nice things about the other guy when you win. Even Michigan State.
Quote: “To be honest, I didn’t even know I was going to catch the ball. It felt like the slowest play ever.” — WR Marvin McNutt
Note: This was Ferentz’s first win at Spartan Stadium. It was a little more than 10 years after Nick Saban’s Michigan State launched Iowa into the abyss with a 49-3 victory over the Hawkeyes in Ferentz’s first Big Ten game as Iowa’s head coach.
Ferentz has yet to win at Ohio State and Maryland.
Why No. 8? — 7 got 6.
PREVIOUS COVERAGE OF THE GAME
Game story from 2009
EAST LANSING, Mich. — Whatever happens from here on out, this team walks where no Iowa team has.
The Iowa Hawkeyes are 8-0. This is a first in school history. This is fabulous to the very last drop.
Ricky Stanzi, 7 yards, Marvin McNutt, two seconds.
Stanzi to McNutt to ... who knows where.
After falling behind with 1:37 left, the Hawkeyes drove 71 yards on 11 plays and stunned just about everyone who cares about college football.
Stanzi. McNutt. Seven yards. Two seconds. Eight and ohhh wow.
”We really just had to take it play-by-play,” said Stanzi, who completed 4 of 9 for 60 yards on the final drive. “We couldn’t worry too far down the road. Get the first play and keep the chains moving.”
The Spartans (4-4, 3-2 Big Ten) had a three-game winning streak snapped. And their hearts shattered and emotions tattered.
Stanzi drove the Hawkeyes 70 yards on 10 plays. He hit McNutt, the first read, who got a perfect release on the inside of MSU corner Chris L. Rucker and pulled it in.
“Everything went perfectly on that play,” said McNutt, who played just two plays last week because of a jammed thumb. “He was on my inside shoulder, I got a release and I just thanked God I caught that ball.”
For the first time, Iowa is 8-0. The best before Saturday night was the 7-0 start in 1985 and a couple of 7-0 seasons when seasons were seven games. Back when gas was a dime and before there was color TV.
Everything is in blazing color for the No. 7 Hawkeyes (8-0, 4-0 Big Ten). There’s no black and white. Win and chase down the unbelievable.
Iowa’s win streak is now 12 games, that’s the second-longest in school history behind an insane 20-game run.
“All we were worried about was getting to 8-0,” Stanzi said after the 15-13 victory. “It was tough and we knew it would be tough. We have a good group of guys who want to win, want to play hard and want to win for Coach Ferentz.”
While every national sports radio or print kumquat scoffs, this team just does its job. At Penn State, no problem. At Wisconsin, no sweat. At Spartan Stadium, in front of 74,414 green clads, on the road, during prime time, the Hawkeyes found a way for the first time since 1995, ending a streak of 0-for-Kirk Ferentz in East Lansing.
Next, Indiana. But really, next is fireworks. Iowa is in the national championship conversation, loudly and clearly.
It’s fireworks from here until Nov. 14 at Ohio State, the last place Ferentz hasn’t won in his 11 seasons as Iowa’s coach.
It’s fireworks until Columbus. Saturday night, it was nuclear.
Stanzi. McNutt. Two seconds. 15-13. Eight and ohhhh, what’s next?
“For Rick to take the team like he did on that last series, it was absolutely amazing,” Ferentz said. “Outstanding, great effort, team effort, but Rick orchestrated things.”
The faceoff of field goals continued into the fourth quarter.
This time, it was the Spartans’ turn for a goal-line stand.
After back-to-back runs from Wegher (12) and Robinson (11), the Hawkeyes had first-and-goal from the 1. On first down, Robinson was strung to the left and dropped for no gain. On second, Stanzi tried a boot pass to fullback Brett Morse, but it was doomed by a big MSU rush.
On third down, Robinson tried stringing the play to the left, again, but met a gaggle of Spartans defenders and lost a yard.
Murray booted a 20-yard field goal for a 6-6 tie with 11:43 left in the game. Murray, who’s now made eight of his last nine field goals, also tied it 3-3 in the first half with a 37-yard line-drive.
The brutality again reared its head with 7:19 left in the fourth quarter. Iowa wide receiver Colin Sandeman took a head shot from cornerback Jeremy Ware, who was called for taunting after the play, giving Iowa first down at MSU’s 45 with 7:19 left. Sandeman walked off the field in a woozy state.
To say Iowa made the most of that call is a monumental understatement.
Then, Michigan State executed a hook-and-lateral that goes into the dictionary as “hook-and-lateral.”
Cousins hit B.J. Cunningham for 12 yards and Cunningham tossed to White, who caught it in full stride and took the ball to Iowa’s 30.
On second-and-10, Cousins slipped out of the pocket and avoided two rushers before finding a wide-open White for a 30-yard TD with 1:37 left, putting up the Spartans, 13-9. White caught the ball in front of Joe Conklin, who replaced Greenwood.
Any national championship talk went up in flames on a hook-and-lateral.
Oh no, wait.
Stanzi. McNutt. Seven yards. Two seconds. Eight and ohhhh my. Oh, oh my.
Marvin McNutt feature from 2010
Living the dream
IOWA CITY — Marvin McNutt had one of those letter jackets that weighed 40 pounds.
As a three-sport athlete at Hazelwood (Mo.) Central, McNutt had interest from colleges for his basketball skills, which were good enough to earn a nomination for the McDonald’s All-American squad.
“He crosses over to the basketball floor and steps up and hits a shot that’s about 6 feet outside the arc in a district championship game, with seconds on the clock, knocks it down to put his team up by one and send them to the state playoffs,” said Hazelwood Central football coach Richard Nixon, McNutt’s prep football coach.
Baseball was a fit for McNutt, a rangy 6-foot-4, 215-pounder with a live arm (80 mph fastball in high school) and strong bat.
“As soon as basketball is over, my man switches over to baseball,” Nixon said.
“While on the diamond, in what would be the quarterfinals to put the baseball team in the final four, Marvin steps up to the plate with the bases juiced and hits a four-run bomb to take a one-run lead and win the game.
“That’s just a testament to that kid and his ability. He’s truly a blessed young man and has a great attitude.”
Wait, we haven’t even gotten to McNutt’s good sport.
Of course, he’s a wide receiver for Iowa.
Last season was McNutt’s coming-out party. He caught 34 passes for 674 yards and eight touchdowns. He led the Big Ten with 19.8 yards per catch and his eight TD receptions tied for second in the league. All that in his first full season as a wideout after converting from quarterback.
Yes, McNutt was a QB when he arrived on campus. He made the switch his redshirt freshman year, but still hung around the QB room quite a bit. In 2008, McNutt had as many completions as pass receptions. He had one of each.
In 2009, McNutt had memorable games against Indiana (four catches for 155 yards and a 92-yard TD) and Ohio State (six catches for 78 yards and two TDs). He caught a TD pass in the Orange Bowl that was quintessential McNutt, outleaping a Georgia Tech defender for a jump ball.
“You never know how early it’s going to come,” McNutt said. “When you get on the field, you picture yourself doing the unthinkable sometimes. Even if you don’t do it, you always want to do it.
“It’s something you always try to imagine so you put yourself in that position, so when it does happen, it’s not new to you because you’ve dreamed about it for so long.”
McNutt started to show his wide receiver skills in week 3 against Arizona. He made a 34-yard grab that set up a TD. Then, after getting blanked at Penn State because of a touch of the flu, McNutt went wild against Arkansas State, with four catches for 121 yards and two TDs.
He suffered a thumb injury that had his left hand heavily taped, but he closed strong, including a 74-yard TD against Northwestern.
McNutt’s name is on the list of Iowa’s top 10 longest plays of the season four times — 92, 74, 43 and 41 yards. It wasn’t a long play, but the 7-yard TD pass he caught at Michigan State on the game’s final play was about as clutch as it gets.
No one, not even Iowa’s offensive coordinator, saw McNutt’s rise in ’09 coming.
“If we are all in a staff room in the beginning of August and we were going to try to figure out who was going to make the most big plays on the team, Marvin might not have gotten a vote,” offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe said. “Here he is making all of these big plays with his feet. He ’s a big guy, he has some natural strength, he catches the ball well and he’s hard to tackle.”
McNutt’s size and hands — giant — were money on the goal line, which is where McNutt the total athlete really kicks in.
For the “jump ball” type passes, McNutt calls on basketball for the vertical and body position. For the quick slants — see the MSU score — he’s got quick feet can hold off defenders with his size.
“Marvin is such a threat in the red zone,” said backup quarterback James Vandenberg, who zipped a pair of TDs to McNutt against Ohio State last season. “He’s a big, balanced guy. For some reason, people think he’s slow, but he has really good feet. He’s a matchup problem down there.
“They have to pick their poison. Do you want to stop the slant and let us throw it up to him? Or are you going to try to play the fade ball and give us the slant?”
McNutt might not have blazing speed — he estimates a 4.7-second 40-yard dash — but he’s made up a lot of ground at a position that he didn’t take up until a few weeks into 2008. Don’t discount his time at QB, though. The experience gave him a different feel for Iowa’s offense.
“Coach (Erik) Campbell has done a great job of working his technique, teaching him the ins and outs of running routes, releases, the fundamentals of being a wide receiver,” O’Keefe said. “Marvin, having played quarterback, understands that from a different viewpoint and sees it a little bit better and that has been a big help.”
It really could’ve been baseball, though. Or maybe basketball.
“You wish you could see a video of what would’ve happened in your future there,” McNutt said with a laugh. “Right now, I’m living a dream. Right now, it’s all about football.”
The cruel irony is that the Iowa football practice facility sits just across the sidewalk from ... the baseball field.