EAST LANSING — Let’s begin this with the end.
After 63 yards, 1:35 seconds and a whole lot of 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 No. 7 Iowa Hawkeyes past Michigan State, 15-13, Saturday night at Spartan Stadium.
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 hasn’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 31, giving Iowa first down with 34 seconds left.
This one got the attention of MSU defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi.
“Give them credit, they got a guy open when they couldn’t get a guy open all day long,” he said.
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 Thursday’s rainy practice back in Iowa City, the Hawkeyes blew off the tw0-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.”