IOWA CITY — Kirk Ferentz got off a teleconference with reporters from Minnesota and kind of shook his head. The perception that Iowa is a team that pounds the ball behind a gigantic offensive line is alive and well, apparently.
“I told him a lot of people still think of Iowa as having the big linemen,” Ferentz said incredulously. “I think we’ve had the smallest offensive line in the last decade. I bet you everybody in the conference thinks we have the biggest.
“We’re the only team without a 300-pounder on the line.”
That’s the perception, probably because Iowa under Ferentz made its bones in with an undefeated Big Ten run in 2002 behind a supremely talented and, yes, large O-line. It’s stuck, even after Iowa shared a Big Ten title in ’04 on the strength of a stellar D-line.
Extrapolate this perception, would you believe that six of Iowa’s top 10 in career receptions are receivers from the Ferentz era? Also, five of the top 10 career leaders in receiving yards played at Iowa during the Ferentz years. With ties, it’s a long list, but the career TD reception list includes nine Ferentz Hawkeyes.
Derrell Johnson-Koulianos set Iowa’s record for receiving yards (2,616) and receptions (173) last season. Last weeek, Marvin McNutt broke Iowa’s TD receptions record with three (24).
Now, Iowa plays more football games today (13) than it did up until about the mid-2000s. Also, refinements in the passing game didn’t click in Iowa City until Hayden Fry and offensive coordinator Bill Snyder revamped Iowa’s offense when Fry arrived in 1979.
There’s mitigation, but as far as the Iowa record books go, this has been a golden age of receivers at Iowa.
“I’ve met all those guys, great guys,” McNutt said when asked about some of the Ferentz-era receivers. “When you come here, you get to know guys in Hawkeye history and those guys definitely set names for themselves here at Iowa.”
The names stretch from Ferentz’s first years (1999-00) to last Saturday.
Early, Iowa’s offense couldn’t protect the quarterback, so the offense compressed into a quick passing game. Kevin Kasper and Kahlil Hill were the targets. Johnson-Koulianos broke Kasper’s receptions record last season.
“He was really quick and fearless. I would rank him right there with Bob Sanders as far as just being fearless,” Ferentz said of Kasper. “Kevin was a really dynamic player . . . Just a phenomenally though guy.”
Mo Brown, Ed Hinkel and Clinton Solomon were in on the championship years. Solomon is top 10 in receptions (118),
yards (1,864) and TDs (14). Hinkel is top 10 in receptions (135) and TDs (15). Brown also had 15 TDs.
“Times have changed, offenses have changed,” McNutt said. “Coach Ferentz is most known for his great offensive lines, but right now, we’re in the present and we’re trying to make something happen now.”
The latest wave of receivers are very much the products of wide receivers coach Erik Campbell, who spent 13 seasons building several NFL wide receivers at Michigan. His list of proteges there include Braylon Edwards, Amani Toomer, Mario Manningham and Steve Breaston.
When the Lloyd Carr staff broke up to make room in 2008, Ferentz pounced. Iowa started a relationship with Keenan Davis, then a senior at Cedar Rapids Washington High School. Campbell sealed the deal.
“I think the perception is starting to change,” said Davis, Iowa’s No. 2 receiver this season with 30 catches for 463 yards and four TDs. “People see Marvin this year. They saw DJ last year. I think a lot of that has to do with Soup [Campbell's nickname, after the soup company].
“I think Soup changed a lot here. He taught us a new way. He brought a new feel to it and I think you’re seeing it a lot more. We can throw it, we have the tools to throw it, so why not?”
Iowa’s top three wide receivers this season — McNutt, Davis and freshman Kevonte Martin-Manley — have accounted for 89 of Iowa’s 127 receptions (70 percent).
“When Soup came with the resume he had, that made me want to come here,” said Davis, who treaded water his first two seasons at Iowa (15 catches, 186 yards and two TDs) before seeing success this season. ”That made me want to learn from that guy. When you have a coach like that, you want to learn from him and become the best receiver you can.
“When he came to Iowa, he told me, ‘I was going to recruit you no matter where I was.’ He was one of the biggest reasons I finally made the decision. He told me exactly how it was going to be and he hasn’t lied to me once. Everything he’s told me since high school, it’s happened.”
The only element Iowa receiver is missing right now is a high NFL draft pick. Quinn Early was picked in the third round by the San Diego Chargers in the 1988 draft. The highest Iowa wide receiver to go since then was Tim Dwight in the fourth to the Falcons in ’98.
Hill is the last Iowa receiver to be picked, going in the sixth round to the Falcons in ’02.
McNutt, of course, will change all of that in April. After last week’s performance, here’s what National Football Post scout Wes Bunting wrote, “Is there a more uncoverable receiver in college football right now than Iowa’s Marvin McNutt? Even when he is covered up on the fade, his ability to slip/fight through contact, adjust and pluck the football makes him pretty much impossible to defend.”
The rise of receivers during Ferentz’s 13 years and McNutt’s draft splash should be something Iowa can show wide receiver recruits. Ferentz, though, has a better sell.
“Our receivers run routes that NFL receivers run,” he said. “. . . If they’re good enough, they’re going to make it.”
Iowa career receptions leaders
1. Derrell Johnson-Koulianos (2007-10) — 173*
2. Kevin Kasper (1997-00) — 157*
3. Kahlil Hill (1998, 2000-01) — 152*
4. (tie) Danan Hughes (1989-92) — 146
Ronnie Harmon (1982-85) — 146
6. Tim Dwight (1994-97) — 139
7. Ed Hinkel (2002-05) — 135*
8. Marvin McNutt (2008-present) — 129*
9. Marv Cook (1985-88) — 126
10. Clinton Solomon (2002, 2004-05) — 118*
* — Kirk Ferentz-era receivers
Iowa career receiving yardage leaders
1. Johnson-Koulianos — 2,616*
2. McNutt — 2,303*
3. Dwight — 2,271
4. Hughes — 2,216
5. Harmon — 2,045
6. Kasper — 1,974*
7. Dave Moritz (1981-83) — 1,912
8. Hill — 1,892*
9. Solomon — 1,864*
10. Harold Jasper (1991-94) — 1,863
* — Kirk Ferentz-era receivers
Iowa career TD reception leaders
1. McNutt — 24*
2. (tie) Dwight — 21
Hughes — 21
3. Johnson-Koulianos — 17*
4. Robert Smith (1983-86) — 16
5. (tie) Hill — 15*
Hinkel — 15*
Mo Brown (2002-03) — 15*
6. Solomon — 16*
7. (tie) Quinn Early (1984-87) — 13
Mike Flagg (1984-87) — 13
Scot Helverson (1984-85) — 13
8. (tie) Kasper — 11*
Kerry Reardon (1968-70) — 11
Jim Gibbons (1955-57) — 11
Tony Moeaki (2005-09) — 11
9. (tie) Harmon — 10
Travis Watkins (1986-89) — 10
Bill Happel (1982-85) — 10
Scott Chandler (2003-06) — 10*
Cloyd Webb (1961-63) — 10
10. (tie) Moritz — 9
Andy Brodell (2005-08) — 9*
Keith Chappelle (1979-80) — 9
Bill Schultz (1973-76) — 9
* — Kirk Ferentz-era receivers