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One last ride in the Tiger Hawk

Marc Morehouse, The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa –

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — In his last outing, Marvin McNutt got a taste of life in the NFL.

Against NFL-caliber corner Alfonzo Dennard, McNutt was held to a season-low 29 receiving yards and tied a season low with four receptions in Iowa’s 20-7 loss at Nebraska. McNutt is an NFL-caliber receiver and he certainly doesn’t want to go out with “season low” anywhere near his numbers going into Iowa’s Insight Bowl appearance against Nebraska.

“Definitely,” McNutt said when asked if the Nebraska performance was something he wanted to flush. “It’s already out of the system. Right now, it’s more about playing my last game with these guys. It’s the last time I get to come out and put on the jersey.

“I just want to go out and play as hard as I can.”

There is one more check on the list for McNutt.

The 6-foot-4, 215-pound senior has 78 receptions this season and 166 for his career. He needs five against the Sooners to top Kevin Kaspers’ season record of 82 (set in 2000) and eight to pass Derrell Johnson-Koulianos’ 173 receptions (2007-2010).

That would go along with the season (1,269) and career (2,816) receiving yardage records he holds. It also would be a nice match with the season (12) and career (28) touchdown receptions records he holds.

“I didn’t know what the magic number was 1/8for receptions],” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “He’s already set a couple of records. I’d be all for him breaking one more and adding to the others ones, especially that touchdown one. I’d really like that.

“If he only got four catches and they were all touchdowns, I’d make that trade off. I don’t know how he feels about it, but it’s all good.”

The record talk started with McNutt in June. The numbers Johnson-Koulianos put up for receptions and yardage seemed unreachable, and then you had to consider the “Iowa” factors.

Fact, Iowa hadn’t had a receiver go for more than 1,000 receiving yards in a season since Kasper in 2000. Before Kasper, there were only two others (Keith Chappelle 1,037 in 1980 and Quinn Early 1,004 in ’87).

Also, going into 2011, Iowa had the makings of a team that could lean run, maybe as much as 60 percent to 40 percent of the playcalling. A veteran offensive line with outstanding tackles and running back Marcus Coker and his 230 pounds pointed Iowa to the run.

The general vibe around Iowa was junior quarterback James Vandenberg would fit in well in his first season as a starter, but no one knew what would happen. And then the defense, the inexperience and almost total turnover in the front four shouted that Iowa would need to run and win time of possession to help the defense.

McNutt needed 1,071 yards to set the yardage record. If you think it wasn’t at least in the back of his mind, remember back to an interview in June, before the Hawkeyes started 7-on-7 summer drills.

McNutt was reminded that Johnson-Koulianos’ record were way out there and not even a season old.

“Oh yeah,” McNutt said with a laugh. He’s told that it would take an unprecedented season in Iowa football history as a receiver to catch Johnson-Koulianos.

He smiled and eyeballed the cameras mischievously. The look said it all.

And 1,269 yards later, check. One down.

This next check won’t come easy. The Sooners’ secondary is known as the “Sharks.” For the most part, it’s been a solid unit, allowing just three games of more than 100 yards. A sentence that starts with “for the most part” is a set up for a the ugly parts.

In two of the Sooners’ three losses, the secondary was lit up. Texas Tech quarterback Seth Doege threw for 441 yards and four TDs. OU’s secondary kind of set the plate for Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III’s run to the Heisman Trophy, allowing 485 passing yards and four TDs against the Bears.

“They all have great speed and they all fly to the football,” McNutt said.

Oklahoma is certainly part of the equation next Friday at Sun Devil Stadium, but so is Iowa.

And let’s face it, the Hawkeyes’ offense is going to be different without Coker, who’s under suspension for the Insight Bowl because of an unspecified violation of the UI’s student-athlete Code of Conduct. That’s 280 carries, 1,384 yards and 15 TDs out of the playbook.

The offense could tilt McNutt’s way, but OU coach Bob Stoops knows that.

What started with a look in June has changed. When asked about any sort of receptions record this week, McNutt’s eyes stay down at his feet.

In June, this talk was fun. Now, it’s the last time the quarterback-turned-wide receiver — arguably the greatest in Iowa history — has a change to fly the Iowa colors. The call of the NFL is coming. Literally. The calls from agents have started to trickle in, McNutt said.

The real world is knocking on the door. This is one last chance to be a college kid, receptions record or not.

“Not at all, that’s actually the last thing on my mind,” McNutt said. “I just want to get out there and win the game. It’s my last time going out there with a lot of these guys. It’s an honor.”

So, a couple of checks remain on the list.

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