There was the Big Ten’s best wide receiver — Iowa’s Marvin McNutt — in week two. There was the nation’s best wide receiver — Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon — in the 10th game. There was All-Big 12 wideout Kendall Wright (Baylor), Texas AandM top talent Ryan Swope and Aggies career record-holder Jeff Fuller. Heck, All-American Ryan Broyles of Oklahoma didn’t even play against Iowa State.
“That’s why players come to Iowa State because they want to defend those types of players and be part of that competition,” Iowa State Coach Paul Rhoads said. ” When we sat down as a staff and talked about the all-league team, it wasn’t very difficult to let Broyles, Blackmon and Wright roll off your tongue and throw them out there on the roster. Those are some pretty special people.”
This week Iowa State opposes another of the nation’s best wide receivers in Friday’s Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium. Rutgers junior Mohamed Sanu is tall at 6-foot-2, physical at 215 pounds, and perhaps just as talented as the Big 12′s elite receivers.
Sanu, a unanimous All-Big East selection, broke the Big East record for catches in a season with 109. That’s 17 more than former record holder Larry Fitzgerald of Pittsburgh. Sanu caught 65 passes for first downs this year and has seven 100-yard receiving games this year.
“They line him up everywhere,” Iowa State defensive coordinator Wally Burnham said. “They line him up in the backfield. They motion him out they line him up at the outside receiver, the inside receiver. They’ll motion him … everything they can do to get the ball to him, they try to do.
“It’s a challenge to find out where he is and what he’s going to do. We’ll have a plan somehow.”
Perhaps most impressive is how Sanu adapted to a pair of inconsistent quarterbacks and weak running game this season. The Scarlet Knights started sophomore Chas Dodd for their first four and final three games. Freshman Gary Nova started the middle five games. Dodd completed 56.6 percent of his passes to Nova’s 51.4.
Rutgers ranked 115th nationally in rushing yards per game with 91. Jawan Jamison was the team’s leading rusher with 766 yards on 204 carries.
Sanu, who set the Big East record for receptions in a game with 16 against Ohio on Sept. 24, is not an explosive threat, however. He averaged just 10.1 yards per receptions this year and his longest reception went for 32 yards. Nine of the Big 12′s top 10 receiving threats had a better yard-per-catch average than Sanu.
All of Rutgers’ wide receivers on the depth chart stand at least 6-foot-2, which gives them a decisive height advantage over Iowa State cornerbacks Johnson (5-10, senior) and Reeves (5-7, junior). But it’s not an unfamiliar scenario for the Cyclones, and Rhoads said for Johnson “confidence won’t be an issue.” Johnson was named a second-team all-Big 12 cornerback the last two seasons.
“I think he’s extremely competitive and extremely driven right now to play great football,” Rhoads said. “Part of playing great football is shutting down receivers. They’ve got a great receiver corps, Rutgers does. Outstanding position group. So he and Jeremy (Reeves) will have their hands full, but when you have a senior that’s getting ready to play his last game, and he’s still out there asking questions to get better, that’s fun, that’s really exciting.”