Dec. 21, 2008
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IOWA CITY, Iowa — For a player who yearns for the limelight, University of Iowa wide receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos can hardly contain himself when thinking about participating in the Outback Bowl against South Carolina on New Year’s Day.
“Biggest stage of my life,” Johnson-Koulianos said. “The Outback sponsors a great bowl. I’m just excited to be part of it and taking the whole thing in. Hopefully I will play a significant role in the outcome of the game. I’m thrilled to be part of this whole situation.”
Johnson-Koulianos not only hopes for pressure situations, he thrives in them. During a 24-23 victory against No. 3 Penn State on Nov. 8 inside Kinnick Stadium, Johnson-Koulianos caught seven passes for 89 yards with a long of 27 yards, which went for a third-quarter touchdown. All seven of his receptions picked up first downs, including a pair of 10-yard grabs in the fourth quarter. Four of the first-down catches came on third down and the other three came on second down. Moving the chains against the Nittany Lions is a season highlight for the sophomore from Campbell, Ohio.
“First down catches in the Penn State game that really kept drives alive,” said Johnson-Koulianos when selecting a personal regular-season bright spot. “Those are more significant than anything, especially in a big ball game like that.”
Football purists marvel at the fundamentally-sound blocking from the Hawkeye receivers, which played a part in Doak Walker Award-winning running back Shonn Greene picking up 1,729 yards and 17 touchdowns.
“I’ll have to credit (receivers) Coach (Erik) Campbell for that,” Johnson-Koulianos said. “He’s brought a new element to the game where you can have a good game without having eight catches or a touchdown. When we step in the film room on Sunday and if you have a lot of blocks for Shonn or spring blocks downfield, you take pride in that. Now when receivers evaluate themselves after the game, we’re looking if we had any huge blocks. Coach Campbell has made that an emphasis for us and you saw that this year.”
One of the most popular Johnson-Koulianos `blocks’ of the season is better suited for a bloopers reel. It came during the final regular-season game of the season — a 55-0 win at Insight Bowl-bound Minnesota. Greene broke into the secondary and had Johnson-Koulianos a few yards ahead, running interference on a Gopher defensive back. As the two Hawkeyes neared the Minnesota 25-yard line, Greene zigged and Johnson-Koulianos zagged and the result was a monster collision that left Johnson-Koulianos motionless on the Metrodome turf.
“I like playing against great defenses. They’re going to approach the game like maybe we’re not as explosive as some of the teams they’ve seen this year in the SEC. Let them think what they want — we know what we’re capable of and I know what I’m capable of.”
“I took a lot of grief from a lot of people,” Johnson-Koulianos said. “Coaches tease me and what-not. From my perspective, my eyes were downfield trying to get a block for Shonn. I don’t know what he saw…he says he was just reacting, but that was the hardest hit I took all year — by far.”
UI head coach Kirk Ferentz couldn’t resist a playful jab at Johnson-Koulianos when revealing his favorite runs by Greene during the season.
“Up in Minnesota where he knocked Koulianos around, that was pretty good, too,” Ferentz said. “Maybe he knocked some sense into Derrell to stay out of the way.”
Blocking is a secondary strength for Johnson-Koulianos, who has led the Hawkeyes in receiving each of his first two seasons. After hauling in 38 catches for 482 yards and two touchdowns as a freshman, Johnson-Koulianos collected 43 receptions for 621 yards and three scores this fall. He also returned eight kickoffs for a 20.6-yard average.
The Gamecocks, Iowa’s Outback Bowl opponent, are third in the nation in fewest passing yards allowed (160.2 per game) and 11th in total defense (288.92 yards per game). Only Mississippi (243) and Arkansas (255) threw for more than 200 yards in a game against South Carolina. Iowa was fifth in the Big Ten in total offense (373.9) and eighth in passing offense (184.6). Johnson-Koulianos was 10th in receiving yards per game (51.8).
“I like playing against great defenses,” Johnson-Koulianos said. “They’re going to approach the game like maybe we’re not as explosive as some of the teams they’ve seen this year in the SEC. Let them think what they want — we know what we’re capable of and I know what I’m capable of. Whoever steps in front of me from South Carolina, it’s going to be a long day.”
The Hawkeyes depart for Tampa on Christmas Eve Day. Johnson-Koulianos is impressed with the demeanor of the Iowa team.
“You feel it,” he said. “Everybody is on top of it and they’re invested. We know we’re capable of winning this ball game, but we have to play Iowa football. Iowa football is built on toughness and hopefully that will be reflected on Jan. 1. This is everything we all have been working for.”
To view a 26-image photo gallery from Sunday’s practice — available exclusively on hawkeyesports.com — CLICK HERE.
Fans of the Iowa Hawkeyes who live in the Heartland or in the Sunshine State or in all points between should note that the UI Athletics Ticket Office is accepting ticket orders for the 2009 Outback Bowl. Click here to purchase your tickets online. Fans can also purchase over the phone by calling 1-800 IA-HAWKS or over-the-counter at the UI Athletics Ticket Office in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.