Balance Before Milestones

Nov. 9, 2011


IOWA CITY, Iowa — In football, the key to a productive offense starts and ends with launching a balanced attack.

A successful combination of run and pass plays keeps the defense guessing, and in the University of Iowa’s case, multiple offensive stars reap the benefits.

Heading into Saturday’s game with Michigan State, University of Iowa wide receiver Marvin McNutt, Jr., is 41 yards shy of reaching 1,000 yards receiving on the season. The senior says reaching the 1,000-yard plateau would be a special personal achievement.

“It means that all the hard work you put in off the field pays off,” said McNutt, who came to the UI as a quarterback. “The things that you and the quarterback go through from the winter until now; you see the rewards from it.”

McNutt, who is averaging 106 receiving yards per game — good for 13th in the nation — knows that a balanced attack not only benefits himself, but everyone on the offense.

“It’s always important to have a balanced offense,” McNutt said. “Each part of the offense helps the other. Rushing helps the passing and passing helps the rushing yards.”

For the season, McNutt has 57 receptions for 959 yards and nine touchdowns.

McNutt and fellow receiver Keenan Davis (32-515-4) serve as explosive deep threats that opposing defenses have to respect. In the past, the opposition has been able to key on Iowa’s running game by loading the box with defenders, but because of the down-field ability the Hawkeye offense now possesses, teams that do this risk giving up big plays to receivers.

UI running back Marcus Coker has benefitted from this dynamic, as well as from solid blocking from the offensive line and fullback Brad Rogers.

The sophomore back has already eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark, doing so with 132 yards and two touchdowns on the ground against Michigan. Coker’s performance marked the fourth straight game which he ran for at least 100 yards and scored two touchdowns, but you would be hard pressed to hear the back credit himself. In 211 attempts during the first nine games, Coker has gained 1,101 yards with 12 touchdowns. He is the first Hawkeye to surpass 1,000 yards on the ground since Shonn Greene picked up 1,850 in 2008.

“Our offensive line has been doing a great job, and Brad Rogers has been doing a great job,” Coker said. “It’s pretty hard not to get good stats when you have those guys blocking for you.”

Rushing for more than 1,000 yards means little to Coker. Statistics and milestones are trivial to the 230-pound bruiser: winning is all that matters.

“I just want to win football games,” Coker said. “Stats and that kind of stuff don’t mean anything. The defense is still going to hit you as hard even if you have good stats.”

Coker’s ability to pound the ball and McNutt’s ability to stretch the field has made life a little easier for UI quarterback James Vandenberg.

“We’ve had really good balance, especially these last two or three weeks,” the junior signal-caller said. “We’ve been able to get the running game going early and that’s opened up the pass game and Marvin. That’s what we’re looking for. We want to have good balance so we can attack all phases of the defense.”

With 41 receiving yards by McNutt on Saturday, he and Coker would become the second duo in Hawkeye history to have 1,000 yards receiving and 1,000 yards rushing in the same season. In 2000, wide receiver Kevin Kasper (1,010 yards) and running back Ladell Betts (1,090) each eclipsed 1,000 yards.

Iowa (6-3 overall, 3-2 Big Ten) returns to Kinnick Stadium on Saturday to host No. 13 Michigan State (7-1, 4-1) with an 11:01 a.m. (CT) start. The game will be televised to a national audience by ESPN2 with announcers Beth Mowins and Mike Bellotti calling the action.