The playmaker

BY RYAN YOUNG | OCTOBER 02, 2009 7:20 AM

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Statistically speaking, Derrell Johnson-Koulianos is Iowa’s third-best receiver five weeks into the season.

With seven catches, 111 yards, and zero game starts, only senior Trey Stross and sophomore Marvin McNutt have numerically claimed superiority over No. 15 after four games.

At the top stands Stross, who has tallied the most yards (167), the most receptions (11), and the longest ball (34) for the Hawkeyes. Not far behind is McNutt, whose offensive digits thus far (121 yards on eight receptions in four games played) are charming considering the St. Louis native had been signaling plays rather than making them a year ago.

Then there is Johnson-Koulianos, who led the Iowa wideouts unit in 2008 and accounted for more than 25 percent of the Hawkeyes’ 2,362 passing yards with 639 but has yet to regain his starting spot. During the spring, coaches named him a second-team split end.

“He had some injuries in camp, but when he was out there, he was really practicing well,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said on Tuesday. “He’s a good player, and we expect him to play well. That’s what I’m hoping for.”

The 11th-year headman is also hoping his game-day receiver lineup quickly gets away from looking like an international à la carte menu.

Aside from Stross, who has become a near-permanent fixture in the Iowa offense, the Hawkeyes’ six other wideouts have rotated practically every down and drive with minimal success.

And nearly two weeks ago, Iowa’s stock sunk a little further with Johnson-Koulianos hampered by a hamstring injury that kept him out against Arizona.

His absence was merely temporary, though. He came back for the team’s Big Ten opener at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pa.

Leading his position with 50 yards on three receptions — including a 24-yard grab — Johnson-Koulianos once again help lift underdog Iowa over a nationally lauded Penn State program.

Maybe the 6-1, 200-pound product of Campbell, Ohio, is a Nittany Lion killer. Or maybe he’s just Hawkeye Nation’s version of New York Yankee slugger Reggie Jackson.

Whatever the reasoning, Johnson-Koulianos is just glad to be back making plays that make Iowa fans rise up and whoop.

“It felt good to be out there, contributing with my teammates,” he said following Iowa’s 21-10 win over Penn State last weekend. “Coach [Erik] Campbell had me right back in there, and you know, there really was nothing to it.”

The transition may have been “nothing” for Johnson-Koulianos, but with Ferentz dubbing Iowa’s current passing plan as “sporadic,” clutch contributions have signified the importance of having No. 15 not only in the huddle but darting down field.

“You know, he’s a playmaker,” quarterback Ricky Stanzi said. “Everyone has seen the plays he makes — especially on third down. So having him there really gives us one of our biggest options for completing long balls and getting the ball to a receiver who is big, and can catch the ball, and can move up field when he gets the ball in his hands.”

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