Versatile Sanu leads Rutgers offensive attack

Dan Tracy

BRONX, N.Y. — Iowa State’s secondary has faced a handful of the nation’s top wide receivers this season and they’ll get a crack at another one in Friday’s Pinstripe Bowl.

Rutgers junior receiver Mohamed Sanu led the Big East and ranked fifth nationally with 109 catches and also tallied 1,144 receiving yards and seven touchdowns as he became the Scarlet Knights’ best offensive weapon in 2011.

The South Brunswick, N.J., prep began his Rutgers career on the defensive side of the ball at safety and rose quickly up the depth chart after just 12 practices as a true freshman. However, coach Greg Schiano saw Sanu’s athleticism and for practices 13 and 14 decided to try him out on offense where he could help a unit that Schiano felt lacked playmaking ability.

“You knew about after five minutes that Mo could help on offense,” Schiano said. “[He has] just a natural grace as an athlete, a guy that’s smooth but gets it done strong.”

At 6 feet 2 inches and 215 pounds, Sanu was featured in a variety of special offensive formations during his freshman and sophomore seasons, including out of the backfield carrying the ball 122 times for 655 yards and nine touchdowns.

“It’s pretty cool to get the opportunity to be on the field and be pretty much everywhere on the field as I’m trying to make a play,” Sanu said.

Although he’s been used more as a pass catcher this season – four carries for negative two yards – first-year offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti still calls plays that put Sanu in many different locales on and off the line of scrimmage.

“They line him up everywhere. They’ll line him up in the backfield and motion him out, they’ll line him up at the outside receiver and inside and they’ll motion him, everything they can do to get the ball to him they’ll try to do,” said ISU defensive coordinator Wally Burnham. “It presents a challenge to find out where he is and what he’s going to do.”

With a bevy of talented wide receivers in the pass-heavy Big 12, ISU linebacker A.J. Klein sees a few similar characteristics among Sanu and some other wideouts that the Cyclones have faced this season.

“He can make people miss, he’s got great hands, great speed, really confuses people with his route running and he’s used in multiple parts of their game,” Klein said. “I think he could rank right up there with the great wide receivers of the Big 12 [such as] Justin Blackmon and Kendall Wright; he’s obviously going to give us his best game.”

ISU cornerback Leonard Johnson spent both the Oklahoma State and Baylor games occupied with covering Blackmon and Wright, and he’ll match up often across from Sanu at Yankee Stadium.

“I don’t get caught up in all the hype. Guys like hype, but I’m not too into that,” Johnson said. “He runs really good routes, he’s a very disciplined receiver, he has great hands, just another good receiver that I have to face.”

Following Friday’s game, Johnson will begin preparation for the NFL draft, but on the other side of the line of scrimmage, Sanu has not yet decided whether he’ll forgo his senior season, saying that there will be a “right place and right time” to announce his decision.

“I’m not really focused on that, I’m just focused on doing what I can to make my team better and just practice as hard as I can every day and making sure that I put my team in the best situation so we can come out with a W in this bowl game,” Sanu said.