By Jack Brandsgard (firstname.lastname@example.org) 11/12/18
Iowa’s preseason All-American and likely first round pick was on the sidelines when the Hawkeyes needed him most. Tight end Noah Fant, Iowa’s most devastating offensive weapon, played only nine snaps in the second half of Saturday’s 14-10 loss to Northwestern. Nobody seemed to have a good reason why that was the case.
Fant said he is fully recovered from rib and head injuries he sustained earlier in the season. Nate Stanley said Northwestern wasn’t doing anything specifically to limit Fant. Kirk Ferentz has repeatedly called Fant a good teammate, and Fant has said all the right things to the media. Therein lies the disconnect between the coaches, fans, Fant, and his family: why isn’t Iowa’s best player on the field more?
Fant has 18 touchdown catches in his career, the most of any tight end in Iowa’s illustrious lineage and the third-most of any tight end in Big Ten history. He is the fastest player on Iowa’s roster and has a 42-inch vertical leap, two reasons he entered Saturday tied for the nation’s lead in touchdown catches this year with six.
Yet when Iowa went to “11” personnel (three receivers, one running back, and one tight end), Fant was on the bench. Instead, TJ Hockenson was in the game. Hockenson leads Iowa with 39 catches and 615 yards and is an NFL prospect in his own right. It’s no knock to him to wonder why Fant isn’t playing more; they’re not mutually exclusive.
Fant’s usage highlighted a litany of questionable decisions. Most fans would have rather seen Fant be the target on a deep fade instead of fifth-string receiver Max Cooper. Brian Ferentz’s play-calling emphasized quick-hitting passes intended to get his playmakers the ball in space. It’s fine in theory, but in practice it harkened back to the Greg Davis era of horizontal passing.
12 of Stanley’s 41 passes went behind the line of scrimmage. Teams are unlikely to generate big plays when the burden is so heavily placed on the run after catch.
Iowa has now lost three straight games and is 0-2 in November. Over the last 10 years, the Hawkeyes are 18-22 in the penultimate month. Ferentz and his staff have historically been unable to continue the success they establish earlier in the year, and this season’s team is no different.
The Hawkeyes travel to Illinois (4-6, 2-5 B1G) before closing the season out at home against Nebraska (3-7, 2-5 B1G). Iowa must win both to salvage any semblance of success given the lofty expectations coming into the year.
Final Team Stats Below