Iowa’s tight ends have turned into the strongest offensive force

Despite a debate over playing time by outside voices, Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson are a forceful pair that leave defenses with little options.


Nick Rohlman

Iowa tight end Noah Fant runs after a catch during Iowa’s game against Indiana at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington on Saturday, October 13, 2018. The Hawkeyes defeated the Hoosiers 42-16.

Anna Kayser, Assistant Sports Editor

There’s only one thing better than having one breakout tight end. That’s having two. The trick for Iowa football, however, has been finding ways to use them both effectively.

The use of junior Noah Fant, regarded as possibly one of the best tight ends in the nation and placed high in numerous NFL mock drafts thus far, collected some criticism on social media before Iowa’s matchup against Indiana.

Despite the range of arguments, Fant and counterpart sophomore T.J. Hockenson are exactly where they need to be for the Iowa offense to thrive. That was proved against Indiana on Oct. 13.

Fant was came out of concussion protocol just in time to play against Indiana, so his time was limited.

“Friday was his first day to work, so our play was — I don’t know how many snaps he got … somebody’s counting those, right?” head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “We weren’t going to play him a lot, mainly because he didn’t get a lot of work this week.”

The tight end pair collected 8 catches for 209 of Iowa’s 320 passing yards in the game, while reeling in half of the team’s touchdowns.

Defenses can solve the problem of Fant easily by double-teaming him, but with Hockenson and more-than-capable wide receivers as options for quarterback Nate Stanley, mixing the pair up and going to Hockenson is a team benefit.

“Having them both in the game at the same time allows for just matchups at other places,” Stanley said. “If they want to try to take away one of them, the other one has a good shot at getting open. And obviously, too, if they try to take away both of them, it gives some one-on-one matchups for other people as well.”

Wide receivers Nick Easley and Ihmir Smith-Marsette both have more than 200 receiving yards on the season.

Easley has 22 catches, with Smith-Marsette collecting only 11 because of an injury. With all four receivers healthy, the Hawkeye passing game is in a good place.

“It gives the defense something to think about,” Hockenson said. “You can spread the ball out; I mean, they can’t double-cover everybody.”

As for season numbers, Hockenson (22 catches) and Fant (23) have been found down field pretty evenly. Hockenson has 394 yards on the season compared with Fant’s 298.

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That success for both the tight ends that gives them the top two spots in Iowa’s receiving yards for the season comes from the separation they are able to create with defenders.

“It all starts with fundamentals; we fall back on those,” Hockenson said. “When you’re out running a route, Stanley can take guys away from you with his eyes and do a lot of things with that, and that leaves you with one-on-one coverage. It’s just your job to get open.”

Iowa’s passing game has been a key part of the offense, something no one would have guessed in the first weeks of the season.

Comparing the running and passing game against Indiana, Iowa had 159 total running yards with its 320 passing. All of the touchdowns came through the air from Stanley for the second time this season. The Hawkeyes didn’t score a rushing touchdown against Indiana or on Sept. 22 against Wisconsin.

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