Hensley: Iowa needs more Noah Fant

Noah Fant, Iowa’s biggest mismatch on offense, finished with just three targets against Northwestern – that’s inexcusable.


Nick Rohlman

Iowa tight end Noah Fant hurdles a defender during Iowa’s game against Minnesota at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018. The Hawkeyes defeated the Golden Gophers 48-31.

Adam Hensley, Pregame Editor

The best coaches and systems in the country get the ball into the hands of their best players.

It’s simple, really — if you’ve got a player who’s an obvious mismatch, you figure out a way to get the ball into his hands, plain and simple.

Look at Purdue’s Rondale Moore; he’s freakishly agile and has breakaway speed. Head coach Jeff Brohm gets the ball into his hands one way or another, whether that’s through the air or the ground. Moore has 82 receptions and 11 carries this season. Offensively, he averages 9.3 touches per game. That’s not including his impact on special teams, by the way.

If Purdue can get the ball into the hands of its 5-9, 175-pound receiver, how on earth does Hawkeye tight end Noah Fant finish with 1 catch on Nov. 10 in Iowa’s loss to Northwestern?

Fant is too big for defensive backs and too fast for linebackers to cover one-on-one. He’s essentially a lock for the first round of 2019 NFL Draft (should he choose to forgo his senior season). So why does he finish with three targets?

It makes no sense.

“We’re playing the guys out there that we feel are best in the situations that’s given to them,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said following Northwestern’s 14-10 victory on Nov. 10.

Fant has had five games this season in which he’s caught 3 passes or fewer. He’s averaging 3.7 touches per game (almost one-third fewer than Moore, but who’s counting?)

Sure, defenses have adjusted. But why can’t Iowa adjust? If defensive adjustments are the sole reason for Fant’s disappearing act (which I don’t buy one bit), then that’s a huge blunder by the Hawkeye coaching staff.

I don’t buy the notion that Iowa’s plan to put the best players on the field at the right time doesn’t include Fant. Throwing a fade route to Max Cooper on third-and-long (when Iowa has two of the country’s best tight ends, each more than adequately equipped to go up for a jump ball) does not go hand-in-hand with Ferentz’s rationale.

Fant has had himself a whirlwind of a season to date, and I applaud the way he continues to handle himself.

With his father and brother tweeting about their dissatisfaction with Iowa football (and igniting a rage in the Hawkeye fanbase), Fant has answered each and every question thrown his way, and he’s said the right things — he’s not throwing his family under the bus, nor is he saying he doesn’t believe in the program’s philosophy.

But those tweets should have never been posted, and those questions never asked. Fant should be Iowa’s focal point on offense, but he hasn’t been this season.

I wrote earlier that this season will go down in history as a giant “what-if,” and so will Fant’s junior year with the Hawkeye program.

Iowa’s offense has been explosive at times. The best passing performance of the season came when quarterback Nate Stanley tossed 6 touchdowns against Indiana. Fant had 4 catches for 101 yards and a touchdown that game.

That was also the last time he caught a touchdown, and since then, Iowa is 1-3.

With Fant uninvolved, Iowa can wave goodbye to any hopes of offensive firepower, much like it (officially) said goodbye to its dreams of a Big Ten Championship appearance against Northwestern.