IOWA CITY, Ia. — It doesn’t sound promising for Iowa tight end George Kittle to play a significant role in Saturday’s 11 a.m. game vs. No. 10 Wisconsin.
“For us to count on him, I think that’s probably unrealistic at this point,” Hawkeye coach Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday.
Kittle plays every offensive snap when healthy and is not only one of C.J. Beathard’s top passing targets, he’s among the Hawkeyes’ most effective blockers. To be without him would be a sizable blow.
"It depends on what he can do, how he can progress in the next couple days' time," Ferentz said. "We're not going to rule him out. But it's probably a long shot."
Kittle suffered what Ferentz called a foot sprain in the first quarter of a 49-35 win over Purdue, while trying to gain extra yardage on a first-quarter reception. He later returned to the sidelines with a protective boot around his right foot.
There is good news, however. The injury isn’t as bad as first feared.
“The medical people thought (initially) there might be a potential fracture, something like that,” Ferentz said. “The word back from the specialists are that everything’s clean. It’s just a matter of what he can do.
“We’ll see. He’s doing a lot better now than he was on Saturday.”
If Kittle is limited or can’t go, that’ll thrust walk-on junior Peter Pekar, who has zero career receptions and is primarily a blocking tight end, into a spotlight role. The Hawkeyes also used true freshman Noah Fant and redshirt freshman Nate Wieting in relief at Purdue.
Pekar could have a prominent role in the team's matchup against Wisconsin this weekend after the Hawkeyes' senior tight end starter was injured making a 9-yard reception midway through the first quarter of Iowa's 49-35 win over Purdue last weekend. Chad Leistikow / The Register
“We’ll keep playing. We’re not going to cancel the game,” Ferentz said, adding, “It’s most unfortunate for the players, especially when guys are seniors. Because your window to play football is so limited. That part’s hard. You really empathize for the players.
“Somebody else is going to have to grab on. We can’t expect one person to play like he did, but if he’s not in there, they’ll just have to get it done for us.”
Another new OL combination?
Cole Croston limped while walking through a UI parking lot Tuesday with ice wrapped around his right ankle. And it sounds like he’s got the better chance of Iowa’s two injured offensive tackles of playing Saturday against Wisconsin.
Croston did not play against Purdue with an unspecified injury, and left tackle Boone Myers was injured in the third quarter of that game with what appeared to be a right ankle sprain.
“I think we've got a chance with Cole,” Ferentz said. “And Boone, we'll have to see how the week goes. I think they've both got a shot.”
The good news: One starting tackle, Ike Boettger, is healthy. He filled in at left tackle after Myers went out, his first action at that position since a brief cameo as a redshirt freshman in 2014 when Brandon Scherff tweaked his knee against Ball State.
The Iowa lineman discusses Saturday's upcoming B1G West game. Chad Leistikow / The Register
Boettger was switched from right tackle to left guard for the Oct. 8 game at Minnesota, then returned to right tackle with Croston out against Purdue. Boettger said he’s worked at all three positions this week.
“It’s the same as right tackle,” Boettger said. “Just different hand placements.”
It’s possible Iowa will start its seventh offensive-line combination in eight games this week. If Myers and Croston are out, Ferentz said the line (from left to right) would be Boettger, Keegan Render, James Daniels, Levi Paulsen and Sean Welsh.
“Hopefully we can have two of the three (play),” Ferentz said of Boettger, Myers and Croston. “I'm not going to be greedy. If we can just get two of the three, that would be a great starting point.”
Deferring New Kirk
Ferentz almost seemed amused it took this long for the question to come up. Why the coin-toss philosophy change?
Iowa has won the toss four times in 2016 and has deferred its choice to the second half every time. That’s a major philosophy shift from Ferentz’s first 17 years, when he predominantly would take the ball upon winning the toss.
The numbers are staggering: Iowa started with the football in 172 of 214 games in Ferentz's first 17 years as coach (80.4 percent of the time), but only two of seven times (28.6 percent) this season.
Iowa's starting quarterback talks about how he plans to approach the Badgers' aggressiveness in Saturday's matchup. Chad Leistikow / The Register
In the offseason, Ferentz explained, “it was one of the things on our list. Some younger, smarter guys on the staff — and some guys maybe my age, too, that were smarter, also. Just having conversation, we thought it might be something that was worth giving it a try.”
Ferentz said the staff decided there were “strategic advantages” to the philosophy change without getting into specifics. Iowa has deferred to the second half after winning tosses against Miami of Ohio, North Dakota State, Rutgers and Minnesota.
Deferring has worked. The only first-possession score Iowa’s defense has allowed was against Northwestern, but the Hawkeyes had the ball first that game.
“We were painfully close to aborting the mission here a couple weeks ago,” he said, “but we're staying with it. So we'll see what happens this week.”
It’s a policy, not a rule
Iowa’s policy with high school football players that make a verbal commitment to the Hawkeyes is that they don’t take any other campus visits. The Hawkeye staff looks at it as two parties making a commitment to one another.
The word policy, though, is the key — it’s not a rule, Ferentz said Tuesday.
The policy has become a hot topic in recruiting circles recently, with two four-star Class of 2017 commitments from Texas — running back Eno Benjamin and cornerback Chevin Calloway — taking visits to other schools. And reports surfaced Tuesday that Michigan is pushing Texas defensive back Matt Hankins to make an official visit to Ann Arbor.
“I tease our coaches sometimes, there's policies and then there's rules,” Ferentz said of the issue. “Policies are policies. You can break policies. There's no penalty. But rules are rules.”
Ferentz cannot speak specifically about a prospect until he signs a national letter of intent, but spoke in generalities about the response to commitments who are looking around.
“It's like anything else, you just decide every individual case and kind of go from there,” Ferentz said. “I think it's good to have policies and beliefs, and hopefully everybody that's on board is on board and goes with us.”
A few roster notes
Ferentz didn’t get too elaborate when asked about the fall of Aaron Mends from the depth chart. Mends, a redshirt sophomore, was No. 1 at weak-side linebacker entering fall camp but this week was omitted entirely from the Wisconsin two-deeps.
Sophomore Jack Hockaday is now listed as the backup at the middle and weak-side positions to starters Josey Jewell and Bo Bower.
“That's how we ended up Saturday,” Ferentz said. “But it's clearly cloudy right now. Maybe we'll get some things cleared up next week during the bye week.
“After Bo right now, it would be Hockaday quite frankly, who I think I have on there.”
Ferentz also said there was never a consideration to redshirt sophomore receiver Adrian Falconer. The Leesburg, Fla., native saw very limited action a year ago as a true freshman, but hadn’t played this fall until taking a couple garbage-time snaps in the 49-35 win at Purdue. Two years of Falconer’s eligibility have now been burned.