Iowa tight end Noah Fant is from Omaha, but he says he quickly learned how important Saturday's game is. Mark Emmert/HawkCentral
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Noah Fant caught two first-half touchdowns Saturday and quickly found out what it’s like to be a marked man.
“As we went on, there was different plays where instead of the corners pressing up they’d sit back and kind of backpedal,” Iowa’s sophomore tight end said Tuesday, recalling how Wyoming’s defense shifted tactics in a 24-3 Hawkeye victory. “I could tell they made adjustments. Other guys got open, like Nick (Easley) with his touchdown. That’s kind of the ideal situation is that the defense adjusts one way, we can come out and hit another way and be able to get good yardage out of that.”
Such will be Fant’s life for the foreseeable future. Tight ends with his size (6-foot-5, 232 pounds) and speed have long flourished in Iowa’s offense. And in doing so, they tend to get the full attention of opposing defenses.
That will undoubtedly be the case Saturday when Iowa (1-0) travels to Ames to face Iowa State (1-0) for an 11 a.m. kickoff (ESPN2).
Only three Hawkeyes caught passes Saturday, when Fant emerged as quarterback Nate Stanley’s favorite target as the intended receiver on six of his 15 throws. Both were making their first career starts.
“I wouldn’t classify it as a breakout game,” said Fant, who caught nine passes with one touchdown last season while George Kittle was Iowa’s primary tight end. “My main focus was just to come out and kind of play my role. That game, it ended up being them throwing touchdowns to me. My main focus is just to help our offense. And if that involves me blocking and Matt (VandeBerg) catching a touchdown or Easley catching a touchdown or one of our running backs running into the end zone for a touchdown — whatever helps is what I’m going to do.”
Fant and redshirt freshman T.J. Hockenson were on the field for the bulk of Iowa’s 56 snaps Saturday, a dual-tight end look that figures to be a mainstay of the offense. Hockenson excelled at blocking, with only one pass coming his way. Fant was the top receiving option, breaking free for touchdowns of 2 and 27 yards, but he also failed to haul in another pair of passes. He was the intended target of the one interception Stanley threw, a pass that was deflected before it could reach Fant.
“The one, I got hit by the safety pretty hard. I have to bring that in, right?” Fant said of an early pass that would have netted 28 yards. “That would have been a big play if I would have brought that in. Next time, I know I’ve just got to hold on to it tighter.”
Stanley reiterated his faith in his classmate.
“He’s just a mismatch for a lot of people,” he said of Fant. “He’s a great athlete, and I know that he has the ability to win more often than not.”
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By the second half Saturday, Fant was enough of a concern to the Cowboys that he drew double coverage, including on Iowa’s final touchdown, a 45-yard Stanley toss to Easley.
Fant said he’s happy to be a decoy if defenses want to devote an extra player to try to stop him.
“Obviously, I love catching touchdowns, right? But I’m hoping to expand and do what I can to help the offense in whatever way,” Fant said.
“Going up to the line, I’m scanning and seeing what I’m matched up against and going from that I know what I’m going to do from there.”
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz doesn’t see the need for Fant to take on a larger role than the one he has. Scoring touchdowns, for a team breaking in a new quarterback and offensive coordinator, is plenty.
“We are working him pretty extensively. He's getting a lot of reps, and he gets tired but he keeps on going,” Ferentz said of Fant. “He's got a really good attitude and he's on the right track right now. So we're happy about that.”
Last year’s leading touchdown-maker — tailback Akrum Wadley — concurred, giving Fant his highest compliment.
“He’s a big play waiting to happen,” Wadley said of Fant. “He keeps getting better.”
And he’s no longer the Hawkeyes' secret. You can bet Fant will figure prominently in the Cyclones’ gameplan as well.