WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — As Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard scrambled into Ross-Ade Stadium’s North end zone for a 15-yard touchdown, George Kittle was limping his way around the South end zone toward the Hawkeye locker room.
As the lead grew seven points at a time, the biggest Iowa worry Saturday became the health of Iowa’s star tight end.
Kittle was injured during a 9-yard reception midway through the first quarter, after he made a second-and-10 catch in the flat and dragged Purdue tacklers to the 4-yard line.
Head coach Kirk Ferentz said afterward that Kittle had suffered a foot sprain and said "we'll see what it looks like" regarding his availability for next week's 11 a.m. game against No. 10 Wisconsin.
"They brought George in for an X-ray, and it was negative," Ferentz reported.
Kittle initially returned the sidelines with his helmet and went through drills as if he were going to return, but emerged after halftime with a boot around his right ankle.
It doesn't sound like a long-term thing, but if Kittle can't go vs. the Badgers, at least he'll have another two weeks to recover. Iowa has its bye situated before the Nov. 5 game at Penn State.
With the 6-foot-4, 252-pound senior out for the game, Iowa got key backups some experience. Peter Pekar was primarily a blocking tight end, as he has been all season, but true freshman Noah Fant got the most extensive action of his career. And redshirt freshman Nate Wieting back-filled Fant’s No. 3 role.
Fant was dispatched in a variety of creative ways, including as a wide receiver in no-back, shotgun sets. Last week Kittle raved about the Omaha native’s “incredible” skill set. Saturday, Fant hauled in two catches for 15 yards, including a 5-yard touchdown pass from Beathard that gave Iowa a 42-14 lead in the third quarter.
The play was initially ruled incomplete, but after a replay review, it was ruled Fant kept his left foot in bounds as he collected the pass in tight coverage.
It marked Iowa's first touchdown reception by a true freshman since Jordan Canzeri in the 2011 Insight Bowl.
With Kittle's uncertainty, Fant might be needed to produce more going forward.
“That’s a guy right now we’re pushing to make plays right now, and he did a great job today," receiver Riley McCarron said. "He stepped up, especially when Kittle went down.”