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Iowa's George Kittle in walking boot after Purdue win

Chad Leistikow
cleistik@dmreg.com

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.

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George Kittle lunges for the end zone for a 22-yard gain during the first quarter of Iowa's win Saturday at Purdue. Kittle earlier this week was named to the midseason watch list for the Mackey Award, given to the nation's top tight end.

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.

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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.”