IOWA CITY, Ia. — Injuries to fifth-year senior starters are an especially crushing bummer — not only for the player, but for the head coach.
Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz will likely be without three of them in Saturday’s 11 a.m. game at Illinois.
Offensive tackle Cole Croston and cornerback Greg Mabin are ruled out, and the prognosis for tight end George Kittle doesn’t sound much better.
Mabin has a fracture in his lower leg, and Ferentz said he would miss the final two regular-season games.
“This week for sure, Greg and Cole will not play,” Ferentz said Tuesday. “George has not done anything yet this week. He’s not been ruled out. But you’ve got to believe what you see, you know, so I’m a little concerned about that. It’s hard.”
None of those three fifth-year players suited up during Iowa’s 14-13 upset of then-No. 3 Michigan. Croston was on crutches during the game. Of course, Iowa has also lost senior wide receiver Matt VandeBerg for the season with a broken foot, although he is likely to be awarded a medical redshirt to return in 2017.
The clock is ticking for Croston, Mabin and Kittle.
“You watch these guys work so hard. The reason they’re working is a chance to play. You only get 12 games, and so it’s really tough when a guy is on the sideline. It’s especially hard when it’s a senior. Your heart aches for them.”
Strong safety Miles Taylor, a junior, also is not on this week's depth chart after suffering an injury to his head/neck area in the first quarter against Michigan. Right tackle Ike Boettger also departed in the fourth quarter with what appeared to be a lower-leg injury.
"They're able to go if they can go," Ferentz said of Boettger and Taylor, "I guess we'll just take that day by day. But we can't certainly count on them to be ready to go."
With Croston out, Keegan Render will get his fifth straight start, probably at left guard. Redshirt freshman Levi Paulsen would be in line for his first career start, probably at right guard with Sean Welsh moving to right tackle, if Boettger is indeed a no-go.
Manny Rugamba, the Big Ten Conference’s co-freshman of the week after his performance against Michigan, will make his second career start in Mabin's place. This one will come against his home-state team (Rugamba is from Naperville, Ill.). Fifth-year senior Anthony Gair would replace Taylor at safety.
It’ll likely be tight end by committee this week, as it was against Michigan. The Hawkeyes used four tight ends against the Wolverines. Walk-ons Peter Pekar and Nate Wieting are the co-starters, and athletic true freshman Noah Fant has been mostly used in third-down packages.