T.J. Hockenson, Noah Fant add to Iowa's tight end legacy in beatdown of Indiana

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — After watching his tight ends produce 208 yards and three touchdowns Saturday, even Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz was ready for a laugh.

“I don’t know how many snaps he got today. Somebody’s keeping track of those, right?” Ferentz said of Noah Fant, as reporters started to chuckle.

“I couldn’t resist that. That was too easy.”

It was all too easy for Fant, T.J. Hockenson and the Hawkeye offense in a 42-16 rout of Indiana (4-3, 1-3 Big Ten Conference) before an announced crowd of 40,512 at Memorial Stadium.

Iowa Hawkeyes tight end Noah Fant (87) reacts to catching a pass for a touchdown in the end zone against the Indiana Hoosiers  during the first quarter at Memorial Stadium.

Hockenson caught four passes for 107 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including a 54-yarder that was the longest gain he’s had.

Fant, who wasn’t cleared of concussion concerns until Friday, also had four receptions, for 101 yards and the 18th touchdown of his brilliant Iowa career.

There has been some bewilderment on social media over Fant’s snap count this season. Hockenson has had the heavier workload. That was what prompted the normally strait-laced Ferentz to bust out his joke.

But the wonder was that Fant had any snaps at all, a week after his head slammed to the turf late in a 48-31 win at Minnesota. He and Hockenson combined for three touchdowns in that game as well.

You can call them the Homecoming-wreckers.

“You’re a little bit nervous about playing anybody that didn’t get a full week of work,” Ferentz said of Fant. “But obviously, he does some good things for us and (is a) tremendous guy. So he looked like he was into it on Friday and able to go. So we wanted to use him.”

Fant wasn’t made available for media interviews after the game. But senior center Keegan Render was happy to talk about the junior’s impact. Render said the Hawkeyes didn’t change their game plan to account for the possible absence of Fant.

But …

“Him going out there and putting it on the line and scoring a touchdown like that, on a long play, was a big thing.  That’s the type of plays that we need to make,” Render said of Fant’s 28-yard score in the first quarter.

“They were blitzing a lot regardless of where our tight ends were. But some teams play them differently, and we know that if it is man-to-man we’ve got a pretty good matchup. We just trust them with everything we do.”

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Hockenson scored Iowa’s first touchdown on a leaping 9-yard catch in the back of the end zone. His 54-yarder came when he turned a short gain into a long run down the Iowa sideline.

Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley threw a career-high six touchdown passes in all. It was a romp made possible in part by Indiana’s stubborn defensive game plan.

“They came after us pretty hard with a lot of pressure and chose to play a lot of man coverage,” Ferentz said. “So if we weren’t going to hit some of those bigger plays, we were going to be in trouble.”

Indiana coach Tom Allen said he felt he needed his defense to blitz to get pressure on Stanley. But that resulted in only one sack.

And that meant Fant and Hockenson could run free. Iowa hadn’t had a pair of 100-yard receivers in a game since Keenan Davis and Marvin McNutt did so against Pitt in 2011. But those two were wide receivers. To have a pair of tight ends eclipse the century mark is almost unheard of.

“Those big tight ends were tough for us to match up with, more difficult than I was hoping for it to be,” Allen said. “But that’s the reality of what happened. Those big bodies, they could run.”

Hockenson is 6-foot-5, 250 pounds. Fant is 6-4, 241. Both were excellent basketball players in high school. They looked like they were toying with the Hoosier defense.

“They just did a great job of being good at the tops of their routes and being able to come out of the routes and create a lot of separation,” Stanley said of his tight ends. “That allows for them to run with the ball after they catch it.”

Iowa Hawkeyes tight end T.J. Hockenson (38) catches a pass in the end zone for a touchdown against Indiana Hoosiers linebacker Dameon Willis Jr. (43) during the first quarter at Memorial Stadium.

Hockenson, who leads Iowa (5-1, 2-1) with 394 receiving yards, said he was thrilled to be considered an extension of a long line of standout tight ends to wear the black and gold.

“Stanley can take guys away from you with his eyes. And that leaves you with one-on-one coverage and it’s your job to get open,” he said.

“I love it (being part of Iowa’s tight end tradition). … Just to have your name even announced with theirs is an honor. The history that we have here is really special, especially in the tight end room. There’s no words for it.”