116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — It was never really a state secret heading into the 2017 season that the Iowa football team was going to rely heavily on its tight ends.
With a young and unproven wide receiver corps (outside of Matt VandeBerg, at least), a young and unproven quarterback in Nate Stanley and a history of success getting the ball to tight ends, the recipe seemed obvious. The only issue was tight ends Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson weren't exactly proven yet either.
Fant put much of that to rest on Saturday with two catches for 29 yards — both catches going for touchdowns in Iowa's 24-3 win against Wyoming. Most telling, perhaps, was Fant was Stanley's biggest target, having the ball thrown his way six times out of Stanley's 15 attempts.
Being the main target comes with just a little pressure, right? Not to ask Fant. What everyone saw Saturday is old hat for he and Stanley by now, he said.
'With our offense, we work to get everybody open, so that way Nate has plenty of options to go to,' Fant said. 'I'm very pleased with the targets I got, but other receivers were open as well. It was great stuff from receivers and the quarterback as well.
'That's what we practice so much for. I've been catching passes from Nate since last year. It's one of those things wehre practice makes it easier in the games. We practice it so much where it gets to be the point where it's (second) nature. It makes it easier when we practice like we do.'
Head coach Kirk Ferentz said Fant's targets were a result of the situation the Hawkeyes (1-0) were in Saturday.
There wasn't a specific directive to look for him, but there were no arguments from Ferentz with the results.
'That's just how the defense played us,' Ferentz said. 'They let him go, isolate him, at least on (the second touchdown). So it's a nice target that can run down the field a little bit. So it's a little risk/reward when you want to bring the kitchen sink. That's a good thing for us.'
Fant's pair of touchdowns were a little different, but he came through in a couple key situations. The first, Iowa was trailing 3-0. The second, Iowa turned a whiffed punt from Wyoming into points right before halftime.
On both plays, Fant said he didn't get ahead of himself. Nothing is a sure thing, he said.
What might be now is his role in the offense.
'I knew I got it when I caught the ball,' Fant said. 'A lot of different things can happen and a lot of different guys are flying around, so my focus was just looking the ball in.
'(The second one) really was just beating him running up the field. It was a great call by Coach Brian (Ferentz) and caught the defense in a look they shouldn't be in.'
Nick Easley originally was going to walk on at Iowa State. Then the team he rooted for most of his life stepped up and sold him on walking on in Iowa City.
So, after four catches for 77 yards and a 45-yard touchdown catch in which he shed multiple players to get in the end zone, is Easley in line for a scholarship? The Newton native could only laugh and shrug his shoulders while his face went a little red.
'I've known my whole life Iowa has done a good job with walk-on players and had success stories, so that was a contributing factor,' Easley said. 'I don't know (if a scholarship is coming). I don't really concern myself with it.
'Coming down with that ball (on the touchdown), seeing everyone yelling and my teammates coming down, it was definitely a great moment for me.'
For all the talk of Iowa's wide receivers being a weak spot of Iowa's offense, Easley came through — in addition to senior Matt VandeBerg, who had two catches for 19 yards — with those four catches in four targets from quarterback Nate Stanley.
Easley got a lot of attention in spring ball and this fall for his awareness, and it showed it in the second quarter. Stanley, rolling out right, threw a pass that was behind both Easley and the Wyoming defender, but Easley was able to adjust and make the catch while falling down. Stanley said after the game Easley 'made a great play and helped me out.'
'Nate Stanley threw me some good balls and I was able to take advantage,' Easley said. 'I've been able to keep building (confidence) and keep getting better.
'I feel like as a unit, yeah (we played well). There's definitely a lot of things we can clean up … but as a unit I'm really proud of the way we performed today.'
STEPPING IN ON SHORT NOTICE
With short notice, redshirt freshman Alaric Jackson got promoted on Saturday.
The 6-foot-7, 320-pound Detroit native was moved into the starting lineup in place of Boone Myers, dealing with an ankle injury, and Jackson got to find out what it was like in the deep end. All things considered, the first-time seeing the field produced positive returns — save for giving up one sack to Wyoming's Carl Granderson.
'I think we did pretty well,' Jackson said. 'Everything (the other linemen) said would happen happened. I think I'll be better off with those guys leading the way for me.
'There were a few blitzes. We picked them up pretty well with the help of Ike and Sean.'
Jackson said over and over he has a lot to learn, and that he has the right guys to learn from.
The veteran linemen told him the game would be easier than practice, and he said that held true as well. He still has a ways to go, but said he's grateful for the guys from whom he has to learn.
'I've got to grow up a little faster,' Jackson said. 'Just looking up to Ike (Boettger), Sean (Welsh) and Boone (Myers), they've been around four or five years, so they've seen everything you can go through.'
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