Iowa Football

Noah Fant conspicuously absent for Iowa in crunchtime

Iowa's preseason all-American tight end was out of the playbook vs. Northwestern

Pass interference was called on Northwestern Wildcats cornerback Montre Hartage (24) for interfering with Iowa Hawkeyes tight end Noah Fant (87) during the first half of their Big Ten Conference college football game at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa, on Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Pass interference was called on Northwestern Wildcats cornerback Montre Hartage (24) for interfering with Iowa Hawkeyes tight end Noah Fant (87) during the first half of their Big Ten Conference college football game at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa, on Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — It’s hard to really say what’s going on with tight end Noah Fant’s junior season.

In the Hawkeyes’ 14-10 loss to Northwestern at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Fant played maybe double-digit snaps in the second half and none on Iowa’s final drive. Fant, a preseason all-American and owner of 18 career TD catches, caught one pass for 0 yards and was targeted just three times.

He doesn’t know what’s going on.

“Our coaches decided to get some other guys the ball,” Fant said. “I’m not saying that’s right or wrong, but yeah. I’m not really sure. That’d be a better question for the coaching staff. It’s one of those things where I go out there when I’m told to and try to catch everything that comes today.

“I tried to do that today.”

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz gave some insight. You just knew junior T.J. Hockenson was going to get dragged into this.

“Well, I think we try to feature our guys who are doing the best, whether it’s T.J., Noah, our receivers,” Ferentz said. “No, I mean we’re calling the game as we call the game and practice the situations we’re practicing.”

Ever since Fant’s older brother went to social media to question the Iowa staff on snap counts coming out of the Minnesota game on Oct. 6, this relationship has become difficult to characterize.

Fant has received fewer snaps than Hockenson this season. Hockenson has a dual role as a receiver and blocker. He gets the tight end blocking snaps, and Fant doesn’t. But the last few weeks, it Fant has stopped getting snaps in crucial situations. There were third and fourth downs without Fant last week at Purdue. Saturday, Fant drew three defenders on Ihmir Smith-Marsette’s 28-yard TD catch in the third quarter.

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Fant can’t be a decoy if he’s not in the game. This feels like roommates trying to avoid each other.

“It’d be nice to say I want the ball more and things like that, but I try to be a team player,” said Fant, who caught three passes for 85 yards on four targets last week at Purdue. “We win as a team and lose as a team. That’s ultimately the decision of our coaching staff. Overall, that would be a good question to ask them. I go out there to do what I can, to do what I’m told to do.”

Ferentz didn’t budge.

“We’re playing the guys out there that we feel are best in the situations that’s given to them,” Ferentz said.

Sophomore Max Cooper got an end-zone target vs. Northwestern. He hasn’t caught a pass since the middle of September. Running back Ivory Kelly-Martin got more targets vs. Northwestern.

Injuries happened to Fant about the same time the social media thing went down. He suffered a concussion against Minnesota. He injured some ribs in September against Northern Iowa. In Saturday’s postgame, he said he’s fine. He said the concussion lingered maybe a week and a half, but he’s all good.

No one will really say exactly what it is. So, there’s that to go along with three straight losses.

l Comments: (319) 398-8256; marc.morehouse@thegazette.com

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