IOWA CITY, Iowa — Twice, Noah Fant caught passes against Wyoming. Twice, he scored an Iowa touchdown.
It was all he did in the opener, but it’s not all he wants to do.
“I love catching touchdowns,” Fant said, “but I’m hoping to expand and help the offense in any way.”
Fant desires to be more than a red zone target. When it comes to the passing game he is looking to broaden his role, and no one should be happier than quarterback Nate Stanley.
That’s because the progress of Stanley’s passing game is tied into Fant’s development.
Why Noah Fant matters
The season is only one game old, but Stanley is already showing an affinity for his sophomore tight end. Fant led the Hawkeyes with 6 targets in Week 1. The number could have been higher. Stanley appeared to be throwing in Fant’s direction when Wyoming defensive end Carl Granderson forced a fumble, and Stanley threw the ball away once while eyeing Fant, who failed to get open.
Fant finished with 4 receptions for 29 yards and 2 touchdowns, but his stat line doesn’t do justice to his impact on the passing game. Stanley, in his first career start, kept looking for his tight end.
“He is just a mismatch for a lot of people,” Stanley said. “He is a great athlete. He has the ability to win more often than not. I think his ability to create mismatches with linebackers makes him a pretty great receiver.”
It was only one game. It’s a small sample size, and both Fant and Stanley said Stanley will throw to whomever is open. That’s true, but when the Hawkeyes looked for a big passing moment last Saturday against Wyoming, they turned to Fant.
Stanley’s first downfield throw against Wyoming was a play-action pass, with Fant running down the seam as the primary target.
In arguably Iowa’s biggest passing play, the ball went Fant’s way. When needing to convert a fourth-and-goal at Wyoming’s 2-yard line, it was a play-action pass, with Fant releasing to the corner. He hauled in the reception.
The coaching staff has said the Hawkeyes will utilize tight ends more in the passing game. As the top receiving tight end, Fant will get plenty of work.
“We’re asking him to do a lot of things,” coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Have to give him a lot of credit, not a little. He’s doing a great job in practice. We are working him pretty extensively.”
How Iowa uses Noah Fant
In short, Fant is part of nearly every portion of the passing game.
In the Iowa offense, the tight ends serve as a release value for the young and inexperienced receiving group. As short and intermediate passing-game options, the tight ends alleviate pressure on the wideouts.
On Saturday, Fant ran several short out routes. Stanley looked for him on these plays, but the duo never connected. Plus, Iowa was more than willing to throw downfield to Fant. His 27-yard touchdown reception came on a seam route where he ran past the coverage.
“It was awesome,” Fant said, “especially with the half getting ready to end, and we were rolling on all cylinders.”
Fant is a unique offensive option. He is 6-foot-5, 232 pounds. He’s quick enough to line up on the perimeter as a receiver if needed. Fant towers over defensive backs and can run around linebackers.
“He is a matchup nightmare,” wide receiver Nick Easley said. “He is so fast. So he can stretch the field really well for us.”
"Did I mention I like that Fant kid?!"
— Iowa On BTN (@IowaOnBTN) September 2, 2017
Fant’s skill set comes equipped with an out to shake most defenders. It’s part of why Stanley likes him, part of why he looks to him so much.
The way Iowa uses Fant is vital to Stanley’s development. Fant is there as a security blanket for short routes. Plus, the team is willing to use him as a downfield threat. Whatever kind of throw Stanley wants to make, Fant runs it.
Fant can do a lot, and the more he does, the better it will make Stanley look in his first season as a starter.
“He is such a good player,” Easley said. “I think any quarterback enjoys having a tight end like that.”
What more Noah Fant can do?
Ferentz said he doesn’t want to more to Fant’s already full plate.
“He’s getting a lot of reps, and he gets tired but he keeps on going,” Ferentz said. “He’s done a good job. He’s got a really good attitude, and he’s on the right track right now.”
Fant, though, wants more. He has the talent to be a receiver whose stats are dictated by how often the Hawkeyes scheme ways to get him open or use him as the primary receiving option.
To become that kind of consistent receiving option, Fant needs to hold on to the football. He dropped two short passes against Wyoming, and he couldn’t secure the ball when rocked by safety Marcus Epps.
“It would have been a big play if I brought that in,” Fant said. “Next time I know I have to hold on to it tight.”
One skill Fant offers is that he can refine his route running and quickly identify who is defending him. Fant and the Hawkeyes staff review tape to find how he can get open on various linebackers or defensive backs.
“Going up to the line I am scanning and seeing what I’m matched up against,” Fant said. “Going from that I know what I am going to do. Really, I guess the big part in that is making sure our big focus is making sure I’m prepared for the game, studying a lot.”
— HeavensBarstool (@HeavensHawkeye) September 2, 2017
Fant can be the Walmart of receiving options. He is a one-stop shop for all of Stanley’s passing game needs. It’s rare to find a security blanket and deep threat rolled into one. Stanley is already developing an affinity for his tight end.
Stanley’s performance and improvement will dictate in large part how Iowa’s season goes. The Hawkeyes want a balanced offense, and they aren’t there yet.
So much of what Stanley needs to make the aerial attack a viable threat is in Fant’s game. The more Fant displays it, the easier life will be for Stanley and his play.
It’s too early to say if Fant is Stanley’s favorite passing game weapon. At worst, he’s on the short list.
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