Iowa finds success with tight ends
IOWA CITY – Iowa is as deep at tight end as any other position group on its roster.
The Hawkeyes exploited that advantage quite a bit against Ohio State – and wound up with one of their best passing efforts of the season.
Jake Rudock threw for 245 yards and a career-high three TDs, including one each to tight ends C.J. Fiedorowicz and Jake Duzey, in a 34-24 road loss to the fourth-ranked Buckeyes.
The Hawkeyes (4-3, 1-2 Big Ten) used a significant number of sets against Ohio State that featured three tight ends, and 11 of Rudock’s 19 completions went to Fiedorowicz, Duzey and George Kittle.
That’s a trend that could continue when Iowa hosts Northwestern (4-3, 0-3) on Saturday.
“We’ll keep it in our repertoire,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “It’s a group that we feel comfortable with. It’s no big secret. Certainly in the spring, we felt pretty good about our tight ends and they continue to work hard and improve. So, we’ll utilize that group if it fits.”
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Iowa’s push toward using multiple tight ends was the emergence of Duzey.
Duzey nearly caught as many passes against the Buckeyes as he had in his entire career to that point.
Duzey, a sophomore from Troy, Mich., had a team-high six receptions, including an 85-yard touchdown off a short pass from Rudock that tied it at 24 late in the third quarter.
Duzey finished with 138 yards, the most for an Iowa tight end in 15 seasons under Ferentz. That’s quite a milestone considering that current NFL players Dallas Clark, Scott Chandler and Brandon Myers never had that many yards for the Hawkeyes.
“It wasn’t shocking that he had that kind of day,” Ferentz said of Duzey’s breakout performance. “The best part about it is that hopefully it will give him confidence, and that’s what younger guys usually lack.”
The next NFL tight end from the Hawkeyes is Fiedorowicz, a 6-foot-7 senior. And though Fiedorowicz probably won’t live up to the enormous hype that accompanied his arrival, he has emerged as a valuable safety valve for Rudock.
Fiedorowicz caught four passes against Ohio State, including a 2-yard TD reception. He’s now second on the Hawkeyes with 15 catches and first with three touchdowns grabs, all from inside the 11-yard line.
“He’s a big body. He can go up and get it,” Rudock said. “The speed helps too. C.J. can run.”
It’s a good thing Iowa is so stacked at tight end – a group that also includes junior Ray Hamilton and Kittle, a versatile redshirt freshman – because the Hawkeyes are rather thin at wideout.
Iowa has yet to develop a consistent threat beyond Kevonte Martin-Manley, who has 27 catches and a pair of touchdowns.
Damond Powell is capable of making a big play, but he’s only got eight catches in seven games. Tevaun Smith, Jacob Hillyer and Don Shumpert, the three receivers behind Martin-Manley on the depth chart, have combined for just 26 receptions.
But with three tight ends, Iowa has a chance to bolster its running game and get favorable matchups on slower linebackers and smaller defensive backs at the same time.
“We’re all excited,” Duzey said. “We can all play, so we love being out there together and it’s working good.”