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Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide. To receive daily news from the Iowa Hawkeyes, sign up HERE.
By JAMES ALLAN
TAMPA, Fla. — A healthy George Kittle gives the University of Iowa offense a boost in Monday’s Outback Bowl against No. 20 Florida.
Kittle, a tight end, was injured in Iowa’s 49-35 victory at Purdue on Oct. 15. He tried to play through the injury over the team’s final five games, but missed victories altogether over No. 2 Michigan and Illinois.
“I am as close (to being healthy) as I am going to get,” said Kittle. “I am feeling a lot better and am looking forward to getting back on the field.
“The trainers and coaches helped me come a long way since the Purdue game. I am out running around and it’s a lot better being able to run with the team on the field.”
Kittle’s return is big for the Iowa offense.
“It’s huge in the passing and running game,” said senior quarterback C.J. Beathard. “He’s a great run blocker, and we like to run the ball. There are things we weren’t able to do in the run game because he was out.”
Kittle is a good run blocker because he takes pride in his craft. He would rather pancake a defender than catch a pass. So his healthy return should help open holes for running backs LeShun Daniels, Jr., and Akrum Wadley against a Gator defense that is one of the best in the nation.
The 6-foot-4, 250 pounder is also a security blanket for Beathard in the passing attack. He caught 17 passes for 280 yards and two touchdowns in the first seven games. He finished the regular season with 21 catches for 296 yards and four touchdowns and has 41 catches for 586 yards and 10 touchdowns in two seasons with Beathard under center.
“He has been here five years with me,” said Beathard. “He has a lot of experience under his belt. I know he’s going to be where he needs to be at the right time.”
Freshman Noah Fant is the only other Hawkeye tight end to catch a pass this season, making nine receptions for 70 yards and one touchdown. Junior Peter Pekar and redshirt freshman Nate Wieting have also played.
“Nothing against the young tight ends, they have done a great job, but they haven’t had the reps with me and the chemistry that George and I have right now,” said Beathard.
The Beathard-Kittle duo is part of the great chemistry amongst Iowa’s senior class. The group set out to accomplish three goals in 2016; one goal is still attainable with one game remaining in their collegiate careers.
“We sat down as a team and said our goal was to win a bowl game this year,” said Kittle. “Being able to check that off the list would be incredible, especially for these seniors that have been through a lot. Starting out, our first year here, we were 4-8.
“I am hoping we can pull it out for the seniors, coach (Kirk) Ferentz, and all the other coaches.”
The Outback Bowl will kickoff at 12:07 p.m. (CT) from Raymond James Stadium. The game will be televised to a national audience on ABC.