Fumagalli focal point as Badgers remain undefeated

Troy Fumagalli was dominant before his injury. After missing some time, he returned to the active roster against Maryland, and was an integral part of Wisconsin's big win.

Image By: Brandon Moe

Most players on the Wisconsin sideline seemed to know a big game was coming for redshirt senior tight end Troy Fumagalli, who had been recovering from a left leg injury the past few weeks.

They could see it all week.

“I thought Fum, for the first time since the bye, was playing fast in practice,” head coach Paul Chryst said. “It carried over.”

Whether or not the Maryland Terrapins (1-3 Big Ten, 3-4 overall) saw it coming didn’t seem to matter. They had no answers for the nine-fingered phenom in their 38-13 loss to the Badgers (4-0, 7-0).

Fumagalli led UW with seven catches for 83 yards in the game. His stat line isn’t Earth-shattering, but no other receiver had more than two catches or 45 yards, and the veteran tight end picked up his team when they needed it the most.

Wisconsin’s first two offensive drives ended in turnovers that gave Maryland excellent field position off of an interception by redshirt sophomore quarterback Alex Hornibrook and a fumble by freshman running back Jonathan Taylor.

By the end of the first quarter, the Badgers had just 3:43 of possession. Hornibrook needed to get his offense going, and he knew who to turn to.

“We trust him, and we know he’s going to come back strong,” Fumagalli said. “We just think about the next play. Control what you can and let that go.”

Wisconsin came out in the second quarter firing, and it was Fumagalli who kept seeing the ball over and over.

Four of UW’s first five completions in the game were caught by the tight end, and four of Hornibrook’s first five throws after his interception were targeted to Fumagalli.

“I think the big two things are just trust and timing,” Fumagalli said. “A lot of what I do is over the middle, and there’s a lot of traffic over there. You expect to get hit and things like that, so a lot of trust goes into that.”

The trust between quarterback and tight end was most evident on potentially the biggest plays of the game — third down.

The Badgers converted five third downs on passing plays, and three of them went to Fumagalli. He’s not just a security blanket for Hornibrook. He’s a focal point.

“Third down and redzone, everything happens a little quicker,” Fumagalli said. “There’s always stuff going on. You don’t know what they’re going to be in, so I think everything just needs to be a little bit finer out there.”

It wasn’t as though Wisconsin was drawing plays up specifically for the redshirt senior with his quarterback just trying to force him the ball.

Fumagalli is a difference-maker in the offense because how he dedicates himself on every play and uses his physical tools to create separation as a receiver, even if he isn’t the primary target.

“Some plays, the progression starts with the tight end, some plays it doesn’t,” he said. “I’m just doing the best I can to get open and give him a throw. I think that’s most important.”

His effort and his impact was felt throughout the team. His big plays lifted the offense to a comfortable lead and motivated his teammates to put in that much more effort.

“You’ve got somebody that’s working hard, and he just makes you want to work just as hard,” sophomore wide receiver A.J. Taylor said. “You want to block, you want to run, you want to catch. Just seeing somebody doing well, shoot, you want to do well too, and you want to do well for him.”

Fumagalli did very well for his offense in his first game back feeling “100 percent.” He didn’t have the same impact last week against Purdue, but it was the work he and the offense put in on Tuesday and Wednesday that made all the difference on Saturday.

“We have to trust it during practice if we’re going to trust it during the game, and I think that was the biggest key this week,” Fumagalli said. “Just being on the same page early in the week and being able to make adjustments, it makes a huge difference.”

The Badgers will continue needing their experienced tight end to be a difference maker this season as their conference schedule continues. They travel to Champaign, Ill. next week to take on the Fighting Illini. Kickoff is scheduled for 11 a.m.

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