Days before the Wisconsin Badgers faced the No. 5 LSU Tigers, their leading receiver in the game suffered an injury that nearly kept him out of the game.
Redshirt junior tight end Troy Fumagalli slipped in practice and sophomore safety Arrington Farrar stepped on his hand in the end zone. Fumagalli said he could see tendons through the cut in his hand, which required 30 stitches to close. Fortunately, the injury only required a couple days of rest and he was able to suit up at Lambeau Field.
Fast forward to Saturday, with 12:55 left in the first quarter and the Badgers facing a 2nd-and-7 from their 32-yard-line. Redshirt senior quarterback Bart Houston dropped back to pass and hit Fumagalli for a 12-yard completion, his first reception of the day, picking up a Badgers first down.
Starting for the first time at Wisconsin, Houston has had to lean on his tight end. The two have worked with one another since the Fumagalli arrived on campus as a freshman, and they have been roommates on the road for the last two seasons. The familiarity between the two was apparent, as Fumagalli had himself a career day recording seven receptions for 100 yards.
While Fumagall’s first six receptions all went for first downs, none were bigger than his final reception, which came on the Badgers’ final scoring drive and put them in a manageable position. After a holding penalty set the Badgers back to the Tigers’ 43-yard line and left them with a 1st-and-20 outside of field-goal range, Fumagalli hauled in an 11-yard reception, moving the line of scrimmage to the LSU 32.
The Badgers then moved closer behind runs by senior running backs Corey Clement and Dare Ogunbowale. On fourth down, junior kicker Rafael Gaglianone kicked the eventual game-winning 47-yard field goal.
This was the first time since 2010 that a Badger tight end amassed 100 yards. Lance Kendricks was the last Badger to do so, when he picked up 103 yards against Austin Peay.
The emergence of Fumagalli should come as no surprise, as the junior was expected to have a great 2015 after playing behind Sam Arneson in 2014. Fumagalli recorded 14 receptions for 187 yards as a freshman, and in 2015, he nearly doubled that output by tallying 28 receptions for 313 yards and one touchdown. However, it was the season that could have been, as injuries plagued him as a redshirt sophomore.
Fumagalli was limited through those first four games. An ankle injury caused him to play limited snaps against Alabama and miss Wisconsin’s game against Miami (Ohio) in Week 2. He returned for the following game against Troy, but made only one reception for one yard. He then missed a game against Hawaii in Week 4 due to a thumb injury.
Another obstacle that hindered Fumagalli’s production in 2015 was the Badgers’ inability to stabilize the run game with Clement missing significant time due to injuries and an inexperienced backfield. In 2016, the Badgers have a healthy backfield that should help keep opposing defenses honest and allow the UW offense to have success both on the ground and in the air.
Provided Fumagalli is able to stay healthy, he should be the next in a long line of tight ends who have thrived under Paul Chryst. Kendricks, Garrett Graham and Jacob Pedersen have all seen success under Wisconsin’s head coach, dating back to when he was the Badgers’ offensive coordinator from 2006-11.
Given his production against LSU, his connection with Houston and Chryst’s track record, Fumagalli seems on track for his best season in cardinal and white and a breakout 2016.