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Surprise: A fullback is a major factor within Wisconsin’s offense

America’s fullback shares his thoughts on carrying the rock and blocking well.

Wisconsin v Minnesota Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

During last weekend’s win over Minnesota, Austin Ramesh displayed one aspect of his intriguing skill set perhaps uncommon to a typical fullback.

On a 3rd-and-1 in the second quarter, the back lined up to the right side of the formation by tight end Kyle Penniston, then proceeded to take a handoff to the left side and gallop for a 41-yard gain. That led to a Wisconsin field goal and a 10–0 lead in the second quarter.

“It was kind of similar to the run we had last year against Western Michigan,” Ramesh said on Tuesday, referring to his game-sealing, 10-yard run in the fourth quarter of the 2017 Cotton Bowl. “We just drew it up last week and the guys up front ended up blocking it really well, and it worked well for us.”

Ramesh’s nimbleness and running ability shouldn’t be surprising, despite his roster listing of 6’1, 255 pounds. The former first-team all-state prep standout rushed for 5,939 career yards and 60 touchdowns on 9.7 yards per carry for Northland Pines High School.

“It’s good to make a big play like that,” Ramesh said. “That was my longest play by far, so it felt good to get out there and get a loose a little bit.”

A critical element of Wisconsin’s offense, Ramesh can run, and as seen with his pancake blocks this year, he can also open up holes for Jonathan Taylor and the Badgers’ other tailbacks.

For all the lead blocking the redshirt junior takes on, right guard Beau Benzschawel believes those opportunities reciprocate back to Ramesh.

“He’s a stud. We call him the ‘Moose.’ He’s awesome,” Benzschawel said on Tuesday. “He’s a quiet guy, probably as you know, but he goes about his business every day. Super hard-working guy, but he just does his job, that’s all you can ask out of the guy. He does it, and he does it well.”

Both Ramesh and junior Alec Ingold, in a position that feels like football’s version of an endangered species, are crucial contributors to a Wisconsin offense that ranks third in the Big Ten in total offense (426 yards per game) and scoring offense (34.8 points per game).

Offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph praised both Ramesh and Ingold on Tuesday, as he believes the Badgers “have two great fullbacks” who are talented and playing at a high level.

“Austin, speaking specifically about him as a senior, he’s made a lot of plays this year,” Rudolph said. “He’s done a tremendous job blocking. He’s unselfish, and when he’s had opportunities to make play, he’s done just that, so I think he’s having an outstanding year.”

With all that Ramesh can do within Wisconsin’s offense and the multitude of ways he can influence a play, he noted his confidence has been a huge factor this season.

“I’ve been focusing on a lot more of my technique this year,” Ramesh said. “My body feels great, best it has probably since I’ve been here, too, so [I’m] just being confident in my body and confident in my technique. We practice hard every week and we always go into the game with reps on that look, so [I’m] just being confident and letting it loose.”

That ability and technique allowed him to demonstrate some impressive blocking against Iowa safety Jake Gervase in Wisconsin’s 38–14 win three weeks ago, leveling the defender with two specific blocks that became viral sensations.

In an era of college football where spread offenses and up-tempo schemes rein, the fullback and its many functions still hold a purpose at Wisconsin. This season, Ramesh has carried the ball 14 times for 77 yards with two touchdowns.

Against Minnesota, Ramesh finished with 43 yards on two rushes. The other run, a two-yard dive play on a 3rd-and-2, extended Wisconsin’s third scoring drive.

“Last week, it was totally stuffed up, and he just totally made an effort play and bounced it back and just kept his feet driving and got the first, which is just crazy,” Benzschawel said. “He should have been back [for] a one-yard loss but he just kept driving, kept grinding, and he got the first out of it. The guy’s awesome.”

In those short-yardage or goal-line situations, Ramesh and Ingold have been called upon with that fullback dive quite often this year, maybe so much so that it could be conceived as predictable. The results have not lied, though, as the duo has combined for five rushing touchdowns heading into the Big Ten Championship Game vs. Ohio State (Saturday, 7:17 p.m., FOX).

For Ramesh, who will play in his 39th career game on Saturday, getting the rock in key situations is not dissimilar feeling from his other duties in Wisconsin’s offense.

“It’s not too much different than just going in for a block. Everybody’s job every play is really important,” Ramesh said. “We always talk about our 1/11th and if the coaches are confident enough to put the ball in my hands, I know I gotta make a play. [I’m] just doing what they’re trusting me to do, and doing it to the best of my ability.”