MADISON — Whether it was Bart Houston to Troy Fumagalli or Alex Hornibrook to Fumagalli, the redshirt junior and former walk-on from Aurora, Ill. is establishing himself as a top receiver in the Wisconsin offensive unit.
In Wisconsin’s tough overtime loss last Saturday against Ohio State, Fumagalli led the Badgers in receptions with seven catches for 84 yards and three third down conversions.
Fumagalli spoke little of his personal performance on Saturday, instead shifting the focus to the whole offensive unit.
“Pretty good,” Fumagalli said of his performance. “I think there’s things that I can improve on, a couple of details here and there to make the difference. For the most part as a unit I think we played pretty solid.”
The whole team’s perspective going into this Saturday’s game on the road against Iowa is to take the frustration and disappointment from the back-to-back losses against Michigan and Ohio State and translate those emotions into a Wisconsin win.
Looking back on Fumagalli’s six games, he has been a continuous asset particularly at the 3rd down conversions and big yardage plays. For the season, he has 23 catches for 265 yards, averaging 11.5 yards a play.
“Personally I try to do something new each week to help myself out and hopefully by the end of the week it adds up. I think it’s big that you focus on one thing every week and then keep going. I think I came a long way.”
In the six games of the season, the Wisconsin offense saw some major adjustments in the quarterback with Hornibrook replacing Houston as the starter at the end of September against Michigan State. Hornibrook has taken full advantage of his receiving unit in his three starts at quarterback, and, as Fumagalli says, his work ethic and poise in the huddle make it easy to build chemistry with the redshirt freshman.
“When we get out there on the practice field, we get that kind of chemistry going and we feel very comfortable with each other.”
Despite the two losses, the Wisconsin offense has shown their strength against top-ranked teams in Michigan and Ohio State. Head coach Paul Chryst has spoken every week that there is always room for improvement and the team is taking those words and executing. While there was some apparently missed throws and catches on offense against Ohio State and the whole unit stagnated in the third quarter and allowed for the Buckeyes to come, the team pushed back in the fourth and brought the game into overtime.
“Resilient,” Fumagalli said is the best word to describe Wisconsin’s offense. “I think that would be the strongest word. We faced some strong adversity so far. There’s some performances we’d like to have back, but we keep pushing, keep fighting, and I think we do a good job of that.”
Wisconsin travels to Iowa this Saturday in their seventh game of the season. While the team’s mentality for a road game is no different than a Saturday at Camp Randall, there is an added level of excitement to being on the road.
“I think it’s kind of cool when you go into a road game and it’s however many guys, 60 or 65 of us. It’s a really good feeling knowing it’s just you against the world in there. You can lean on your brother and that’s really all you’ve got.”
Against Iowa, the Badgers will face an added level of difficulty in the fan atmosphere at Kinnick Stadium. Many of Fumagalli’s teammates have already addressed the struggle teams face traveling to the stadium in that the fans are right on top of you, saying sometimes funny things and sometimes unpleasant things. Fumagalli traveled to Kinnick two years ago when the Badgers won 26-24 on the road.
Of the atmosphere Fumagalli said, “Kinnick is a really cool place to play. They have great fans. They take it very seriously. They’re loud. They’re going to be right on top of you. They’re going to be saying things you don’t want to hear.”
The team will have an added incentive to win on Saturday with the competition for the Heartland Trophy. The Badgers lost the trophy last year when Iowa came to Camp Randall and beat the Badgers 10-6.
“We have an empty trophy case in our locker room because we lost last year, so I think it’s kind of got an extra chip on our shoulder moving forward, and we’re going to try to get it back.”
The whole team’s aggressive approach and close games in their past few games have allowed them to remain high in the collegiate football polls. This week Wisconsin was ranked #10 in the AP Poll despite suffering back-to-back losses. Fumagalli said no one on the team focuses on the polls because ultimately, it is the team’s performance every Saturday that matters.
“All our goals are still right in front of us. We’ve just got to take it one game at a time.”
Photo courtesy of UW Athletics.