The two schools have a long history of prolific tight ends in college and beyond. Saturday will be no exception as the Wisconsin Badgers return Troy Fumagalli for his fourth game against the Iowa Hawkeyes. Noah Fant (and T.J. Hockenson) are putting their names on the map after being the cornerstones of Iowa’s shellacking of Ohio State. Let’s get to it.
The nine-fingered tight end for Wisconsin has a story similar to many Badgers (and Hawkeyes) before him: he started as a walk-on in 2013 and earned a scholarship. He saw the field in all 13 games his first season and caught 14 passes for 187 yards. He doubled his receptions in just 9 games his sophomore year for 313 yards. He tallied 47 receptions for 580 yards last year and after missing a couple games during this season, has 30 receptions for 401 yards. He’s got 6 career touchdowns, half of which are from this season.
His return to their lineup a couple weeks ago was a welcome sight, as Wisconsin’s injury report continues to lengthen. The Badgers’ leading receiver, Quintez Cephus, joined Jazz Peavy on the list. Fumagalli is the most experienced and most prolific receiver in Alex Hornibrook’s arsenal.
Though he hasn’t scored a touchdown since September, expect the Badgers to look for Fumagalli on third down and in the red zone. Considering their options on the outside are both pretty green - and one of them will be covered by Josh Jackson - the big guy in the middle is going to be integral in Wisconsin’s aerial attack.
When Iowa’s offense is on the field, Fant has become a bona fide playmaker. He has the most yards per reception of any Iowa player (with more than two receptions) while having the second-most catches on the team. Oh, and with seven touchdowns he’s quietly set the Iowa record for touchdowns from a tight end with 3+ games to go. And he sits at fourth in the conference for receiving touchdowns (first in the country for tight ends).
But he’s going to have a target on his back for the rest of the year, and his Iowa career, after Brian Ferentz turned back the clock to his time in New England. Luckily for Iowa, Wisconsin is scrambling in the middle, as they have two linebackers (Jack Cichy & Chris Orr) and a defensive back (D’Cota Dixon) out with injuries.
With Wisconsin’s 3-4 scheme, I also expect them to get pressure on Nate Stanley. Connecting on the hot routes is going to be necessary for Iowa to neutralize the blitz. Fant was great last week without any drops - can he extend it to this week?
Ultimately, this game will probably end up as another 17-10 rock fight with Iowa perfectly fine playing such a game on the road and in potentially inclement conditions. Whichever tight end has the better performance will likely find his team on the better end of the game.