The Buckeyes have faced the Big Ten’s second and third team tight ends, and they’re about to square off against the conference’s first team tight end, Troy Fumagalli.
Keeping the opposing team’s tight ends in check has been a real issue for the Buckeye defense, as they allowed Mike Gesicki to record 57 yards on six receptions and then Iowa’s Noah Fant to reach the end zone twice on four receptions. Overall, they allowed those two tight ends to rack up 111 yards and two touchdowns on 10 receptions. Those numbers don’t necessarily jump off the page, but the receptions came at clutch situations that extended drives or in Fant’s case, blew the game open.
Fumagalli is the most complete of the three tight ends, as he is a very solid blocker, a plus-route runner and possesses consistent hands. He’ll most likely land within the second or third round of the 2018 NFL Draft and will definitely be a three-down threat.
The 6’6, 248-pound tight end isn’t as athletic as Gesicki or Oklahoma’s Mark Andrews, but he finds a way to constantly move the chains and make the key plays for the Badger offense. He’s found a way to battle through a leg injury that has hampered him for parts of the season, but he’s still put up 471 yards and four touchdowns on 38 receptions in only 10 games.
When looking at his splits, 28 of his 38 receptions came in the first half, meaning they use the Fumagalli to get Alex Hornibrook into a groove — mostly with easy, high-percentage throws. But most importantly, of those 38 receptions, he’s moved the chains 23 times, which shows his importance to the offense. He’s either gaining first down yardage, or putting his offense in a short yardage situation.
This throw on third-and-five shows the faith that Hornibrook has in his tight end. Fumagalli was blanketed on his route, but utilized his size to box out the defender to make the tough catch and move the sticks on third down.
Here’s an example of how they get him open in the flats. They utilize play action to get the linebackers to flow to the running back, forgetting about Fumagalli who runs his route away from the flowing linebackers. Easy pitch and catch for the Badgers.
Fumagalli is more than just a pass-catcher, he’s a complete tight end. Below, he’s on the line of scrimmage and is asked to kick out the outside linebacker (#44). He engages with the OLB and uses his strength to violently strike the linebacker with his right hand and open the hole for his running back.
Here’s Fumagalli lined up in the flex tight end spot and is assigned the task to drive the strong safety out of the play. He fires off the ball, engages with the safety and completely blows the safety seven yards off the line of scrimmage. Fumagalli should have stayed engaged a little longer and tossed him out of bounds, but let up at the end. Either way, his strength is on display during this block.
With Ohio State’s defensive deficiencies on tape, Wisconsin is basically Iowa and Michigan on steroids. They possess a much better running back and a better tight end than both of those teams. There’s no doubt about it that Wisconsin will lean on Fumagalli in the pass game, which could lead to serious issues for the Buckeyes. The key to the game would be to get up early and force Hornibrook to beat them with his arm. If not, they’ll pound the rock and use play action to eat up yardage.