2019 Wisconsin Rewind: Tight Ends

Jake Kocorowski

The 2019 college football season has officially passed for the Wisconsin Badgers after falling to the No. 6 Oregon Ducks in the 2020 Rose Bowl Game on Jan. 1.

AllBadgers.com presents a new series, "2019 Wisconsin Rewind," that will break down each UW position group from last season. Positional stats, standout and rough performances will be dissected, and one question will be presented for each room heading into spring ball later this year.

Previous installments: Quarterbacks; running backs/fullbacks; wide receivers

The 2019 season once again saw the effectiveness of redshirt sophomore Jake Ferguson as a significant receiving threat, but overall, the tight end group caught the proverbial injury bug. Redshirt junior Luke Benzschawel did not play at all this season after suffering a right leg injury during fall camp in August. 

UW announced earlier that month that fellow redshirt junior Gabe Lloyd -- who worked essentially as the third tight end during the spring and received a substantial amount of reps in those April sessions open to the media -- was lost for the season due to a right leg injury. 

True freshman Hayden Rucci suffered a left arm injury during fall camp, and Ferguson himself missed some time in August with what UWBadgers.com noted was a torn UCL ligament in his left thumb that required surgery.

Even Zander Neuville (left knee) attempted a comeback with gaining a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA, but he tweeted on Sept. 11 that he "sustained another injury, one that means an end to my football career."  

Early on in the season against South Florida, redshirt senior David Moorman -- who went on to lock down the starting left guard spot late in the season -- wore a No. 46 jersey and worked in a pseudo-tight end role. However, redshirt freshman Cormac Sampson moved back to his old position, stepped in and asserted himself to the point of allowing head coach Paul Chryst and offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph to utilize UW's 12 personnel more often.

“It’s definitely a grinder," Ferguson said about the season on Dec. 19. "I remember looking at Cormac after one of our 90-yard drives, and I looked at him and was like, ‘I’m dying.’ He’s like, ‘Hold on, I got to go throw up.’ So it’s just been me and him back and forth, and honestly, wouldn’t want anybody else just helping me take that work off.

"He’s an incredible player. He’ll do anything that we need him to do."

Ferguson saw an extraordinarily large amount of playing time at the position in 2019. He finished second on the team in receptions and receiving yards and tied for third in touchdown catches. On Dec. 19, he told reporters that he believed some of his biggest strides came from maturity and respecting both the game and his body more.

"Just being able to recover a little bit better," Ferguson said. "Also just respecting the game as a whole and understanding that defenses are going to make switches at halftime, and me being able to just count for those changes and being able to switch on my own game, so I’m not doing the same thing. I don’t think I could have done that last year. I would have just been locked in on just one thing and just only done that.”

Player stats

  • Jake Ferguson: 33 receptions, 407 yards, two touchdowns
  • Cormac Sampson: 13 games, two starts 

Best performance

Looking back against Michigan State and Illinois in October, Ferguson put together his best two-game stretch in terms of production as a receiving threat. He caught four passes for 62 yards against the Spartans, then hauled in five receptions for 77 yards and an 18-yard touchdown against the Fighting Illini.

Worst performance

In terms of pass catching, like the wide receivers, the offense gained just 108 receiving yards against the Buckeyes. Ferguson reeled in just one pass for five yards. Also against the Wildcats on Sept. 28, the redshirt sophomore recorded one catch for two yards.

Question for 2020: Who steps up alongside Ferguson in the position group?

Injuries ravaged Mickey Turner's room in 2019, but along with Ferguson, the room could be stacked as Benzschawel and Lloyd will now be redshirt seniors.

Where Sampson winds up will be interesting. He switched to the offensive line during spring 2019 in very David Edwards/Rick Wagner-like fashion, but with the injuries to his old position group accumulating during fall camp, he moved back and really asserted himself as the in-line, blocking tight end. 

Based on offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph's discussion with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Jeff Potrykus recently, however, it appears the Eau Claire Memorial product could jump back to the line.

Seth Currens, Jack Eschenbach, and Coy Wanner also were on UW's roster in 2019, and the former two played in 11 and four games in 2019, respectively.

When asked during Rose Bowl media availability on Dec. 27 about young players who have stepped up during bowl prep practices, Rudolph noted how Rucci and fellow true freshman Clay Cundiff "have done a good job."** According to UW's position logs, the latter played in one game this season.

Wisconsin has two 2020 tight end signees coming in with three-star standouts Cam Large and Cole Dakovich. In late August, Large publicly announced he chose the Badgers over Ohio State, Alabama and Georgia, among others. Dakovich played for in-state powerhouse Waukesha Catholic Memorial and has intriguing size at a listed 6'5, 225 pounds. 

*Note: Above video of Ferguson from Wisconsin availability on Dec. 19.

**Audio and quotes courtesy of CollegePressBox.com