MADISON – After dropping consecutive passes inside Georgia State’s 40-yard line, redshirt freshman tight end Kyle Penniston's nerves were getting the better of him. Pressed into duty in the first quarter when starter Troy Fumagalli went down with a right leg injury, Penniston knew he had to find his rhythm.
He found it at the right time for Wisconsin and its offense.
In what turned out to be the game’s critical offensive series, Penniston delivered with two catches and the game-winning touchdown in the Badgers’ 23-17 victory over Georgia State Saturday.
“I want Coach Chryst to trust me,” Penniston said, finishing with three catches for 35 yards and the one score. “When a play needs to be made, hopefully one of the tight ends can make it.”
Penniston had played in the Badgers’ first two games of the year but had not yielded any stats. Now he was filling in for UW’s biggest pass-catching weapon in an unexpectedly tight game.
“I think I had a lot of jitters going into the first half,” Penniston said. “But I came in the locker room at half and had a lot of older guys supporting me, telling me to just take a deep breath and pretend like it’s practice and nobody’s here. That helped out a lot.”
With Fumagalli and senior Eric Steffes answering questions and providing pick-me-ups on the sidelines, Penniston started to find his footing. After UW went down 17-13 with 11:26 left, the Badgers keyed on him in crunch time.
After being stopped on two straight rush attempts from inside the five, Penniston got his number called on third-and-goal from the 1. Wisconsin went play action and with quarterback Alex Hornibrook rolling out to his right, Penniston blocked senior outside linebacker Jameel Spencer, delivered a clean release and rolled to the right, opening up a clear passing lane for a 1-yard touchdown.
“I told Kyle right after he dropped the two passes not to worry about it; we’re going to come back to him,” said Hornibrook, who replaced senior Bart Houston in the third quarter. “That’s the mindset for me, not to let a play before impact the next one.”
Penniston set up in first career touchdown catch a couple plays earlier when he hauled in a contested 29-yard catch to give Wisconsin a first down at the Georgia State 17. Enrolling in January 2015 at the same time as Hornibrook, it’s a play the two have worked on together.
“Alex and I are really good friends off the field, which I think helps with your mesh on the field,” Penniston said. “We throw the ball all summer. We came in at the same time so we’ve been doing the same thing for a long time.”
Figaro Gets the Start
It’s been a long road back to the starting lineup for Lubern Figaro.
Relegated to reserve work throughout last season after starting seven games as a true freshman, Figaro made his first career start at nickel cornerback and finished with four tackles.
“It felt great to finally be back out there,” Figaro said. “You always got to face adversity in life. I’m glad I got to face it last year.”
Figaro played in place of junior Natrell Jamerson, who was injured in the fourth quarter of last week’s win over Akron. Diagnosed with a leg injury that will keep him out 4-to-6 weeks, Figaro worked throughout the week with the top unit. The biggest change in Figaro’s game? He’s having fun again.
“Always have fun, no matter what,” Figaro said.
Wisconsin’s secondary was far from perfect, especially in the second half when it gave up four pass plays over 20 yards, including a 60-yard completion that occurred due to missed tackles by cornerbacks Derrick Tindal and Sojourn Shelton and safety D’Cota Dixon.
Admitting things were rough at points with the team making some uncharacteristic mistakes, Figaro points to Georgia State completing only two of its final six passes for seven yards as something to build on.
“We’ve got to forget about the bad plays and keep moving on every time,” Figaro said.
From the Infirmary
While it appeared Wisconsin avoided a significant injury in a game for the first time all season, the status of three vital offensive weapons for next week’s conference opener at No.12 Michigan State remain unknown. Head coach Paul Chryst could not elaborate on the severity of the right leg injuries that knocked Fumagalli and backup tailback Taiwan Deal from the game in the first quarter.
He also added that tailback Corey Clement, who was ruled out prior to the game while still recovering from his ankle injury suffered last week, went through a “pretty good workout” prior to the game but the decision was made to rest him.
“I think all three of them -- you know, you're optimistic, but we don't know (how serious the injuries are),” Chryst said. “I don't know.”
This season, Wisconsin puts out a weekly injury list on Mondays.
Extra Points: Wisconsin won its 38th-consecutive non-conference game at Camp Randall Stadium, giving UW sole possession of the sixth-longest streak in FBS history. UW hasn't lost a non-conference contest at home since Sept. 13, 2003 … Wisconsin has now put together four, fourth-quarter comebacks in 16 games under head coach Paul Chryst. Chryst has been part of a combined 12 fourth-quarter comebacks as an offensive coordinator and head coach at Wisconsin … Wisconsin has held opponents to an average of 7.0 points per game over its last 11 non-conference home games, dating back to the start of the 2013 season … UW finished the game with zero penalties for the first time since Nov. 15, 1997 vs. Michigan.