In the midst of a 13-play, 80-yard touchdown drive last week against Penn State, the Badgers faced a third and two at their own 47. After picking up the first down with a 10-yard jaunt right up the middle the back was lifted bodily from the ground by left tackle Morgan Davis, a celebratory gesture to do with more than simple exuberance for a job well done.
"The linemen love when I get the ball," fullback Matt Bernstein said. "They just love when a big guy like them gets the ball and gets to run.
Prior to the Penn State game, tight end Tony Paciotti joked that he needed the ball.
"Paciotti - me and him just got done lifting together and he's like ‘you know who we're playing this weekend?,'" Wisconsin quarterback Jim Sorgi said, the week before the game with the Nittany Lions. "And I said, ‘yea, we are playing Penn State.' And he asked, ‘you know where I am from?' And I said ‘Yea.' He said ‘I am going to have a lot of fans there that are going to want to see me catch the ball.' I said, ‘I already threw it to you once this year Tony.'"
Booker Stanley capped the aforementioned drive with a six-yard touchdown run. According to Paciotti, who hails from Archbald, Penn., the next play was headed his way.
"We were one play away," Paciotti said. "(Quarterbacks) coach (Jeff) Horton came up to me and said we were one play away."
Paciotti and Bernstein, of course, make their living helping to lead tailbacks Stanley, Anthony Davis and Dwayne Smith into the end zone. In Wisconsin's offensive scheme this season, fullback Bernstein and tight end Paciotti are essentially linemen with eligible numbers. They rarely touch the ball but do essential work for the Badgers success.
"I'm not as fast as A.D.," said Bernstein, who has successfully converted from star prep running back to become an invaluable asset as a blocking fullback. "I'm not as quick. He needs the big guys like me to block for him and I need him to run through the line and make me look good."
Paciotti considers himself "just an extension" of the offensive line. "I do and, you know, I like it," he said. "I get to play both sides of the ball and every now and then I get to run out for a little pass. It is great. I think I have the best of both worlds and I love my job."
Paciotti has not had many opportunities to go after passes at UW. He has started 15 games in his career, but has just one catch, an 18-yard reception against North Carolina this season.
Bernstein has received quite a few more touches by comparison—15 carries for 70 yards and two receptions for eight yards. He had a career-high 29 rushing yards against Illinois two weeks ago.
"If it happens it happens," Bernstein said of getting the ball. "It is pretty funny. Coach White always says, ‘you are going to break the rushing record for fullbacks for rushing attempts.'"
When he does carry the ball he has five of his biggest fans, the Badgers offensive linemen, leading the way.
"They get fired up. They always say I'm a guard in the backfield, I weigh as much as some of them do," said Bernstein, who is listed at 275 pounds. "It is just fun because I block all the time, they block all the time. We are almost like the same position, except I line up in the backfield. I know they get fired up when I run the ball and I get fired up when they are blowing people up."