TAMPA, Fla. - The eye-catching statistic of Wisconsin football is alongside the name of junior tight end Travis Beckum: 71 pass receptions.
That's an obvious starting point for any discussion of Wisconsin's offense. But you can't get through the first Wisconsin tight end question without being politely interrupted by Tennessee defensive coordinator John Chavis.
"He's not a tight end," Chavis said.
He meant that as a compliment.
Beckum doesn't take it as one.
Never mind his wide receiver statistics or highlight video. Beckum embraces the position he has been assigned.
"Wide receivers don't have to block 280-pound defensive ends," he said.
The counterpoint: tight ends rarely venture as far from the trenches as Beckum does.
In an All-American season, Beckum has lined up all over the field and encountered just about everybody on opposing defenses. There are no weight classes in his football world. He tangles with linemen who outweigh him by 60 pounds and cornerbacks who come up 40 pounds or half a foot short.
Beckum, who is 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, has a linebacker's biceps and a wide receiver's statistics. He has held his own in run-ins with defensive ends, linebackers and backs.
Containing him will be one of UT's biggest challenges in Tuesday's Outback Bowl. Getting him the ball is Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst's challenge.
He has been up to the challenge for the last two years.
"The No. 1 thing as a coach is to have a system fit the players," Chryst said. "I've been around (programs) that have players try to fit into the system."
Chryst has tweaked his offense to accommodate the skills of a player who can play either wide receiver or tight end. But it didn't happen right away.
Beckum, who was recruited by UT out of Oak Creek High School in Wisconsin, was the No. 1 high school player in his state. His status was achieved through tackling, not catching. In his senior season, he had 16 sacks, seven interceptions, eight fumble recoveries and four blocked kicks.
As a Wisconsin freshman, he had two tackles and played mainly on special teams. That was the end of his linebacking career.
One year later, Beckum led the Badgers with 61 catches for 903 yards. Both the yardage and number of catches were school records for tight ends.
You wonder where the Badgers' passing game would have been without Beckum's offensive conversion. He has become even more valuable this season.
No other Wisconsin receiver has more than 25 catches. Those meager numbers are more indicative of injuries than skill. Wide receiver Luke Swan missed the last half of the season with a hamstring injury. Wide receiver Paul Hubbard missed five games with a knee injury.
Hubbard, who is 6-4, 210, is healthy again and will give quarterback Tyler Donovan another big target against the Vols. Michigan can vouch for that. Hubbard had seven catches for 134 yards in Wisconsin's 37-21 victory over the Wolverines.
But Beckum remains the headline act in Wisconsin's passing attack. He's also the focal point of opponents' scouting reports.
"Some teams treat him like a wide receiver," Chryst said. "Other teams won't change what they do. You never quite know until you line up."
That's only fair. After all, the opponent never knows where Beckum will line up.
Sports editor John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or firstname.lastname@example.org.