This Saturday, when the Eastern Michigan Eagles come to Madison in search of an upset against the 18th ranked Badgers, they'll likely lean heavily on the legs of their young running back, Darius Boone Jr.
Boone Jr. was a force in Eastern Michigan's opening game of the season, carrying the rock 22 times for 107-yards and a score. His presence in the rushing attack was no surprise to Eagles fans, as the Tulsa, OK native impressed in just a half-season of play last year. Though he only appeared in three games, Boone Jr. averaged a solid 5.8-yards per carry, racking up 260-yards on just 44 carries. Just a redshirt freshman — though he's now been on the team for two seasons before 2021 — Boone Jr. was named to the Doak Walker Award preseason watchlist, one of just six MAC running backs to be on the list. A young player who's gotten plenty of top-level reps and still has room to grow, it's no surprise the Eagle coaches and preseason prediction makers have plenty of high hopes for Boone Jr.
Eastern Michigan's offense makes equal use of two quarterbacks — senior Ben Bryant and junior Preston Hutchinson — and the lack of a clear leader in the passing game means all the more responsibility will likely fall on the shoulders of Boone Jr., if the Eagles want to make an upset bid on Saturday. Wisconsin's defense showed little signs of weakness against Penn State, at least in the front seven, but this week's matchup won't get much easier.
At 212 pounds, the redshirt freshman is a powerful force on the ground and might remind Badger fans of Jalen Berger in his ability to fight through contact and add on to the play even after he's taken a hit. Tough runners are one of the most valuable commodities a team searching for an upset can own, and Wisconsin fans can be sure Boone Jr. will make the Badgers earn every single tackle they make Saturday.
On the defensive side of the ball, look for seniors Terry Myrick, linebacker, and Turan Rush, defensive line, to be harassing Graham Mertz and the Badgers offense all day. Myrick, at least through one game, appears to be heading into his second consecutive season leading the Eagles in tackles, and Rush, also as of game one of the 2021 campaign, is now in his third straight season as the team's leader in sacks. The duo will be hoping to take advantage of a shifted Badgers offensive line that had some uncharacteristic struggles in pass protection last Saturday, as a Penn State front continually put pressure on Graham Mertz all game.
The changes in personnel up front that seemed to improve Wisconsin's running game but had no success in the passing game will undoubtedly give the pairing plenty to be excited about heading into Eastern Michigan's first power five clash in two years.
Myrick and the aptly-named Rush were both named first-team Preseason All-MAC honorees in Phil Steele's 2021 College Football Preview. Each also received similar honors (third and second, respectively) in Athlon Sports' conference preview. And while Rush' prowess as a pass-rusher may lead to his collection of sacks over the years, don't be fooled. Myrick is a constant presence in opposition backfields, leading the Eagles in tackles for loss (5.5) in 2020, as well as the entire MAC in fumble recoveries (2).
Catch Wisconsin taking on Boone Jr., Myrick, and Rush on Saturday at 6 p.m. at Camp Randall Stadium or on Fox Sports One if you can't attend the game. The Badgers will hope to even out their record to 1-1, whereas Eastern Michigan (1-0) will look to parlay their momentum from a season-opening win over Saint Francis into a shock road victory.