Army faces a double-edged dilemma when the Black Knights travel to Madison for a Saturday night nonconference game against Wisconsin.
Army, idle last week after taking its first loss, will be facing the nation’s No. 1 rushing defense as well as Wisconsin’s rejuvenated ground game, which piled up 391 yards in a 24-0 victory at Illinois last weekend.
The Black Knights (4-1) rely heavily on their option ground game, averaging 318.2 yards per game, which ranks second in the nation, and their defense is rated third nationally against the run.
Wisconsin (2-3) was ranked 12th in the AP preseason poll but dropped out after losing to ranked teams Penn State, Notre Dame and Michigan.
Army was without injured senior quarterback Chris Anderson in its 28-16 loss to Ball State two weeks ago. Anderson’s status for Wisconsin was uncertain.
“They’ve got a great team. They’ve obviously played some great football teams already this year on their schedule, Top 10 teams and just really an impressive outfit,” Army coach Jeff Monken said. “What they did with Illinois this past weekend, I mean, they just completely dominated the game.”
Wisconsin is allowing just 41.4 yards per game rushing and a paltry 1.7 yards per carry. Illinois managed just 26 yards on 13 carries, with 23 of the yards coming on one run. Army yields 54 yards per game on the ground but has not faced a Big Ten-level attack like Wisconsin’s this season.
Army’s option offense presents challenges for opposing defenses.
“One, you’ve got to recognize it and understand who they are and how they want to play and what they’re doing,” Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said. “They’re efficient, they execute it well. They’re well-coached and players know it, and it’s going to force you to play really good, sound assignment football. That’s the challenge.”
The Badgers ran for just 43 yards on 32 attempts in their 38-17 home loss to Michigan, but they were bolstered against Illinois by the emergence of 238-pound freshman Braelon Allen, who rushed 18 times for 131 yards and a touchdown. Chez Mellusi, held to 13 yards on six carries vs. Michigan, had a season-high 145 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries against the Illini.
Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz completed 10 of 19 passes for 100 yards against Illinois with one interception. For the season, Mertz has connected on 72 of 129 passes for 781 yards with seven picks and two touchdowns. Kendric Pryor, Danny Davis III and tight end Jake Ferguson each have 16 receptions.
Wisconsin has lost five fumbles and nine interceptions, with two picks returned for touchdowns in a 41-13 loss to Notre Dame.
Army fell behind 21-0 in the first quarter against Ball State, allowing a 99-yard touchdown on the opening kickoff.
Without Anderson, the Black Knights ran for a season-low 213 yards against Ball State. Anderson has run for 431 yards at 7.4 yards per carry with five touchdowns in four games.
Anderson has completed 8 of 15 passes for 187 yards and three touchdowns, and Jemel Jones is 7 of 13 for 135 yards and one TD with one interception.
The contest will be the first meeting between Army and Wisconsin.
“The opportunity is obvious, just to play a high-caliber, elite football program,” Monken said. “And they are one of the great football programs in the country.”
–Field Level Media