Fresh off their week one victory over Middle Tennessee, Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan Wolverines are back at it again this week in Ann Arbor. There was some slowness getting moving in week 1, and certainly more than a little rust to shake off - but the seventh ranked Wolverines have another tune-up game to show the country that they’re ready to step into the spotlight in 2019.
So, can they get it done? Let’s break it down…
(7)Michigan vs. Army
Saturday, September 7 | 12:00PM EST
ESPN Spread: Michigan -22
- 2018 record: 11-2 (finished off with a 70-14 win over Houston)
- Head coach Jeff Monken has given this program a complete turnaround - having gone 29-10 over the past three seasons
- Offensively they’ll run the triple option, led by senior QB Kelvin Hopkins Jr.
- Their entire gameplan is built on draining the clock, and that’s exactly what they’ll do against Michigan
There was a time when seeing Army on the schedule often meant a bit of a cakewalk game.
After all, over the course of 20 years prior to head coach Jeff Monken’s arrival, Army went to only two bowl games, gotten to 10 wins just once, and even went completely winless in 2003 - just one year before leaving CUSA to once again become an independent.
But since taking over in 2014, Jeff Monken has changed all that.
His winning percentage will likely pass Jim Young’s this season, giving him the best such stat by an active Army head coach since 1961 - and last year’s 11 wins were the most an Army team has ever gotten in a single season.
So, how’s he done it? Discipline.
This is a sound football team. They finished last season ranked 4th in expected turnover margin, and 17th in penalty yards per game. As Oklahoma can attest to following their overtime barn burner against the Black Knights a year ago - this is simply a team that doesn’t beat itself.
Their whole game plan is built around eating the clock with a triple option offense, forcing opponents to score quickly and efficiently - and wearing down defenses over the course of an absolutely excruciating 60 minutes.
The triple option is hard enough to prepare for in and of itself. A team that runs a triple option at the rate and proficiency Army does is even harder to prepare for. But a team that runs the triple option like Army, and can beat you with the pass? Well… that’s a special kind of tough.
So it will be for the Wolverines this weekend against Kelvin Hopkins Jr. - the senior Army QB who became the first player in school history to rush and pass for 1,000 yards in a single season. Mind you, this isn’t some indication that Army will be running the ball any less on Saturday - their 93.7% standard down run rate topped the country in 2018, and in their opening weekend match-up against Rice, they put the ball on the ground 50 times compared to attempting just eight passes all game long.
But with Hopkins’ arm in play, the secondary simply can’t find themselves creeping too far up; Army was 3rd in the country in passing explosiveness last season - so when they do air it out, Michigan had better be ready to protect themselves over the top.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, they also simply don’t allow Hopkins to feel the pressure whatsoever. They were 1st in stuff rate allowed, 8th in sack rate allowed, and top-ranked distance-to-go on 3rd downs - all of which is indicative of a team that just keeps itself moving forward. The Wolverines can’t simply sit back and wait for Army to stall, because if their statistical profile is anything to go on... they won’t.
Defensively, it’s just more meat and potatoes; everything the Black Knights will throw at you is simple.
They don’t give up many big plays - especially on the ground - and while they weren’t particularly adept at creating havoc up front, they were still able to force opposing teams into long yardage situations (they had the country’s top-ranked third and long percentage in 2018) with an absolutely stellar group in the secondary. Three of those secondary starters - Elijah Riley, Jaylon McClinton, and Cameron Jones - all return, and they’ll anchor a solid group that will put this much-acclaimed Michigan receiving core to the test.
True, they lose team-leader in tackles, James Nachtigal, along with their two top performers along the line - but senior Cole Christenson is still roaming down there. Plus, the defensive line roster that remains is deep and should be able to stay fresh to wear down opposing offenses.
Keys for the Wolverines
Establish the run
Army’s offense will try to hold onto the football for as long as they can on Saturday - that’s almost the entire bread and butter of the Black Knights game plan. It will be imperative, therefore, for Michigan to make the most out of every offensive possession, because too many squandered opportunities, and the Wolverines might simply run out of time.
And with how formidable Army’s secondary might turn out to be, relying on deep balls from Shea Patterson likely won’t be the safest offensive option - so give the ball to Zach Charbonnet and see if he can’t pick up where he left off last week against MTSU.
No, you shouldn't expect many breakout plays against this disciplined Army defense, but with the size advantage Michigan will be coming in with - plus the 181 yards on 30 attempts Army gave up on the ground against Rice a week ago - the Wolverines should stay focused on establishing solid rushing gains, keeping the ball moving, and giving their defense a rest.
What Will Happen
This one could give us another scare, folks. Army is the kind of team that you simply can’t make mistakes against… and Michigan made one too many mistakes a week ago before pulling away for the victory.
But in the end, Michigan’s advantage lies in their ability to stop the run, and with Michael Dwumfour and Donovan Jeter returning to the gridiron this weekend to clog the middle - Michigan will keep Army in check long enough for their offense to find their footing and get points on the board.
It’ll be a low-scoring game, and one in which could stay at a score like 6-3 for a long time throughout the first half. But the funny thing about playing Army is that while they make their living draining the clock - one quick score or two by the opposition flips that strategy to put all the pressure on the Black Knights to score quickly… so look for a methodical ground game to open up for a deep ball or two, that should put this one away by halftime.
There’s still time to get your group to Ann Arbor this season!
Whether you’re looking for a last minute rental for the Army game this weekend, or anything from the upcoming B1G slate… we’ve got you covered. Search from more than 100 weekend home rentals in Ann Arbor right now…