Michigan vs Army Preview

What to expect when Army invades the Big House tomorrow (besides helicopters)

Air Force flyover are more exciting, but I'll take a Chinook
Kickoff time: 12:00 EST
Michigan Stadium: Ann Arbor, Michigan
Michigan -22, O/U 47

In theory, an offense that gains 3 yards on every single play is unstoppable. In practice, no such team can physically exist but Army is as close as they come. I mean...

In 2018, Army was 31-36 on 4th downs, an 86%(!!!) success rate. They run through a brick wall three times to gain nine yards. James Franklin would punt in this scenario, but Army runs through the wall again because their physicality is designed to move three yards at a time. Army knows who they are - inexperienced football players but with Ben Mason toughness. Their four-year recruiting average is #113 in the country and yet they were able to go 10-2 last season with their triple-option offense.

As time approaches infinity, the better team in a sporting event's margin of victory should also approach infinity. Army's philosophy is to invoke the opposite - limit the game to as few possessions as possible. With smaller sample sizes, chaos is more prevalent to the less experienced team (with a sample size of 1, MTSU would've won last week 7-0, but a sample size of 31 favored Michigan 40-21). When the Black Knights took Oklahoma to overtime last year, they did so with 14 total possessions in regulation. By comparison, Michigan and MTSU had 17 possessions in the first half last week (granted one of those drives ended in a fumble on the first snap).

Scheduling a service academy team is silly. They're some of the few teams to run a triple-option but you have to prepare for it, regardless. Houston checked out of it in their bowl game and lost 70-14. Don Brown, however, is not Houston's defensive coordinator.

Please protect your knees (Patrick Barron / MGoBlog)
Army Offense vs Michigan Defense
OH BOY let's do this. Army's triple option run game vs Michigan's defensive tackles could be interesting. Don Brown has said that they've been preparing for this game since the spring, though. If any defense is going to be prepared for it, it's Don Brown's. The last time his defense played a triple option service academy was Air Force in 2017, where they held the Falcons to 13 points in a very uncomfortable matchup.

Army's offensive line likes to cut block a lot - a blocking scheme where you essentially aim for the knees. By knocking over the defensive line, it gives the triple option attack enough time to confuse the defense in order to grind out 3-4 yards. Typically a 3 yard gain isn't anything to sweat about, but as mentioned above, Army has a tenacity to go for it on 4th down - and succeed. Army also ranks dead last in tempo, resulting in drives that last forever.

Ben Mason struggled at defensive tackle last week with Dwumfour and Kemp having limited snaps, but latest reports indicate that Dwumfour is good to go. Still, Michigan's linebackers will need to have a big game to support the line. It should be worth noting that Army's lead fullback, Connor Slomka, is questionable.

Take away a 35 yard run and the Black Knights averaged about 3.5 yards per carry against a bad Rice team. It's hard to tell how much this means though because Army's offense is supposed to average 3.5 yards per carry.

Army tends to run 90% of the time but that 10% can often be a big set-up if the safety is coming up to support the run game. Army's QB was 3/8 for 53 yards against Rice, one of which was a touchdown. It's hard to see Army even completing a pass downfield in an obvious passing down situation, especially with a now healthy backfield of Hill, Thomas, and Gray. The key to a successful day on defense will be getting Army into these uncomfortable situations, but Army is so good at staying out of them.

Army Defense vs Michigan Offense
Army's defense is essentially seven angry defensive tackle Ben Masons - tough as nails but inexperienced and undersized. The other four are okayish defensive backs. The gameplan here for the Black Knights is to blitz a lot, especially since one of Michigan's receivers will be lining up against a 5'8" guy. They will want to put as much pressure as possible on Shea Patterson but the new Gattis offense should be fast enough to neutralize extended pressure.

Last week we saw the Michigan offense shake some dust off. There were plenty of mistakes and missed reads, some possibly in part due to a dinged up Shea Patterson. Michigan was able to put up 40 points in 15 possessions. Cut those possessions in half and you probably get more than 20 points, but if Army can grind out a couple drives then this becomes a game.

Army's starting corners and safeties are three seniors and a junior. They held Rice to 62 passing yards last week, but the same unit gave up over 11 yards per pass play to Oklahoma and Duke. Michigan's offensive weapon-set should do just fine, it's just a matter of how many opportunities they're allowed to have.
Air conditioner... Tank? Blow up the Army tank? Sounds like a plan (Patrick Barron / MGoBlog)
Best Case Scenario
If the Michigan defense can prevent long Army drives then the Michigan offense should put up some big numbers. On the other hand, if Michigan can go up a multiple score lead and give up a 9 minute second half scoring drive then maybe we can feel good about the game and also get home in time to watch most of the 3:30 games. Best case scenario, which is very realistic, is a very comfortable Michigan win. Everyone's knees remain in tact.

Worst Case Scenario
Army exposes Michigan's defensive tackles and puts together some 5+ minute scoring drives. If Michigan makes early season mental errors then this game could remain uncomfortably close. Worst case scenario, which is somewhat realistic, is a very close game with limited possessions that Army could win on a last second field goal. Several ACLs are destroyed by cut blocks.

The Part Where Patrick Gets the Score Completely Wrong
Michigan - 35
Army - 14

Past Highlights
Last game was in 1962, DNE

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