Army brings a 10-game winning streak into the Big House on Saturday looking to upset the No. 7 Wolverines
Both the Army West Point Black Knights (1-0) and Michigan Wolverines (1-0) secured victories in the opening weekend of college football, but neither team was all that impressive considering the high expectations for each coming into the 2019 campaign.
A 33.5-point favorite entering last Saturday's contest against Middle Tennessee, the Wolverines were sloppy in all phases of the game. Quarterback Shea Patterson fumbled on the opening drive, leading to a Blue Raider touchdown moments later. The defense committed a number of pre-snap penalties and allowed first-year starting quarterback Asher O'Hara to complete nearly 70 percent of his passes. And returner Lavert Hill muffed a punt that wound up leading to another Middle Tennessee score in the second half. It was a comfortable win in the end for the Wolverines, but they left much to be desired.
For Army, the Black Knights were another big favorite entering last Thursday's matchup with Rice but narrowly escaped an upset with a 14-7 victory over the Owls. With the win, the Black Knights enter Saturday's matchup in Ann Arbor with the second-longest active win streak in the country (10), behind only defending national champion Clemson.
Army at Michigan
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 7 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Michigan -22.5
When Michigan Has the Ball
There was no chance that the coaches were going to open up the entire playbook against Middle Tennessee, but we saw snapshots of the differences between Michigan's offenses of old and the new-look spread system the Wolverines are implementing under offensive coordinator Josh Gattis. There were no huddles, and the Michigan quarterbacks took play calls from the sidelines. The Wolverines employed RPOs to best utilize Shea Patterson's skill set as a dual-threat quarterback. And the passing game was far more diverse than we've seen in year's past as Michigan exploited all areas of the football field with their plethora of pass-catching options.
One area we could see the Wolverines exploit is the Army-run defense after the Black Knights gave up 181 yards on the ground last week to a Rice team that finished in the bottom third of the country in that department in 2018. Michigan's star freshman running back Zach Charbonnet looked explosive against Middle Tennessee with 90 yards on just eight carries. Expect that number to increase as the weeks go by.
When Army Has the Ball
Slow, methodical, time-consuming. Army has finished within the top five in the country in time of possession each of the last three seasons, including No. 1 overall a season ago at more than 38 minutes a game. Sustaining drives against an attacking Wolverines defense will be crucial in the Black Knights' attempt to pull the upset as evidenced a season ago when they nearly stunned Oklahoma on the road. Army dominated the time of possession against the Sooners, holding onto the ball for nearly 45 minutes and limiting what ended up being the nation's most productive offense (No. 1 in both scoring, total offense) to its lowest output (28 points, 355 yards) of the entire season. That will undoubtedly be the goal again on Saturday.
Expect both teams to be much sharper on Saturday than they were this past weekend against lower competition. Army proved last season that they can compete with the big boys of the Power 5 conferences, though it's tough to envision the Black Knights possessing the ball for three-fourths of the contest against this Wolverines defense like they did against Oklahoma last year. This will be a one-score affair in the first half before Michigan puts the clamps on the triple option and comes out with a double-digit victory.
Prediction: Michigan 30, Army 17
— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University. Follow him on Twitter @MBainbridgeCFF.