When Michigan and Army clash in Ann Arbor on Saturday afternoon, the second-longest active winning streak in college football will be on the line. And, no, it doesn’t belong to the seventh-ranked Wolverines (1-0).
The Black Knights (1-0) have won 10 straight games dating back to last season — a streak second only to Clemson, which hasn’t lost since the 2017-18 national semifinals. Army’s most recent defeat came in overtime against Kyler Murray and then-No. 5 Oklahoma, which was eventually selected for the College Football Playoff.
Nearly a year removed from that heartbreaker, the Black Knights are ready for a matchup with Michigan on the national stage. They’ve outscored opponents by an average of nearly 20 points per game during their streak, highlighted by a 70-14 win over Houston in last season’s Armed Forces Bowl.
So, how can the Wolverines put an end to Army’s streak?
Defense must deliver first down stops
During their 10-game winning streak, the Black Knights’ triple-option offense has been tough to stop in the ground game. Two players surpassed the 950 rushing yards milestone in 2018, helping Army’s team total climb to over 300 yards per game. By keeping the ball on the ground, the Black Knights use long, disciplined drives to march down the field — sidelining opposing offenses while tiring out opposing defenses.
If Michigan gives away chunks of yardage on first down, it leaves itself susceptible to allowing a big play on second or third down. But if the Wolverines can record a tackle for loss on first down, they can afford to get aggressive on the next play with the hopes of creating third-and-long situations. Army quarterback Kelvin Hopkins Jr. threw for just 86 yards per game last season, so making him use his arm could be the key to forcing three-and-outs.
When Hopkins did throw, though, he averaged more than 20 yards per completion. As a senior, he’s one of the most experienced players in that locker room, so expect him to know when it’s time to take a shot downfield.
On Thursday, Shaun Nua revealed that defensive tackles Donovan Jeter and Michael Dwumfour are both “ready to go” this week. With their returns from injury, Michigan should be able to generate more pressure from the interior of its defensive line, while defensive ends Aidan Hutchinson, Kwity Paye and Mike Danna figure to hold the physical advantage coming off the edge.
If anything, this is a game in which the Wolverines’ offensive pace could work against them. Michigan’s three first-half scoring drives all took less than 90 seconds in last week’s win over Middle Tennessee State, and such a tempo may not bode well for defensive fatigue if the Black Knights spend six, seven or even eight minutes marching down the field. The best way to stop such a scenario is by making a statement on first down, thus baiting Army into throwing the ball.
Offense cannot shy away from using sheer athleticism to move the ball
From an athletic standpoint, quarterback Shea Patterson and the Wolverines’ offense should have no problem racking up yardage at will. Even if wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones is held out again, Michigan still boasts a sizable physical edge.
Last week, the Wolverines showed a glimpse of the deep threats in its arsenal under first-year offensive coordinator Josh Gattis. Patterson threw a trio of touchdown passes to three different receivers — Nico Collins, Tarik Black and Sean McKeon — from more than 25 yards out. On Saturday afternoon, there’s no reason to shy away from airing it out to McKeon (6-foot-5), Collins (6-foot-4) or Black (6-foot-3) once again.
With the intangibles on Michigan’s side, Gattis should feel comfortable showcasing a willingness to sling it around the field on national television.
This one won’t be a walkover. Army is going to give the Wolverines headaches if they can’t shut down the triple option, and Michigan will have to put forth a better offensive showing than it did in last week’s second half.
Final score: Michigan: 34, Army: 20