The no. 7 Michigan Wolverines face a tricky game this weekend as they welcome the Army Black Knights to town. Game time is set for noon EST on Saturday, September 7 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. The game will be nationally televised on Fox.
The Wolverines have opened the week as 22.5-point favorites at home with an over/under of 47 points. Click here to see a full list of this week’s college football betting odds.
The season opener was a bit of a mixed bag for Jim Harbaugh’s team. Michigan was a heavy favorite to beat Middle Tennessee but fell well short of the spread, only winning 40-21. That being said, the Wolverines led most of the game despite turning the ball over on the first play and falling behind 7-0 early in the first quarter.
The result of the game was never in doubt after halftime. However, it wasn’t the kind of dominant effort that Michigan would have wanted in their season opener. The Wolverines play six ranked teams in their final 10 games, starting with a road trip to Wisconsin in their next game. That means this week’s game is their last chance to get things rolling before seeing a huge step up in competition.
Meanwhile, Army had a somewhat disappointing performance in their opener despite getting the win over Rice. The Black Knights only won 14-7 against a Rice team that’s expected to be one of the worst in college football this season. It’s not the end of the world, but it was a little disappointing for a team that won 11 games last year. Of course, there’s also a chance that Army was starting to look ahead to their trip to Michigan this week.
The last time Michigan and Army met on the football field was 1962. For what it’s worth, the Wolverines have a four-game winning streak in the series. Army doesn’t have a win against Michigan since 1954. However, most of that will be irrelevant ahead of Saturday’s showdown.
I hate overreacting to one game, but it’s hard to trust Michigan to cover such a sizable spread after a rather mediocre performance in their season opener. Plus, Army is a difficult team to blowout, just look at their overtime loss against mighty Oklahoma early in the 2018 season. Honestly, I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Black Knights stay within striking distance into the fourth quarter, so I have no problem leaning toward Army to beat the spread.
To be fair to Michigan, they’re transitioning to a new offense from what they’ve run in the past. They were also facing a solid Middle Tennessee defense last week and were playing without top receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones, who the Wolverines say has a “chance” to play this week. In the end, scoring 40 points is nothing to scoff at, so I can’t criticize the Michigan offense too much.
But the Wolverines were good, not great, offensively last week. They lost two fumbles and didn’t really push the ball down the field with great success. I do think we can expect to see some improvement from the first game to the second game, especially if Peoples-Jones is able to play. However, I’m still a little reluctant to believe the Michigan offense will score enough points to cover a spread that’s over three touchdowns.
On a related note, the Army defense is solid. Again, I don’t want to overreact too much and make a big deal about holding lowly Rice to seven points. But the Black Knights have a talented secondary that completely shut down the Rice passing game. They’re also accustomed to facing teams that have a lot more size at the line of scrimmage, so it’s not a given that the Wolverines will just push them around up front and run the ball at will. I also think the Black Knights can avoid giving up the longball against Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson.
Of course, the most important factor in almost any game involving Army is the triple-option offense. Facing Army will force the Wolverines to change everything about how they prepare. The Wolverines had a full training camp learning their defense, and now one game into the season, they have to switch to defending a triple-option. It’s a scenario that’s far from ideal and could lead to lapses.
Obviously, I can’t ignore the fact that Army only scored 14 points last week against a bad Rice team. However, it’s not that unusual for triple-option teams to start the season slowly and get better as the season moves along. That was the case with the Army offense last season. Despite being held to 14 points last week, Army quarterback Kelvin Hopkins Jr. is experienced at running the triple-option, so I think the Army offense will show improvement from their first game to their second team.
Finally, the most important thing to remember about Army is that they almost always win the time of possession battle. Even when they scored just 14 points against Rice, the Black Knights held the ball for nearly 35 minutes. Given the learning curve on Michigan’s offense and the likelihood that they won’t have the ball that long, I don’t see the Wolverines scoring enough points to cover the spread. I don’t think Army will win, but I like them to beat the spread.