The Black Knights dropped a tough game to Michigan in the Big House yesterday. The result was disappointing, and there were plenty of mistakes to criticize, but neither the team nor their fans have anything to be upset about. Not because of some moral victory for playing the #7 team in the country tough, and certainly not because they had chances to win and didn’t, but rather, because they manifestly left it all on the field.
Sometimes we lose. The ball hooks the other guy’s way, and we’re left trying to find meaning in defeat. Army fans know it well. But sometimes with past iterations of this team, the stage and the moment have collectively felt too big. The team wanted to just put up a decent effort.
This time, these guys came to fight. They gave everything for four quarters and then some.
We can bemoan the interception and the strip sack, but these are still just kids. Not even lieutenants yet. They’ve won a lot of thrillers in the waning moments these last few years, and today they lost one in those same waning moments. It was bound to happen eventually, and in any event, they left themselves with a lot of room to improve. But they gave absolutely everything they had, and what more can we ask? Seriously.
I had a party. Invited some classmates and a few friends over, including the biggest Michigan fan I know. He’s my kids’ youth ministry leader, so I couldn’t rag the guy too much, but he was apoplectic the whole game, and that didn’t suck. Michigan’s fan base collectively suffered a bad freakout all week in the lead up to the game, and my friend was right there with them. He thought the Wolverines were going to lose; he told me so himself multiple times.
I don’t understand all these Michigan fans who are today saying, “Why did we schedule Army?” I mean, Oklahoma fans weren’t exactly excited after last year’s scare in Norman, but they also weren’t running from the rematch, either.
That’s why Oklahoma goes to the CFB Playoff every year.
I’m so damn proud of these boys. Gosh we wanted that win. We will bounce back. On to UTSA
? Danny Wild pic.twitter.com/OT6Wqc5yka
— Cons (@CaptainCons) September 7, 2019
Oklahoma casts aspersions on Michigan. pic.twitter.com/kniTvWM73Z
— RedditCFB (@RedditCFB) September 7, 2019
With that said, I have to admit that I felt a little better about the loss before I looked at the final stat-lines. In the moment, I thought Army’s offense looked good, their defense played great, and that they just caught a tough break trying to make a couple of plays. That’s true up to a point, especially on defense, but once we start looking at the numbers, we can see that these guys still have a really long way to go to play a complete game.
The Black Knights rushed for all of 200 yards in this game, and they threw for another 43. They won time-of-possession by a measly three minutes, ten seconds. The fact that they were in this game at all owes to the effort by their defense and to the many, many miscues by the Wolverines. QB Shea Patterson went 19/29 passing (65.5%) for 207 yards. That’s not terrible, but he fumbled twice, once badly and once off a cornerback blitz executed perfectly by CB Elijah Riley. After that, the game got in his head, and I wondered if Coach Jim Harbaugh was maybe going to pull him in the second half.
With rare exceptions, Patterson and his offense played scared the rest of the game.
It didn’t necessarily seem like it at times, but the Wolverines’ vaunted defense also came to play. The Black Knights put together a couple of decent drives, but these are not world-beating numbers:
— QB Kelvin Hopkins carried 18 times for 41 yards (2.3 yards/carry) and 2 touchdowns.
— FB Conor Slomka had a day, but he still wound up with just 92 yards on 29 carries (3.2 yards/carry).
— SB Kell Walker had 5 carries for 39 yards (7.8 yards/carry). He also had one fumble off a busted pitch.
— FB Sandon McCoy and SB Artice Hobbs collectively carried 9 times for 28 yards (3.1 yards/carry). McCoy also had a touchdown, and Hobbs had both Army receptions.
— Hopkins went 2/5 passing for 43 yards and an interception.
That’s it! That was the sum total of Army’s offense.
The Black Knights opened trying to run outside or off-tackle, got stuffed, forced a punt on defense, and then went back to the Fullback Dive, which had decent success behind Slomka. They forced a good number of mistakes by the Michigan offense, especially QB Shea Patterson, but they also made mistakes themselves, and they threw a ghastly pick at the end of an otherwise beautiful drive on the Michigan 5 yard line. That play probably decided the game, but it came because Michigan adapted to Army’s midline-based offense. Army couldn’t sustain their ground attack with enough consistency late, and that caused OC Brent Davis to take the chances that cost this team victory. If Army picks up more than 3.3 yards/carry in the second half, none of the ensuing craziness even gets attempted.
Though they were frustrated at the end of the first half, in truth, the Wolverines did a very good job adapting to the triple-option. When was the last time a team improved against Army’s offense at the end of a game? They got the Dive stopped late, got after the Quarterback Keepers, and then — mostly — strung out the pitch. This felt like a winnable game, but despite all of their chances and everything else, Army’s players knew they needed to play “perfect” to win, and folks, that was nowhere near “perfect”.
I don’t know what else to tell you.
— Army Football (@ArmyWP_Football) September 8, 2019
As I said, the good news is that Army’s defense played lights-out. They look as good now as they’ve ever looked. They held a legitimately explosive offense to 340 total yards, 2.4 yards/carry on the ground, 9/16 on 3rd down, and just 1/3 on 4th down. But their offense went 5/16 on 3rd down themselves, and even with their perfect 3/3 conversion rate on 4th down, that wasn’t quite enough to dominate time-of-possession like they needed.
Really, you have to give credit to Michigan’s offensive game plan for pounding the rock, even when it wasn’t working. Their fans were upset by their commitment to the running game, but without that, they lose time-of-possession by ten minutes. Army wins that game in a blowout.
Michigan RB Zach Charbonnet is legit. Army just kept him in check.
What a STOP by Army ?
Michigan gets stuffed on 4th & 2 in the red zone. ? pic.twitter.com/xu7gxN2ihO
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) September 7, 2019
We fought until the very end.
— Army Football (@ArmyWP_Football) September 7, 2019
The Black Knights should have something to build on from this loss. I hope they do. Certainly, they still have a lot to correct. First and foremost, they have yet to rush for anything like 300 yards, and for as much as we like taking Top 10 teams to double-overtime, it’s those 300+ yard rushing performances that get wins. 250 yards of offense isn’t gonna cut it, and it definitely won’t work two weeks in a row.
Army travels to the University of Texas-San Antonio. The Roadrunners got blown out by Baylor yesterday, 63-14. There would seem to be an opportunity here.
QB Kelvin Hopkins and company need to use this game to get right. It sucks to lose, but as Coach Jeff Monken always asks, his team played with excellent effort. That’s not nothing. Meanwhile, this team still has a lot more big games coming up against a lot more good teams.
Tulane, Georgia State, Air Force, Hawaii, and Navy… None of them care about moral victories against Top 10 teams. They want wins, and if Army can’t get its offense going, they’re going to get them.