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MnB staff roundtable: Army

The Maize n Brew staff breaks down the storylines for the second game.

Dustin Johnston / Maize n Brew

The lights came on in Michigan Stadium, and *most* of the lights came on offensively, for a solid start indeed. MTSU was not a typical first game cupcake, and they were not intimidated by the stage. There were passing touchdowns! There were turnovers! Dylan McCaffrey caught a pass for some reason! And an almost-perfect two-minute drill that will be mentioned later.

Off and running for 2019, and Michigan should feel good about how they performed. Harbaugh himself heaped praise on them, which was a little out of character. Yet a single game does not a season make. The Army Black Knights are coming into Ann Arbor, and they, like MTSU, won’t be scared of mighty Michigan. A forward pass may even be thrown...

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Hey, Michigan finally played a game on Saturday! Ahead of week two, did we learn anything? Harbaugh correct in heaping praise on his offense? What didn’t you like? Anybody going to beat me to reading Bacon’s book? Free-flowing conversation, take it away…

Kevin B: Want to know why I already think this year will be different? That two-minute drill before halftime was within one overthrow of being a work of art. The coaches knew they had two timeouts in their back pocket, and had the sense to spike the ball to save one. Shea was clearly aware of their field position, and the location of the first down markers. We didn’t see that a lot last year. If the protection held for another few seconds, there’s a touchdown. I can’t think of a better illustration of the offense truly changing, and the offense didn’t huddle. It was inspiring.

Last season the clock would have run out before they reached midfield. Remember that sequence, that is going to help Michigan in a tight game farther down the schedule.

Dan P: The offensive playbook is no longer in Jim Harbaugh’s hands, and Josh Gattis’ new system looks like it has a ton of potential. They were sloppy for sure, but you can see the base of this offense forming. It certainly helps that the Wolverines have so many playmakers on the offensive side of the ball, and they will only get deeper once DPJ returns from injury.

Against Army this week, they will not be able to make those same mistakes because the Black Knights WILL take advantage of turnovers. Michigan will have to play much sharper to pull away from a vastly inferior opponent. If they fumble snaps, botch handoffs, and waste drives with silly plays, they will find themselves competing against Army.

Defensively, I love what we saw from Ambry Thomas and Vincent Gray last week, but they likely won’t have much on their plate against the run-heavy Army offense outside of containing the outside if a running back breaks free. What it will boil down to is defensive line play, especially the edge players. Mike Danna and Aidan Hutchinson each had a good week, but they will really be tested on the outside and must track the football with the triple-option set that Army runs.

Based on pure talent, this should be a team that Michigan runs away from, and I think that can be said against most of the teams that play Army. However, schematically, the Black Knights are tough to beat because they are extremely disciplined and burn through the clock when they have the football. Both the offense and the defense have to be better for this to be an easy win for Michigan.

Dan Allweiss: I agree with basically everything you lined up, Dan. I love the new look and playbook. Gattis still ran a bunch of two TE sets but frankly those can work when you have Tarik Black as the final playmaker instead of a full back.

There was a ton of rust last week, and the coaches very evidently viewed the game as a tune up to experiment and try different things. Some worked, such as isolating our big athletic receivers on defensive backs. Others didn’t, like the two quarterback nonsense.

Defensively, if guys tackle and play gaps as sloppy as last week, Army is going to have a field day. Defending the triple option requires more discipline than almost any other system in the country, and Michigan’s defense did not show a ton last week.

I want two things this week, and they go hand in hand. First, need Shea to break the 300 yard mark. Secondly, for the love of God leave Dylan McCafrey on the bench until the game is out of hand. The offense looked their best last week when Shea got to throw the ball a million times in the first half. Let him get into a rhythm and avoid a completely unnecessary quarterback controversy in the media.

Jay Sarkar: The band took the field, the players touched the banner, Shea Patterson fumbled on the opening offensive snap of the season. Michigan Football is back baby! The opener against MTSU was far from perfect, matter of fact, the 40-21 victory was a little sloppier than I hoped to see considering Michigan only gets two games to get itself ready before a huge game at Wisconsin on September 21. That being said, there was a lot of promise on both sides of the ball. Jim Harbaugh has clearly handed off the ball to Josh Gattis, so much so that a few fans clamored for Michigan to go for a fullback dive inside the red zone in a short yardage situation, and not one was to be found.

Army is a game that was a completely avoidable situation, but here the Wolverines are. Don Brown claims he spent precious time this offseason prepping for the Knights triple option attack, one he will not see from the likes of Penn State, Ohio State or Michigan State. That being said, Michigan can make a statement Saturday with a sizable win over Jeff Monken’s team, one that won 11 games last season.

A handful of things I want to see: Either a healthy Shea Patterson getting to use more of the playbook, or, if Patterson is not 100% after the injury he allegedly suffered, hand the reins to Dylan McCaffery and save Patterson from making his injury worse. The one thing I hope to never see again is Patterson completing a pass to McCaffery.

Defensively, can Josh Uche, Josh Ross and Jordan Glasgow continue their hot starts? They were the three players that stood out to me against Middle Tennessee State. As Ross tries to stake his claim as heir apparent to all-world LB Devin Bush, he can test his sideline-to-sideline speed and range against Army. Defensive tackle is still a massive question mark until Michael Dwumfour and Donovan Jeter get some meaningful playing time. The Ben Mason experiment last week was uh, experimental, but the Wolverines need guys with some more size in the middle, and can rotate Dwumfour and Jeter potentially with freshman Chris Hinton and Mazi Smith depending on how the game shapes up.

A convincing win could help Michigan fly high into the bye week. Can the Wolverines get it? They could, as to if they will, I am not so sure.

Kevin B: The two Dans and Jay appear to be on Team #SpeedinSpace, and a week ago I myself wasn’t sure what we’d see. Helmet sticker to Tru Wilson for one of the better pass blocks I’ve seen from a Michigan RB in awhile, on Michigan’s first touchdown to Nico Collins. Even Charbonnet and Turner were apparently flawless in their blocking, which is itself a huge shift in offensive scheme. Another thing that will pay dividends later in the year.

Michigan likely didn’t foresee Army as a formidable opponent at the time when adding them to the schedule, so now they’ve got to go out and face an up-and-coming program. I’ve always thought scheduling one of the service academies for a non conference game was generally pretty safe, but no one in college football is safe week to week anymore. Tennessee thought Georgia State was safe.

Remember, though, that Michigan still has better athletes than most of the teams that line up on the other side, and this game is no different. As these other guys say, though, let us never see that dumb two-quarterback set for the rest of the season. It’s a waste of both guys’ talent, and it immediately tips off the defense on who is getting the ball. It’s not clever enough to deceive, because there’s really no other formation to use McCaffrey in because of his size.

Jay W: The further we get from last Saturday the better I feel about Michigan’s performance. Yes, it was an overall sloppy game, but it’s pretty easy to identify about four plays that would have made the game cosmetically a lot less frustrating (the opening Patterson fumble, the Hill fumble, the Bell dropped pass, the missed pick six), even though all of the reasons it was frustrating would still be there. It would have been nice to run up the score a little more, it would have been nice if they had prevented the garbage time TD, but we got to see a glimpse of what Gattis’ offense is going to do with this set of playmakers and most of us liked what we saw.

I keep coming back to something Anthony said in his takeaways: previous Harbaugh Michigan teams probably would have won by more, because they would have just run the ball a ton. As we saw when McCaffrey or Charbonnet had the ball, running more probably would have worked. But instead of doing what would score the most points, they took their comfortable lead and practiced. They tried versions everything they had, they tried their new playc-alling system, and figured out where the kinks were. Was that frustrating in the stands at times? Yes. Is it likely going to be worth it later in the season? Definitely.

I think it might be another frustrating week at the Big House, even if they tighten up some of the loose areas. Fans are going to be looking for a blowout, and even if Michigan plays an overall better game, Army’s posession-heavy play might cause Michigan to just run out of time to run up the score. We might be looking at a situation where Army never looks like it has a real shot to win, but technically they’re never out of the game. We’re not going to really learn how good this team is until two weeks later in Madison, and as of now I am cautiously optimistic.

Andrew Vailliencourt: Jay’s note on how Michigan still threw the pass later in the game despite its lead is exactly the kind of thing I wanted to see from the Wolverines in week one and I hope we continue to see that type of play calling in week two. I wanted to see the offense develop instead of just running the ball the entire second half and I feel like we got that. This will be a much tougher test for Michigan, but I think we’ll see the offense continue to improve. There are going to be mistakes, but I’d rather those mistakes come now than against Big Ten opponents.

Follow all of MnB’s social channels throughout the weekend, and stay tuned for a deep dive on John U. Bacon’s book...once your author finishes the thing.

I learned two things about Army’s football traditions: they have *two* mule mascots, named Ranger III and Stryker; Army also invented the 12th Man thing that Texas A&M claims as their own. Rah rah rah boom, folks.