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Behind Enemy Lines Q&A with Against All Enemies

Triple-option attack, a long winning streak, a stout defense, Army appears to be a formidable foe

Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl - Houston v Army Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The Michigan Wolverines are taking on the Army Black Knights on Satruday. The match-up against Army could be a tough one, with the Black Knights having a good defense and triple-option attack on offense that’s hard to stop.

We had to get some inside intel on Army, and we turned to Joe Kramer from Against All Enemies to answer a handful of questions you may want answers to.

Q: Army defeated Rice 14-7 in Week 1. What went into the victory? Army didn’t give up many points, but didn’t score many either.

A: I think Army’s win against Rice ultimately came down to three things: defense, patience, and luck. Army’s defense really showed up to play, getting decent pressure on Rice’s QB, minimizing Rice’s success on the ground, and breaking up passes at critical points in the game. Despite setbacks early in the game and not establishing themselves on the run they way they customarily do, Army stuck with their system and it ultimately paid off as they wore Rice down late in the 4th quarter with a long touchdown drive. Army also benefited from a decent amount of luck with Rice’s kicker missing two field goals. Even one of those could have theoretically altered the momentum of the game had they gone through.

Q: Who is Army’s best player on offense, and on defense?

A: On offense, Army’s best player is Kelvin Hopkins, hands down. Army quarterbacks are typically good runners and have good decision-making skills when it comes to either pitching the ball or keeping it. However, no QB in recent history for Army has been able to open up an effective passing element to the offense the way Hopkins has. Last season, Hopkins became the first Army QB to run and pass for over 1,000 yds each. Army’s still going to run a vast majority of the time, but now opposing teams need to start respecting the fact that Army can pass effectively. On defense, there’s a bit more debate. Army has some playmakers in their secondary, but in terms of greatest impact, I’d have to go with Cole Christiansen. Christiansen is a second-year captain and last season was second on the team in tackles behind only defensive superstar, James Nachtigal.

Q: Army has the second longest winning streak behind Clemson, what has led to the team having that amount of success?

A: I think a large part of Army’s success has been the culture instilled by head coach Jeff Monken. Prior to his arrival, there was a lot of complacency and settling for “moral victories.” That all changed with Monken. In conjunction with former superintendent, Lt. Gen. (R) Bob Caslen, Jeff Monken built a culture of discipline and winning. Army plays a very simple and disciplined game – control the clock and don’t turn the ball over. I don’t know if it was intentional, but Army’s system mirrors what makes the most elite military units successful. It all starts with discipline, which is the hallmark of any military branch or organization. What really sets elite special operations units (and Army) apart, though, is execution of the fundamentals. Army rarely turns the ball over, rarely takes penalties, and each player takes care of their responsibilities. It’s simple, yet effective.

Q: All the talk about Army pertains to their triple-option offense. Is it really that much of a threat to a team that isn’t used to it? Michigan’s defensive coordinator Don Brown has been preparing for it all off-season.

A: I’d be curious to see what “preparing for it all off-season” looks like for Don Brown. Oklahoma claimed to have prepared extensively for the triple option last year and Army still pushed them to overtime. Rice also said to have prepared all off-season for Army’s triple option, and they darn near stopped it. It’s a vastly different style than what Michigan is used to seeing out of Big Ten opponents and it’s definitely a threat if Michigan overlooks it. Defending the triple option requires just as much discipline as running it does. Everyone has their assignments, and just one missed block or tackle could mean a big gain for Army.

Q: What’s Army’s biggest strength, and biggest weakness?

A: I would say Army’s biggest strength (and conversely also biggest weakness), is their simplicity. Army’s system relies heavily on maximizing time of possession with long, clock-eating drives as well as minimizing turnovers and penalties (going back to #3 above). It’s a simple system, and it’s not like it’s a secret to anyone. When Army is executing their system well, it’s almost impossible to stop them, just watch last year’s game against Oklahoma. Each scoring drive was a methodical march down the field, showcasing the effectiveness of Army’s triple option. However, you also see what happens when the system breaks down. Kelvin Hopkins threw two interceptions – one at the end of regulation and one in overtime – and those are what ultimately spelled defeat for Army. That’s the weakness of such a simple system – it all comes down to execution, and if you don’t execute well then there’s a good chance the other team is going to capitalize on it.

Q: If Army was to give Michigan a battle, what would they have to do to succeed?

A: I hate to sound like a broken record, but it’s the truth – if Army wants to give Michigan a run for their money, they have to out-execute Michigan. Draining the clock with long offensive possessions and getting points on those drives will be critical. Army can’t have a punting duel with Michigan the way they did against Rice. The defense will need to step up and make a few stops, or force at least one turnover. Army cannot afford to turn the ball over either. I think Week 1’s game against Rice was a gut check for Army and exposed some areas that need to be addressed before heading into Ann Arbor, but it’s all fixable. Michigan is a great team, but I think Army needs to tune out the noise – about how good Michigan is, about their own hype – and focus on the fundamentals that make them successful. Army needs to execute perfectly, which may be a tall order in Week 2, but if they can do that, I think we’ll be in for an exciting game to say the least.