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Michigan football: How dangerous is the Army game?

Black Knights survive scare from Rice in Week 1

Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson (2) runs past Middle Tennessee linebacker Chris Melton (32) in the first half of an NCAA college football game in Ann Arbor, Mich., Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – It's hard to know what to expect from teams early in the college football season.

Throughout the offseason, the Army game was billed as a dangerous early test for Michigan, and it's easy to see why.

Not only does Army come with an inherent unpredictability because of the triple option offense, it's also coming off an impressive 11-win season that included a road overtime loss against playoff-bound Oklahoma.

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In the final game of the 2018 season, Army crushed a solid Houston team, 70-14, in the Armed Forces Bowl.

There's no denying how good the Black Knights were last season, and that's why this game has been a trendy upset pick despite high expectations for Michigan.

But after Week 1, the noise surrounding the game had died down a bit.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh argues a call during the second half of the team's NCAA college football game against Middle Tennessee in Ann Arbor, Mich., Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Army struggled against one of the worst teams in college football, outlasting Rice 14-7 after entering the final five minutes in a tie game.

Rice went a combined 3-21 the last two seasons.

Army's vaunted rushing attack yielded just 4.1 yards per rush. The offense as a whole gained just 284 yards. Overall, it was a lackluster performance.

That doesn't mean Michigan can start turning its attention to Wisconsin, though.

Jim Harbaugh said Michigan has been preparing for the Army offense since spring camp, with defensive coordinator Don Brown taking extra preparation time during practice.

A loss to Army would be devastating for Michigan's season.

Quarterback Kelvin Hopkins Jr. was the leader of Army's offense a year ago, rushing and throwing for more than 1,000 yards apiece and scoring 23 total touchdowns.

Hopkins was again the leading rusher against Rice, gaining 80 yards on 21 carries. He also completed three passes, including a 17-yard touchdown.

Why is this game so dangerous for Michigan? Army's greatest strength lines up with what appears to be Michigan's weakness.

Army can wear down a defensive front with its relentless running game, whether it's Hopkins or new starting running back Sandon McCoy.

Michigan quarterback Dylan McCaffrey rushes for a touchdown during the third quarter of an NCAA football game against Middle Tennessee in Ann Arbor, Mich., Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019. Michigan won 40-21. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)

The Wolverines held Middle Tennessee State to 2.4 yards per rush in the opener, but there are still questions about the interior defensive line.

If Michigan gets defensive tackles Donovan Jeter and Michael Dwumfour back from injury, it would be a major boost. If not, the rest of the front seven will have to step up and take away the dangerous interior running option and force Hopkins outside.

Once Army gets out in the open field, Michigan has an advantage in terms of speed and athleticism.

Michigan and Army didn't appear to be at their best in Week 1, but this is a big game for both programs. Army has a chance to win its biggest game of the season. Michigan has a chance to keep its championship aspirations alive.

The Black Knights haven't lost in nearly a calendar year. Michigan's weakness will need to become a strength to break that streak.

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