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WEST POINT, N.Y. — There was so little intrigue and interest surrounding Army’s trip to Oklahoma last September that the game itself could be watched only via the relic of a bygone era of televised sports: the pay-per-view broadcast.
Those who ponied up — it cost $55 to watch the game online via the school’s official athletics site — caught one of the memorable games of the 2018 season. Those who didn’t spent the second half and overtime of the Sooners’ 28-21 win in a frenzy, scrambling across the corners of the internet to find usable online streams and feeds.
Meanwhile, the crowd inside Memorial Stadium spent the final two quarters and overtime in angst. These games are supposed to go a certain way: Oklahoma wins big and barely sweats against a non-Power Five opponent before turning to the games that matter, and beginning a push for the College Football Playoff.
Army quarterback Kelvin Hopkins Jr. tries to break a tackle against Oklahoma during their game in 2018. (Photo: Mark D. Smith, USA TODAY Sports)
Against Army, the packed stadium gave the Black Knights an ovation when they entered the field and then, as the run-based offense churned out 339 rushing yards and controlled the ball for nearly 45 minutes, sat in stunned near-silence. Overall, Army ran 87 plays to Oklahoma’s 40, the Sooners’ fewest offensive plays in a game since 1960.
“One of the coolest things ever,” said senior quarterback Kelvin Hopkins.
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No. 7 Michigan prepares for Saturday’s matchup with the Black Knights (noon ET, FOX) fully aware of what Army can achieve in an unfriendly road environment against a team poised to contend for the national championship — because all the Wolverines have to do is pop in the tape of last year’s trip to Oklahoma.
“Michigan will have a much, much easier time convincing them we’re good than I think Oklahoma did,” said Army defensive coordinator John Loose. “We have the ability to be a better team than anybody on our schedule on that day. I mean, you don’t want to play a best-of-seven against Michigan or Oklahoma.”
Like Oklahoma, the Wolverines own the on-paper advantage. Three Army coaches, including Monken, made the same point about the clear talent disparity: Every Michigan scholarship player would play for the Black Knights, but not vice versa. Basically, no Army player was offered by Michigan, though they might’ve be tendered a scholarship by Northern Michigan, Monken said.
“We don’t have anybody on our team that they offered. Anybody,” said the Black Knights’ sixth-year coach. “Nor will we have in the future. We don’t have the same kind of guys. On paper, we’re not supposed to win.”
Yet from the Black Knights’ perspective, the Wolverines present another opportunity. Last year’s loss in Norman still stings: Army “100 percent” should’ve won that game, said senior defensive back Elijah Riley. With the game tied at 21-21 in the fourth quarter, the Black Knights embarked on a 17-play, 65-yard drive that took more than 10 minutes off the clock before an Oklahoma interception forced overtime.
Amid the program’s recent gains — 30 wins, three successive bowl trips and three wins in a row against Navy since the start of the 2016 season — a high-profile victory against a ranked Power Five opponent is one item still unchecked on Army’s to-do list.
“I think at this point in the history of our program, where we are as a program right now, what’s the next step that you take? It’s trying to beat one of them,” said Monken. “Let’s win the one that we’re really not supposed to win. You’ve got to set your sights on something to improve and get better.”
Even in defeat, the Oklahoma proved to Army that making a national statement against a college football blue blood was possible: “That gave our team a level of confidence that maybe we’d never had,” Monken said.
The Black Knights “expect to win now,” Hopkins said, and “have the ability to play with whoever we’re across from.”
“I can’t say we’ve always been that way, even during my time. I feel like the attitude for this team, especially because of that game, it really doesn’t matter who’s on the other side of that field. We give ourselves a chance to not only play with them but to win the game.”
Unlike in the trip to Norman, however, Army won’t fly under the radar and won’t be overlooked. Michigan’s defense has been prepping for Army’s offensive scheme during nearly every practice dating back to the spring, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. The Wolverines can look at Army’s record since the start of the 2016 season and point to last year’s finish in the Amway Coaches Poll, the program’s first ranked finish since 1958. It’s an easy sell for Harbaugh and Michigan’s coaching staff: Army can beat anyone in any environment, with an overtime loss to the Sooners as evidence.
“This is something that’s been on our mind for a long time,” said Harbaugh.