For the second time in as many seasons, Army West Point nearly pulled off the impossible. Last season, the Black Knights forced then-No. 5 Oklahoma to overtime before losing 28-21. This time around, Jeff Monken's surging Army squad came up just short against No. 7 Michigan in a similar situation.
In a game of fumbles, it was a strip sack that gave the Wolverines a 24-21 double-overtime victory in the Big House. You could not have picked a more appropriate play to be the deciding moment for Week 2's early nomination for most thrilling game.
The oh-so-close game for Army nearly snapped a losing streak to top-10 teams dating back more than 50 years. The last time Army won a road game against an AP top-10 opponent was 1963 when they topped No. 9 Penn State. Coincidentally enough, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh was born in 1963.
This was a tight, albeit sloppy, game from the start. Army went up 7-0 following a first-quarter fumble by the Wolverines, but Michigan responded on its ensuing drive to tie the game. Then ball security went out the window with both teams losing fumbles in three of the next four possessions. Army finally got on track in signature fashion, scoring a go-ahead touchdown on an 11-play, 40-yard drive to take a 14-7 lead in the half.
The pivotal moment in the game came in the third quarter when Army had an opportunity to go up 21-7; however, a false start penalty moved the Black Knights to a third-and-goal at the 5-yard line -- detrimental to a triple-option offense -- and Kelvin Hopkins Jr's pass was intercepted by Lavert Hill. Michigan would flip the field, and the momentum, by scoring on its next possession and tying the game at 14. That's a two-touchdown swing in a matter of a few minutes. If you can boil the Wolverines' comeback down to one moment, it would be that one.
Still, this was a concerning game for Michigan. Harbaugh's team played one of the sloppiest games it could have against the Black Knights, fumbling the ball four times and losing three of them. The Wolverines also had nine penalties for 58 yards -- among them an offsides call in overtime that gave Army a new set of downs. Connor Slomka ran in for the go-ahead touchdown two plays later. Those are the types of mistakes that make an upset possible.
Additionally, the Wolverines were terrible offensively, averaging 2.4 per rush and twice failing to convert key fourth downs. The first failed attempt -- a fourth-and-2 at the Army 19-yard line -- could have instead been a field goal attempt that would have given them a 17-14 lead. Give credit to Army's defense, which punched above its weight against an offensive line that was supposed to be excellent. Instead, the Wolverines were unable to reliably run block.
Ironically, Michigan consistently played its best in third-and-long situations -- probably because that's where it found itself most often. The Wolverines were 9-of-16 on third downs. Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson was shaky, to be sure. He missed some wide open throws, including two likely would-be touchdowns, that could have given his team a much larger lead. Patterson wasn't all bad -- Michigan's wide receivers dropped some passes as well -- but there were enough missed opportunities to frustrate fans even further.
In the end, though, Michigan's defense came through just enough to survive and advance. In the second half, it became apparent that the Wolverines' athleticism might be the difference. While this wasn't Michigan's finest showing on either side of the ball, it did get enough big-time plays when it needed them to fend off a feisty Army team that, frankly, should be ranked regardless of the outcome.