ANN ARBOR, Mich. — It was some tough sledding for Colorado State coach Jay Norvell in his first game leading the Rams.
The former Nevada head coach may have signed up for the job in Fort Collins, but it wasn’t going to be an easy battle to start out with, as CSU traveled to Ann Arbor to take on a 2021 College Football Playoff semifinalist in the Michigan Wolverines.
While Norvell was encouraged by what he saw from his team, obviously, a 51-7 drubbing is never an easy pill to swallow.
“Good football team,” Norvell said of Michigan. “I thought we did some good things, the game was pretty much penalty-free on our side of the ball. And I was proud that Clay (Millen) took care of the ball offensively. And the most part, he had one bad read in the game, where he didn’t really see the roll of the coverage. But for a guy playing in his first game, I thought he did a lot of good things, threw for 16-of-20. And saw open receivers, delivered the ball pretty well.
“We got some pressure, got overpowered at times. I thought late in the game, their offensive line started leaning on us, and we got overpowered a couple of times in our line. But overall, not discouraged about our guys at all.
“You know, this is a good football team. They’re pretty different than everybody else on our schedule. And so I’m proud of our players, I think we’re doing a lot of good things, and a lot of things right. And if we continue to do those things, we’re going to see improvement as we go through the year.”
One of the things that really stood out was how much pressure the Wolverines were able to get without Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo in the lineup. With the duo heading to the NFL this offseason, expectations were that the maize and blue would struggle to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks. However, Michigan managed seven sacks and 11 tackles for loss in the Week 1 contest.
The Wolverines certainly presented challenges for the Rams up front, and Norvell was impressed with the amount of pressure the new-look defensive line was able to generate.
“We didn’t execute on third down when we had to, to keep the chains moving,” Norvell said. “And that’s what good defenses do — they did that all last year. They’re very talented, they have good players up front.
“We were concerned, we had a bunch of new guys playing up front — the offensive line never played together. And they made some plays on us, they sacked us a couple of times, we got behind in the score as well. So it is what it is.”
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Beyond the personnel, Michigan lost defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald to the Baltimore Ravens, but brought in former Ravens defensive backs coach Jesse Minter to continue the scheme. Norvell didn’t expect much of a change, and as far as he saw it, aside from the players being different, it looked pretty much as he anticipated.
“We prepared for the same scheme as (they had) last year,” Norvell said. “I didn’t feel like they were going to change much. And they really didn’t — and why would you? They gave up 17 points a game last year, they played very well defensively. So that’s what we prepared for.
“We figured that with the success that they had a year ago that they would continue with that (and) they pretty much did. And they played well. They’re a good coaching staff. I’ve known Jim a long time. They have good players and they got the makeup of a good football team again this year. But we didn’t anticipate being much different than a year ago.”
On the other side of the ball, Norvell knew that Cade McNamara would start at quarterback, but he also knew he had to prepare for JJ McCarthy.
He feels that both are as advertised, but he particularly noted how dynamic of a player the former five-star in McCarthy is.
“I think they are what people say they are. I’ve known McNamara a long time. He’s from Reno,” Norvell said. “No. 9 is athletic. I mean, he goes in here and runs his zone-read and keeps the drive alive. He’s different. So, I’ll let Jimmy worry about that!”
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