The house - big. The opponent - strong. The result - less than favorable. My confidence - unwaveringly strong.
|Courtesy of the Denver Post|
The Rams entered this game as heavy, heavy underdogs. An initial 27.5 point line grew to 30.5 before kickoff. This CSU team travelled to the Big House to face a Michigan team fresh off an appearance in the College Football Playoffs (losing to eventual champion Georgia) with the following credentials:
- New head coach,
- New coaching staff,
- New support staff,
- The youngest quarterback room in the nation,
- An offensive line that had never played together, AND
- 60+ new players on the roster, BUT
- No Steve Addazio!
Unlike Appalachian State from years ago, the Rams were unable to shock the world with a visiting victory. Michigan rolled to an easy victory and comfortably covered the giant spread. Despite the score and aesthetic of the game, my feelings about the state of the Ram program remained unchanged after the final whistle. This game was not penciled in as a loss. It was not even marked in pen. This game was added to the schedule as a loss in permanent marker. Michigan is a powerhouse team in a powerhouse conference and we are recovering from the dung pile left by Mike Bobo and exponentially grown by Steve Addazio. Even my preseason predictions said quite clearly that this was a loser from the beginning.
Understanding that the predicted struggles became reality, I'm not going to dwell on the negative. I am not going to moan and groan about the porous offensive line play or lack of downfield plays or our fourth down defense or the few big plays and instead want to focus on the positive things that popped up throughout the game.
Why I'm Still Optimistic
Clay Millen/Tory Horton
It is quite clear that Horton is Millen's favorite target. Horton led all players in receptions (6) and yards receiving (69). He had another incompletion that was thiiiiissssss close to being an amazing grab along the right sideline. The fact that Millen and Horton practiced together all of last year and into this year was quite apparent during the game. Horton's athleticism generated separation from the skillful Wolverine secondary and Millen's deep ball looked smooth and natural. This combination will be explosive as the quality of defensive opponents drops off throughout the year.
The Running Backs
The pressure from the Michigan front seven never really allowed the Fort Air Raid to unleash - there just was no time for receivers to get open and for Millen to find them. As a result, the Rams leaned on their running game far more than most were expecting. Fellow J.K. Mullen High School alum A'Jon Vivens got the start at tailback and looked explosive at times. Avery Morrow, Jaylen Thomas, and David Bailey all took handoffs and ran hard. The total rushing numbers - 82 yards on 39 carries - are skewed due to the loss of yardage on those seven sacks. The average without the sacks is right around 3.4 yards per carry, which is a decent number considering the speed, strength, and athleticism of the competition. Lesser defenses playing on their heels against the Fort Air Raid will give up lots of yards to this group if they collectively run like they did on Saturday.
The Defensive Effort
Before the game spiraled out of control, the Rams defense demonstrated the mentality that new defensive coordinator Freddie Banks should enjoy mightily. Michigan's first possession was a 3-and-out (aided by two drops/incomplete passes). Michigan's second possession resulted in a touchdown. Their third and fourth possessions showcased a "bend but don't break" defensive effort that held Michigan to two field goals once inside the red zone. Throughout the rest of the game, the CSU defense was challenged by a far superior foe and never backed down or gave up on a play. While there were some lapses in tackling fundamentals, this defense looked pretty darn good for a unit that gave up 51 total points.
The Old Guard
Leading that defensive effort was a quartet of holdovers from the last coaching regime - Dequan Jackson, Cam'Ron Carter, Jack Howell, and Tywan Francis. At the end of the game, these four sat on top of the defensive stats for the game. Jackson is the foundation of that defense and he did a great job of tracking sideline to sideline. Carter and Francis both were faced with challenges to their playing time by the incoming players. Both guys responded brilliantly. And Howell repeatedly puts himself in the exact right spot to make a play. His near interception of Cade McNamara would have been on the season's highlight reel, had he slid a hand underneath the ball. It was cool to see familiar faces lead a defensive unit that had some bright moments on the fourth-highest-watched game of the day.
The numbers are not impressive - the Aussie punted the ball away five times for an average just under 36 yards per punt. Having watched Ryan Stonehouse the past few years, 36 yards is not great. But Paddy did exactly what was asked of him - keep the ball out of the hands of the Michigan returners. Only one punt was returned - his final punt was returned 10 yards - and that is exactly what you do when you think your special teams might be overmatched.
The Jay Norvell era officially begins at Canvas Stadium as the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders roll into Fort Collins on Saturday. The Directional Tennessee team is also 0-1 after getting thumped 44-7 by our old friend and James Madison University transfer, Todd Centeio. Centeio looked like a Heisman candidate, throwing for 287 yards and 6 (SIX!!) touchdowns. My reaction to Centeio's performance comes down to two different options:
- Middle Tennessee State is bad
- Steve Addazio was an even worse coach that we thought
Considering this was James Madison's first ever game at the Football Bowl Subdivision level, I would lean toward number one. But knowing how much I despise Steve Addazio and what he did to my favorite team, it could totally be number two. Most likely it is a combination of both and my disdain for the bald boorish bonehead can continue.
The Rams are early favorites, giving the Blue Raiders 11 points. My expectation is that the experience in Ann Arbor, the toughness of this team, and the energy of the home crowd lead the Rams to cover this spread. Also, Kevin Lytle (Fort Collins Coloradoan) tweeted out these stats:
Jay Norvell spoke Monday about expectation of his teams to bounce back after losses and how they did that at Nevada.— Kevin Lytle (@Kevin_Lytle) September 7, 2022
To wit: Last four years, Nevada was 12-4 following losses (contained within a season) and never lost more than two in a row in that time.
That is a coaching statistic. Belief in your team and the commitment to improve week after week starts at the top and Jay Norvell brings that kind of juice to the party. I'm liking what I'm seeing with this team.
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