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Take the money and run — why Ram fans should remain optimistic for the future despite getting blown out by No. 8 Michigan
Colorado State had no chance against No. 8 Michigan on Saturday.
While it technically would have been possible for the Rams to pull an upset as 30.5 point underdogs, actually expecting an Applachian State-type result in Week 1 would have been like walking into a gas station fully expecting to win the lottery. Crazy things happen in college football, but the odds were clearly stacked against the Rams for a reason.
Michigan is an absolute juggernaut on both sides of the ball. And playing in their stadium, in front of close to 110,000 people, is a massive advantage for the home squad. It would be an overwhelming atmosphere for any group, let alone a CSU team with 59 new players, new systems on both sides of the ball and a quarterback making his first career start behind a line that has five new starters.
In the 51-7 loss to the defending Big Ten champions, we saw glimpses of what has Ram Nation excited for the future. Millen’s 34-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Tory Horton was an absolute dime. The defense was able to hold Michigan to field goal attempts on three of four trips to the Red Zone in the first half. And edge rusher Mohamed Kamara absolutely smoked Michigan QB Cade McNamara on a play where he made one of the best offensive lines in the country look silly.
But as Jay Norvell explained postgame, while there were some positives for his first-year team, the Rams were just not ready for someone as deep as the Wolverines.
“There were a lot of good things that we did — it just wasn’t nearly enough obviously — it’s a little bit of too much, too soon for us to be able to face a team of this quality this early. They’re a good football team,” Norvell told reporters postgame.
Of the things that CSU did well in this one, Norvell highlighted that the Rams played relatively penalty free. The line did get called for a holding penalty at one point, but it was declined due to Clay Millen being sacked on the play. Officially though, the Rams had zero penalties, while Michigan had one for 10 yards, a holding call late in the game.
Norvell also credited Millen for valuing possessions. He did have an interception where he missed the safety crashing on the receiver in the first half, and in the second half Millen was stripped from behind on a play where the o-line got completely worked and collapsed on him. But it was encouraging that the young gunslinger did not compound things by forcing throws into tight windows and trying to play hero ball. One interception could have very easily turned into three.
“For a guy playing in his first game, I thought he did a lot of good things,” Norvell said of Millen, before complimenting the way he was able to locate open receivers and deliver a catchable ball.
Obviously the Rams allowed too much pressure and were overpowered at times by Michigan’s size. Allowing seven sacks and 11 tackles for loss is a tough recipe for success against any opponent. And on the flipside, Michigan’s experienced offensive line was able to wear down the Rams and establish the ground game as the Wolverines pulled away in the second half.
As tough as a matchup as this was for the Green & Gold though, if you think that Norvell is hitting the panic button because of a blowout loss to one of the few legitimate national championship contenders in the country, take a page out of Aaron Rodgers’ playbook and R.E.L.A.X.
As we’ve well established, Michigan is just a different animal. But more importantly, flipping a program is not something that happens overnight. Even when you have more talent and better coaching, learning how to play together and learning how to win is a process.
Throughout the 2022 season there are going to be moments where the guys display their talent and potential. There are also going to be days where this team’s collective inexperience shows in frustrating ways. Highs and lows, that’s how this works.
One week after winning the Rocky Mountain Showdown in 2012, the Rams lost at home to an FCS opponent in Jim McElwain’s first season. Shoot, even the 2013 Rams who ended up capping off the year with a New Mexico Bowl win over Washington State, blew winnable games to Tulsa and San Jose State in the first six weeks of the year.
It never happens as fast as the fans would like, but building a sustainable foundation is a bumpy journey that everyone has to embrace. Recognize that this staff is doing the right things and that there is an opportunity for this group to be good as they gain experience. Just also understand that CSU plays a brutal road schedule this fall, and losing four-plus away from home is a realistic possibility.
I expect the Rams to be in contention for a bowl when it’s all said and done. I also expect CSU to lose another game, maybe even a few by double digits. What I won’t be doing is freaking out over the Week 1 results, and neither will Norvell.
“Overall I’m not discouraged about our guys at all. This is a good football team, (Michigan is) pretty different from anybody else on our schedule,” Norvell said.
“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. So we’ll learn a lot from this game. We’ll go back to work on Monday to improve on the things we learned.”
On to Middle Tennessee.