The Michigan Wolverines are getting set to take on the Rams of Colorado State this Saturday (noon, ABC). Although Colorado State struggled to a 3-9 record last season, the Rams look completely different with a new head coach in Jay Norvell, a brand new offensive scheme and multiple transfers looking to make an impact.
Week 1 matchups are always a mystery from a scouting standpoint, but it is especially difficult against a team like Colorado State which will have a lot of new players across the board at several positions.
Let’s take a look at a few key matchups ahead of Saturday’s game.
Michigan’s defensive line vs. Colorado State’s offensive line
By the time Saturday comes around, it is very likely the Rams will roll out four new offensive lineman compared to last year’s team. Brian Cespo-Jaquez, a redshirt sophomore, figures to start at left tackle, and is the only player among the Rams’ projected front five who was on the roster last season.
The rest of the offensive linemen projected to start are transfers, with two of them (center Jacob Gardner and guard Gray Davis), being transfers from Nevada, where Norvell was previously. Although there is some talent among the Rams’ front, it is always difficult for a unit to click until they get multiple game reps under their belt, which is something Michigan will look to take full advantage of.
Of course, the Wolverines lost their top two pass rushers from last season in Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo, but Michigan has depth at defensive end and plenty of guys with game experience. If guys like Mike Morris, Jaylen Harrell and Taylor Upshaw can show a consistency to get to the quarterback, that will be a good early sign for the Wolverines.
On the interior, we’ll see if the likes of Mazi Smith and Kris Jenkins will be able to create a consistent push up the middle to disrupt the Rams’ offense.
Colorado State’s passing attack against Michigan’s secondary
Norvell ran an Air Raid offense at Nevada and has brought that same scheme, along with many of his players at Nevada, with him to Colorado State. One of those players includes quarterback Clay Millen, a former four-star recruit. As a true freshman last season, Millen only threw two passes, but he has a high level of potential as a quarterback and will lead the Rams’ passing attack this season.
Wide receivers Tory Horton and Melquan Stoval combined for 108 catches and 1,302 yards last season at Nevada. They followed their head coach from Nevada to CSU, along with running back Avery Morrow.
The Rams lost a tight end from last season and the team’s top receiver who was the first at his position taken in last year’s NFL Draft in Trey McBride, but the other top two receivers from last year’s team are back. The combination of the two transfers, the returning players and Millen under center could make for a dangerous pass attack.
If Colorado State’s front can’t protect Millen, it will be a long day for the Rams. But if they can give him time to throw, DJ Turner, Gemon Green and the rest of the Michigan secondary will be tested.
Cade McNamara vs. the Rams defense
Like CSU’s offense, the defense is undergoing a complete schematic change as well. Also much like the offensive side of the ball, the Rams have a blend of returning players and transfers. How they mesh together will go a long ways to determine CSU’s success defensively.
No matter who the opponent is here, fans will be interested in seeing whether the Wolverines open up the passing game right out of the gate, especially considering the way the quarterback battle has played out between Cade McNamara and J.J. McCarthy. If these first two weeks are a true open audition for the two quarterbacks, I would imagine both are going to want to air the ball out and make as many plays as possible with their arms to make their cases to be the No. 1 quarterback.
How much Michigan opens up the passing game against opponents they should handle remains to be seen, and it probably won’t be necessary to win either game, as the running game should have its way in each of the contests as well.
Nonetheless, every time the ball comes out of McNamara’s hands on Saturday, there will be a definite microscope on him knowing the situation.