Jay Norvell is entering his seventh season as a head football, but this will be his first season coaching Colorado State. Norvell, who is 59, had been the head coach of Nevada from 2017-2021. He compiled a 33-26 record with the Wolf Pack.
When the Rams take the field on Saturday in Ann Arbor, the new coach will field practically a brand new team from the one that went 3-9 in 2021. Between transfers and recruits, Norvell has 59 new players in 2022. The new coach had a chance to talk with the media on Monday to share his thoughts on the Week 1 game with Michigan.
It’s called the Big House for a reason, it has the largest seating capacity in all of college football. Just about every high school student has a desire to play there one way or another and run out of that tunnel. With so many new players on Colorado State’s roster, how does Norvell feel about opening the season at Michigan Stadium? He said he is more so worried about his team than playing at the Big House. Norvell said his team needs to focus on what it needs to do on offense and defense and less on the stadium.
“I really think it’s about us, to be honest with you,” said Norvell. “I’m less worried about Michigan than our own football team. For us it’s about establishing how we like to play, we want to do things that help us win football games, and establish those things in this game. We want to play great physical defense, we want to pressure the quarterback, we want to create turnovers. Offensively, we want to get all of our skill players involved, protect the football. And be able to execute and move the football. Get into the scoring zone and score points. I think it’s more about establishing how we want to play and less about the magnitude of playing in a great stadium against a top-10 team. We want a focused team that goes in and competes hard and make plays.”
The Michigan offense averaged just under 36 points last year and it returns every playmaker at the skill position from that 2021 unit, save for Hassan Haskins. Coach Norvell knows what he is up against and one word a word that Norvell kept using when describing Michigan was ‘outstanding’.
“Obviously, Week 1, we have to play an outstanding team in Michigan,” said Norvell. “They were the Big Ten champions a year ago. Really outstanding in all three phases. They are an established, strong football team under Jim Harbaugh in his seventh year there. Offensively, West Coast style, they averaged 35 points per game. Really strong offensive line, the strength of their offense. Really quality running back in Blake Corum. Solid quarterback play and solid receivers. Really good offensive team.”
Colorado State will be breaking in a new quarterback, Clay Millen, who has zero starts under his belt. The Wolverines were the No. 8 scoring defense last year, averaging 17.4 points per game allowed. Norvell listed three players on the defense that really impresses him — all three are outstanding in Norvell’s eyes.
“Defensively they gave up 17 points-per-game last year, which was outstanding. 4-2-5 scheme,” said Norvell. “Really strong defensive line, returning Mazi Smith No 58, tremendous player. Linebacker Junior Colson No. 25 is excellent. DJ Turner at corner. Some of their outstanding defensive players.”
Michigan also returns all of its special team players from last year such as Jake Moody, Brad Robbins, William Wagner and the return men. Norvell said that he believes this is the best special team group he has seen in a long time. He said that the Michigan unit will be a big challenge to his team on Saturday, and he thinks that’s the phase his team needs to win to give his team a chance.
“Special teams for this football team is what I think is really one of their strongest assets as a team,” Norvell said. “They have one of the finest special team groups I’ve seen in many years. Excellent punter, fine kicker, really good return men in all three phases. They do an outstanding job of covering kicks and blocking the return game.”
“That’s a formula that we have to win,” continued Norvell. “Big challenge for our special teams. I think their return men are outstanding and they have excellent kickers, and they play hard. They cover hard on kicks, they do an outstanding job. We want to be the type of team that can make a difference in teams, gain an edge in teams, and help us in field position on offense and defense. That’s important we establish that in this game and that we play well on special teams.”
The first-year head coach at Colorado State played against Harbaugh in college (Iowa), with him with the Chicago Bears, and even coached with Harbaugh in Oakland. He believes this team is a reflection of Harbaugh and he sees why the Wolverines are a top 10 team.
Overall, it’s a really big challenge for us in our opening game. Watching film of them, it’s easy to see why they’re a top 10 team. I’ve known Jim Harbaugh for a long time, played against him in college, and with him at the Chicago Bears for a brief stint. Then coached with him at the Oakland Raiders, known him for a long time. This football team is a reflection of what he feels about the game, they are physical and well coached and they have really good players. Really excited about the opportunity and challenge to go to Ann Arbor and start the 2022 season.”
Michigan and Colorado State will take the field on Saturday at noon EDT on ABC.