Free Press sportswriter Michael Cohen breaks down Michigan Football’s 51-7 victory over Colorado State and discusses the players who helped or hurt his actions Saturday at Michigan Stadium:
∙C.B. DJ Turner: Turner climbed the depth chart in 2021 from the No. 3 corner behind seniors Vincent Gray and Gemon Green to the unquestioned No. 1. Saturday’s game reflected how much respect CSU head coach Jay Norvell and his offensive staff had for Turner, who was attacked just once in 20 pass attempts by quarterback Clay Millen. Fellow defenders Mike Sainristil (five targets), Kalel Mullings (three), Will Johnson (two), RJ Moten (two) and Michael Barrett (two) were considered more easily exposed than Turner.
The only pass thrown in Turner’s direction was a quick screen that he eradicated by going through the blocker and burying the receiver for a 3-yard loss. He finished with the highest degree of coverage among all corners of UM, according to Pro Football Focus. Turner also made the most impressive defensive play of the game when he picked up a fumble in the middle of the field and returned it 45 yards for a touchdown, shoving aside a would-be tackler en route to the end zone.
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∙OLB Eyabi Anoma and Jaylen Harrell: For a player who joined the team two weeks before the start of the season, Anoma could hardly have been more impressive in his nine-play debut. He got a sack on the first play of his Michigan career by beating a double team. Anoma’s beautiful speed-to-power move allowed him to get past the right tackle and push the running back into the quarterback’s lap.
Later in the game, Anoma displayed an impressive dose of strength, pushing an offensive guard down the field (before Millen uncorked his only touchdown pass of the day). Anoma was credited with three quarterback pressures on three pressure attempts to match the production of fellow defensive linemen Braiden McGregor, Kris Jenkins and Mike Morris, according to PFF.
The only player under more pressure was running back Jaylen Harrell. Harrell rarely rushed to the passer last season playing behind Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo, and his main contributions were as a run defender on first and second downs. But he was Michigan’s highest-rated defender on Saturday, regardless of position, and led rushers in tackles with four. Harrell was also credited with ½ sack.
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RB CJ Stokes: The question of who would emerge as Michigan’s third running back behind Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards was answered quite forcefully by Stokes, who touched the ball seven times and gained 50 yards on 13 plays. A true freshman from Columbia, South Carolina, where he was rated the No. 63 running back in the country, Stokes displayed a tremendous burst and top speed that complemented the skills of the two players in front of him.
Stokes turned a review pass into a 15-yard gain by spinning upfield with incredible vertical acceleration. That same explosiveness was visible when he carried the ball as a running back averaging 5.8 yards per carry. Stokes was never stopped behind the line of scrimmage and had an 18-yard run that dwarfed Edwards’ longest run of 12 yards. His main competitor for the No. 3 spot is former three-star prospect Tavierre Dunlap, who recorded just four snaps against the Rams and rushed one for four yards.
Quarterback Cade McNamara:. Saturday was McNamara’s chance to show off the developments he’s been talking about for months: improvements in his footwork, accuracy and timing. Little of that translated on the field against Colorado State, as McNamara completed just 9 of 18 passes for 136 yards and a touchdown in what was best described as a lopsided performance. He struggled with accuracy on short and intermediate passes and was saved from throwing just the seventh interception of his career when the ball slipped into the arms of a defender. The offense averaged 3.75 points per possession with McNamara on the field, but three of four trips to the red zone failed to produce a touchdown. McNamara’s deflated tone and dejected body language at a postgame news conference matched what he must have known was a disappointing effort. He left the door ajar for JJ McCarthy, who will operate as QB1 against Hawaii next weekend.
OLB Taylor Upshaw: Harrell (28 plays), Morris (24 plays) and Upshaw (24 plays) had ample opportunities on Saturday to show off their skills. But when the first two players made their presence known, Harrell and Morris combined for a forced fumble and seven tackles, including ½ sack and 2½ tackles for loss, Upshaw faded into the background. He was credited with just one tackle against the Rams and didn’t record a single rush, rush or hit from the quarterback. He finished with the lowest rushing rating of any member of the team, regardless of position. The next closest runner, Braiden McGregor, was rated nearly 10 points better by PFF. On a day when sacks were available in droves and almost everyone laid a hand on the Colorado State quarterback, Upshaw never showed up to the party.
Offensive Tackle Depth: The Wolverines began the season without their starting left tackle in Ryan Hayes (injury undisclosed). His replacement was utility lineman Karsen Barnhart, who played 19 snaps before leaving with an ankle problem. Barnhart was outplayed by Edwards in the second quarter and lasted an extra play before limping down the sideline. Instead of relying on one of the team’s youngest offensive tackles to replace Barnhart, offensive co-coordinator Sherrone Moore decided to switch left guard Trevor Keegan to tackle and insert Giovanni El-Hadi at left guard. Keegan, who recently told reporters that he has lost about 40 pounds since he stepped up to 343 pounds before last year’s loss to Georgia, endured an unpleasant afternoon while playing out of position. He finished with the lowest run block rating and lowest pass block rating of any offensive lineman, while allowing a team-high three pressures, tied with right tackle Trent Jones. (Jones was accused of allowing the unit’s only sack when he was beaten by running back Mohamed Kamara, who threw McNamara to the turf.) the list poorly reflects Michigan’s depth. Jeffrey Persi, a junior, was the only other offensive tackle to see the field. He replaced Keegan for the last 15 snaps.
Contact Michael Cohen at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Cohen13.