Sorting through the shortcomings of the Colorado State football season so far, one thing has become very clear.
CSU quarterback Clay Millen is tough.
No other Division I quarterback has taken the beating Millen has this season. CSU has allowed more sacks (23) than any other team — the next closest is Arkon with 15 allowed.
But each time, Millen has popped back up ready for the next play. His toughness has impressed his coaches and earned him respect among his teammates.
“After the game, I went over and gave his mom a hug and I just told her we are really not trying to get him hit like that,” CSU head coach Jay Norvell said. “But he has shown toughness. He has gotten up at times when I didn’t think he would. I think it is going to serve him well. We are going through the fire right now. You learn probably more from mistakes and failures than you do from successes.”
The beating began in his first collegiate start at Michigan, where the Wolverines took him down seven times. Things only got worse in the home opener against Middle Tennessee, when the Blue Raiders got to him nine times.
Despite the sacks in those games, Millen tossed his first career touchdown against the Wolverines and threw three scoring strikes — all to receiver Tory Horton — in the third quarter against the Blue Raiders.
Then just a few days ago, at Washington State, the Cougars sacked him seven times. But Monday, Millen was back at practice, a little sore, but ready to prepare for Saturday’s home game against Sacramento State.
“I’m fine,” Millen said. “I’m a little sore but no injuries or anything. I’m good, just the expected soreness you’d have from those sacks. I’m totally fine other than that.”
The three games for the Rams this season have been Millen’s first three collegiate starts. He appeared in two games under Norvell at Nevada last season.
Despite the number of sacks, Millen ranks 13th in the country in completion percentage (71.8). He has completed 61 of 85 passes for 605 yards and five touchdowns with four interceptions — all while being sacked 7.67 times per game.
“I think I’m pretty tough,” Millen said. “Before you play, you don’t really know you are going to handle all those hits. I think now, I’ve gotten hit a lot, so I think I’ve realized I can take those hits. I’m a tough guy. I’m competitive. I think all those hits, I am taking them and I am still going. That’s my mindset.”
The personnel protecting Millen has changed week-to-week as well. Prior to the Middle Tennessee game, left tackle Brian Crespo-Jacquez went down with an injury, as did right tackle Dontae Keys. Keys tried to play against the Blue Raiders, but wasn’t able to go very long.
That forced moving some players around and filling the holes left by the injured. Following the Middle Tennessee game, center Jacob Gardner said if he had to, he would move back to tackle, a position he had played before.
That is exactly where he found himself against the Cougars.
“We had to move some guys around on the offensive line,” Norvell said. “We moved Jacob out to tackle and I thought he played outstanding in the game. We are still trying to shore up our interior and some other parts of our offensive line, looking at some different combinations there.”
No matter who is in front of him, Millen has trust in them and believes they will do whatever they have to to keep him protected.
He also believes eventually, the team will get it right in regards to pass protection.
“You’ve just got to trust the guys,” Millen said. “I’m boys with all those guys up front. I think it is just continuing to trust them no matter what. I believe in those guys, I love those guys and so I believe every single play that I drop back, they are going to give me protection, give me time so I think it is just continuing to trust. I’ve taken the hits and I continue to trust those guys. I feel good about them. We are going to get this right and I believe in all my boys up front.”
Receiver Stovall latest to leave team
Last week, a pair of veteran players chose to leave the team and pursue other options at other programs.
Senior receiver Dante Wright and senior kicker Cayden Camper, who had both been at CSU since they were freshmen, decided not to finish the season with the Rams.
Monday, Norvell announced a third player, senior receiver Melquan Stovall, has made the decision to leave.
“We’ve had a couple of players the last couple of weeks that decided not to play anymore,” Norvell said. “We had another one yesterday. I had a long talk with Melquan. I’ve known Melquan a long time. In this day and age of college football, these kids have so many choices. They have a short time to play. They want to be in a certain situation to play. It wasn’t quite what Melquan was looking for. He’s got two more years of eligibility. He wants to take this year off and he wants to take his chances playing in another program.”
In three games for the Rams this season, Stovall has 13 catches for 106 yards. In three seasons at Nevada, he had 108 catches for 1,064 yards and one touchdown.
Of the three players who have departed in the last seven days, Stovall was the first who came with Norvell from Nevada.
“That’s what we are dealing with in college football right now,” Norvell said. “We are really dedicated to teaching our brand of football to this team and we are going to continue to get better at it as we go. The guys that stay committed to that will flourish and will be successful. Some guys will make other decisions and they won’t be part of it.”
Stovall’s departure will give some of the team’s younger receivers more time to play, which will be good for the program, Norvell said.